Vessel Decimal – CONVERSION Level One – Album Review
Well hot damn! Vessel Decimal has seriously got something to say on this new record. Many things.
As the opening “Orientation” will go on to explain…this is much more of an experience…a course in learning…objective evolution at work in the midst of metal mayhem and progressive tendencies. Call it anything other than just more music – Vessel Decimal is reaching further than ever before on an album full of songs that pull no punches when it comes to hitting the intended targets. With scathing social commentary, brutal insight into the music-scene, and a perspective that skewers what you think you know with direct & blunt verbal beatdowns that point out a ton of things I’m sure VD would hope that you already know, but knows that many of you definitely don’t. Take the incredible opening cut “I Turn” for example – it doesn’t get any more scorching hot, seething, & scathing than this does when it comes to commentary on the current climate of the music industry. Absolutely savage really, in both sound & lyrical content, “I Turn” comes out swinging punches to the face of the mainstream & commercial music made without something to say, without soul, without substance – and over the course of a gripping performance, questions why in the fuck these people would bother making music in the first place without all those essential ingredients. At the heart of it all…it’s damn near a combination of something like Primus, Rush, and Green Jelly rolled into one…and then put through a wicked musical meatgrinder to form something just as unapologetic, committed, wisecracking, and undeniably skilled. Vocally, the performance is epic…like EPIC in ALL-CAPS kind of EPIC…and it makes all the difference in the world when we’re listening – it makes these words beyond real; screaming and shouting and storming through the lyrics, these words become the statements they’re intended to be by the way their delivered – and you certainly hear’em! As a structure & composition overall, the massive difference between the verse and chorus is seriously cool & I think both of these main parts have their own unique appeal; that being said, it’s the lyrics & what they immediately reveal about this record that stand-out the most at all times.
The wild hooks built into the mechanics and industrial grind on “In The Beginning” are fuckin’ fantastic. Full disclosure, I’ve been listening to this track for longer than the rest and did some work on the ol’ video, which you can see below – and there’s not a thing about this track I don’t remember now to this day. It was my first experience with the music that was coming out on CONVERSION Level One – and also the first moment where I realized that Vessel Decimal was seriously putting the work in even more than I had initially thought when reviewing the record To Be And Not To Be back in 2017. Not only will “In The Beginning” reveal incredible instrumentation through a blazing guitar solo that’s 100% badass, but this entire track never lets up with its energy, surging as it grips & rips, storms and pounds through its length. Lyrically, it was also a complete indication that there was an intense amount of thought being put into that aspect as well – you can hear on “In The Beginning” that it’s not just about the words, but also the innovative way they’re phrased and sung aloud. It is not every day that you can find a band that can work in a line like “But the children interpreted these patterns as a form of submissive automated government slavery” into a song and make it FIT – know what I mean? In many ways, “In The Beginning” completely plays on like an acid-trip at its most intense, and with the signature frank-honesty that you’ll find in the lyrics on this record, absolutely questions and tears apart the standard scene of the white picket fence & 9-5 job. Most importantly – as desolate as many of these songs present themselves to be with the grim reality they expose so brutally – it you really look at these lyrics, they are so far, far beyond merely trashing the present-day – they’re revealing what’s actually happening right here, right now…the slow-burn of a system that’s been around for years and the waking-up of a generation that is capable of seeing the cage built around them. At least that’s what I’m getting out of it all! I mean…I know that I could write an entire essay or novel around what’s being said on “In The Beginning” – because to me, this is a completely perfect follow-up to the opening song. Look at it this way – after everything that’s said on “I Turn” – if Vessel Decimal instantly slid into a track about chicks’n’cars like so many millions of others, this whole record would have immediately fallen apart; this band led by songwriter Jesse Kazmer, back up the main points that “I Turn” was making by taking that very next opportunity to show that the music on this has something to say and that there’s genuine substance here. This isn’t a platform wasted – it’s one that’s understood and used to its maximum potential.
