Review of Dilate Album by Vessels

Aside from being the band's third full-length release, 'Dilate' marks Vessels tenth year since their inception. In these ten years as a band, Vessels have developed their style from a distinctly compelling brand of post-rock into wider, more electronic territory. In doing so, Vessel's fresh use of experimentation has bought them a small cult following. Their 2008 debut 'White Fields and Open Devices' displays the band's great knack for building sparse musical landscapes and pushing their songs into climaxes that manage to remain both heavy and successfully affecting, echoing some older post-rock bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Vessels Dilate Album

Vessels use complex layers of sounds, borrowing heavily from the dissonant chords and irregular time sequences typical to math-rock. More recently though, and particularly on 'Dilate', the electronic layers to these complex songs have taken more of a central role. Members of the band are more likely to be seen twiddling with keyboards and synthesisers now than thrashing into each other with guitars. However, the songs themselves are no less insightful, nor are the sonic environments they evoke.

Opening track 'Vertical' builds gradually with warm bass and vocal samples reminiscent of acts like Burial and Four Tet. Slowly, layers of synth move between each other into a resonance of ambient noises, vast keyboard melodies push the track in and out of changing drum sections. 'Elliptic' seems to land somewhere closer to the band's earlier sound, soaring off and building back into something more cinematic and commanding. More now than before, Vessels focus on rhythm in their instrumentation,  in doing so they push themselves into ground that is not necessarily limited to the boundaries of the profound and dramatic instrumental rock they have found themselves attributed with. Vessels wear influences from further afield than ever, even including African drums towards the track's end.

Vessels seem to be intending to move their listeners physically now, as well as emotionally. This is most fully demonstrated on 'Echo In' and 'Glass Lake' which both possess all the elements of memorable electronica.  These songs slot in beside bigger tracks like 'Attica' which could be something closer to Daft Punk's recent 'Tron' soundtrack; echoes of a dark futuristic world stand up with all the stature of the louder moments from their previous work. Together, these songs build something both intense and infectious.

Vocalist Tom Evans' gentle falsetto is disappointingly absent from these tracks and instead, the band make use of featured guests, most notably from fellow Leeds musician Snow Fox on last year's single 'On Monos'; a song which borrows heavily from techno and house styles, standing out as perhaps the closest thing to radio-friendly that they could allow themselves to be. Vessels have incorporated these styles that have grown widely popular in recent years, bearing the weight of widespread student attention and mass club appeal. One would think then that it might be a noxious inclusion to their repertoire. However, what Vessels have done is use the genre's pace and rhythm, alongside their own juttering drum patterns. Warm synth textures float gently over the tracks, building songs that wouldn't necessarily be too out of place in a club. This could, in fact, be the tipping point for any Vessels fan that might have spent a lot of the album waiting for an angry guitar lead. The focus of 'Dilate' is less heavily centred on loud, dramatic crescendos, instead pursuing texture and atmosphere, which actually allows for more head-space when digesting the finer parts of the tracks. What's most noteworthy about this album is that it indicates not only a remarkable technical metamorphosis into something more exclusively electronic, but more so that Vessels can do so while retaining their intense and sincere personality.

What they fail to do, if anything, is to break new ground themselves. Vessels have proven on this record that they can successfully synthesise their sound with the electronic elements that aided it. It would have been interesting to see what the band could have done without simply working their sound through the different areas of electronic music that already exist - there are too few moments here where Vessels find that space to do something distinct to them with this sound. Having said this, as experimentation goes 'Dilate' promises interesting things to come.

Vessels are currently doing a UK tour and their new album 'Dilate' will be available 2nd March on Bias.


Chris Canavan

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