The Vrbs – The Vrbs – Music Review
Sit & gather around the fire kiddos…let this old guy tell ya a story about a band that started so long ago now, most of you weren’t even born yet…
…alright…maybe it wasn’t QUITE that long ago – but some of us have been waiting on this record for a minute or two since the band officially announced themselves back at the end of 2019. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right – that WAS a lifetime ago now, wasn’t it? Well…toss in a global pandemic into your next plans for global domination and see how YOU do, will ya? The point is, it’s not like they haven’t been tryin’ to get themselves out there…it’s not like they haven’t been workin’ on it all – they have been…I’ve seen the evidence and I’ve even got some of the proof. I’m talkin’ about real receipts from how long I’ve been paying attention for – how many of you out there can say you remember the moment that The Vrbs…a band that hadn’t even put their debut record out there yet, decided to change their name before they even really started? Or how many of you out there have their debut demo track of “What If We’re Right?” tucked safely into their archives for the rest of time? It’s a song that didn’t even make the lineup of a DOUBLE-ALBUM debut…you JEALOUS yet? You should be.
Here’s what a few of you WILL remember…maybe even from reading these very pages of ours here in the black hole of anonymity in this corner of the internet – two of the members of The Vrbs, Jared Richard (Vocals, Guitar) and Paul Cingolani (Bass) were a part of a band called Audiobender that I reviewed back in the day…somewhere in 2015, long before the greys in my beard took over. They put out Reverb, and records like Pour Me An Encore that I was rapping about at the time…all decent stuff – but it wasn’t THIS…it wasn’t The Vrbs. If that’s to be credited to the only member of this three-piece band that I didn’t know prior – Jeff Ham (Percussions? Really? Fucking DRUMMER yo!) then so be it – give this dude a serious high-five from me. Whatever it is, whatever the difference is between where it all started & where it all began to where it is now and the night & day results like you’ll hear on this self-titled record…time & experience, improved lineup, better material…you name it and I’ll accept the answer – The Vrbs debut record is officially out there on the internet and available now, at long last, and they clearly came out gunning ready for the moment. So welcome to the black hole of the internet now friends – we’re lucky to have ya, and hopefully there’s a still few people left that’ll have a listen to y’all.
So even though they’ve broken the cardinal rule…or like, maybe even a couple of them actually…I’m still onboard here. First & foremost, what band on earth thinks they can just get away with a double-record to start? Walk before you can run dear readers, dear friends, dear fellow music-makers…this ain’t the advised path at all. Secondly…there are maybe about five records on earth that have more than twelve songs that I’d consider to be perfect…looking to beat those kind of odds is a LOFTY goal I also wouldn’t advise anyone having, let alone whilst in a debut situation. That being said, The Vrbs have slyly split this record in two, which does give them an advantage. The third rule they’ve broken…and perhaps the MOST HEINOUS of them all…is that it’s a concept record. There ain’t nothing technically WRONG with a concept record y’all…with the exception of the fact that it’s always those closest to the material that get the ins & outs of its storyline and understand it best…but before the folks that make one will even give ya the opportunity to see if YOU will get it just by listening, you’ll usually find an explanation of it all online somewhere. Pro-tip for you youngins and debut bands out there…if you have to explain your concept outright…that concept might not be quite as strong as you think, or the real driving reason as to why WE might be listen. Anyhow. It seems the details on this have all leaked online already, so here you are: “The White Album (Tracks 1 thru 8) is for the most part upbeat alt-rock/power-pop; though track 8, “Under the Sea”, starts bright as well, it turns very dark, symbolizing the death of the main character. Track 9, “Gravity”, ushers in The Black Album with the rebirth of the character as jaded and bitter, reveling in his faults and demons. As such, The Black Album is heavier, more industrial at times, and generally darker. The final track on the Black Album, “Down the Mountain”, comes full circle to accepting fate and even death itself, ultimately coming to peace.“ Now your brains have all been saved the terrible burden of work, and your ears from listening closely…so you’re welcome? See what I mean?
Do I personally hear the reasons for the split-album situation? Not really, no – but I’m happy to have’em both. The Vrbs are a really solid band & hopefully this debut record keeps them rockin’ into the future.