I’d venture a guess that “Idiot Anthem” is another jab at popular music…though if I’m being honest, I’m not entirely sure which kind exactly. I think there are definitely the obvious shots at the happy-go-lucky party-anthem fluff-pieces that are written out there…but when it comes to the presentation of the sound in the music that comes along with it & some of the lyrics you’ll find…I feel like this could be just as much of a shot at cock-rock of all kinds like Motley Crue, Nickelback, or Metallica. Which would be shots more than deserved in my opinion…so maybe that’s projection…maybe that’s just the way I’m hearing it. I think what concerns me about this particular track is just how far Vessel Decimal has gone to make the point here; don’t get me wrong, I’m the first one to say you gotta fully commit to an idea to make it work, and VD definitely does that here. As a result though – it’s come out remarkably close to sounding just like one of its intended targets, which is certainly the point I’d imagine…but it’s hard to completely enjoy in the sense that you can tell every element being combined here are ingredients that its author & creator would basically hate in theory, know what I mean? So don’t get me wrong…I think the point is more than made here – I think Vessel Decimal beats you right over the fucking head with it to be truthful – and potentially, becomes what’s despised in the process. Were you to hear this one track out of context of the rest of the album, what in the hell would you even think? You’d probably write Vessel Decimal off in a heartbeat…that’s just me being real about it all…that’s how far they’ve gone to make the point. That being said – having “Idiot Anthem” on THIS particular record and in the context you’ll find it in – THAT…is what makes it actually fucking brilliant. I’m not gonna lie…it’s such a straight-ahead Rock-style and sound that it IS tougher to enjoy than the rest somewhat by comparison – BUT – as far as ideas go…as far as adding to the themes & concepts an album is trying to put forth – this simply can’t be beat.
Nothing is being overlooked here – not even the titles. “Hypothetical Hard Work” is just as much of a bitch slap to the face of popular music as a short instrumental as any of the songs with lyrics. If I had to hazard a guess…I’d be willing to be that Vessel Decimal sat down with the intention to write a beat quickly…or that this naturally flowed out with zero effort…and realized that most people would sit back and call it a day if they had created this. Maybe put some sweet-sweet autotuned lyrics to go with it and take it to number-one in the Top-40 even…and then likely claim it took them hours and hours and hours to slave over every sound to get it right. Maybe it’s a sarcastic comment on how naturally it does come to Vessel Decimal to make sounds we want to hear, or how easy it is for Jesse and his cohorts – it could be many things of course. I like to look at it this way personally…I think it’s a comment on how there’s always so much more to be done. Like as in, this is “Hypothetical Hard Work” – but for the real scope of Vessel Decimal’s ideas, this would be a mere building block…for others, it would already be declared a full-on masterpiece and they’d be willing to SETTLE for what’s been done…maybe give it a looping or two and voila, HOT NEW HIT OF THE SUMMER. I ain’t gonna lie…I love the way the title alone made my brain think while listening…and I ain’t gonna deny I actually love this short little oddity too; not just for context, but for the fact that it’s actually a badass little groove. I might have fallen right into the trap being set for me here…but I can’t say that I mind at all…I really dig “Hypothetical Hard Work” – as to whether or not it did/didn’t take any effort at all on Vessel Decimal’s part…we’ll probably never know.
“The Exotic” exposes the poetic approach that’s often taken in the lyrics on CONVERSION Level One even further. The results are quite a bizarre fit…that’s a certainty…I can hear that many people are gonna struggle to get their minds around this one fully…but I’d also assume that’s a known thing when it comes to the music being made in Vessel Decimal. Not everyone is gonna ‘get’ it…a lot of this is gonna fly right over people’s heads whether musically or lyrically…but if you’re really listening to the spirit and force driving this project, you’ll understand it’s full-steam ahead no matter what. Climb aboard if you’ve got the inclination & want to do so, there’s plenty of room for everyone; but if you don’t get it, you’re bound to be left ashore with no hesitation. Reminds me a lot of one of my other indie favorites pushing the boundaries out there…a band called A Truth Called Nothing; both bands with weighty concepts and ideas that are built on significant substance and thought-provoking material, all executed with seriously daring approaches to music overall. “The Exotic” is an odd fit…I have my moments with it…lyrically, I dig what it’s saying and appreciate the perspective it has on opinions & how we express ourselves…or how we don’t for that matter…and I like that this particular tune was one that took more time to grow on me. The bass is badass, the guitars are great, the vocals go through some extremely cool transitions and tones; I don’t know that this track didn’t feel like a lyrics-first and music-later kind of song though…that’s the part I was unsure of. It felt like fitting pieces into a puzzle that was already formed at times…best way I can put it…there’s moments where it felt like the words fit right into the flow, and others where it felt like it was assembled in the aftermath without much compromise. Which, ultimately, if the words are the most important ingredient, there’d be nothing wrong with that…and there’s an argument to be made for sure that the lyrics could very well be the most defining aspect of this particular record.
