Vehicles: Echo

Band: Vehicles
Album: Echo (2017)
Genre: Alternative / Rock / Indie / New Wave / Post-Rock
City: Wichita, Ks
Standout tracks: Gorilla Suit, Gatecrasher, Androids Love The Tea, Curious
Seen live: yes
Rating: 8/10 Amazing!

For this band review I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to talk about:

  1. the songs most people would like
  2. the songs I like personally and the reason behind it
  3. the songs that I have suggested improvements

Fair Warning: I have a lot to say and this will not be short as I will be diving deep with this in depth review.

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In my opinion the best songs on this album are Gorilla Suit and Gatecrasher. If you read my last review on their 2013 album “This Bluebird Wants Me Dead”, you will remember me mentioning that this band has several layers with as many band members as they have, it is difficult to blend. But Vehicles does not seem to have difficulty with this. In fact, they excel at it. 2 guitars, bass and a keyboard is not going to be easy to separate parts without somebody pairing up responsibilities in the song. They key to their balance is teamwork. In particular, they keyboardist. The keyboard has the versatility to:

  • help the bass with a grove (like in Gatecrash)
  • help sustain with the rhythm guitar
  • harmonize with vocal melody
  • subtly enhance lead riffs (like in Gorilla Suit)

There is no better example of perfect blending than Gatecrash. It has such a funky yet smooth vibe that it doesn’t just ask you to dance, it demands it. Each instrument comes in and out at different times, and the effects will keep you guessing if that is the bass playing with a synth effect, or the keyboard switching back and forth? I will always listen to this song at least twice in a row when I listen to it. It always ends too early for me. If you listen carefully, you can pick out each individual part. All the parts are super bouncy and catchy. GOD DAMN THAT BASS ON THE VERSE THO! Yessir that’s some tasty bass! The keyboard compliments it perfectly there too, then the lead guitar come in on the chorus.

Gorilla Suit is a good song too. It was well placed in the track order. More on that later.

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Vehicles has a natural talent to affect the crowd. Sometimes on purpose, and other times on accident. During a live concert I was at, I let my friend Curtis Palmer write a concert review. This was actually my first time to see them live. During their song “Androids Love The Tea”, (which was not recorded at the time) the snare head broke in the middle of the song. In a spark of genius, Cody (lead singer) improvised repeating the line “We need a miracle!” which was a hilarious coincidence. He held out long enough to give the drummer to switch snares (thanks to Logan from Kill Vargas) ((gotta love Wichita community working together)) and made a memorable and comedic moment that sticks to me to this day. The band came in at the 3:12 marker and finished out the song.

The second time I saw Vehicles was at their album release show at Barleycorn’s February 25th. Before going to the show, I read THIS ARTICLE by KMUW. and. it. broke. me.

“These are my sad diary songs,” Cloud says. “Love songs for the end of the world. The title Echo? It’s like you’re standing there, yelling into the abyss and nothing’s coming back. I think the songs are more about feeling alienated, feeling alone, wanting human connection and it’s not really easy to find these days.”

“It’s about trying not to be overwhelmed by everything that can happen,” he says, “you just need to put one foot in front of the other. It’s just normal emotions that everyone has from time to time. I think there’s a lot of anxiety about thinking that everybody’s got this big life going on. Everybody’s their own press agent on social media. You kind of judge yourself against what you see other people doing. ‘This guy’s doing this and I’m not, so I’m not worth as much as him.’ That’s really not true.”

Echo concludes with the song “Curious,” which Cloud says was inspired by his relationship with his daughter.

“I’m getting to be older,” he says, “and my daughter is growing up to become her own individual. It’s curious when you love someone, and you want the best for them, but then you have to leave enough space for them to become who they need to be.”

