However eclectic their output to date, very few fans of Leeds’ Vessels could probably have seen this album coming. Hinted at by their set at 2013’s inaugural ArcTanGent Festival where there was only a single guitar on stage, the band were deliberately making a statement - going to the new adopted home of post-rock and refusing to play any of their older, post-rock material, debuting instead a lean techno-inflected electronic pulse. Kraftwerk with a teenhood of playing in math bands and listening to Massive Attack on headphones after dark, their new direction was a surprise at first. The line between instrumental headphone electronic music and post-rock has always been slightly blurred, delineated more often than not simply by instrumentation and who the band’s friends are. Even in this respect though, Vessels have continually and capriciously blurred that line, piling synth after synth on stage before playing with bands like Oceansize and And So I Watch You From Afar; maybe this was, after all, to be expected.
Vessels may have succeeded in making one of the smartest and most beguiling electronic albums of the year.
‘Dilate’ marks the first LP release under this new configuration, with a single track, ‘Elliptic’ carried across from their 2013 EP of the same name. The track is relatively typical of the album, despite having its genesis elsewhere; the melodies are lean and obvious, with one layer brought to the fore during each section, but the layers themselves are multitudinous - a post-rock guitar trick ported to synths, percussion and loops. The percussion probably doesn’t quite count as polyrhythmic, but it remains intricate and layered, breaking into full-on head spinning polyrhythms on album highlight ‘Echo In’ and ‘On Your Own Ten Toes’. The other side of the album is very much danceable, on the other hand; ‘On Monos’ with its pulsing, foregrounded beats and spectral, almost - dare it be said - sensual vocal lead would work in a club, while ‘As You Are’ is a guilt-free comedown tune. ‘Attica’, the album’s other highlight blurs the two axiomatic elements of the album, fusing an almost krautrock or kosmiche aesthetic with the straightforward pulsing 4/4 drive of ‘On Monos’.
Resisting the twin urges to oversimplify or over-complicate where inappropriate, Vessels may have succeeded in making one of the smartest and most beguiling electronic albums of the year. How it lands with their existing fan base, or whether it earns them a new one, remains to be seen.