As I approach the end of the third full page of a Microsoft Word document writing this, only on track number seven of a fourteen track album, I can’t help but completely appreciate everything that’s being said on “Get To The Climax.” Much like Vessel Decimal, I too, am one defiant-ass motherfucker…part of me likes to write as much as I do for the mere fact that I know it’s bound to turn-off people that aren’t really fans of music. And if you’ve made it all the way down here, actually reading what’s been said, then you likely ARE a real fan of music and want to know what these records I write about are actually all about. If you’ve made it here by accident…as much as I’m happy to have ya…you’re probably better off with whatever Rolling Stone is passing off as a music-review these days inside of one or two paragraphs. The storming surge of power and metal-mayhem is a brutalizing & punishing perspective on respect for CONTENT dammit – and on behalf of those who DO ‘get’ it, THANK-YOU Vessel Decimal, for saying a lot of things that need to be said here. Or yelled, as the case may be and definitely is. “Get To The Climax” is a response to the click-bait culture we’ve adopted; it’s as mean and gnarly as it should be…once again combining a Primus-esque like creativity & bizarreness with like, a Meshuggah style massiveness & intensity. Maybe that’s just a way of saying KMFDM or Faith No More. Bottom line is, this is fucking brilliant, stunningly direct, and seriously gripping from beginning to end – full proof that CONTENT matters…that you can’t just rely on “Hypothetical Hard Work” – but that you’ve gotta create something that seriously kicks ass from beginning to end. I mean, you can kick ass in a mellow, acoustic style if that’s your jam and that’s cool too…the point is, make it more than just a headline…give the things you do, the art you create, the music you make…GODDAMN IT, give it all the substance and passion it DESERVES. “Get To The Climax” presents this concept through pointing out why we suck. Crushing sound, killer execution, highly creative…all-too-REAL…but definitely one of my favorites in the set without question.
Look. Here’s WHY this record is so damn brilliant. Everything flows together so impressively that it’s impossible not to notice. JUST as I’ve finished speaking on how important CONTENT is – on the very next cut, Vessel Decimal reminds us all just how fragile that relationship between us and our content really is. As I’ve always said on mix-tapes and pretty much any record that’s got vocal-samples involved – PAY ATTENTION…because quite often they’re used specifically, because they have the ability to say something in a better way than we can ourselves…or present the point exactly how you’d wished you’d always said it. “The Light Web” is an IMPORTANT song on CONVERSION Level One – it’s essential to understanding a TON of what Vessel Decimal is looking to communicate…and in this particular scenario regarding ‘net neutrality’ – the message is being displayed in a way that AFFECTS US ALL. That’s right folks, you, me, Vessel Decimal, your mom & everyone else…so seriously, LISTEN UP. VD makes that easy on ya by putting in a seriously rad electro-beat/metal combo into the music that really works insanely well with the commentary making so much damn sense over-top. Pay close attention to “The Light Web” and I PROMISE you, you’ll probably be 10% smarter for having done so, or at least more aware.
I feel somewhat the same about “The Stupid Songs” as I did with “Idiot Anthem” – this is going full-on into the concept once again, almost to wind up on the dark-side or wondering which side of the mirror you’re really on. The lyrics of course, ground this song firmly within the framework of the record; the bombastic supercharged dance-electro drives home the point like a hammer over the head once again, which is certainly the intention here. I would honestly laugh my balls off if I was to read a review on this song that simply commented on how awesome the beat was and completely missed the points it’s trying to make…but I have NO DOUBT that there will be a few. This is a massive lambasting to the Pop-music scene on all-fronts and the sheeple that flock to the front of the stage to dance, dance, dance the night away in front of some DJ. It’s as self-loathing as a song can really be created…lyrically again, it presents that massive juxtaposition of completely hating on everything this song actually is – which is…well…to say the least, one of the weirdest experiences you can really have when listening to music, ain’t it? At the end of the day, realizing just how much context makes the difference with true content – within the confines of this record, “The Stupid Songs” makes another set of a million relevant points about the music-scene and how the masses tend to listen to music. The female-driven vocals to the main hooks were a significantly rad and perhaps sarcastic touch as well, as they’re so often used to bail out some dude that can’t actually hack it and save so many songs out there with sweetened melodies. Facts are facts though, she crushes it and puts in a radiantly electric performance to help drive home the point even further. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, CONVERSION Level One is stunningly well thought-out and put together with undeniable focus, unafraid to dive right in to every idea to serve the main objectives and purpose behind its core concepts. Who knows – maybe “The Stupid Songs” will be the next fist-pumping anthem in the clubs over the next year in the world’s most ironic twist EVER? I can’t even begin to describe how happy I can imagine that would make Vessel Decimal be, were it to happen. It’d be the biggest burn and simultaneous victory of all-time. #Lifegoals #HyperboleIsStillBullshit
