Thursday, May 10, 2007

Watchers - Vampire Driver

Vampire Driver (Gern Blandsten)

Download: Watchers - "Chess Champion "
Download: Watchers - "Mercenary Birds"
Download: Watchers - "Flicker Pays"

Watchers are a smart, talented, and rhythmically tight group from Chicago that have been compared to other smart, talented and rhythmically tight bands like Modest Mouse and Talking Heads. But, for some reason or another, I just can't fully get behind their latest release, Vampire Driver.

I hear a lot of interesting things going on in "Chess Champion" and "Flicker Pays," like the way the guitar, drums and bass all push and pull against each other. It's like they're all trying to get out of the same horribly claustrophobic space, only they don't realize quite yet that there is no way out.

However, I also hear a lot of shortcomings, namely in the vocal and production areas. Many of the vocals on this record are flat, thin and a little off-key. The production makes a lot of the instruments sound too trebly and cold. I don't know if it's me, but I kept trying to adjust my stereo to see if I could get some nice thick low end where it was so desperately needed.

Take "Chess Champion", Vampire Driver's first track. The song starts out with a machine-gun drumming pattern and a bass line that matches up exactly with it. So far, we're off to a taut, menacing start. But then the guitars come in, and they sound like crap. The vocals also don't have nearly enough presence as they should have. What you have then is a battle between a song which has the potential to be quite excellent and the big black void that's trying to make the same song sound incredibly shitty.

The give-and-take experienced by the listener extends pretty much throughout the entire record. "Young One" and the aforementioned "Flicker Pays" have slinky, sexy beats, but are weighed down by anemic melodies and barely in-tune instruments.

Ultimately, Vampire Driver is all about the rhythm section. If you can pay attention solely to the excellent drum and bass (as opposed to drum-and-bass), then you will greatly enjoy the work Watchers do on Vampire Driver. If it's guitar action and strong vocals you seek, then you are well-advised to look elsewhere.

(Jonathan Graef)

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