On his 2007 debut, The Moonstation House Band, Chicago-based musician David Vandervelde showed up on the scene in a spaceship, declared his love for David Bowie’s ethereal cocaine blues, paid his debt to the Grateful Dead and the Band, and in eight hazy, beautiful rock songs, was gone.
On his second LP, Waiting for the Sunrise, it seems Vandervelde’s been doing just that: watching patiently as the night trails away, the party ends, people gather themselves and head home. If Moonstation saw Vandervelde stuck in the center of an endless spotlit midnight, Sunrise’s smoothed-out vibe is — for better and worse — suited for the dawning day.
In his uneasy anticipation, Vandervelde is restless, searching, and beautiful. “Lyin’ in Bed” and “Knowledge of Evil” match propulsive, spacey-rock with Vandervelde’s vulnerability, making a simple lyric like, “Come back/ Come back around/ This town” poignant rather than plain. And on album standout “Hit the Road,” Vandervelde’s strut and swagger match the gritty beauty of Moonstation’s standout, “Nothin’ No.” In these three songs, and on “Someone Like You,” Vandervelde is at his strongest; his guitars are distorted and his lyrics have a confident purpose.
But on the rest of Waiting for the Sunrise, Vandervelde reaches a few years further back into his influence bank, and what he dredges up — soft, simple piano lines, repetitive mid-tempo melodies and ineffective lyrics — drags the album into easy-listening territory. “I Will Be Fine,” and “Cryin’ Like the Rain,” show Vandervelde coasting along on the smooth, subtle melodies and vibe of ’70s AM radio. The music is pleasant enough, but there’s no feeling, and ambivalence is most likely not the reaction he wants.
In giving up his swagger, Sunrise absorbs the same unfavorable glow cast upon the less potent songs by Ambulance Ltd. and on a good portion of My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges. He’s easy to listen to, sure, but “easy listening” has a negative connotation — with good reason. Vandervelde is immensely talented, and at his best when he’s ambitious, not aiming simply to please. Waiting for the Sunrise doesn’t signal the end of Vandervelde’s party, but one hopes he gets his second wind rather than becoming satisfied and heading off to bed.