“Grasp” is a wicked little ditty. I’ve got no amazing insights into this tune or theories on what this instrumental would be ‘saying’ – I just know what I like. More of a garage-indie-psych-alt-prog deal going on here…I just found the whole damn thing seriously enticing to listen to. “Grasp” is just about the complete polar opposite to what was just experienced on “The Stupid Songs” – and is perhaps a reference to maintaining enough sanity to continue on to complete this record. Again, I have nothing valuable to say here…in my heart of hearts, I mean damn, I’d HOPE that everyone out there would feel as strongly attached to this instrumental cut as I am…I think it’s a freakin’ masterpiece and one of the raddest subtle tracks you’ll hear this year. Again, polar-opposite to “The Stupid Songs” – “Grasp” isn’t going to punch you in the face just to get your attention…but in my world, everything is being done so right here with its mysterious & melodic vibe, that it’s complete proof that music doesn’t NEED to be so direct to grab a hold of you. Sometimes you find that gear that really locks-in to create a powerful moment that just makes some damn sense to the soul and to the ears…that’s what “Grasp” was to me. Not a single thing about it I’d change…without question one of my favorite cuts from this album.
And C’MON…”The Storefronts” is BEASTLY. I gotta say…haven’t come right out and said it yet, but this is a seriously remarkable record that really IS the experience and course in learning it proposes to be way back in the beginning through the “Orientation.” In terms of the tie-ins between the songs before, “The Storefronts” isn’t just built on seriously meaty low-end rhythms & riffs, it also continues to expand on that fragility in between the sweetest intentions & innocence of our ideas and the potential for a full-on commercialized rape of those things that were once special, turned into dollar signs. Displayed in “The Storefronts” – you dig? It’s like the dankest-ass Alice In Chains grime & murk in the music, which I loved – and the vocals, ever wild as they consistently are, make some of the most insightful & direct points you’ll find on this record. A noteworthy tale that exposes how ideology can become a commercially viable product for consumers, and brilliantly also tying that in to how the “Same thing happened to Punk Rock” and the “Same thing happened to Hip-Hop” – these are certainly words of truth when it comes to how it all works on the largest of scales. There’s still purity deep down in the indie-music scene, which is exactly why I’m here…and Vessel Decimal is certainly evidence of that at its maximum potential…you don’t get to a concept record this CLEAR without dedicating yourself to every single moment. As I’ve said many times, concept records are usually concept records to those that had the concept to begin with – rarely do the ideas and themes translate as well as you’ll find they are on this album. Impossible not to notice just how smart this record really is and just how well it’s all been put together; “The Storefronts” is a solid example of just how beefy & meaty these creations can become…it’s a monster. It’s also one of the most accurate mirrors held up to our society as can be placed into music. Scathing.
“Burst” takes aim at social-media and the endless waste of time that we’re involved. Call it information overload if you like, but just like, without the information part…that’s the age we’re in…the age of overload. And in truth, many of us are paralyzed by that, stuck in an endless loop where we’re drawn into consuming something, whatever it may be, from cute kitten videos to articles like these even – “Burst” is a call-to-arms for creators out there…a reminder to get off your ASS and DO something with the time you’ve got here. Don’t get me wrong…Vessel Decimal ain’t gonna beat around the bush with the points they’re making…they’ll be a lot more direct in how they put this to ya than I’ll be – but the bottom-line on “Burst” is that it’s a song that points out serious flaws in our society with furious ambition to rectify the wrongs…to right the path we’re on and put this ship back on course. Much of CONVERSION Level One IS about that…an example, whether tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic, or straight-ahead…it all leads up to this concept you’ll discover most boldly put forth in “Burst” that audibly tries to snap you out of your slumber. And in that sense, though it starts set within that social-media framework, you KNOW that it applies to so many MORE parts of our lives…I can’t even count all the minutes I feel like I waste in a day anymore, because it’s truly heartbreaking. And those that know me well, know that I hardly take a second off at all while I’m awake if I can help it – so what does that tell ya? There are far worse offenders out there I’m sure…locked into a daily routine of endless clicking around into the blackhole of the internet, looking for a validation they’ll never find. In the meantime, LIFE is happening all around them…and they have the ability to CREATE and CONTRIBUTE at any time – but it DOES require snapping the fuck out of the trance we’re led into, and breaking free. It requires a “Burst” of will and understanding that there’s a hell of a lot more to life than just sittin’ around. Killer concept once again, a mix of styles that shift between like…say…King’s X, TV On The Radio…and I’d probably put Faith No More or something Mike Patton in there for a third reference. Badass cut yo – awesome breakdown, wicked samples & lead-guitars, clever lyricism, and inventive ideas in the music that transition into one of the most powerful choruses on the album & highlight vocal-performances you can find on any of these tunes – TONS of personality & character thrown into this cut with conviction.
