Review Summary: Equally adept as either a standalone release or a companion to White Fields, Vessels continue their infectious fusion of styles without missing a beat.
I want you to sit back and take in the idea of the Gray Wolf; a menacing and vicious predator, yet majestic and elusive. The gray wolf has developed into a highly social carnivore. These animals naturally live in nuclear families, often consisting of a mated pair which acts as despot over their subordinates. A wolf is perfectly capable of living on its own, but instead, over time their advanced instinct has allowed them to realize that working together can allow them to prosper. Working together is what defines wolves.
Obscure anecdotes aside, the latest offering from the band Vessels can be related as an analogy. Much in the same way as wolves, Helioscope can be seen as an element of a whole that works with another half. Much like the mewithoutYou albums “Catch For Us The Foxes” and “Brother, Sister,” “Helioscope” and previous release “White Fields & Open Devices” work together harmoniously as perfect compliments to each other. Showcasing a mature and diligent progression, Vessels have advanced their fusion of indie and post-rock. The broad styles of yesterday have been roped in and condensed, the result being a strikingly concise and accessible record. Though the band relies on previously-explored moods and styles, Vessels has been able to successfully reiterate their sound, settling into a comfort zone without carelessly rehashing past material. Moods and emotions feel fresh and new, and yet warmly familiar, like long-lost memories reflected upon with a newfound outlook.
From the beginning, Helioscope opens on a much brighter note than its natural companion. “Monoform” is upbeat and enthralling; with a driving drum rhythm which supports a pleasant guitar attack. Dynamic levels rise and fall, outlining the large post-rock influence of this group. Through its progression, Helioscope entails a strong sense of organization. Songs flow naturally into each other with styles building and receding at just the right time. (It should be noted that the iTunes version of the album includes a near album’s worth of bonus tracks, which do somewhat unbalance the flow. However, these songs are not just for novelty; they are actually all worth listening to.) Vocal tracks are inserted at perfect intervals to provide just the right amount of contrast, though they do seem to be a bit shyer this time around.
When vocal moments do arise, lead vocalist Tom Evans captivates the listener with his charming voice. Harmonies are well-thought out, indicative of many indie rock styles. On the song “Meatman, Piano Turner, Prostitute” (I want some of whatever drugs they were on while naming that song), Evans shows a near Thom Yorke style of singing, which is incredibly relaxing over the wave-like progression of the song. Other members of Vessels are certainly not inept on their respective instruments. The drummer shows well-developed chops, equally willing to blast out powerful beats and soft side-stick rhythms. His work shows off a very furious, yet tight and controlled style of drumming which is wonderfully tasteful. The guitarists do an exceptional job melding elements of indie into their overlapping post-rock storyboard. There are many truly intriguing riffs and a vast array of effects which any indulgent shoegaze fan will lap up. These are complimented by atmospheric pads and melodic bass lines.
As a whole, Helioscope portrays emotions of hope, sadness, and disparity, all hallmark methods of mood-control utilized by post-rock artists. But unlike the giants of post-rock, these moods are not as fleshed out and as powerful. At times, an anorexic side to the music can show through to unpleasant surprise. Lyrical work is meaningful and well-executed, but does not prominently rise above the music itself. As a result, the vocals seem like more of an instrument than a method of story-telling, which is not necessarily bad, though it certainly makes the album a bit less memorable. What is memorable bout Helioscope is the excellent musical composition, which successfully recreates the styles found on White Fields while still being completely original.
Helioscope can be thought of as the other side of White Fields & Open Devices. Like a companion, it completes the band’s direction. Like the phrase “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” this record does justice to the moments White Fields did not fully grasp, and vice-versa. Having settled into a comfort zone, Vessels are able to continue their interesting fusion of indie and post-rock music to great effect. This fusion, along with a matured sound, allows Vessels to be as accessible and concise as they have been yet. Whether taken as a companion or as a lone wolf, Helioscope is an excellent album which should be heard by any fan of post-rock or indie alike.