A Vintage Year – Picture Perfect – Album Review
Much like can happen in mainstream music, hell, sometimes even more frequently throughout the independent music-scene, you can follow bands & artists down the rabbit-hole and discover the roots of where they came from, new side-projects, experimental solo-stuff, demos…all kinds of music exists in our timelines. Case in-point, it was only at the beginning of this year that we first latched onto the band National Impurities…and while that seemed to be the thing of the moment, they turned out to be perhaps the side-project of the situation or a byproduct of friendship; later on we’d discover the solo-music of Alan Osborne…and now here with A Vintage Year, we’ve got music from the other pieces of National Impurities + some new members in the mix. I’ll put it this way…projects, bands, ideas, collaborations…all these things stop & start all the time and no one really bats an eye – and really should anyone concern themselves? The way I see it, not much here on this floating rock we all share is very permanent…I’m personally just happy to get more music from reliable sources – it’s a pretty safe bet that the music you like in a band you like will carry on with the players to wherever they end up next, isn’t it? I think that’s a reasonable conclusion to draw to…and I think A Vintage Year is proof of that.
So…let’s get everyone on the same page here. The former members of National Impurities, Joe Williams (Vocals) and Nick Manka (Drums) are joined by Jordan Barney (Guitars, Bass, Backing Vocals). I’ve run out of ‘hello, my name is’ stickers so you’ll just all have to do your best to remember each other. Moving on. A Vintage Year technically existed before National Impurities did…and as far as I know, never ceased to exist; makes sense to me, these guys have got a solid thing goin’ on in the dank energy between them and collective heaviness in the music they make – no reason to give this up. Though they’ve been around since 2015 or so, this current album Picture Perfect is fresh as fuck still…just released in the middle of June this year with seven thrashing new alternative cuts that have real bite, gnarly attitude and true-grit. They’ll give you lighter pop-infused alterna-grunge rhythms…they’ll bring out the beast with seething, monstrously metal riffs and raging vocals that’ll damn near blast you out of your own skin…and they’ve made a range of tunes on Picture Perfect that come out crunchy, storming & smoldering in a smart progression of sound from beginning to end.
Dig that LEAD-IN right? “Lousy Soul” starts with a quick riff before finding its main grunge gears, hitting the sludge-sound with brutal pounding authority…somewhere in the middle of bands like gripping underground alternative bands like Quicksand or closer to the mainstream in something like Filter at their hardest moments. I’ll say this…I think it’d be a pretty solid track as an instrumental – BUT…without what Joe personally brings to this track, I don’t think anyone would have realized the depth, punch, hooks and power that the song was going to be able to have. Essentially…I think the way that Joe approaches the vocals flushes out the meat in this song and gives it that degree of accessibility that it might not otherwise have had. “Lousy Soul” musically would appeal to those that dig the hard-stuff, no doubt about it, but with Joe on the mic here, the potential to reel in grunge, alternative & rock fans grows to an even higher degree. Well played by the entire band…dig the mix on the cut too…”Lousy Soul” is a great example of matching the energy in the music to the melody in the vocals…combined together, A Vintage Year comes out sounding powerfully fearsome, strong and menacing immediately. Guitars have punch, bass is thick and the drums are hungry AF as they pound through their opening cut, mired in the darkness before it all breaks way to the lighter rhythms & melody of “Ain’t Right” to follow.
If you are familiar with the ferocious alterna-pop energy of the music in UK band Feeder – you’ll 100% love “Ain’t Right” just as much as I do. Every once in a while on their albums, they’d just light it UP with a scorcher that included insatiable hooks and an in-your-face attitude like “Ain’t Right” has…I thought this was completely one of the strongest ideas on the record for certain. If I’m being entirely honest with the lads in A Vintage Year…production-wise this one might have got them sounding a bit too gritty for how bright and bold these hooks perhaps should have come out sounding. Not sure completely on what it is, it’s either the distortion added from the guitars or a weird-ass vocal filter that’s contributing to an extra-muddy mix on what is likely the record’s most colorful idea. Normally that grittiness to the sound of the production is going to benefit the music of A Vintage Year a bit more…on shiny hooks like these though, you might wanna polish them up just a bit more, that’s all I’m saying. But you know something? If you were to listen to pretty much any given album by Feeder – you’d also find them making that same choice along the way…sometimes it might sound strange to our ears at first – but the trade-off would be to take the band out of their natural habitat…in which case it might very well sound contrived or forced. So when you look at it from that angle, in my opinion, it’s much better to have “Ain’t Right” in the form we get it in else we might not even get it at all, know what I mean? Manka punishes those drums in the intro as “Ain’t Right” breaks way to its vocal melodies and pre-chorus chops – and then A Vintage Year takes a shot with the big guns, bringing out an amped-up chorus that delivers the payload in a pop-punk infused explosion of energy and melody. RAGING to the end, “Ain’t Right” shifts gears from the lighter-side of alternative to the heaviest effortlessly…ultimately, this band is kicking enough ass here to get by any issues in the mix – definitely an early highlight on Picture Perfect – those chorus hooks get all the bonus points I’ve got to offer.