“Things Will Never Be The Same” is another subtle instrumental that really hits the mark…another fantastic inclusion to a record where you’d almost assume a moment like this would be overlooked by its creator or listeners thereafter. Glad Vessel Decimal has included stuff like this and “Grasp” along the way; I don’t necessarily think we need a full reset to gather our thoughts so much as it is just nice to have a moment or two to reflect on what we’ve heard and get set to absorb what else might be coming. Just so happens that Vessel Decimal is completely killin’ it at all-times and puts together another really smooth sound on “Things Will Never Be The Same” that ya gotta admit, flows straight into your ears without hesitation. Brilliant low-end melody combined with the one on the surface, punctuated by just enough electro and awesome drums adding to the mix…it’s short, it’s alluring, it’s impossible to resist.
On the final track, “The New Trial,” you can hear rad influences of classics like Pink Floyd, Queen, maybe even the more psychedelic-moments from The Beatles catalog…but then all run through the intense perspective of Vessel Decimal and the modern-take on this music’s approach. It’s funny…in the sense that I’ve had to refer to this as a ‘modern-take’ – because if you listen intently through the silence & static that follows throughout the end of this song all the way to nearly the sixteen-minute mark – you’ll discover that the roots of music like this existed long before the machine ever did. It wasn’t until we decided that somehow someone could be in charge of what was being heard – and that this was OK – and of course, that devolved music into the product it became, which is something that we’re only just now rebuilding from. “The New Trial” is a comment on a lot of this and more in many ways, it fades out at around seven & a half minutes for the main song – but if you’re listening, you’ll hear all kinds of stuff recorded real low to fill up that remaining time. And if there was still any doubt as to what this album was really all about (Like, REALLY?), Vessel Decimal gives you one final chance to hop aboard this train and ride with the final samples and sentiment expressed in the ending. “The New Trial” puts our own self-worth into evidence, with a proper defense, prosecution, judge & jury all at work to assess the outcome in this particular scenario, with our society ultimately being what’s on the witness stand. Having to answer for its lack of creativity, relentless redundancy, and fear of inspiration – I don’t wanna give too much away, but, SPOILER ALERT – the human race needs a reset of its priorities & approach to how we’re living…and it deserves to be on trial & questioned by each and every one of us right now.
So MASSIVE props to Vessel Decimal for leading the way on all that. As far as concept records go – this is as killer as it can possibly get and tight as fuck in execution, all-around. I’m not going to go as far as to say I loved the actual sound/style of every song – I don’t even know for a fact that the band even would – but I absolutely loved EVERY idea and the reasons as to WHY each song was on this record…I can more than appreciate the point being made and perspective that CONVERSION Level One has. It makes those tunes with styles & sounds you wouldn’t expect to find like “Idiot Anthem” or “The Stupid Songs” become just as essential to the entire experience as any of the other completely badass tunes surrounding them – there’s a reason that every song is on this record and it all serves a greater purpose than most music you’re ever bound to hear. As bone-cutting as the opinions and expressions may be – there are impressively admirable intentions at work here and a true dedication to what the art of music is fundamentally all about, for real. Not a doubt in my mind that a record like this deserves to find the audience that understands and ‘gets’ what Vessel Decimal is up to – and also no doubt that it’s equally important that everyone ELSE has a listen too, and wakes the fuck up. In my opinion, this is a record that seriously understands what it takes to be unique & relevant…one that isn’t afraid to challenge convention in search of the extraordinary…an album that takes aim at its targets with serious accuracy, but still with a glimmer of hope buried deep. Definitely a highlight in 2018 without question, this whole experience was off-the-charts creative and powerfully focused.
Find out more about Vessel Decimal at the official website: https://vesseldecimal.com
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