Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Best of 2008: #3. Verse En Coma - Rialto

I first found out about this album as part of a superb mega-post/analysis over at Last Train for Cool, and decided to check it out due to it being mentioned alongside two other post-Pg.99 bands I was rather big on, Malady and the already-covered Pygmy Lush. Anyway, I strongly recommend you check that out (Extra encouragement: it has a link).

Now then, Verse En Coma are kind of a hard band to nail down. They don't conform to any genre norms, despite their hardcore pedigree, and while this may make it hard for overly obsessive outsiders to properly categorize them, it also allows the band to run free with their ideas, unhindered by any bullshit expectations of what they should sound like. As a result, Rialto ends up with greater musical similarities to The Holy Bible-era Manic Street Preachers or Wire than it does to Pg.99, and frankly, it's far better for it.

Really, describing their sound relative to anything almost requires a certain contextual knowledge of the band members' past, as it could be surmised that everything on this album is an evolution of what Malady did (Verse En Coma being formed by two former members of Malady, Jonathon and Kevin). In this case, I would describe what Verse En Coma does as a more tempered, weary substitute for the dark, abyssal and endlessly pessimistic punk of Malady. The same expansive, dream-like atmosphere is in full effect here, but it comes off more like a hallucination than a nightmare, the bitterness of Malady eschewed in favour of a numbing feeling of dissociation. The instruments crackle with the same fuzz-laden cacophony seen on Malady, with the canned ferocity of the drums being especially notable (and fantastic). Guitar lines constantly move in and out of the translucent, reverb-drenched fog surrounding them, barely sounding recognizable amongst the midst of their own distortion. Even the vocals are blurred beyond being immediately identifiable; the singer's more desperate cries come off as even more restless as a result of the hedging waves of distortion, while the mellower vocals sound like little more than a gentle hum, clouded to the point where they sound almost indivisible from the bass.

Thematically, Rialto sees Verse En Coma look at the ennui of modern life through a number of narratives, executing this concept excellently both in its effusion of mood and in its lyrical content. "Through Ice Patches and Pine Trees" is a fast-paced musical whirl through continually unfamiliar territory, with the lyrics taking on an introspective, stream of consciousness style that emits the kind of honesty and self-discovery that comes only with a double dose of insomnia and alcohol. "In a Factory" teems with repression and angst as it tells a story of disenfranchised lovers amongst the backdrop of their mutual working-place. The music is bleak, but the vocals exude an entrancing warmth, suggesting the speaker's relationship is a lone yet utterly redeeming bright spot in the vast array of lifelessness and subordination he finds around him.

we were the young ones
we were the artistic ones
we were the "they don't know what life is really about" ones

Verse En Coma's Rialto is the best debut album of the year, an effort that takes the most distinct and intriguing parts of Malady and infuses them with a stellar song-writing skill and an even more ambitious musical approach. The album progresses like a long, bewildering dream, as it constantly changes narrative focus, but never seems to break the singular progression of mood. Unfortunately, clocking in at under a half-hour, Rialto isn't quite as epic in length as it feels in scope. But it is an enrapturing journey through the highs and lows of Richmond, delivered through such a dissociative state of ennui that it isn't sure if it still feels either.

but i'm still here

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