In a sonic vein akin to something you’d find in The Strokes, The White Album begins with “Take Me Home,” firing up a high set of standards that the band will go on to prove they can live up to throughout this whole entire lineup of fifteen tunes in total. Great production on the track, great energy on display, great vocals & instrumentation…all the right pieces snap instantly into place, and they’ve given ya a truly catchy slice of Rock that’s fairly guaranteed to catch the attention of anyone & everyone who’s listening. The recording on this record is seriously impressive to listen to, and you can hear the quality straight from the very first track…as far as debuts go, you can tell that what you’re listening to is on the much rarer side of sound to find out there. Chances are, a lot of that comes from confidence in the material and having it all ready to roll when the time finally came – whatever it was, it worked. “Take Me Home” is a stellar start that introduces you to The Vrbs without giving even half of their story away in one shot, yet still displays a single-worthy vibe that could land them on the airwaves, like so many of their tunes.
I will fully admit, it’s the second cut on this record that convinces me there’s greatness in The Vrbs. As it began, I thought to myself, ‘hey right on…that whole sound The Strokes started up years & years ago is going to thrive all over this record,’ which would have been fine by me if that’s all there was to discover. Then to hear Richard LIGHT UP the motherfuckin’ m-i-c as The Vrbs surge into the chorus of “Say Hello” – I mean…that was like a complete revelation y’all…that was the separation too – it’s THE defining moment that proves early on in the lineup there’s less predictability to be found here than you’d expect at first. This moment…right around the forty-five second mark or so, is a MONUMENTAL victory for the band early on, and just as addictive to listen to when it comes right down to it. Call it the clincher if ya like – it’s definitely the moment that sold me on The Vrbs being able to bring something significant to our speakers that wasn’t going to just be like everything we’ve all heard before. Sure there’s still similarities to be heard & comparisons to be made to stuff we’ve listened to throughout the years – but this was an entirely unexpected highlight that I don’t think Jared was quite capable of providing early on in his music career from what I can personally recall…this was a moment that separated the men that he & his bandmates are now in The Vrbs, from the boys they once were in their previous bands, ya feel me? The execution is flawless, the hook of this moment has its own gravitational pull…it’s seriously brilliant – and if I was in The Vrbs, I’d be taking a real good look at the potential this track as a lead-single & video.
Can they keep the hot streak going? That’s the question, right? For some of ya, “New Drug” will get that heat blazing even hotter…and I can’t say I’d blame ya from feeling that way if you do; the execution is there on every one of these tunes. The Vrbs have put in the WORK, and that gives every single one of these cuts a quality shot at being your favorite. I’m personally a little torn on it…like I can’t quite tell if this has too much of the Diamond Dave influence and should come with freakin’ JAZZ HANDS from the band as they play it, or if they’re about to slide into something The Darkness would come up with…but I can also acknowledge that what they’ve got here is really well put together and very much ear-catching too, even if it’s not quite my thing. “New Drug” could certainly be YOUR thing, and like I said, I wouldn’t blame ya whatsoever if it was…the reality is, The Vrbs are drawing more upon the history of Rock in many ways on this particular cut as opposed to blazing their own trail as much…and there’s nothing about that scenario that should stop anyone from turning this track on UP. I’ll admit…I might be more resistant to a cut like this that has no problem going for the jugular and hijacking our brainwaves with pure ear candy like they have shamelessly here…but it doesn’t mean I can accomplish that either – I’m human (arguably) at the end of the day & I’m sure I’ve turned this up to eleven many times this month.
