VDX – VDX Musical Journey

 VDX – VDX Musical Journey

VDX – VDX Musical Journey – Album Review + Bonus Track

Interesting dude, interesting music.

I was peppered with a series of great questions from VDX to answer while I’m over here having a listen.  Is the music relevant?  Would people listen?  Is the material cohesive?  Is there audible evolution within the music?  You know, things I normally tend to comment on I suppose, but it’s nice to keep focused.

As I put on “Vulnerable Rebellion” from this collected works of VDX gathered from over the past decade or more, I could certainly recognize the well-produced sounds and impressive musicianship that I grew up listening to around the house when I was a kid.  I dig the drama in the instrumentation, I like that it’s a guitar-based track, and I like the amount of professional control you can hear overall.  Dude’s clearly got some wild skills for sure…”Vulnerable Rebellion” would be akin to stuff you’d hear from Satriani or Vai when they’re not shredding it up or being too outright rambunctious.  Great melody, superb tones, and an outstanding core theme.  The synth-based vocal moments in the mix also make for significant highlights in this opening tune as well, especially in making a positive first impression and also while circling back to give “Vulnerable Rebellion” its finale.  Is it relevant?  There are many ways you can look at that…the first being that, as of the dawn of the internet/accessibility, all music has become relevant in its own way.  If it’s more of a question directed towards what the kids are listening to these days, then unfortunately the answer would be no – but they weren’t when I was a kid myself either, which is thirty some-odd years ago.  There are always some folks out there, of all ages that will.  I know I would listen to something like this, but I readily acknowledge that I’m not everyone.  Fans of instrumental music and guitar-based tunes would certainly give a track like “Vulnerable Rebellion” their attention.  Any time you put an invested passion and skill into what you do, you’re always setting your music up with the right chance to succeed, and VDX is clearly loaded with both…this opening track sounds fueled by interest.

Considering that VDX looks at making music as more of a hobby than a career, you’ve gotta salute the results you’ll find…everything he’s doing is remarkably professional and the talent is entirely noticeable.  Regardless of how any of us feel about any given tune, the guy deserves serious credit for what he’s accomplished, that I can tell ya.  I think there are different tweaks that could potentially be made to ‘update’ the sound if that’s what he’s looking to do in his quest for relevance.  I listen to a track like “December’s Flight” and I know what’s potentially working against it just as much as I know what its main selling features are – and they’re ultimately the same things.  Ain’t this a wonderfully confusing world?  Look at it this way though – in terms of dating the vibe we’re listening to on “December’s Flight,” it’s largely a result of the digitalized rhythm section…the synthetic bass gives this track a very tangible late 80s vibe, while the over-produced sound of the drums would also point to the same era.  That being said, the composition of the song itself…the pieces surrounding all that, are as beautiful as they are timeless.  To update a track like “December’s Flight” would be theoretically as simple as taking out the 80s elements…if VDX was to do that, I think we’d be talking about an entirely different scenario and a song that could fit into many soundtracks & playlists today.  Right now, as it stands, he’s rooted in the 80s style of making music – but ask yourself this question…is that not relevant too?  How many places have you passed…bars & venues & such, that all still celebrate 80s nights?  Pretty much ALL of them I’d bet, because it’s still a sound that, while dated, is absolutely sought out to this very day.  So having a newer option of an older sound is very much something that’s relevant, in my opinion.  People all around the world are always looking for more of what they love, and in many ways, a track like this gives it to’em.  “December’s Flight” has real appeal from its composition to its pulsing vibe if you ask me.

Ohhhh.  Hmmm.  Alrighty then.  So…okay…”Nightfall Serenade” is perhaps an example of where I’d likely recommend reigning himself in a bit.  This was a surprising combination of sounds to say the least, and probably an example of VDX doing too much as opposed to doing what the song is really calling out for.  As it began, I was absolutely onboard.  With my father being a keyboardist/piano player, again, what I was hearing in “Nightfall Serenade” brought me right back to the sounds I’d hear around the house when I was growing up…and there is a whole lot of beauty to be found in the musicianship & melody you’ll find from that dimension of the instrumentation.  For myself personally, I very much wish that was all there was here…though I did like the gentle nature of the glowing synth and violin sounds in the mix as well, which were highly complementary to the piano.  As to how in the heck VDX thought it was the right move to throw in some chunky guitar riffs into this tune, honestly, I do not know.  It’s an idea that I might have been able to accept if it brought something new to the song in terms of ideas – but it’s like VDX grabbed a bunch of old Blues riffs and just added them in out of curiosity, rather than purpose – make sense?  Everything else you’ll hear fits really well…but unfortunately for me, the added guitar layer was like banging the square peg through the round hole.  Like…I was genuinely perplexed by this move to the nth degree – there’s nothing about “Nightfall Serenade” that seemed to be calling out for that additional element to show up…and for myself personally, it felt like the guitar had sunk this whole ship.  Were it not for that instrument added in, I think “Nightfall Serenade” would have really been wonderful.

