Genres, funny things aren’t they? It seems that as human beings we are happiest when we can look at, listen to or read something and think yes, that definitely belongs in that category. Label it nicely and then go have a beer.
There seems to be something within us that isn’t satisfied until we’ve exhausted all the permutations and decided that x, y or indeed z fits into that little category, and woe betide it if it tries to escape the little box.
That is the only reason why I can think of a certain type of listener or internet commentator exists, you all know the one’s I mean, The ones who aren’t satisfied until they’ve proven beyond reasonable doubt that so and so is ‘prog’ and won’t listen to anything that doesn’t fit into their little boxes.
Well, gentlemen (and it is always gentlemen), let me tell you, life is so much more fulfilling when you step out of your little comfort bubble and not just listen to the music that falls between the boxes, but start living your life outside the boxes.
This is where haunting duo VLMV (pronounced ALMA) from London come in, their second album ‘Stranded Not Lost’ is released on Friday 16th February, formed by Peter Lambrou and joined by Ciaran Morahan, VLMV specialise in the sort of post rock ambient soundscapes and haunting ethereal melodies that fit outside the traditional musical box, occupying the same universe as artists like Explosions in the Sky or Bristol improv group Jilk.
This is music Jim, but not as we know it, whilst the psychedelic warriors of the late 60’s & 70’s pushed the barriers by going in search of space and beyond, this is the opposite, this is emotive, expansive and introspective music.
The sort of thing that No-Man used to do quite well, and which VLMV do with great skill, is the art of the slow build, the sonic build and soundscapes where the space between the noise is as important as the noise, with songs like the hauntingly beautiful All These Ghosts (which is the lead single from the album) it’s atmospheric stark soundscapes, mixed with the steel guitar picking and some emotive lyrics bring this ballad to life, and it’s this juxtaposition of music as big as the universe, and lyrics as close as your deepest thoughts that are part of what makes this album so effective.
With a sonic palette that brings real warmth to what initially seems to be icy and stark (the aural equivalent of a long country walk on a frozen landscape) the warmth, the depth and the humanity that is teased out through these songs grows and delights.
The opening instrumental mood setting He Has Already Divided Us, with it’s enigmatic title leads us brilliantly into the album, where songs like the title track, with it’s alt country guitar, big orchestration, and vocals reminiscent of an OK Computer Era Radiohead crossed with Josh Rouse, is one of the most affecting tracks on the album. It’s beautiful lyrics, haunting melodies and beautiful string work complement the guitar and synths perfectly. The barely restrained vocal performance and musical accompaniment suggest repressed emotion fighting to get out, and I think it’s one of the most beautiful and evocative pieces of music I have heard so far this year.
Evocative is the word that keeps coming up again when listening to this album, it has the widescreen feel of a soundtrack for a British Indie movie that hasn’t been made yet, I can see the main characters falling apart in the pouring rain on an anonymous street in a big city to the heartstring pulling and piano and string laden And There Was Peace in Our Time, breaking down as the music builds up, the blend of strings and synths is pure class, the melody filling the speakers as it soars beautifully. This is strong stuff, and really gets into you, especially if you listen on your headphones on the commute to work.
It’s not often that music conjures up such vivid imagery for me, not even powerful instrumental stuff, but this hits the spot every time, its power is in its simplicity, and that runs through the album. These are all well crafted, well thought out and beautifully executed songs, with space to grow and room to breath.
Guest vocalist Tom Hodge joins in on the brilliant Little House, which again reflects on the personal with some more of that fantastic guitar and synth work. The beauty on this is giving space to the vocals, focusing on the everyday, the real concerns of individuals. Where the space within the music is as important as the music. There are no overblown histrionics here nothing so crass is required. This is music in its purest form, no notes wasted, no unnecessary pieces. Every song has what it needs and nothing more, and this economy of sound, and distillation down to the purest emotion is what makes this album so affecting, especially on tracks like the ambient Lunokhod.
Having gone from never hearing of VLMV before, I will now be visiting their bandcamp site to order my copies of their earlier work and I strongly recommend that on Friday when this album hits the streets, you hit their bandcamp site, have yourself a listen and get into some seriously great music.
Released 16th February 2018
Order ‘Stranded Not Lost’ from bandcamp in all formats