Jared really deserves props for being an incredible singer with a ton of versatility in the tone of his voice – no joke, I remember him being a GOOD singer in the past, but he is full-on GREAT now in The Vrbs. Again, if that’s time & experience, being older & wiser, writing tunes that are stronger – I’ll let you and him be the judge of all that, but there’s no disputing the results of what you hear – he’s crushing it. Chances are, “Paper Claims” is the most audible line in the sand at the start of this double-record melee here…more of a Soundgarden influence here at points/Cornell-type sound inside a more Pop/Alternative vibe overall…but also a track that runs deeper than the easily accessible sound you’ll find in the first three tunes. They’re not going to drop any fans with “Paper Claims” or shock anyone to the point where they’d reach over to skip to the next tune, I’m just saying that they’re in a less accessible gear here by comparison to the rest – for some of you out there, you’ll dig what sounds like more meat on the bone ideas/concept-wise, in exchange for a bunch of shiny hooks you had absolutely NO CHOICE but to love. The plot thickens here, and the lyricism reflects that…ultimately, it’s writing that I can get behind, even if I’d have to acknowledge that the degree of appeal in this cut becomes more niche as a result of that – there’s still gonna be plenty of people out there that’ll be impressed with the tightness on display from the band at-large and the killer vocals that Richard is putting into this tune for The Vrbs to be victorious in the court of public opinion overall I’d say. “Paper Claims” ain’t as naturally catchy & shiny & bright as the earliest cuts in the lineup, and that’s OK…it gives The Vrbs the opportunity to switch things up for ya, and the chance to morph their sound in multiple directions without losing you as the album carries on.
“Well I Do” is a song! Kind of feels like they’re branching off of…oh what is it…something from Blink 182’s catalog I think? Pop/Alternative here in The Vrbs as opposed to Pop/Punk or whatever from the late 90s, but you get the idea…it’s a little bit of something borrowed, something Blink in “Well I Do” – and this might be that spot where I’d advocate for a bit of the ol’ objectivity & cut this track in effort to not make the overall experience of listening to a record too lengthy. That being said, I get it – clearly “Well I Do” is a whole lot of fun to play…but it also kind of sounds like that’s the priority too. Nothing wrong with that – the music you make SHOULD be fun to play, at least some of the time and especially LIVE…but in terms of the recordings you’ll hear on this record, I’d say you can hear the priorities shift a bit when it comes to what’s important on “Well I Do” as opposed to the vast majority of the lineup overall. Not a bad tune, just not quite a great one either, or up to par with the rest of what we’ve heard so far…and when you’re putting together something THIS BIG, that’s the first clue that should tell ya that more objectivity and scrutiny is needed to pair things down to the tightest lineup you can make. Doing that is exactly what creates those perfect ten & twelve song records, as opposed to trying to figure out a way to beat the odds…stretching it out invariably leads to stretching things a little thin, and that could be the case here. I still enjoy it…but I’m not convinced “Well I Do” brings that much new to the table.
Conversely, “Without You” speaks a whole lot louder on their behalf even as they go in a more subtle direction. I’m all about the way this song starts and the instrumentation they put into your speakers here – The Vrbs are shining BRIGHT with spectacular sound, and the kind of sincerity that’s bound to connect as it carries on. I don’t know that it’s another song that doesn’t quite measure up in terms of being all that ‘new’ exactly…but I do think the required focus has returned in full, and that matters to us as listeners. “Without You” is tightly executed…heck, I’d listen to the band just riff on the opening thirty seconds for a whole thirty minutes and you’d never find me complaining if I’m being real with ya. As it continues on…I don’t know that I find it brings out any other significant highlights that’ll beat that beginning for me personally, except for maybe the breakdown…the way they enter the verses of this song are really smartly designed, and that’s what I suspect is actually the biggest hook they’ve got in this cut. They’ve got charm and personality working in their favor at this point in the lineup of their double-sided self-titled record…don’t get it twisted folks, that can carry a band straight to the top spots of a playlist at any given time, and I’d suspect there’ll be at least a few of ya that’ll put “Without You” there.
In terms of the strengths in their content, I’d say that “Scream For Me” rights the course a bit for them. It’s not their most overtly complex or complicated tune, but it’s definitely a track that’s well thought-out and delivers…kind of The Vrbs equivalent of a Weezer-esque “Hashpipe” with a more QOTSA-based vibe at its core…still danceable, which sounds a lot like what the goal was in creating many of these tunes. People still do that stuff right? Dancing and all that? I’m Canadian and far too laidback to really know the answer to that, but I’d assume there are still folks out there rushing to the dance-floor when they hear their jam…and “Scream For Me” will be the jam for many I’m sure. Led by the tightness in the rhythm section here to start, clever guitar chops as they surge out of the verses and into the chorus, and the explosiveness of Richard’s vocals at their most smooth OR amped-up as the song plays on into the hooks in a variety of ways – “Scream For Me” should have no problemo advocating on its own behalf. Respectfully, I’ll bow out here and let this song do the talking for me…I don’t think it’ll have any trouble doing that whatsoever…for many folks, I’d bet this will be THE song of the first half of this double album.