The concert was originally going to end with that song as well. He talked about it briefly before playing it. He mentioned its significance to him. It really drew the audience in with this dialogue. It gave us a unique look behind the curtain of his reality. It made me realize two things. 1. That every song Vehicles writes is pure and has a deep meaning. 2. That I have a lot in common with the band. These songs resonate with you in a way that feels like I am experiencing his emotions. Perhaps they are just easily relatable for me. But I like to think that he has a way of pulling the audience in. They are not performing TO me. They are performing WITH me. It’s like I can hear my voice, my emotions, my hopes, my fears. I feel like I am sharing the stage with them. It’s not their performance. It’s all of ours.

As a testament to their power to captivate the audience, when they played their last song “Curious”, and having read the KMUW article and hearing the backstory before the song, … that song completely slayed me. This is the kind of song that you listen to and get lost in your own thoughts. The song ends and the ambiance fades, then you are just sitting their lost in your thoughts and emotions. All I can think to say is…Damn. Just… Damn. Interestingly enough, “Curious” was so powerful, so emotional, that it brought the mood of the entire place down. I think it had a greater effect than they were expecting, because they decided to play another song to lift the mood. They ended the night by playing a cover of Rebel Yell by Billy Idol.

Personal feelings aside, I can see this song in cinema. Maybe ending credits. Maybe in one of the new space movies that are coming out now. I imagine floating in orbit with the sunrise coming out from behind the earth’s atmosphere. I can sense the solitude and loneliness. It doesn’t have to be space. It can be adrift helplessly at sea; or maybe stranded in the desert walking slowly, with the mirage of an oasis constantly out of reach. I feel like this song should be pitched to film makers in Hollywood because it stands a good chance of being considered. It could be used on a tv show, like on Netflix.

(start Curious by Vehicles and read slowly)

  • (0:00) The main character is hanging off a cliff. In one hand (s)he is holding on to the cliff. In the other (s)he is holding the hand of a loved on whom is about to fall.
  • (0:41) They cling to each other in desperation as they struggle to get a more firm grip but they keep slipping. Loose rocks and gravel slide down the mountain as the struggle continues.
  • (0:57) The main character seems to be strained by the fatigue of climbing a mountain, and by the weight of his loved one. He grunts and grits his teeth in determination. Screaming out loud in the hopes to summon hidden strength to save her.
  • (1:49) As they look into each other’s eyes he can see the hope slowly vanish from her eyes. She slowly stops struggling and she begins to relax. She looks down at the tremendous drop. She looks back up at him with a calm expression of acceptance. He shakes his head “no” and he begins to see what she is thinking. Tears swell up in both of their eyes.
  • (3:49) His grip tightens as hers loosens. He tries to stay focused but his mind keeps flooding him with images of the first time they met. The first time they held hands. The first time they kissed. The ominous feeling that this is the last time they will see each other. She loosens her hand in her glove, then…
  • (4:23) The music takes over and there is no sound as her hand slips from out of her glove, and he screams “NO! ” with no sound, only music. She falls in slow motion. As she falls she slowly closes her eyes.
  • (5:15) Right before she hits the ground, the camera go back to him as he is looking down with tears going down his cheeks and freezing. His eyes are open, but you can see the life and happiness fade from his eyes as he stares into the void. The camera zooms out to where you can see the Earth in space. The camera continues to zoom out to reveal that the Earth is actually a single tear drop falling. (end music)

It’s funny how memory works. Every time I listen to them it brings me back to those memories of them live. It is for these reasons (that may only pertain to me), that Vehicles will have a special place on my iPod. I’d like to think that they connect with each audience they play in front of.

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Now that you know how much I love Vehicles, and my reasons why. Maybe you might allow me to have a few suggestions of constructive criticism?

