Album Review: Vessels

Album Review: Vessels
Album: Helioscope
Label: Cuckundoo Records

Whatever is being put in the water in Leeds, it’s having a magical effect on the quality of musicianship pouring out of the place. Vessels are the latest in a healthy list of bands to come out of the city with a strong record, Helioscope being a much more measured and concise account of what the five-piece have got stored away in their noggins.

Their debut release, White Fields and Open Devices, picked up deserved attention for its rich and dynamic nature – it was an album that sounded far beyond the scope of a band releasing its first album, and managed to avoid falling into many of the tropes that the accursed ‘post-rock’ tag seems to attract. Helioscope sees the band learning from some of their overreaching ambitions on that first album, focussing instead on creating a record that ebbs and flows, as if all 48 minutes were forged from a single hazy dream.

For those who are wary of the aforementioned ‘post-rock’ tag, don’t let it put you off. If anything, it’s hard to determine fully what Helioscope is trying to be. The band are not afraid to use their voices as instruments, to pleasing effect; at times the vocals sound distant from the assured nature of the instruments backing them, creating an evocative atmosphere. Nowhere is this better realised than in ‘Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute’, where the band enrol the services of melancholic singer songwriter, Stuart Warwick. His timid vocal performance lends the track an ethereal delicacy, a fragility that stands out among the rougher moments of Helioscope, notably the dark and bass-heavy machinations of ‘Art/Choke’, which follows immediately after.

What is most commendable on Helioscope is that nothing ever feels rushed. It’s an album that you can truly sink into. ‘Later Than You Think’ sounds aurally similar to something Battles might craft, but the difference is in its patience, the slow build-up that eases, rather than rushes, into the next crescendo. Yes, this is perhaps one of those tropes that ‘post-rock’ continues to bleed dry, but on Helioscope as a whole, the effect is that Vessels have created an atmosphere rather than just a collection of songs. It’s no easy feat, especially when still managing to be riveting to the ears, so it deserves recognition.

There’s also a meticulous attention to dynamics, evidenced in the way the recurring theme of ‘The Trap’ cuts back just before its conclusion. But every track boasts a rich texture to it, and with a pair of headphones on it feels as if you could completely immerse yourself in the tapestry woven therein. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it’s reminiscent of Mogwai’s Young Team: nothing feels wasted, and the peaks and troughs are all equally enthralling to the ears.

Helioscope is a vast step forward for Vessels. White Fields and Open Devices was good, yes, but it was disjointed, overambitious and at times, a bit of a drag. Its follow-up is nothing of the sort – it achieves that sense whereby every time you listen to it you notice something different; it’s immersive and richly textured; and best of all it sounds like a complete and coherent album. And despite the quality of music coming out of Leeds, not many are paying much heed to the worthiness of that kind of release. Perhaps that’s just me being old fashioned, eh?

Originally published at The Line of Best Fit.

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