What did the map & legend say about this final cut on The White Album again? “Under the Sea”, starts bright as well, it turns very dark, symbolizing the death of the main character.” Right. That’s what it was. So there you go, there you have it, that’s all folks. Alright…I’ll put it to you in a different way – there’s a reason WHY you’ll find tracks like “Under The Sea” and “Down The Mountain” at the end of each record and WHY they’re the longest songs of the lineup…and you don’t have to be a real detective to figure it out, just listen. They’re the songs that The Vrbs REALLY want to play and REALLY want to create…arguably, they’re the most ambitious you’ll find on each record as well, and flex the most skill in the songwriting, to the execution required, in order to pull it all off. The rest of the surrounding tracks around’em…almost seem like they come easily or much more naturally to’em…nothing wrong with that – but I’m riding with what these guys really want to do, which is push their own creativity, skills, and uniqueness to that next level. Inherently, there’s more RISK involved with tracks like “Under The Sea” – not everyone out there is going to respond to’em as strongly, though in a perfect world, they all would. These are songs that EARN your attention as opposed to just straight up TAKE IT by the force of some shiny hook…The Vrbs are capable of doing BOTH, and it’s up to them as to which band they really want to be over the course of time. A record full of tunes like “Under The Sea?” Sign me right the fuck up y’all – I’d probably never stop spinning it. Ultimately, you all know I’m speaking the truth here too…it’s tracks like “Well I Do,” or even “Scream For Me” that will burn out quickly over the course of time, but its songs like “Under The Sea” & “Down The Mountain” that’ll live much longer than any of us ever will. “Under The Sea” has the depth you wanna dive right into and swim in forever…and I plan to do that for years and years to come…this would be an example of The Vrbs at their absolute finest in my opinion.
“Gravity” kicks off The Black Album with a solid energy and gritty crunch to it, in addition to some really savagely soulful & all-out powerful moments from Jared on the mic once again. No kidding folks – he’s put enormous demands on his vocals to make this record, and hearing the man living up to the challenge is really something else to experience – people are gonna LOVE the way he sings this song starting up the second half of their double-album & rightly so. It’s hard to argue that it ain’t gonna be the music itself that’ll catch everyone’s attention…at least at first…but once Richard starts locking into the moment and takes hold of the microphone here…it’s kind of game over from there – he stands out so strong with his performance on “Gravity” that no matter how cool everything else verifiably IS around him, it’s the vocals we’re all gonna remember about this track and what’ll keep us all coming back to it. The Vrbs equivalent of a “Fell On Black Days” in many ways…I’ll tell ya this much – it’s “Gravity” that convinces me more than any other track that Jared actually COULD pull off the vocals of a track with such extraordinary range…LISTEN to that moment around the 2:50 mark will ya? That might be THE highlight of all highlights on this whole double-album if I’m being real with ya…at the very least, vocally – Jared’s kicking not just some, but ALL of the ass here…it’s as purely gripping as it is entirely entertaining.
If you’ve seen just how many guitars that Richard has, you should not only be extremely JEALOUS of his incredible collection like I am myself, but you should be expecting the wicked tones you’ll find beaming out of your speakers as this whole record spins along, just like you’ll find in the meaty groove of “Closer” – this tracks a deadly little ditty for sure. With a dark psychedelic tinge to it…”Closer” has a great chance of being another significant highlight for many of y’all listening out there…sleek & sly, slick & stylistic – it’s a really smartly structured & well-played cut on this record that deserves the spins it’ll receive from ya. You can feel that the BAND feels this one…and once again, that MATTERS to us as listeners on the other side of the speakers…”Closer” is another cut in their early catalog that’ll have no problem being noticed or advocating on its own behalf…another track that I might even be inclined to look at closely as a potential single as well. I wouldn’t say it’s a typical choice or an expected hit – but it could be even better than that…it could be the UNexpected hit…the kind of song that really blows up seemingly out of nowhere and takes over the entire internet, you know what I mean? I listen to “Closer” and I’m like HELLZ YES…how could anyone NOT feel this song? It ain’t just the band – it’s ALL of us…these are the kind of tunes that connect the music-makers to their audience…you’re ALL going to love “Closer,” 100%.