A song like “Loaded Gun” takes the focus more off of Joe and spreads it out between Nick & Jordan. For the most part…I think it’s the instrumentation and the movement in the music that stands out to our ears on this cut. The verse is alright…the chorus I think takes this track up to the level of entertainment it needed as far as the vocals are concerned; all well performed by Joe mind you…just a song that clearly saved the better part of its tank to fuel the chorus rather than the verse is all. Musically, I think these guys are flexing muscle throughout this song with complex parts that pop-out with the chopping stop/start style of the riffs…great energy from Nick on the throne and a great match to the heaviness that Jordan puts into the bass, filling the song with low-end depth and punch amongst the gritty crunch of the main guitars. Solid screams from Joe when the time calls for it and there’s a great transition into the melody of the chorus, which gets continuously intense due to the feral work on the drums from Manka ripping the skins as furiously as can be done. Tougher hooks for the average listener to absorb as a song overall, especially with its push/pull energy…but another solid tune overall.
“Moldy Juice Mouth” takes A Vintage Year back towards a psychedelic grunge sound…one of the coolest atmospheres on the record. Almost the opposite of how I felt about “Loaded Gun” in terms of the vocals & writing – this time I felt like the verse completely outshined the chorus. Nothing wrong with that and it’s certainly not always the intention when a song is being created – but sometimes that’s how it goes & how it comes out in the end. Joe’s got a great slow-burning angst in his vocals you can hear building as it sets to explode…and that definitely contributes to the success of the sound in the verse with that smooth grunge style melody he’s got working for him. Combined with the defined rattle of the bass-tones and imaginative way the guitars from Jordan take shape in the atmosphere of this tune in the verse…it’s almost like Sap-era Alice In Chains as it begins – but make no mistake, this band takes it damn near Meshuggah hard in a breakdown just past the three-minute mark & hit the chorus hard each time. “Moldy Juice Mouth” might not seem threatening at first…but you can feel the tension building in this track audibly as it becomes more aggressive, menacing and punishing as it plays on. The contrast of sound as it breaks from that first chorus back into the verse and how clear everything becomes in the calm after the storm is really stunning…once again digging the ideas in the instrumentation of A Vintage Year and what they bring to the table musically. The breakdown around the three-minute mark of this cut is ENORMOUS and a highlight moment for Jordan’s guitars…a real gripping moment in time that’ll make sure you’re paying attention and likely have you wishing you were wearing your brown pants.
The longest tune on the record is arguably the most rewarding track to listen to on A Vintage Year’s Picture Perfect – “On Your Hands” is an exceptional tune in every aspect. On this cut, the band effortlessly threads their main gears into each other, once again killing it from the dark & heavy to the light & bright in a real range & mix of sound. Inarguably, “On Your Hands” is also the most demanding to listen to…its hooks are not straight-ahead; this is a song as a whole experience and you need all sides of its story to really make it work. Listen to the smart way the guitars and vocals work together in the verse…listen to the way the drums and bass kick-in to ignite the chorus and set the frantic-tremble in Joe’s vocals off into a whole new tangent. Listen to the way the energy gets stripped back from the fury of the chorus and back into the smooth sound and flow of the verse…listen to the way they transition into an entirely lighter-side of this alternative grind as the song ticks past the three-minute mark. Listen to writing that LASTS. Joe sounds fantastic at all times throughout “On Your Hands” but he sounds inspired when the song hits that pop-inspired thread past the three-minute mark…and with guitar notes from Jordan soaring into the atmosphere, they punch back into the chorus and shift the gears back into place in the familiar heaviness and murk that A Vintage Year loves to shroud and shadow itself in.