“Fractured Laguna” is like the polar opposite of how I felt about the previous track – it’s a stunning example of giving the song and the moment everything it needs and nothing more.  Don’t get me wrong, it is always tempting to add in everything you can do into everything that you do – but in my personal opinion, it’s knowing when to do what that really makes the difference.  “Fractured Laguna” shows the professional restraint of VDX, and in the process, he comes out with the most timelessly relevant sound I’ve heard on this record so far.  This is the kind of well thought-out moment in music that, when you listen to it, you know that it’s actually going to be very hard to top…I love everything about it.  It’s very low-key and subtle in terms of its energy, but this is exactly what it sounds like when the simplest ingredients we use make for the tastiest dish…it’s melodic, evocative, thought-provoking…dreamy too.  I felt like I could have easily kept “Fractured Laguna” on repeat for hours and hours, and I probably did.

A song that good naturally makes the next spot in a set-list very challenging to fill.  I never really expect people to necessarily just agree with my own personal taste…maybe you’ll like “Fractured Laguna” as much as I do, maybe you’ll like the ideas of “Voice Of The Mountains” better…it’s our differences that make the world go around, as they say.  Other things though, like technical details, are more factually based than opinions…and it’s crystal clear that “Voice Of The Mountains” is lacking that robust production that the first four tracks all had.  So on one hand, you get a more earthy & organic sound to it, which could very well be intentional…but on the other hand, it really seems very thin compared to everything we experienced prior.  I can appreciate the exaltation at its core, even if it doesn’t really appeal to me…I know there are tons of people that will enjoy that, because it’s got a very open and free spirit to its sound that’s guaranteed to naturally bring a smile to many faces out there listening.  I’m a bit more resistant to the happier side of music when it comes right down to it, and I’ll take a “Fractured Laguna” over a “Voice Of The Mountains” every day of the week and twice on Sundays.  The quality of the musicianship & ideas remains high, but we do hear a noticeable drop in volume and/or production.

With its more melancholy and pensive demeanor, “Meditation” was more appealing to me as well, which seemed to make “Voice Of The Mountains” a really strange fit to have placed in between “Fractured Laguna” and this song.  I get where VDX is coming from…a lot of his work is based on shifting moods and emotions, but in terms of cohesion, it’s also moves like that that’ll snap us out of listening intently in favor of paying attention to some songs more than others, and a gradual shift in sound will often be more acceptable to the ears of the average everyday listeners out there.  At nearly seven minutes in length, “Meditation” is a commitment in today’s day and age for sure, but it’s got gorgeous depth to it.  Hypnotic, mesmerizing, captivating…it’s all that and more.  VDX has a really great grip on where to fit violin/string sounds into his compositions – but take note of the use of space on this track as well, which is perhaps the most important ingredient in any given tune by any artist or band, always.  He’s put “Meditation” in the right position to succeed and make the impact/impression it should, largely because the sound gets so much opportunity to breathe and the emotion involved can work its magic on you.  You feel every ticking second of this song and the weight it carries – it sounds absolutely brilliant.

And then it’s time for ABBA to take over.  Alright, it’s probably not quite that dramatic, but you get the idea and what I mean.  I’m not gonna deny that “Message Of Hope” will probably appeal to a bunch of you out there, but I’m also not the guy to pull punches either – after everything we’ve experienced and heard from VDX so far, I know that he could roll out of bed and write a song like this one.  It sounds easy – and that’s likely because it is for him.  While that will often affect the opinions of critical types like me, or VDX’s fellow musicians out there, it doesn’t really have too much bearing on the majority of listeners.  In fact, what sounds easy, can often directly equate to an accessibility that complexity can’t afford, which is why I’d be the first to admit that a track like “Message Of Hope” might stand more of a chance of getting listened to than many of the more melancholic cuts that I personally tend to enjoy more.  This track ain’t for me, but there’s nothing stopping it from being for you; and if it is, then turn it up & enjoy!

