We, The Vehicles

(Flameshovel Records; 2006)

By David Greenwald | 16 March 2006

Electric guitar chords as sharp and tightly coiled as razor wire. Bouncy but insistent percussion that calls for dancing but not attention to itself. Adventurous bass lines. Lilting melodies. A vocalist with just enough weariness and age to muddy otherwise forthright vocals. I almost wish I was talking about the new Strokes record, but the honor belongs solely to Maritime.

We, The Vehicles is the band’s second album, released in the U.S. almost a year after its Japanese issuance thanks to a lack of stateside record label. The eleven songs sound no less fresh for their incubation period, and if anything, the competition seems to have wasted an opportunity. This is the record that Nada Surf aimed for and missed last year and Weezer is probably kicking itself over. Frontman Davey von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier have come a long way since their days with emo outfit The Promise Ring, which always leaned a little more toward plain old indie rock than its contemporaries anyway. On the other hand, Maritime lacks the unique synthesis of bassist Eric Axelson’s former band, The Dismemberment Plan, but that’s more an argument for the canonization of the Plan’s Emergency & I than a knock on this album, which more than stands on its own two feet.

“Calm” starts things off emphatically, drums firmly on the downbeats. Each member of the band is crisply emphasized, and as anthematic as the guitars become in the chorus, they never overwhelm von Bohlen’s vocals or bury Axelson’s hypnotically meandering bass lines. The balanced interplay between band members is equally engrossing on “People, The Vehicles” and the chipper, Cure-like “German Engineering,” among others. Maritime’s debut album Glass Floor may have seen the group finding its sea legs, but here it couldn’t be more stable. Von Bohlen’s guitar work is particularly well-constructed, as on “We Don’t Think, We Know” when he plays a careless major key melody against the contradictory feel of tense 7th chords – not to mention the cute lyrical nod to comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.”

Instrumentally, Maritime seem to enjoy itself immensely, and far be it for von Bohlen to ruin the mood. He sings enthusiastically but with a knowing restraint, not missing any opportunities to skewer the “infinite parade of punk-rock t-shirts,” but never making anything a sore subject. The same young singer who once jokingly asked if, when he came to New York, he could sleep on your floor, is now more concerned with the complexities of post-collegiate relationships. “When your eyes are off me, I’m alone,” he laments on “Tearing Up the Oxygen,” but then again, fitting the chorus “when you can’t break through with the one you want” to a disco groove on “Parade of Punk Rock T-Shirts” is more emblematic of a go-lucky kid than a lovelorn poet. “People, The Vehicles” may contain the album’s most depressive moment, finding him “helpless on our hands and buckled knees,” but his tone is never particularly distraught. Throughout, von Bohlan is at ease in the role of the nostalgic observer, free to comment with humor or disappointment.

We, The Vehicles is a fine collection of songs by a band running on all cylinders – at least on record. Axelson recently announced his departure from the band, citing a need to take a break from seven years of touring, and his loss will certainly be felt. Knowing Maritime, though, the band will keep coming up roses: “Love is no big deal / just follow your feel,” huh? Easy for you to say, Davey.