Leeds-based quintet Vessels are known for fantastic live performances, the quality of which I can personally attest to, and a profound affinity for experimentation, with successive songs on each of their LP’s often sounding as if they had been composed by two different artists.
2011’s “Helioscope” and everything released since has shown an ever-growing electronic influence, and with “Dilate”, Vessels have completed the transition, their previous energetic mix of math- and post-rock nowhere to be found.
Having followed their progression for over three years now, I found this much easier to stomach as there were really no grounds for surprise. Judging this album on the merits of each individual song alone, one finds a refreshingly intricate mix of tunes which, although often failing to make an immediate impression, allow listeners to follow at their own pace.
RELEASE DATE: 02 March 2015 LABEL: Self-released
However, if any major fault can be found with “Dilate”, it’s this ambivalence, which sometimes comes across as the insecurity of a band still in foreign territory. There is no discernible statement Vessels seem to want to make other than proving their fluency with electronic music and their determination to cast aside their old sound. Instead, the album has the feel of a mixtape, albeit a very pleasant one.
The urgency and dynamic presence of “Elliptic” has a slight afterglow in the following track, “Echo In”, but is sadly missing throughout the rest of the album. That said, there is a bit of something for everyone here, provided you’re into the subtlety of the beats on display. Guest vocalist Snow Fox lends her velvety presence to “As You Are” and “On Monos”, with the former´s aquatic beat providing the perfect backdrop for her voice, while the latter drives home a beat which sustains the song´s momentum for over six minutes without wearing out its welcome.
Meanwhile, “Attica” treads dangerously close to cheesy EDM territory while still remaining tasteful, proving to be the “loudest” song of the LP, followed closely by my personal favourite, “Elliptic”. However, the guitars that gave an earlier live version of “Attica” its cutting edge are now barely audible, having been edited into ambience. This seems to be symptomatic of Vessels’ apparent intention to establish themselves in their new niche without offending anyone. The frenetic drumming of their earlier work is also absent for the most part, and it is difficult to imagine much of “Dilate” translating to a live band setting.
This is not to say that “Dilate” isn’t an enjoyable listen by any stretch of the imagination. The production is terrific, with each element often lurking in the back of the mix before coming to the forefront of the song in due time. This is readily apparent on “Echo In”, where a looped key melody supplies the groundwork for successive layers of extraterrestrial beats which could easily provide the soundtrack for a sci-fi computer game if separated from one another and stretched out in length. This template, established by opener “Vertical”, is continued on the superb “Glass Lake”, which fully explores the dynamic potential of a deceptively simple drum beat.
The album is rounded out by “On Your Own Ten Toes”, which could pass as an earlier cathartic post-rock Vessels tune transposed into their now-synth-dominated arsenal, while again remaining somewhat indecisive. Bonus track “Beautiful You Me” would have served much better as an album closer, as its beautiful tractor beam sawtooth absorbs all else before giving way to a delicate interlude and returning to close the piece.
On the whole, “Dilate” leaves a little audacity to be desired on the whole despite the new stylistic territory. With years of evidence that the change in sound was coming, there should have been no reason for Vessels to hold back as much as they did. For all its flaws however, “Dilate” is a testament to the band’s love for electronic music, if not yet necessarily their commitment to making it themselves.