I do like a good concept album. Well, I did grow up at a time when the New Wave of Prog was raging across the country and so the idea of being stood in a field, sporting a Marillion T-shirt watching a band play eighteen-minute songs whilst waxing lyrical about mythical beasts or Arthurian legend. Wait, what now? It’s not that sort of concept album? Actually, that is quite a relief.
No, the concept at work here is that The Vrbs play with duality and rebirth and in a pre-digital age it would be a double album, the “white” first half dealing with the life of the main character before descending into his rebirth in the “black” second half. And finally, the final track leads us back to the beginning, a point where death meets life and peace and understanding are achieved.
And if all this talk of “prog” might have put you off, fear not, The Vrbs are all about punchy indie/power-pop meets alt-rock. The match grunt with melody, pop aware deliveries with rock’s drive and energy, much in the same way that bands such as Arctic Monkeys ushered in indies glorious second chapter.
Take a track such as New Drug, a salvo of punked-out dance energy, a blend of the foot on the monitor, low-slung guitars and infectious rhythms…music that is both big AND clever. Well I Do is raw-edged and full of insatiable vibes, a bundle of nervous new-wave dynamics and effervescent edginess and Under The Sea is the epic-sounding transition between the two sonic worlds that they have created.
Once over the line, things turn darker, more industrial, goth-tinged and abrasive and tracks such as Closer have more in common with the likes of Nine Inch Nails than the more indie landscape that we have been wandering up until now. But, the great thing is, even though we seem to be in a bleaker, blacker, musical underworld, the band don’t lose their grip on melody and accessibility. This means for all the shaded and atmospheric soundscaping they do, the songs still sound hooky and full of groove, just perhaps more tribal, more shamanic, more gloriously voodoo. Blow It Up is as incendiary as its name implies and Run is shattered and shifting, a spaghetti western soundtrack from the seventh circle of hell.
It’s a brave move to release an album this long. I know that technology means that album length is no issue in a non-physical world but consistency is key and just because you can release a long album, doesn’t mean that you should, in most cases. But not this case, thankfully, the song’s sequence not only works but is necessary to create the meandering sonic journey through light and shade, power and understatement. The result is glorious and by the time we reach the end, The VRBs have proven that they are masters of all they survey from power-pop to rock to more progressive noodling to gothic and industrial visions and everything in between.
Okay guys, consider my attention well and truly grabbed!