Rob Blake (aka Bobbi Vain) has always been a character. As long as I’ve known him, he has delighted in stepping way outside the realm of the acceptable and getting in the face of musical conformity. His job as lead man for the Vanities is a perfect fit for his midrange power vocals, dark humor and experimental songwriting. These guys are the heavy odd ducks in a world of toned down hipster softies. The Vanities (actually just Vanities) have always created aggressive music and their latest disc strafes the aficionados once more, dropping 14 cuts of hard rocking napalm right across the musical mindscape of everyone in their path.
Combining a penchant for heavy progressive beats, pandemonium-drenched guitar, and thick and tasty bass, the Vanities ride their precarious two-headed musical beast to its inevitable conclusion every time they play. On the one hand, their avoidance of the herd mentality is what draws my attention to them. But I also know their need to appeal to the A&R guy from New York comes in at some point in the psychotic mêlée of composing music and doing business. That understanding reaches maturity for the band on their latest project, Antisocial Studies.
The Vanities tracked this disc at their own SweetBeef Studios in Neptune before handing it over to Alex Newport for mixing. The disc’s sound is at once dynamic and clean, while retaining that all that great thunder that comes courtesy of any mix handled by Newport. Alex Newport (Future Shock Sound, Brooklyn, NY) is recognizable as the man behind the console for top bands such as At The Drive In, Mars Volta, The Melvins and Death Cab For Cutie’s “Long Division” track from 2008’s Grammy-nominated album Narrow Stairs. Alex has the flair that reminds me of producer Jack Douglas, who crafted many well-known discs including the Aerosmith Holy Grail Rocks, and it tells me that the music industry is viewing Vanities as a serious label option.
If that wasn’t enough to get this disc into your hands, the 14-song platter really picks you up and takes you along on its journey, visiting many interesting rhythm oddities, progressive riffs and melodies. When you listen to the CD, you can tell that the band did their collective pre-production homework, gorging and absorbing options before vomiting back a mixture of influences such as Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Tool and STP.
Disc fave and opener “Heroin Ivy League” spits tweaked-out high harmonics, thunderous tom and bass hits amongst jagged guitar snarls as Vain slides into his dramatic vocal presentation. Next to Bobbi Vain’s powerhouse voice, guitars are the main fare here and Roland Torick and Vain stay neck to neck before pulling out from under the bass and biting back hard with fast to the finish line fretwork. Complex melodies dart back and forth between radio static vox and Vain’s insane guttural screams.
“House Of Gold” is a creepy mixture of influence that comes up behind you for a fast throat slash. If you took Metallica and Pink Floyd and put them through a grinder, you might get something close to this song. Glass smooth electric guitars spin spidery tapestries of warning before discharging dark, half stepped sickness all over the verse. I especially like the layered vocals and single note guitar duo coming out of the chorus. Blake’s whispered urgency builds the verse well before crashing into the chorus and feathering back into the next verse. This isn’t a radio hit by any means and requires a true love and understanding of this genre to get it. It’s a step outside of any pop territory, which isn’t a bad thing at any time.
“Methface” shows the band’s twisted, humorous side that I love so much. Simple schizophrenic guitar accompanies distortion-laced vocals that feature lines about a shivering fireside face-slapping junkie that lasts all of 33 seconds around the bonfire of these Vanities.
“Enjoying The View” utilizes everything in the available soundscape and even features what I believe to be a banjo in the main intro and bridges. Its off-kilter riff scuttles alongside hunkered down guitar and is part of the main hook here. Robs vocals come raw and ultra focused with staccato vamped guitar slashes throughout. Jack the Pumpkin King would have had this song in his iPod for sure. One of the strongest tunes on the disc, you can’t help but get wrapped up in finding all the subtle ingredients. Background vocals stand out well underneath Rob’s over the top wail.
“Pep Week” beats the dinner bell with its down stroked hard smacking drum and guitar. Not ones to get lazy and let the rhythm slide into Puddle Of Mudd mediocrity, the Vanities switch things up, moving into prog rock territory when choosing their master beats. The lethal and sadistic bass playing courtesy of Kim Kelly matches drum orchestration of John Sancillio superbly.
“Debris” is a monolithic beast in three quarters and dots the map with heavy distorted guitar riffs, drum stops and lots of syncopated unification in vocal and guitar melody before spiraling into a sharp Elvis Costello tinged chorus. Interesting? You bet. I especially love the lead bends in the bridges and the outro. Think Nirvana and STP and you might be close here.
“Don’t Wake Me” is pure old school muscle. The guitar tone is crazy and it hits you with the force of a .44 magnum as the band slides down into the drop D jungle. Guitar bends are once again plentiful here as are awesome drumming techniques. It’s definitely got early ‘90s feel and Vain’s searing vocals are inspired by Layne Staley.
“Live It Again” is a beast that starts off with nursery rhyme music box bait before revealing its wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing punch. The verse features an unrelenting and fast paced rhythmic attack that hammers down and speeds toward the hairpin turn before skidding full bore right into the giant monster (that destroyed Tokyo) chorus. The Vanities showcase their composition expertise quite well here and “Live It Again” becomes yet another interesting focus of the disc.
“Funny Feeling” is a hyper drive number that once again starts with traditional electric guitars and radio-effected vocals that start off quiet before hitting you over the head with the hornet angry intro that reminds one of Nirvana’s insane glory days. Verses are ominous and severe with ear-piercing vocal wails and heavy duty band attack. As far as length, it’s a shortie for sure but it gets a lot of mileage from its 2:31 time frame.
Antisocial Studies isn’t dance music or head nodding Americana, it’s heavy rock and roll and like a white mouse in a lab drug test, it will leave fans of the style hitting the replay button over and over again. Reinventing direction and bringing in a pro like Alex Newport is always the smart choice for a band looking to become an upwardly mobile option and the Vanities are at that point. With the exception of the overused distortion effect on Vain’s voice, I feel that Antisocial Studies is at the head of its class.
Catch them for their official CD release at The Brighton Bar on April 2 along with The Black Jesuses, Atlantic Atlantic and Scott Liss.