“Moving On” is an interesting cut in the sense that it actually combines a lot of traditional and cultural ideas into a more modern design, but I’d probably still expect this track to meet with a fair amount of resistance despite its upbeat vibe.  When we’re talking about more modern in this instance, we’re still talking about mid-to-late 80s…so don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we’re pushing things forward into the future here, but if you’re listening intently, you’ll get what I mean about how a track like “Moving On” borrows from some very historical compositions from way back in music’s past.  Call it a Celtic tinge, or simply tag it to a more culturally aware sound, “Moving On” almost becomes dangerously educational to a degree…and lemme tell ya VDX, the public is highly resistant to learning when they’re listening.  Again, I think a lot of what this dude does will absolutely appeal to his fellow musicians out there, but it’ll be the regular consumers that’ll become the tougher sell when it comes to several of these tunes.  That’s not to say things are irrelevant…as I’ve already pointed out, relevance is a highly subjective term in today’s world, and it’s different from what’s popular.  It really just depends on the goal and what kind of musician VDX wants to be.  As far as I’ve read, he’s looking up to artists like Vangelis as a main source of inspiration, and in that regard, a little weirdness and dedicated compositional aspects are certainly true to form and part of the goal.  That’s a musician’s musician type of vibe at the end of the day…a trade-off made that accepts the fact that art is the main priority, whereas accessibility becomes more arbitrary.

“Married Violins” was another interesting tune to me…it’s not often that I feel like I don’t know how I feel about a song, but that was the feeling I got from this one.  I suppose that’s fairly close to indifferent, which is really never a spot you wanna find yourself in as an artist.  I guess what I’m feeling is that, while “Married Violins” is undoubtedly well-played, it’s probably the most generic cut I’ve heard from VDX so far, and a track that feels very much like we’ve all heard in a variety of ways over the course of music’s history.  So don’t get me wrong…a well-played tune is something that many folks will always have time for, and it’s really always something to be proud of – again, it’s really about the kind of artist VDX wants to be…a track like “Married Violins” simply has less identity to it and it would be a lot harder for people listening to definitively say this is a VDX song, know what I mean?  In terms of his quest for relevance though, you could again look at this in two ways.  One being that, there is almost always some kind of period piece being made for film and television, where a song like this could always find a home – and the other being that in today’s world, outside of film & television, it would be an extremely tough sell.

The main riffs of “Noisy Forests” are pretty badass at the end of the day, and have an appeal to them that we haven’t really experienced so far throughout this set…and I feel like I’m onboard enough here.  Like…let’s be clear – VDX is making highly, highly synthesized material overall…and once again, in terms of relevance, there’s certainly an audience for that, it just doesn’t happen to include everyone.  That being said, like I’ve explained hundreds of times on these pages of ours, it’s tremendously rare that you’d find music that does – so do what you wanna do!  If you’re interested and invested in the music that you’re making, I can guarantee there will always be others out there that feel the same about it on the listening side of the speakers.  “Noisy Forests” is like a backwards version of what we experienced with “Nightfall Serenade” earlier on in the set…so here, we get the more aggressive sounds up front in the song before VDX lightens things up with more traditional melody added in later on down the road, which seems a lot more of a palatable way that people would be able to absorb a combination like this as opposed to the other way around.  I’m more inclined to say that the drum fills would be the potential barrier between listening ears and its creator this time around…keep’er calm VDX…I’m not convinced ya need to get so rowdy with the ol’ drums my friend, or that it was the right fit into “Noisy Forests” here.  That main riff & hook is undeniably cool though, and I’d imagine it’ll carry the weight of most opinions.

So…yeah…when you’re making music more as a hobby, I’m a little less concerned with length than I would be in terms of those out there looking to make their living in the industry.  For those folks, I always tell’em there are about two albums throughout history that are longer than twelve songs and still perfect…and that the rest require more objectivity and brutality in terms of what should/shouldn’t make the final set-list.  I’d be on the fence with “Wild Cat In Space” in an instance like that for sure – I actually don’t really mind it in terms of how things sound, it’s just a bit shorter on the substance by comparison.  There’s not a whole lot goin’ on other than floatin’ around in the atmosphere and testing out what else can be done with a few sounds we haven’t normally heard from VDX so far.  On a compositional level, it’s one of the guy’s least challenging cuts as the person creating it…and on the listening end, it feels like we’re experiencing a track that’s a bit less focused or somewhat aimless in its design…which is always something to be conscious of I guess.  Think about where things started…”Vulnerable Rebellion” was played with incredible passion, intent & purpose, “Wild Cat In Space” is…hmm…not so much I suppose.  It ain’t necessarily a bad cut by any conceivable definition; it’s just not a particularly exciting one either.

