The band Vehicles sets a standard for guitar tone exploration amidst songs written for an audience keen on hooks and catchy melodies. ECHO, Vehicles' newest release, is a polished production in the musical vein of 80’s rock heroes like Simple Minds and Echo and the Bunnymen, but not far from Vehicles' contemporaries like The Killers and Foals.
More than just an echo of those who’ve come before them, Vehicles are planting a stake and moving forward with their career and sound. ECHO will be a fantastic ambassador and it will represent their first release on Texas-based Idol Records.
The first song, “Young Bombers”, gets the party started. The guitars are simultaneously jangly and fuzzy. The story starts with a moment of love realized only momentarily, while the closing line also ponders, “How anyone could hope to survive.” “Young Bombers,” a short pop jam, makes way for a more sensitive second song.
“Agora Phoebe” is reminiscent of darker Tears For Fears songs. It features a sensitive vocal performance by Cody Cloud. His vulnerability is palpable with lines like, “I try hard to relate, but the harder I pull, the more there’s pushing” sung over building guitar layers. Continuing through the post-chorus vocal-ether, he asks “who are you talking to?”, then closes with, “I’m afraid to be seen. The two kinds that kill, they surround you and then drown you.”
Opening with a guitar lick somewhere in between Devo and U2, the song “Gorilla Suit” isn’t clear on its lyrical intent and the musical backing is equally unclear. Very hook-oriented, "Gorilla Suit" falls short compared to the slow building and layered song, “Gatecrasher.”
Transitioning from the song intro to an almost disco sounding verse and a somewhat celebratory chorus, the song “Gatecrasher” picks ECHO back up and gets the party going again. Featuring bassist Tony Hull on a fun, bouncy fretboard free-for-all, "Gatecrasher" opens to a vocal and drum solo which highlights the robust production work on ECHO.
Yes, the guitars are dense and there are many-a-tone to explore on ECHO, which exploits its clear, full production. The instrumentation serves to drive the vocal melodies and Cloud’s singing is under the spotlight. Vehicles intent is to reach as wide an audience as possible and ECHO is not afraid of exposure, though the keyboard is lacking in overall presence. Recorded at Quest Trax in Stillwater, OK, by Andrew Bair, ECHO is an audiophile-worthy listen. Kerry Bainum’s drums sound big and solid, highlighting his no-nonsense approach to songwriting, where he prefers to let the guitars and vocals breath for maximum hook impact. The guitars sound huge when they’re supposed to and dance in the background, depending on what guitarist/songwriter Cody Cloud intends and guitarist Isaac Pearson expounds on.
The song “Echo Metal” supports the pop construct and delivers it with a quick pulse over delay-guitar syncopation. Bemoaning whether or not “she’d really leave”, ECHO is a release based in loss and in a feeling of disconnection. Although many uplifting melodies and up tempos may suggest otherwise, ECHO is grief-stricken. The next song, “Sweet Honey Run”, while not totally minor in key, is still melancholic.
“UMPA” is upbeat and continues in delay guitar hooks, different from “Pick Pockets”, which starts with a distorted bass and an almost chiming piano guitar tone. Both songs sit in prime timing real estate for radio play at 4-6 minutes in length, further solidifying Vehicles intent of getting to an audience and sinking their teeth in quickly. The rest of ECHO follows suit. “My Baby Was a Shield” is sandwiched between the previous two songs and follows suit.
“Androids Love the Tea,” is a fan favorite that has been around Vehicles' live set for some time and gives way to ECHO’s album closer. “Curious,” is less rigid and more emotional musical performance than the previous 10 songs on this near 50-minute release. Like a dream, “Curious” floats in the clouds, landing softly on what sounds like a train as an outro.
Vehicles' partnership with Idol Records looks to spread listenership of the band, and their touring in support of ECHO will get them even further.