Somewhere between Cornell and The Cult sellin’ ya some sanctuary, you’ll find a track like “Hog” thrivin’ loud & proud. They’re rockin’ & rollin’ along in a very QOTSA-esque style of design that relies cleverly on repetition and bulletproof structure…but hey, y’ain’t gonna find me complaining about that when it clearly works. Lyrically, it’s one of my favorite cuts on the record as well…everything about “Hog” seemed to come from out of nowhere to a degree, and it ended up delivering one of the largest sonic punches as a result. An excellent cut to have coming after “Closer” – I think just about any other track out there would have had a tough time filling this spot on the record, yet here we are with “Hog” ruling this moment like it was planned all along…and perhaps it was. Who knows what’s goin’ on when a band like The Vrbs plans a double-album debut…all I can tell ya is what works in the end results, and this is that. “Hog” is bloody sensational when it comes right down to it…Alternative Rock done RIGHT – and another massive highlight in the set as far as my ears are concerned; I felt like The Vrbs nailed this as tight as tight can be. Love the effect of the whispered lines against such intensity in the music around’em, and the main vocals once again, are so supremely kickass that you can’t help but wanna sing along. Good luck with that though…Richard ain’t gonna make that easy on ya…not many people out there can do what he’s doing when he’s at his very best on this record…and “Hog” IS in that category.
Regardless of how you might feel about any one given tune, the production has sure as hell remained on point throughout this entire lineup and The Vrbs should be extraordinarily proud of how everything sounds & the performances they put into it. I think the closest they come to flyin’ straight off the rails is in the variable timing of “Do You Remember” which has them all roaming around a bit more out of the pocket than the rest do at times on a structural level. Would I trade a little looseness for the more unpredictable results and wildness in their energy here? Sure! For one thing, I don’t get a vote – I’m not in the band, and the record’s already been made, so here we are…but for another thing…I mean, listen to “Do You Remember” will ya? It’s a fun track with a whole lot of killer ideas running through its core. It’s hard to say for sure that it is as completely ready to go as the majority of this lineup is, but the demands on the band overall are certainly monumental as well. As in…it could be a newer track they don’t quite know as well inside & out like they do with the rest, or it could just be that tough to play – they hold their own well enough on “Do You Remember,” but it FEELS like they’re just barely hangin’ on. Whether or not this is another spot where they could have potentially been a bit more objective in terms of what makes a FIFTEEN song lineup…I mean…yeah…probably…but it’s also pretty damn hard to resist this track too with all the hooks it has from the music to the microphone…and that guitar solo yo! I wouldn’t go as far as to say that “Do You Remember” is anywhere near its incubation stages…it’s very far past that, but it might be a bit less up to snuff overall when it comes to the execution by comparison. The ideas are there…and I’d suspect with time & experience and less of a PANDEMIC in their way, tracks like “Do You Remember” go on to flourish, expand, evolve, and become even greater than they are now.
“Blow It Up” is another song! And I could probably take or leave this one personally…I’ve just never been the party-guy is all…not the fist-pumpin’ type…I couldn’t even tell ya what G.T.L. really even stands for, though I’m vaguely aware it’s a thing for some folks. I ain’t gonna fault The Vrbs for whatever my own personal taste might even be at this point in time…that’s all on me, not on them. They’ve got a verifiable barn-burner with “Blow It Up” and I’d have to assume there are a whole lot of people out there that’ll look forward to turning this right up to the rafters, and if that’s you, right on – high-fives all around. We head a lot more into the straight-ahead sound of Rock’N’Roll by its most typical definitions here…which has never really been my jam…t’ain’t their fault. I can hear they’re giving everything they’ve got to “Blow It Up” and that’s genuinely all that ever really matters to me on this side of the screen & speakers anyway. We’re all bound to like what we like, love what we love & such – to me, in my world, all that ever matters is that you put authentic passion into what you create…and I gotta say, in that regard, there’s not a single song on this record that has let me down one iota. The Vrbs are fired up and playin’ this track to a scorching heat, amps up to eleven and all that good good stuff goin’ on – I don’t begrudge anyone out there with a guitar for wanting to turn up the volume and rock the fuck out.