“The Strings Of A Briton” restored the energy we’re looking for, and seemed to bring VDX back down outta the clouds for a more focused and intentional composition that makes sense to our ears.  I really thought this was one of the record’s stronger tracks at the end of the day…and to me, this is how you go about updating the past into the present with the right approach.  The strings sound like they still retain that traditional/cultured vibe he clearly digs, but the more noticeable synth pulse in the background also provided a more relevant way of getting them to our ears.  I also think the melodic concept overall was a real winner…ultimately, “The Strings Of A Briton” is a really cleverly conceived tune, and I could see folks digging on this track here in the present day, even if it’s possessing a sound that’s still rooted in the 80s.  I’d probably question the drum fills a bit again…I’m not as convinced that they’re as necessary as the rest of the ingredients are, but I am certainly starting to be convinced that VDX is a big fan of BIG drums.  So rock on my brother!  Creating music is really about making something we’d want to listen to first and foremost…and if the people out there happen to agree, then even better!  All-in-all, I really like the energy and the melody in this track, and it’s a cut that’s got more single-worthy potential than most of the rest in the set as well…a solid mix of quality instrumentation and accessibility is always a good thing!

As far as “Gimme’ Tyrell” is concerned…it’s not so much that it’s a bad track at all, so much as you can hear that noticeable tinge of ABBA’s influence through one of VDX’s main hooks again, which really ends up making it feel like we’ve somewhat been there & done that by the time we get into this tune.  It’s not that certain aspects of music aren’t recycled, reused, and replicated in a variety of ways every single day, but the recognizable they are, the more problematic they can become.  “Gimme’ Tyrell” isn’t entirely reliant on these synthesized hooks throughout the song to make its mark, but it does lean fairly heavy on them too at times…and it’s harder to say what the most memorable aspect of a track like this would be if it wasn’t for those.  At the end of the day, it’s a technique and a way that things are played…and were it not for the similar sounds being used, we might not even notice…but this is how VDX will know precisely what I’m saying is true – I didn’t have to refer to some specific point in the song for him to know exactly what I’m talking about, did I?  He knows exactly what I mean, and that’s probably the main issue overall…it’s that identifiable to another’s work that it becomes that much harder to identify it as his own, even though the vast majority of a cut like “Gimme’ Tyrell” is all built around VDX’s own ideas.

Ten years ago, “Desire For You” was released as a single with a video for YouTube…and I’d say this has no problem holding up now.  It’s a pleasant, sweet, and emotionally moving melody…some folks will find it soul-soothing, while others will likely feel it’s more thought-provoking I suppose, but no matter how you slice it, it’s an offensive tune that’s not really going to find any serious opposition to it.  Video-wise, it does what it needs to do…I tend to feel like most folks overcomplicate this aspect of their career anyway…really, “Desire For You” is a perfect example of what a song genuinely needs visually, which is something to go along with the music that’ll keep people watching while they’re listening, that’s it, that’s all.  As much as I’d love to argue that things need to be profoundly groundbreaking, that’s not always going to be the case – but tons of people around the world still consume their music through a visual medium like YouTube every day, so it’s actually quite crucial to be on there in whatever capacity you can be.  “Desire For You” does that with its combination of still images and moving transitions.  We’re not all gonna have millions to spend on big budget productions – but the internet isn’t calling for that to be the case.  Obviously it’ll help in terms of going viral if that’s the main goal, but if you’re really just looking to get your music out there, you can do this is a variety of ways like “Desire For You” does and not have it break the bank at all.  What’s key is that you get your music out there for people to hear in all the different ways we have at our disposal in this internet-based era that we’re living in now.  For VDX, the next challenge is to get a couple more up there, so that another decade doesn’t pass him by.

“You Won’t Find It Outside” features none other than your greenest Jedi master himself – Yoda.  Which is an interesting choice, wouldn’t you say?  Admit it – you probably haven’t heard a song with Yoda on it before, and there’s no time like the present to change that I suppose.  Anyhow – here’s the thing…again, given that VDX ain’t trying to go worldwide with this collection of music from the past decade, he’s getting a bit of a pass from me – otherwise, I’d tell him he’s basically combining about three or four short EPs into one much more confused album, know what I mean?  Many of these tunes would go together, and many wouldn’t – I have a hard time with a track like “You Won’t Find It Outside” existing on the same record as stuff like “Fractured Laguna” or “Mediation,” but it’d probably fit just fine with a track like “Noisy Forests” and “Wild Cat In Space.”  Ultimately, I’d guess that answers VDX’s question about cohesion & evolution somewhat…variety is the cohesion you’ll find more-so than the sound, and as for evolution in the material…I suppose I’d say there are peaks and valleys in just about all creative works out there when it comes to music.  I’m not hearing anything on a technical level that seems to suggest any tune is that much more superior or deficient than any other, with perhaps the only notable track being “Voice Of The Mountains,” which I genuinely feel opted for a more organic & stylistic choice as opposed to actually being some kind of downgrade.  “You Won’t Find It Outside” is a pretty decent track at its core in my opinion.  Does it need Yoda to make it that way?  Not at all.  It’s the music that makes this track well-worth listening to as far as my ears are concerned, but perhaps if you’re one of those folks that celebrates May the 4th like it’s your Christmas, this track will become your new anthem.

