"Big expectations...," croons Vue singer Rex John Shelverton in "Some Kids," one of the tracks off the band's newest album, Down for Whatever.
Big expectations, indeed.
After a handful of releases on indie labels GSL and Sub Pop (including 2001's spectacular Find Your Home), Vue has jumped to RCA, releasing the five-song EP Babies Are for Petting earlier this summer and following that up with Down For Whatever, the band's third full-length and shiniest, most accessible effort to date. Two of the songs from the well-received EP -- "Look Out for Traffic" and "Babies Are for Petting" -- put in a repeat performance on Down for Whatever, but the majority of the material reflects a natural evolution in the California quintet's rock-n-roll odyssey.
On this new album, which clocks in at a respectable 12 songs in just over 40 minutes, Vue expands on the psychedelic-tinged garage rock of its past by incorporating tinges of slowed-down dirge-y blues and California pop run through a new wave blender. Shelverton's vocals, one of the key elements of the Vue sound, are as strung-out as ever, while guitarist Jonah Buffa weaves in and out of the foreground, throwing down fast licks as often as he provides color and texture.
The production on songs such as "Down for Whatever" strikes a nice balance between the instruments, with none dominating, each coming across clearly and cleanly -- an element lacking on some of the band's earlier recordings. In this case, the financial strength of a major label has allowed the band to realize the potential of its songs. But the album does suffer from this same blessing, as the vocals are sometimes mixed too far in the front. Part of any good garage band is never quite understanding just what the vocalist is saying.
Speaking of which, Down for Whatever is an obvious reference to the band's ramshackle existence and footloose philosophy of the past few years. "Do You Ever?" finds Shelverton reflecting on the passage of another birthday, while the aforementioned "Some Kids," as well as "Don't Be Yourself," trips through a social commentary on party people.
All is not fast and furious, though. "Take Two Kisses," which begins with a rolling, wave-like drumbeat and surf guitar strum, is a decided stylistic departure for the group. Slowing things down to a crawl from their normal party-rock M.O., Vue gets downright "Hotel California" on this tune, pausing to draw out the vocals and music to a drugged-out crawl, creating a somber mood that, though at odds with the rest of the album, may provide a glimpse of a future direction. The tune also allows Buffa a chance to show off his skills as a lead player, and this he does to tasteful effect. Jessica Ann Graves' keyboards give the band a 1960s Mod feel, while bassist Jeremy Bringetto and New York native Rafael Orlin on drums provide a swinging backbeat on most of the tunes, occasionally dropping a hard-rock figure to kick things up a notch.
Down for Whatever is a solid record from a solid band. The only worry for this group is whether RCA is going to push this record, especially given the fact the label is gearing up for the upcoming new album from labelmates the Strokes. In these uncertain times for the major labels, let's hope there's still enough love to go around.
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