The opening 2 songs “Young Bombers” and “Agora Phoebe” are just fine instrumentally, but there are specific issues that I have with them. Young Bombers on Echo reminds me of Projections on their previous album. It is the opening track of the album so you want it to be upbeat. I get it. But the opening track has a different vibe to it than the rest of the tracks on the album. Its hard to explain exactly what is different about it, other than it almost feels like it should be on a different album, or maybe a single. The rest of the tracks vibe well together, but this one stands out. Because it is at the beginning of the album, it seems a little misleading. Like you are trying to trick the audience that “the rest of the album will be like this, keep listening”. I understand wanting to put your best foot forward, but something about it seems off. That’s the exact opposite effect you wanted. Maybe it was recorded first, or maybe somebody else (who did NOT do the tracking) did the mixing. Maybe it was originally supposed to be a single, but was added later. Perhaps it is the first song to experiment with various tones that may seem unusual to the normal (you could say, expected) tone. I don’t know. I do like the “return to sender” line though. It’s catchy. This song is actually really good, but feels weird on the album with the rest of the tracks. If I were reviewing just the song, I would not have anything bad to say about it. But because I am reviewing the album as a whole, I thought it was worth saying. In its own way, that doesn’t sound so bad though. “It sounds different” can be both a good thing, or a bad thing. It just depends on your point of view, I suppose.

The second track, “Agora Phoebe”, I can tell they were trying to make it the standout track; and they nearly succeeded. I love just about everything about this track. But every time Cody goes to hit those high falsetto notes, you miss them. It sounds like you are stretching your vocal range to try and reach that note. It would be one thing if you stretched for it, and barely hit it. But you stretch and miss. It would be another thing if it was only a small section of the song, but it is frequent and intermittent throughout the whole song, so it is difficult to ignore.
example: parentheses indicate missed high notes.

Verse

  • Aren’t you, (happy now)
  • All the pills (that I take)
  • I try hard (to relate)
  • Let’s go out (for a walk)

Chorus

  • Oh, (the sky’s so big)
  • (I can’t wait to) land

There also a few sections where it sounds like you lose your breath finishing a few lines.
example:

  • “Oh, the sky’s so b– *gasp*…
  • “I cant wait to l–? *gasp*

It may be a little harsh for me to say, but the vocals kill this song. I think I remember saying something about this on my previous review. The easiest way to fix this would be to write vocal lines that you don’t struggle so much with. Maybe you were trying to break out of your comfort zone with vocal melodies? I don’t think see you changing your writing style now to help stay in your range. I can understand trying new vocal melodies, but you are out of your element. It’s not like you are out of options though. There are a few vocal pedals you can look into that will give you that little nudge you need. I’m not saying you need auto-tune, but I am saying you need Pitch Correct. They work just like guitar pedals, only designed for mics. And just like a guitar pedal, you can turn it on or off with a foot switch. Even if you do decide to use auto-tune, it won’t be that noticeable. It’s not like you are suddenly going to sound like Kanye West’s shitty robot voice. There is a tactful/sensible way of using auto-tune, and then there is an abusive/compensation for lack of talent kind of way to use it. I’m saying to do the former. It’s good to try new things, but don’t over extend your abilities. If you insist on stretching your vocals, at least look into a vocal pedal. (just don’t use it as a crutch)

I didn’t want to mention it earlier in this blog, but the reason why I like “Gorilla Suit” is that it has all the great qualities as the first 2 tracks, but it fits the vibe of the rest of the songs, and it doesn’t have a vocal range issue. I feel it is the best representation for the rest of the album. This is the track that should be advertised the most to get people to buy your album. Like, if you had a 30 sec commercial at the end say “IN STORES NOW, DOWNLOAD IT TODAY!!” Then I’d use this song.

I want to emphasize that every track on this album is great. It sucks that the 2 things I noticed for suggestions and improvements just so happen to be on tack 1 and 2. That creates its own problem. New listeners or A&R talent scouts for radio, record labels, movies, commercials,  festival/outdoor shows, larger venues, may not care enough to listen to more than 2 songs before making a decision or simply moving on to the rest of the entries.

 

 

Make sure you find Vehicles on:

Buy / download the album at:

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