Vessels - Helioscope Album Review
While post-rock hasn't really recovered from the backlash it's taken in recent years, most of its protagonists have moved on to better, sparser pastures in search of more fulfilling new horizons. Mogwai's 'Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will' heralded their most adventurous collection of recordings in a decade, and for Leeds five-piece Vessels 'Helioscope' represents a similar shape shift that has more in common with the recent works of people like Radiohead than any formulaic stop-start, low-fast templated band of THAT afflicted genre.
It's been a long process recording and arranging the follow-up to 2008's 'White Fields & Open Devices', yet those three intervening years have obviously been well spent. Once again, Texan supreme John Congleton found himself enlisted for production duties, and as with its predecessor, his deft hand has provided the impetus for the variation of sounds and ideas on 'Helioscope' to flourish organically. Furthermore, across the album's nine individual pieces, while there is a sense of flow amid the way each track is structured to follow on to the next, there's more than enough breathing space provided to allow all nine to germinate and grow accordingly.
Opener 'Monoform' isn't a million miles from the untapped dimensions Foals uncovered on 'Total Life Forever'. There's a krautrock sensibility dominant throughout is freeform jazz tinged structure before the whole song takes off on a path of its own during the final sixty seconds. Don Caballero drum patterns engulf a squalling guitar outro that serves as a welcoming introduction to the record, if only by way of suggesting 'Helioscope' is anything but a continuation of 'White Fields & Open Devices' more transient aspects.
'The Trap' is possibly the closest Vessels come here to anything in their back catalogue, its scenic melody similar in places to the lolloping 'Hundred Times In Every Direction' off the first album. 'Later Than You Think' also hovers intently between the outer reaches of post-rock's core and a more audacious pervasiveness as cushioned drum sounds mould into gliding slabs of reverb and a sense that at times they're merely tuning up at rehearsals, such is the genuine experimental feel conveyed within its five-and-a-half minutes.
Standing out from the rest of 'Helioscope' though is the riveting 'Recur', which takes Vessels into the more breathy recesses of shoegaze previously inhabited by the likes of Chapterhouse and Ride. It's a delicate exercise in lush arrangement and slowly ordained build-ups although quite where the stadium-aping ending - eerily reminiscent of U2's 'Fire' - came from, only the band themselves can digress!
Another highlight is the haunting 'Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute', where guest vocalist Stuart Warwick does his best Malcolm Middleton growl over a folk inspired nursery rhyme that's evocative of both The Low Anthem and to a lesser extent The Twilight Sad in less noise hungry surroundings.
Add 'Art/Choke''s sinister riff heavy malaise, the vocoder laden propensity of 'All Our Ends' or the subtle requiem of closer 'Spun Infinite' and you've diverse collection of songs that, while not necessarily the easiest to consume on first hearing, make a fair point of illustrating Vessels undeniable progression as artists between albums. Where record number three is anyone's guess, let alone when, but it's sure to be one hell of an adventurous journey regardless.