Wolf and Cub
(Dot Dash/4AD; 2006/2007)
By Dom Sinacola | 16 February 2007
Had it not been for the sharp knowledge of the band's genetic makeup, the distinct burden of showcasing two drummers as if that fact should punish all similar bands, then I wouldn't be disappointed by the amalgamation of genres Vessels seems to represent. Maybe that last sentence should be flip-flopped, and let's correct something else, too: the boys of Wolf & Cub are very adept at finding their places within recognizable genre tropes, making tropes seem like contemporary stereotypes, which means, in a semantic sense, they're able to conjure some immediacy over worn terrain, but mostly means all that energy just chomps at the bit. For the whole of this, Wolf & Cub's debut album, the Adelaide foursome does what's expected to follow up a few exciting EPs; singer Joel Burn yelps when yelping is appropriate and hushes when the mood is tempered by quieter riffs and dreamy pedal mushing. His lyrics are mostly indiscernible behind lashings of snare -- wait, two snares -- and wet pistons of electric guitar, but when solid words do surface their innocuousness keeps them obligatory dressing. In other words, while the band trolls endlessly through scapes of dream pop and post-rock and no man's land punk and Clinic's back catalog, the band does not sound like it has two drummers. At all. Not that the band has to sound like it has two drummers, but we've heard this mélange of furious strumming and thoughtful atmosphere before, so two drummers could, ostensibly, kick out some extra teeth. And, I think, some extra teeth needs to be kicked out, because nothing here can really compare in intensity, brisk and elastic, to "Thousand Cuts" from the Steal Their Gold/Thousand Cuts (2005) single. That song cut pus-scythed swathes into doubts about the band's originality and scope. Instead, while "Vessels" and "This Mess" cloud their mixes with blustery static and anxious, stilted buzz, the guitars and one-two-three drum matches thin as the track lengths stretch, rendering all melody and guts a smooth pâté. Suspiciously, or just predictably, the initial rips of each song raze hell, but nothing ever lasts. The two instrumental tracks, "Rozalia Bizarre" and either "Seeds of Doubt" or "Conundrum" (don't ask) marginalize blooming jams into just one squeal, or bongo, or one moment of doubled tempo (or a fake set of handclaps). Even downtrodden "Hammond" can only exist in a twenty second concoction of ringing whitewash and chirp before boring the shit out of the band -- that is, out of everyone except Joel Burn, who, to his credit, sounds unfalteringly earnest the whole way through. Ennui colors the rest of the release. Best to judge Vessels as a whole, as is our critical duty anyway, but, still, because the album bleeds so mercilessly into itself, one track divorced could bait some viscera and one track amongst the others could cease to exist. So "Kingdom" buries a grating electro-beat behind an instantly catchy bass line, and the thing's like a Sigur Rós Recycle Bin (1998) B-side. So "Steal Their Gold," surviving the singles and EP purge, retains the brief klaxon measure of everything great before, but it still disappears in retrospect. If this all sounds like disappointment, then that's probably true on my part, but if Vessels looks like disappointment, that's the drummers' fault. All said, the album's capably produced by Tony Doogan, Secret Machines aspirations and all, and it's a debut wrapped in sophomore expansion, a third of a universe away from anything deservedly cosmic and anything appropriately full.