Review Summary: The psytrance supergroup takes a stab at making a rock album.
How about this for a departure from form - the opening track on Vaccine
sounds like an interlude from Lateralus
on repeat, while the vocals do their best to sound like Nick Drake; the whole thing sounds a little bit like under-rated Norwegian neo-proggers Gazpacho. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Simon Posford - pioneer of psytrance, creative lynchpin of psybient legends Shpongle, and founder of the label's spiritual home - has, in conjunction with fellow psytrance icon Benji Vaughan, made a rock album.
To say that Vaccine
is a shock is a little bit of an understatement. It's enough of a bolt from the blue that halfway through the album, you're still expecting it to turn into an album that sounds like anything Posford's ever done before, be it the other Younger Brother albums, Shpongle, Hallucinogen, Mystery of the Yeti, Celtic Cross, or The Infinity Project, and it never quite happens. There are some trademark swirling arpeggiators and glitches halfway through "Pound a Rhythm", but they feel like a tease - just enough to remind you that you're definitely listening to the right people, and just enough to throw the rest of the album into further confusion.
Yet once the album has sunk in, and you start to judge it for what it is rather than what it isn't, it reveals itself to be a smart and smooth, if unexpected, continuation of Younger Brother's discography.
is an album makes sense in two ways, the first of which is in personnel. When they debuted in 2003 with A Flock of Bleeps
, Younger Brother were a supergroup that consisted of just Posford and Vaughan. These days, they've expanded to include the musicians from their live act, which includes former members of jam bands and jazz fusion combos - and their contributions to the writing process shine through. Secondly, it makes sense because, in mood, it's really no different to either A Flock of Bleeps
or The Last Days of Gravity
. All three are, in essence, gentle, peaceful psychedelic albums; all that's changed is the instrumentation they're using to conjure that.
, then, is still a mood piece, with the utterly lovely "Night Lead Me Astray" the only song that really stands out. That crucially distinguishes it from a lot of the music it sounds most like, and stops it feeling like a prog rock album despite sounding like one. Observe how "Safety in Numbers", in particular, revolves around a series of repeated motifs, with the interest generated by contrasts between sounds (not least in the switching between the distorted female vocal and the clean male one) and by the glitches, embellishments and gradual changes - much like a standard trance song might, actually. It's hard to think of another album that operates quite the same way, with electronic structures, production, and conventions sitting under rock instrumentation and sound - certainly when it comes to a brand of rock as soft and meditative as this. Pink Floyd and Brian Eno are called to mind, but neither seems quite right - and one suspects that the Storm Thorgerson artwork contributed for previous Posford albums might be a factor in naming the former.
So it's hard to know how to peg Vaccine
, ultimately - it's both a brave move and a safe one, both a shock and something you could have seen coming. What's not in doubt, though, is that it's a very good album. Relaxing, carefully performed, complex, and best of all, effortless - Vaccine
distances itself from most rock albums made by people coming at the genre from outside simply by not trying too hard to please. At this point in time, after the three Younger Brother albums, the four Shpongle albums (and their latest EP), and the two Prometheus albums, it feels like Posford and Vaughn are incapable of making a bad album. Long may that stretch continue.