The Vickers "Ghosts" (Inner Ear/Black Candy Records, 2014)
I originally talked to The Vickers back in 2013 (Interview here) just after the release of their killer She’s Lost 7-inch for Cyber Tree Records. At that point, they were working on the material that would go on to become Ghosts and while there’s definitely some evolution and growth here, The Vickers have lost none of the initial genius that originally brought them to my attention. After two full-length albums The Vickers seem to have perfected capturing their expansive ensemble sound, and Ghosts is a wonderful example of that. I know you’re not supposed to compare bands to the Beatles, what band deserves that kind of burden being placed on them, or really lives up to the comparison after all? But The Vickers just bleed Rubber Soul/Revolver era Beatles. From the opening chords of “She’s Lost”, originally featured on the single of the same title I mentioned before and finding a new home on Ghosts, the listener is instantly transported back to the exploration, naivety, empowerment and energy of the summer of love though. “Tell me how you feel, this is real, this is real…” I mean the lyrics even sounds like something the Beatles would have written! The absolutely blistering guitar breaks and shy trembling guitar chords ephemerally shimmer in the background of the mix, building to a frenzied loop of distorted feedback and hiss, collapsing in on itself, giving birth to one hell of a gnarly solo to finish out the nearly five-minute long album opener. Using a five minute long song to start an album might be a risky move for other bands, but The Vickers pull it off with their usual level of ease; “She’s Lost” feeling much more like it clocks in at around three minutes than five. Giving way to the more folky sounds of “I Don’t Know What It Is” Ghosts begins to really kick into gear as an album for me with the second track here. There’s a sense of cohesiveness to Ghosts as a whole that most albums are sorely lacking, where songs are usually seemingly grouped together for no other reason than they had to be put into some sort of order, there’s a powerful deliberateness about Ghosts. “I Don’t Know What It Is” takes the explosive energy of the opening track, refines it, bottles it and sporadically unleashes spurts and spasms of shimmering psychedelia, building to frantic peaks before dropping out and giving way to jammy valleys of luscious riffage and thundering drum and bass. Stripping away a bit of the electric sound that starts the album and infusing it with some more acoustic tendencies, before expanding into a diverse sonic blanket of sound “Senseless Life” is mesmerizing. There’s an expansive sense of grandeur to “Senseless Life” that just leaves me flabbergasted every time I hear it, Andrea Mastropietro’s first language isn’t even English, and yet the lyrics are deeper and more intelligent than ninety-percent of the American and British singer/songwriters that I hear really making a go of it these days. “I think I lost something inside” “a lovely ruin”, “we’ve got a senseless life” “this dream is not for us”, Mastropietro perfectly giving voice to the apathy and desperation of a generation with out getting mired down in sappy trappings or coming off preachy, an accomplishment in my book to say the least. The stripped down strings of “Senseless Life” lead in to “It Keeps Going On And On”, which starts to ramp the energy level back up a little, the electric guitar coming back to the front again, jangling and crooning above growingly melodic ambient background vocals. The almost tribal like breakaway in the middle of “It Keeps Going On And On” is one of the perfect examples of the band’s evolution since their last album, Fine Is Now three years prior. There’s a more controlled, concise sound here, capable of peeling back layer after layer of sound to reveal the inner machinations, or adding those layers back to create an unstoppable psychedelic garage rock juggernaut! “All I Need” was the B-side to the She’s Lost 7-inch and while a lot of songs taken from singles, B-side especially, sound exceedingly out of place on the albums they eventually end up on, “All I Need” sounds far more at home on Ghosts than it did on She’s Lost in fact. The red-hot guitar solos that explode like volcanic eruptions throughout “All I Need”, clattering reverberation and heaping helpings of distortion and echo spilling and tumbling over themselves to create a breeding ground for unfettered lysergic insanity! “All I Need” is still my favorite Vickers track, showcasing not only the classic Revolver like sounds that drew me in to begin with, but their uncanny ability to open up a maw of sound and distortion to create a sizzling psych rock track as well. “Hear Me Now” has a mellow almost shoegaze sound