Vennart
In The Dead, Dead Wood


4.0
excellent


Release Date: 2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: ex-Oceansize frontman delivers a thunderous surprise hit: praise be

Mike Vennart is an easy guy to root for. Once frontman for the sorely missed alt/prog giants Oceansize, his career over the past decade or so has been a case study in how to push on as a musician with your most popular and acclaimed work comfortably in the past. From his inadvertently public feuding with the British crypto-fascist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon to playing guitar in Biffy Clyro’s live band to his own avenues of creative output, he’s kept up an unassumingly industrious platform of consistent material. His presence post-Oceansize has dodged the pitfalls of emeritus genre royalty and grounded itself comfortably within the image of the likeable everyman; his vast talents almost seem like convenient happenstance alongside his down-to-earth demeanour and total lack of pretence. As a slightly ambivalent testament to this, the greatest attraction of his first two solo albums, 2015’s The Demon Joke and 2018’s To Cure A Blizzard Upon A Plastic Sea, ultimately lay in the simple joy of hearing him make music again. This isn’t too much of a backhand; both albums were interspersed with electrifying moments and eagerly revisited established favourites from a reliable box of tricks, but as the work of a seasoned musician, they were competent to a fault.

Until now, this was a well-behaved elephant in a spacious room, and it would hardly bear mentioning it if it weren’t for the startling knockout value of Vennart’s surprise new album In The Dead, Dead Wood. Sometimes a surprise is all it takes - ping! One email notification and there you go: eight swanky new songs, a slick production job, and the most energised performance the man has dished out in years. It’s a hit! A hit?! On what basis? Well! Along with many of its tracks, this album’s opener, “Silhouette”, is pure thunder. Right off the bat, Vennart and co deliver a late-stage career highlight that single-handedly raises the standard for any future expectations of his solo output: the tones are colossal, the hooks are rapturous, Vennart’s vocals have never sounded stronger, and - crucially - the cornerstone riff is an absolute juggernaut. The way the whole song anchors itself in this one bar is the kind of engagingly succinct touch you’d expect from an experienced writer, and Vennart wisely introduces it as the resolution of the chorus rather than as an opening motif to present a steadily accrued sense of momentum. The icing on the cake is the song’s low tempo, which affords that critical riff the space to land like a shoulderclap from God every time he slugs it out.

As openers go, it’s a stunner. The tone, atmosphere, and sheer beautiful forcefulness of this track are both akin to and on par with Hum’s stellar comeback album Inlet, from earlier this year, and - praise be! - they are by no means exclusive to “Silhouette”. “Elemental” and “Weight In Gold” in particular adopt a similar approach, but the intensity and beefiness of the opener runs through the whole album in all its twists and turns; there’s a heft here that’s been largely absent from Vennart’s sound ever since since Music For Nurses and the beefier moments of Frames. Bonus points for nailing a sound that Oceansize struggled to pin down consistently even at their peak.

Beyond this, what strikes me most about In The Dead, Dead Wood is the way it explores Vennart’s strong suits one at a time without falling into the same zany pick ’n’ mix-isms as To Cure A Blizzard Upon A Plastic Sea. That album was a dizzying blur of ideas, but this time around he seems more confident showcasing his chosen stylings in their own space. The results are familiar delights, as we’re treated to his many voices in turn: we hear him as a graduate of Iommi College of Ominous Riffage (“Mourning On The Range”); as a sensitive purveyor of Mogwai-esque rainy day post-rock (“Forc in the Road”); as a roof-raising Biffy Clyro affiliate (“Elemental”); and - of course - as a left-of-field Cardiacs fanatic (“Super Sleuth”). These guises are as mutually cogent as they’ve ever been, and each is pulled off with a focus and flourish that hitherto seemed evasive within the Vennart solo canon.

This is particularly applicable to “Super Sleuth”, a chunky swing-rocker that alternates between goofiness and grit with palpable confidence. It’s easy to imagine a range of aspirant post-Mars Volta progheads eyeing up the song’s transition from a camp piano bridge to a crushing tailend as something they could potentially make their own, but there’s an uncommon sense of conviction in the sequences of distortion that briskly transform the track’s latter end from charming to chilling. These shifts in tone aren’t prog gimmickry; they’re formidable songwriting from a steady performer, and if Vennart rounds it off with the most savage screams he’s belted out in quite some time, all the more kudos to him.