Shorter records can also sometimes yield results that’ll make more of an impact too.  By the time we get to “Night Dancer” at track sixteen, my ears are a little less sure that the moves being made aren’t ones we’ve essentially already heard from VDX, despite its deeper vibe.  Around the 2:30 mark, where he invites an airier melody to take the lead, I felt like I started to get a bit more enticed into listening, but even in that instance, we’re starting to see a distinct pattern emerge in the material, which is to add light to dark, and dark to light.  Contrast is an excellent tool to use in music, there’s no doubt about that – but the real trick is to disguise the methods and writing style so that the audience is less aware of it.  In the length of such a huge album, it’s kind of impossible not to pick up on a consistent approach when one is present, which can be the difference between releasing things in shorter EPs versus a massive album like this one here.  To justify its nearly seven-minute length, I felt like “Night Dancer” probably needed a bit more to its DNA, but I’m not all that opposed to it either.  It’s a track that I felt like I could take or leave I guess…it’s not making the album, and I’m not convinced we’d all miss it if it disappeared from the lineup, but at the same time, it always seemed to be a welcome enough tune on repeat spins.

“Moody Piano” is a great song, and definitely one of my own personal favorites on the record too.  Not only do I love the piano as the lead, but I love the way that VDX has set the percussion way off in the distance, sometimes so subtly that we’d barely even notice it’s there.  Title-wise is where it’s the most perplexing I suppose…I didn’t really find anything particularly ‘moody’ as we tend to define that term, but a title hardly makes or breaks a song in any instance.  I found this final cut to be nothing but warm and pleasant, melodic and inviting…and it gets a big ol’ thumbs up of approval from me.  I’d take a record full of this stuff if VDX was ever so inclined to make one…he sparkles and shines on this gentle finale, revealing a magnificently delicate touch that genuinely leads to one of his boldest impressions and a track that’s confidently filled with authenticity.  All-in-all, I’d likely put this track right up there in my top three personal favorites on this album, along with “Fractured Laguna” and “Meditation” as well.  “Moody Piano” is an excellent example of serving the song, and not overcomplicating what doesn’t need to be – it has everything it needs to have, and everything it needs to have is right in the perfect spots.

As a bonus, beyond the album, I checked out a track called “The Master’s Death” that was released around this time last year, in tribute to VDX’s compositional hero, Vangelis.  I dig this tune personally, and I feel like if you’re familiar with the incredible legacy and music of Vangelis, you’ll certainly get the audible toast to The Master that it truly is.  Another excellent use of space in VDX’s music, with all kinds of airy atmospheric elements like the chimes brightly contrasting with the low-end of the bass – VDX has clearly still got the magic, and if I was him, I’d be highly encouraged by the results on “The Master’s Death” to keep going with his hobby of making music.  Whether it’s the album or this single here, VDX has revealed a massive wealth of professional depth and given himself a variety of reasons to continue.  This track right here would definitely be right up there with my favorites in his catalog to-date as well.

Is it all relevant?  Sure!  Why not?  Will people listen?  Probably not, they never do!  Hopefully they will!  People even ignore the very best of the best out there…but that shouldn’t ever make a difference in our desire to create art.  Is the material cohesive?  Identity is the toughest thing to establish in music, and it’s impossible to judge from just one record.  At the moment, not really…but that doesn’t mean it can’t become that way with more time and experience.   As for the audible evolution…if I was to judge by a song like “The Master’s Death,” I’d definitely say yes to that…I felt like this last track possessed a bit of something special in the mix that the rest didn’t quite have, but that could very well come from the internal pressures that stem from trying to properly tribute one of VDX’s true heroes, more-so than it might be one of the newest songs that I heard.  Though it could be both…only he’d know the answer to that.  It’s been an adventurous experience to listen all-around in my opinion – and I suppose the real answer to all of VDX’s questions would be whether or not I’d listen to his music again…and yes, I would.

Find out more about VDX from the official page at Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/VDXi.music

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