Across two previous albums of electro-tweaked post-rock, not to mention several singles and EPs, Leeds-based five-piece Vessels staked a substantial claim for themselves as amongst this country’s finest purveyors of their chosen niche.
But as great as their music has been, and remains, alongside acts including Errors, And So I Watch You From Afar and Brontide, they’ve not attained the same commercial highs as Mogwai, or Battles. Only so much room at the top-table of post-rock, or something?
“I don’t think you can really expect to please a huge audience when you’re playing in 11/8 time signatures, like we used to,” says the band’s electronics specialist and sometime vocalist Tom Evans. “Maybe Battles achieved that – but they had some killer singles. We’ve always been more of an album band, and our music makes more sense in a longer format.”
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‘On Monos’, feat. Snow Fox (single edit, album version appears on ‘Dilate’)
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The band’s music has made inroads into the mainstream, albeit through placements on adverts and the like. Continues Tom: “Me, Pete and Lee have all done bits of soundtrack work for [video] games and adverts, and Vessels have been on a few TV shows over the years. It’s a fact of the music industry in the 21st century that almost all of the money is in synchronising music to other media, and record sales are almost peripheral to that. With love and respect to Bill Hicks’ opinions on the subject, his time was before free media, and the landscape has changed now.”
The latest Vessels collection is the forthcoming ‘Dilate’, released on March 2nd through Bias. From its very first seconds it’s clear that the band has built on their manoeuvres in more explicitly electronic territories, a turn telegraphed perhaps by their 2013 cover of Modeselektor’s ‘Blue Clouds’. That track’s parent EP, ‘Elliptic’, effectively bridged the gap between 2011’s ‘Helioscope’ LP and ‘Dilate’, indicating a tonal shift that’s not quite tectonically volcanic in impression, but immediately attracts parallels with the sort of output you’d expect from a Kompakt or, naturally, Monkeytown.
“‘Dilate’ is part of the evolution of the band, but it’s definitely a departure as well,” says multi-instrumentalist Martin Teff. “We’ve all been getting excited by electronic music, by techno, whatever you want to call it. And so our sound has become more focused on that side of things. Our original sound can still be found, if you listen carefully, but now we’re less about head-nodding or show-gazing, and more about dancing and enjoying ourselves. Life’s too short to be miserable all the time.”
This has meant some reorganising for live performances, the quintet – completed by Tim Mitchell on drums, Peter Wright on electronics and Lee J Malcolm on more electronics, as well as synths and drums – shuffling their pack of instruments to arrive at a more complementary set-up for the songs of ‘Dilate’.
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I reckon this album could be a lot bigger, and am pretty excited about that possibility. I do love it when bands that have been relatively small for about a decade or so suddenly hit the big time…
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“We’ve gone from having 10 guitars on stage, to three,” says Tom. “It’s necessary, really. We were always trying to make our guitars sound like synths, and now we make synths that sound like guitars. The scope for timbre and texture is definitely much wider now.” Martin echoes the sentiment regarding greater space to explore: “While everything is being played live, we’re using Ableton more, to hold it all together. It’s a really exciting set-up, and it feels like we have a whole range of possibilities that never existed before.”
You can judge for yourself whether the transition’s been a smooth one when Vessels tour in March – details below. Given that every time I’ve seen them, they’ve been astounding, chances are that the band’s show of 2015 is going to impress. To return to the very beginning of our conversation, then: how come the band hasn’t had the breakthrough that, really, the quality of their output’s deserved?
“Over the years I’ve read various things about bands who feel like they should have been more successful,” says Martin. “I think that implies some kind of entitlement, which I don’t think is really justified. Some bands and music end up bigger than others for a variety of reasons, and that’s just life. Some of that has to do with talent, and some of it is to do with place and time.
“I remember chatting about this stuff with John Congleton, who produced our early albums, and has mixed some really big stuff like St. Vincent but whose own bands have never been ‘successful’, and we both agreed that it’s important to always enjoy the level of success you have. Otherwise you’re constantly dissatisfied by the idea that you should be doing better. I still always aspire to do bigger and better things, but it’s important to enjoy the moment. And we've had so many great moments that I feel happy with what we’ve done.
“I don’t feel marginalised. I reckon this album could be a lot bigger, and am pretty excited about that possibility. I do love it when bands that have been relatively small for about a decade or so suddenly hit the big time. So, I’m definitely looking forward to that with ‘Dilate’!”
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‘Blue Clouds’ (Modeselektor cover)
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It has, indeed, been a decade now since Vessels came together, their first release being an eponymous EP of 2006 (which I still have, somewhere), followed by a debut album of 2008, ‘White Fields And Open Devices’. The Vessels of then, despite Martin’s assertion that you can hear echoes of the past in their present, is very different to the band that’s pieced together ‘Dilate’, a set that flows with perfect control, that engages the senses and, as suggested, does make you want to drop what you’re doing and move something. Or at least drum a few fingers on your desktop, to the annoyance of your co-workers.
And “there’s always more to explore,” says Tom of what may come next. “You’ll only ever scratch the surface of something, no matter how much time you spend trying to understand or master it, and that probably applies as much to crochet knitting as it does to quantum physics.”
“I think that when we run out of new things to discover, then it’s time to retire and kickback in our respective mansions,” says Martin. And if it turns out that this “mansion” is actually a manky maisonette, it’s entirely our fault for not paying proper attention. That, or, y’know, The Price Of Housing. Oh, we’re all doomed, so we might as well dance a little.
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Words: Mike Diver
Photos: main by Matthew Parri Thomas, embedded by Idollphamine
Vessels online. ‘Dilate’ is released on March 2nd. See the band live as follows:
12th Village Undergound, London w/ Chris Clark and more
13th St John, Hackney, London (DJ set w/ Kiasmos, Rival Consoles)
14th Start The Bus, Bristol
15th The Rainbow, Birmingham
16th Soup Kitchen, Manchester
17th Nice N Sleazy, Glasgow
18th Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds
25th Opium Rooms, Dublin