In order to adequately review this album, I have to switch into “indie rock” mode. Wait a minute while I embrace the cutting edge of underground sound ?
Now, instead of a mere music reviewer, I am now unique and different ? exactly like every other indie rock fan.
VPN, a New York band on the Evil Teen label, recently released “For Nearby Stars,” a surprisingly excellent album. Allow me to explain the surprise. In the CT office, we get lots of free CDs. While there was a time when I was excited by this prospect, joy soon turned to sadness as I realized that we were getting a bunch of crap bands from mediocre labels.
Most CDs we get are not only sub-par, but painful to listen to. I do listen to them, though ? which is good, because if I hadn’t, I would not have gotten the opportunity to get my grubby hands all over this one, which happens to be very good.
They are an indie band (kind of ? while they are signed, they have that undefinable indie sound). An instance of their indie-osity would be their liner notes, where (in all lowercase letters for added “we’re too cool for capitals” effect), they forego the traditional listing of instruments for, “high frequencies,” “midrange,” “harmonic debris” and “low frequencies.”
I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing ? “Get over yourselves.” We only let people get away with that sort of thing after they have achieved fame, not before. At first glance, it seemed as though this was another addition to the drawer of wasted plastic.
Luckily for VPN, I remembered that in order to judge a band, I needed to actually listen to the music. Forget judging books by their covers ? my new motto is “Thou shalt not judge a CD by its liner notes.”
VPN is good. Very good. I mean, we’re talking about a band that is relatively unknown, putting out this CD that is, honestly, better than a lot of the CDs I pay money for.
First off, the album has this flow to it. From “Flypaper,” the opening track, all the way to the end of the album, I was able to listen to this CD without once reaching for the skip track button. A lot of this has to do with the mellow/chill atmosphere presented by the band. Even on the harder tracks, there are still undercurrents of mellowness.
Secondly, the vocals fit in well with the music. The lead singer has sort of a Jeff Buckley-Thom Yorke thing going on, which works very well. Secondly, he doesn’t whine. Whining is the most annoying part of the indie-attitude, and it is thankfully avoided.
The harmonies, the blending of the voices, and the whole dynamic of the vocals work so well together, without losing the laid-back-we’re-cool-but-we-don’t-rub-it-in ambience.
The best part of the whole thing, though, is that unlike a lot of music that is similar stylistically, this music is mixed well. The sound is very clean, except when it is intentionally dirty.
While pop audiences may not be big fans of VPN right now ? I expect that even if they were better known they would not be topping the charts ? this is still a band to be reckoned with.
The music is well crafted, the vocals and lyrics excellent and meaningful. VPN is a rare find of a band that is well worth a listen.
I give them four for musical quality, plus four for lyrical excellence, minus one for the liner notes ? “We’re too cool to list our instruments normally,” plus two for attitude, and minus one for the hidden track ? you can’t just listen to it and it should have just been a normal part of the album ? which gives us a total of eight out of 10.
Powell can be reached at email@example.com.