The question becomes, does every song suit the cohesion and concept of the record as outlined at the beginning, or did The Vrbs just empty the entire clip in one shot instead? I know I’ve got my theories on that…and I’m not saying they’d be universally shared…but I’m leaning towards the latter, and if it wasn’t for this one kickass demo tune I’ve got in my archives that never seemed to make the cut for some odd reason, I’d assume I was right about my assumption. “Blow It Up” is alright, alright, alright…but I’ll take me a track like “Run” much more readily…there’s depth in this track, and it’s another cut that should earn your attention through quality ideas as opposed to the shiny & flashy sounds of fired up Rock. Of course, any time that’s the case & there’s depth to a tune, you can practically count the masses right out – but those of us that are listening and appreciate great songwriting, solid execution, vision, and focus – this here Bud’s for you. I’d be willing to bet that “Run” will be a stickler for many listeners…it’s kinda what separates those who get The Vrbs from those that might not…mind you, there’s a reason that there are two records as well, both of which reveal different aspects of a band rocking out in at least a couple of significant ways. Like I said…party-mode definitely works for them, and it has its own appeal – arguably a more universal one when it comes to the masses…but for my money, I’m all about tracks with meatier sound designed to last and make an impact on your mind more than your dancing shoes, like “Run” does. Awesome tone to yet another highlight guitar solo…the rhythm section is as on-point and reliable as they have been throughout the whole double-record…and even though there’s really only one word fueling the main hook, you’ll be surprised by how memorable it is in “Run.” Add in the extra fireworks of the finale and slow-burning breakdown with their instrumentation leading the way to the last victory in the series of’em at the very end of this tune, and voila…you’ve got yourselves a quality cut.
Much like I felt towards “Under The Sea” at the end of The White Album, I feel the same towards the finale of The Black Album too – I think both of my favorite cuts on these records arguably come at the very end of each…”Down The Mountain” is straight-up brilliant, and extremely well-conceived. The construction, structure, and depth here makes for magnificent music to listen to, straight-up, full stop. For a band full of dudes from the USA, they’re sure rockin’ in a Canadian vein here at the very end – listen to those incredible toms at work will ya? That’s nearly right out of the I Mother Earth playbook there! Or how the vocals and guitars come out so bold, atmospheric, and melodic at the same time? That’s like Big Wreck at their finest (the early stuff y’all)! And the bass from Paul? It fits! Sorry Paul…I have a harder time pinning down bass-lines in my geographical metaphors & comparisons – but I do like what I hear! Honestly, there’s not a moment of this final cut that didn’t knock it right out of the park for me, and all-in-all, “Down The Mountain” gives you a lengthy tune that’s built on reflection…giving you a moment yourself to consider just how much of a journey this double-album truly has been to listen to. For real…LISTEN to the smooth & stellar beginning of this tune as it builds will ya? Something special to behold all on its own I tells ya. You can put me down for an album full of tunes like “Down The Mountain” and “Under The Sea” – even if it’s fifteen tracks long & another attempt at thwarting the ten-to-twelve rule. There’s no question The Vrbs have given the length of this ambitious debut a serious run for its money…I think they have every right & reason to be extraordinarily pleased with all they’ve achieved and how this all worked out. Personal preference is always going to play a role in how music is perceived by each and every individual set of ears listening…the main thing you can control is what you bring to it as a musician, artist, and band unified together. They haven’t let each other down for a solitary moment…and as a result of that commitment, dedication, and focus – chances are they won’t let you down for a minute either. I’m already looking forward to the next record by The Vrbs and where they’ll take their music from here…because now that they’ve started, I hear no reason they should stop.
Find out more about The Vrbs from their official website at: http://www.thevrbs.com
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