The total disarmament of pure pop enveloped my ears the very first time I listened to Vessels. Instant surrender to the irresistible tones of ‘Be Your Man’. The up-beat tones that spout from the loudspeakers, everything is great fun. And then enters the text sung by singer Erin Passmore. The end of the end of a relationship. Good or bad? It seems good as he had a feeling when he held her hand: “Something told me I couldn’t be your man”. There’s something else or better in wait for him. So in the end the lyrics and the music do belong together. Both show an anticipation of things to come. The rest of Vessels shows that this feeling may have been correct.
Rah Rah is the second band from Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada to appear on this blog in quite a short time space, after bluegrass band The Good South. Musically the two bands could not be further apart though. The pure pop sound against the country roughness. Rah Rah is around since 2005, Vessels is it's fourth full length album. My first. The six piece operates in this setting since the late 00s. Musically it fits in the fine tradition of a band like Veronica Falls, but also The New Pornographers comes to mind here. Like that band Rah Rah is multi fronted. Don't ask me who sings what. I just don't know.
That was one of the, pleasant, surprises of Vessels. ‘Chip of the Heart’ is sung by one of the ladies, either Kristina Hedlund or Vanessa Benson. Her voice, the girl version of the singer reminds me a lot of Mette Lindberg of Asteroids Galaxy Tour, without the helium component. Another reference is Roxanne Clifford of Veronica Falls. For a moment I thought that Clifford started a new band, now that James Hoare is spending most of his time in Ultimate Painting. The innocent girl type voice that learns about life and loses a chip off her heart. Again irresistible.
Vessels is a pop album. It is lightweight, fleeting in all the right ways. ‘Love That Sticks’ holds these beautiful aahs in the background vocals. The duet between the two lift the music up, which is already the ultimate mix of a pop feel with the melancholy sadness of waiting for things to unfold. The pop feel is laced with some beautiful adornments that make the song like a trickling brook. Curves, bends, little waterfalls, shaded by trees in a forest and out in the open sun or caught in the avalanche of a sawmill. Totally romantic, ‘Love that Sticks’ is.
Not all songs are so untroubled and frivolous. Other songs are stricter and more rhythm driven. The drums drive those songs and the guitars follow suit. In "Wolf Eyes" the guitars are released a little in the chorus, while at the same time the unrelentless pounding on skins and snares of the Velvet Underground comes through. The voice is too sweet to fit really in Lou Reed’s mould of course.
This mix of songs is what gives Vessels its variety, while at the same time the quality goes down a little. The stricter songs do not get close to the perfection Rah Rah reaches in the opening songs. The fact that those songs do can only be established in contrast. Rah Rah has these songs on its palmares for sure.
No matter what the band undertakes on Vessels, it searches for the little extras in the openings its songs offer. ‘First Night we Met’ is another of the tighter songs. Here a few single piano notes embellish the song as does something sounding like a melodica. A long held single note, like the piano note. An ooh here or there does the rest. Little musical tricks that easily escape the ear at first listening and enrich a song after further listening. The slowly unveiled treasure chest of Rah Rah.
Listening to Vessels through a few weeks it dawns that the band spans five decades in music with ease. In a few songs they grasp for the melodic prowess of The Beatles, the down to earth yet art rock of The Velvet Underground, the strictness of early 80s new wave and the alternative pop rock that is around since the 90s. The kind of music that is all around in the 10s. So, no, Rah Rah is far from original, yet at the top of its game.
I do admit that towards the end of Vessels Rah Rah does not keep up the quality the album has in the first bunch of songs. What I heard before qualifies as some of the best songs I’ve heard this year in pop rock. The rest is far from bad, it just doesn’t compare in the competition with itself. A promise for the future? It may well be if the band can tap into that pop vain again and again.
Funny how surprises sometimes pop up at the end. Rah Rah ends Vessels with 'In Space'. All things pop, exuberance and fun come back, including a fantastic spacey outing that in my imagination completely gives the feeling of weightlessness in music. What an ending of this beautiful album!
You can listen to ‘Chip of the Heart’ here:
Or buy at Bol.com