that unfurls like a banner to reveal syrupy vocals bouncing about in rubber rooms of clattering echo and wonder. The expanse of sound is like stepping out of your front door and into deep space, gravity and everything you’ve ever held dear slipping away in an endless black infinity. Snarling and growling past planets, “Hear Me Now” traverses the multi-verse inside of a version of 2001’s spacecraft, now controlled by a mindless HAL and rocketing through the farthest reaches of galaxies as yet undiscovered. Along the way “Inside A Dream” just kind of happens. It slips in after the almost disorienting cacophony of psychedelia that is “Hear Me Now” to calm your spirits, even your mind, to keep you from completely freaking out on the LSD that The Vickers have so inconspicuously slipped into your drink… While I think that the song that precedes it actually feels much more like a dream, “Inside A Dream” is far from an unfitting name, the song actually proving extremely surrealistic as it progresses, the soft, clam visage growing wings and fangs before taking flight and laying waste to your senses with a sonic battery of attacks! If you look at Ghosts like a collection of dreams, parables and tales like I’ve come to, “Inside A Dream” will begin to take on meaning after meaning the more you listen to it, the precise construction and order of the songs becoming apparent with the blown-out mess of drums that degrade into a no-fidelity muddle of noise to pave the way for “Walking On A Rope”. “Walking On A Rope” is a perfect movement into the beginning of the end for Ghosts. It operates perfectly as both a mirror to the soft, calm, ethereal emotions promoted by the first third of the album and the simmering explosive energy cultivated from that point on, mixing the two and creating a song that is perhaps the greatest accomplishment on the album. It includes all of The Vickers signatures sounds, time shifts, crescendos, peaks, valleys, fits and freak-outs, and it does it all with out sounding like it’s trying too hard, or even breaking a sweat. The Vickers are obviously extremely interested in exploring vintage psychedelic music and those sounds but they put it all in a new framework, taking what they want and building it from the again from the ground up. The bizarre organ or piano that sounds almost like a harpsichord which fade out and give way to “Total War” are another in a line of wonderful endings to songs, an art that seems to have been lost on a lot of bands as well. “Total War” however, is the only song that sounds like it might be a little bit out of place on the album. It’s not a bad song, though. Extremely mellow and calm, there’s an almost funky blues-ish undercurrent going on, soudnign radically different from the rest of Ghosts for better or worse. The guitars have their phaser settings on kill for this tune, plodding and meandering are both words that come to mind after about three and a half minutes though, and while “She’s Lost” might sound like it’s half the time that it is, “Total War” more than makes up for that, feeling like it’s twice as long as it really is. There’s some really nice atmospheric soundscaping that happens in the last ten or fifteen seconds, but it’s just not enough to save the song or justify its existence on such an otherwise outstanding album. Finishing with the dreamy sounds of the title track, “Ghosts” which do a much better job of delivering the sleepy, dreamlike sounds and surreal soundscape atmosphere that The Vickers are so adept at summoning from nothingness. I love the faded vocal chanting and hums in the back of “Ghosts”, sounding just like the name would imply, they almost haunt the song, creeping in and out of the mix until at around four-minutes in “Ghosts” literally just gives way – fading into an otherworldly caterwaul of spectral psychedelic phenomena. It’s a fitting, if somewhat abrupt ending to the album, but it works pretty damned well. You just want to get up and put the album on again, run back through what you’ve heard, take it all in again and again, and that’s the best part of Ghosts for me. The Vickers have once again crafted a killer album capable of plenty of repeat listening. While their first two albums were undeniably keepers, The Vickers have managed to head in some amazing new directions yet retaining all of the qualities that made them such a good band to start with, a rare and difficult tightrope act. You can pick up Ghosts digitally, on CD or on vinyl and while I don’t think there’s a cassette version of it quite yet, it wouldn’t surprise me to see one pop up. Don’t let the medium slow you down though, head on over to their Bandcamp page and snag yourself some tunes today!
Review made by Roman Rathert/2015
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