My choice for unsung hero of this entire record is “Hypnagogic.” People get this right? Like…you all presumably have ears on your face, correct? Assuming that’s correct – how could you not get pulled into this song? No offense of course to those of you out there without ears…I’m just saying that those of us with both attached have really got it good here when it comes to being able to hear “Hypnagogic” from the lefts & rights, that’s all. Something about this cut tells me that there’s a chance its two main sides of its extremities might be set too far apart for the average listeners to enjoy all the way through…that’s my gut instinct based on experience…BUT…I think those of us that ‘get’ this tune and how exceptionally well these two contrasting sounds exist and thrive together here are going to love this. “Hypnagogic” easily has the most accessible melody, hooks and pull to its verse – Joe’s nailing it here, so is Jordan holding those bass tones and stoking the melody alongside him. It’s honestly an irresistible combination of melody, imagination and ideas…everything comes out sounding so sunny & bright…not forced, not cheesy, not even out of place – this sounds like another dimension of A Vintage Year that has them finding serious success in their ambitions. When you hear how they’ve threaded the blasts of pure, explosive rage into the structure…pfffff…I mean, c’mon…this is really the ultimate track on the record to listen to isn’t it? The band is completely gripping and wildly entertaining as they shift between modes effortlessly…and when they go big…believe me, you and your speakers will notice. Some of my favorite lyrics on Picture Perfect exist on this tune – I love the way that Joe sounds on this cut from his tone-filled melodies to his most aggressive screams…this whole track works really, really well. I think it needs a lawyer to defend it because it’s a hard argument to make that this is the track that people WILL notice and stick with…but dammit, the people sure should – “Hypnagogic” is awesome.
It’s about potential. It’s about validity. Let’s not forget that A Vintage Year is still in its early stages…let’s not forget that they’ve already shown an intense ability to entertain, to write, to perform. They’ve proven that they’ve got a valid place in music that they can carve out for themselves and the ability to take you into that world they create. Song like “Ain’t Right,” “On Your Hands,” and “Hypnagogic” have all shown different aspects of A Vintage Year’s sound that lead them to successful & strong results – but as far as potential and what might come next in their adventures goes…I don’t think it gets better than the album’s final cut, “Crash Landing.”
Some of my Canadian brethren will understand this next part…but for the rest of you, let me explain what I’m hearing here on “Crash Landing.” You see…up here in Canada, we had this band called I Mother Earth…they put out a debut album called Dig, which was full of muddily-mixed sound and gorgeous ideas with incredible instrumentation. Now…I don’t want anyone to get me wrong here, I dig the album personally…but again, I have ears on my face and I know for a fact that 90% of that album is BORING AF even on the best of days. Great instrumentation to listen to if you get down on that kind of thing…the occasional tune like “Rain Will Fall” that broke through the sludge of confusion on the album…and of course, so did their first breakthrough hit, “So Gently We Go.” As those of you out there familiar with the song know, “So Gently We Go” was probably the lightest & most melodic tune on that record, most accessible…but still damn unlikely to be a hit in any other timeline than the mid-90’s or anywhere other than our home and freakishly alternative native land in Canada. AND…if I can just try to wrap up this tangent I’m on here…”So Gently We Go” was STILL just next-door to boring! If it wasn’t for the immaculate smoothness in the verse and the way they finally switch up that ending…I dunno…what else would have it have been other than meandering? I Mother Earth didn’t become awesome until Scenery & Fish…and I’d argue they became 1000% more awesome with the departure of their lead-singer Edwin thereafter, welcoming the insanity of Brian Burns into the fold.
My point I suppose…is that “Crash Landing” is built of all the same ingredients as a song like “So Gently We Go”…but MAN is this more satisfying to listen to! There’s still a huge heartbeat and life in this melody that keeps this song moving…Manka is largely responsible for that, keeping plenty busy back there on the kit, even in one of the album’s most stripped back moments. “Crash Landing” has an ultra-smooth verse, expressive chorus and completely wild & memorable ending…like…good lord…unforgettable final minute really. It’s all here though…great bass-lines with real personality and guitar tones with real charm from Jordan…Joe is confidently doin’ his thang on the mic and the band transitions between parts of the song with intense precision, flipping the switch whenever they’re damn good & ready to do so. I remain to this very day, a huge I Mother Earth fan…so I don’t wanna take anything away from my boys here…but “Crash Landing” is like “So Gently We Go,” only, you know, a bit more up-tempo, actually entertaining and worth getting excited about. If the crew in A Vintage Year isn’t familiar with that band yet somehow and they’ve come by this entire idea organically, it’s all the better – but I’d highly recommend taking a good listen to those albums by I Mother Earth…it could potentially be a glimpse right into the future of where they could take their whole sound based on the capabilities they display throughout the course of “Crash Landing.” You’d definitely get no complaints from me – those guys are killer and A Vintage Year shows you they could certainly rival that potential on this final cut…and like a good last song can tend to do, it’ll make you wonder/anticipate what might come next from this talented crew. Led by Jordan’s electrifying final highlights in the song’s guitar-solos at overall wildness at the end, these four have definitely made the impact and lasting impression the effort in the performances & writing deserved and no doubt have us all eagerly awaiting their return. Solid stuff from A Vintage Year…highly imaginative, explorative and expressive with a wide range of sound; they do light as well as they do dark and they give you an insightful mix of both worlds colliding through explosions of raw, raging, bold & powerfully-colorful material on Picture Perfect.
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