It’s easy to reduce In The Dead, Dead Wood to a comprehensive charting of the many things Mike Vennart does well, but I can’t overstate how much of a treat it is to hear him sounding so revitalised. While it’s technically a quarantine album, this is only a helpful label insofar as the pressure and panic of UK lockdown seem to have elicited the tightest writing and most inspired delivery of his solo career, along with a delicious set of new production sensibilities. However, despite its beefy makeover, this album doesn’t reinvent the wheel for Vennart; it’s a reassertion of his talents that leaves no doubt of their mileage. Hell, if you could sound this great two decades into your career, you’d know for sure you’d been on the right path from the start. Somewhere in Manchester, Vennart is probably enjoying a well-earned wry grin right now; he knows he’s still got it.




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user ratings (77)
3.9
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
November 8th 2020


59359 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

First positive review in a hot minute, and I'm glad it was for an album this strong. Best thing I've heard from Vennart since Frames - get on it!

Valkoor952
November 8th 2020


4781 Comments


Johnny's alive :O

wildinferno2010
November 8th 2020


1844 Comments


Hell yeah! I haven't checked this yet but I'm excited to now!

Wasn't too keen on Blizzard, but this sounds like it'll be right up my alley

Lucman
November 8th 2020


5537 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeeeaaaaah this is good. Ace review.

GreenyQueeny
November 8th 2020


36 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Vennart never disappoints. I think I prefer the variety of Blizzard to the post-Rock vibe of this, but this album nevertheless proves consistency of Vennart's songwriting.



Highlights for me: Super Sleuth, Mourning on the Range, Element

sulkenigma
November 8th 2020


64 Comments


Excellent review and I agree the f*ck out of it.

GhostB1rd
November 9th 2020


7938 Comments


If this doesn't rock I'm gonna write you a sternly worded shoutbox complaint.

beefshoes
November 9th 2020


8443 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review. Oceansize was such a massive loss for me back in the early 2010s, but everything that Mike has done on his own has either been on par with or has exceeded the original output. Superb album, and probably his best so far.

beefshoes
November 9th 2020


8443 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

That muff on Elemental.....daaaamn

Scoot
November 9th 2020


21886 Comments


no idea why oceansize never reunited

cannot believe it's already been 10 years

sizeofanocean
November 9th 2020


3348 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Even though he wrote this one rather quickly, it still is on par with Blizzard. Blizzard did have more variety though, but on the other hand the consistency here is a big selling point too.



Oceansize reunion isn't going to happen imo... With Vennart being this good, i'm not too sad tthough. ] don't really hear that much post rock on this compared to Oceansize. Maybe a bit more than on the first two Vennart records, but that's about it



sizeofanocean
November 9th 2020


3348 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Btw i think the Hum comparision is quite apt. Overall, there are quite a few shoegazey sections on this

insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
November 9th 2020


6135 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review! I haven't listened much to Vennart's solo stuff until now. On a first listen, this is good.

Prancer
November 9th 2020


1574 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this is... actually really good

Bedex
November 9th 2020


3133 Comments


oy this looks interesting

Yazz_Flute
November 9th 2020


19174 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Absolutely love Weight in Gold and Forc in the Road.

Scoot
November 9th 2020


21886 Comments


im just gonna pretend oceansize reunited

conesmoke
November 10th 2020


7875 Comments


Hey heeeeeyyy don't be ashaaaaaaaamed!!!!!
Cos it's okayyy to have a mind that is occcupieed by a lizard and a Super Sleeeuuth!!!

conesmoke
November 10th 2020


7875 Comments


Slaps

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
November 10th 2020


2987 Comments


A grounded Johnny review, bereft of obscure jabs? You must be digging this hard. Nice.
I still need to listen to Oceansize's last release, and didn't even know this fulla had a solo thing going



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