Review Summary: One of the most invigorating and stylistically diverse rock records of the year.
Timo Ellis is a tremendously versatile musician whose impressive resume includes collaborations with Yoko Ono, Melvins and John Zorn over an extensive 20-year career as a session guitar player. Brooklyn-based Netherlands, which additionally comprise Sam Levin on synth bass and Dave Burnett on drums, serves as an outlet for Ellis' eccentric rock inclinations. The trio's experimental approach has already left its stamp on their last year's debut Fantasmatic
which was filled to the brim with restless energy and unbridled spontaneity. Sharing these attributes, Silicon Vapor
tones down the weirdness in favor of more decipherable song structures, placing a greater emphasis on enticing melodies that often harken back to the the classic rock of the 1970s.
The album showcases a commendable progress in the evolution of Netherlands who are becoming sharper songwriters with every new release. Their unique mesh-up of influences remains difficult to pin down, though. Bridging the gap between psychedelic rock, punk and sludge metal, Ellis crafts a distinct style that he jokingly calls “cloud metal.” His guitar playing is hugely inventive with extremely fuzzed-out tunings he uses to affect the listener's perception of what sounds right. One moment the riffs are so monstrous that they feel like being put through vacuum, the next they emulate buzz-saw stabs. The heavy use of synth bass adds another dimension to the off-kilter guitarwork, providing the music with a robotic space rock vibe.
“Deathling” kicks off the LP with a mighty lead riff which, along with soaring vocal harmonies, makes for a leviathan of a track that oscillates between the accessibility of Rush and the extreme heaviness of the obscure sludge metal luminaries, Floor. “Tabitha” cranks the pace up with a feral garage rock onslaught, while the all-encompassing scope of “Robot Fail” results in the number that would feel right at home on the soundtrack for a space odyssey. “Sixteen” takes the spiritual stoner rock of Om, and integrates it into a strikingly dynamic structure that's augmented with Ellis' high-pitched vocals to genuinely tense effect. In contrast, the fatalism of the ballad-like “Palestine” seems ingrained in the noise-rock output of Shellac. The latter half of the record doesn't cease to surprise, either. At this point Netherlands deliver a collection of efficient tracks which hardly ever go beyond the 3-minute mark. Yet, they're always meticulously honed, revolving around dexterous songwriting. “Acid Monkeys” is a blatantly infectious psychedelic rock jam which makes good use of eerie falsetto and piercing soloing, whereas the title track seethes with technical riffs and a pseudo-scientific posturing that resemble the Irish math rockers, BATS.
Embracing a multitude of divergent styles, Silicon Vapor
feels disjointed at times. This seems like an inherent setback of almost all bands who are adventurous enough to fuse numerous styles. While its flow leaves a bit to be desired, the second outing of Netherlands still stands out due to its clever interplay of seemingly unrelated musical ideas and references. It's a bloody original endeavor as well. The fact that the closest point of reference I can think of is the 11-year-old self-titled release from the wildly inventive Anyone is particularly telling. Netherlands retain an experimental psych rock edge of that record, but also distinguish themselves through the copious amounts of ultra-heavy riffs these tunes emanate. The highly charismatic Timo Ellis is in scintillating form, injecting plenty of creative energy into the music. In consequence, Silicon Vapor
ranks among the most invigorating and stylistically diverse rock albums of 2013.