Vermont – Calling Albany

Calling Albany

Having never been a fan of the emo genre, the promise of a release from the Promise Ring’s Davey VonBohlen and Dan Didier and Pele’s Chris Roseanau didn’t exactly fill me with trembling anticipation. But knowing the good folks at Kindercore have rarely led me astray, I had reason to believe that the results of that collaboration should have at least yielded marginally interesting results and tried to empty my mind of prejudices and consider the album as a unique entity. Happily, this seems to have been the case, as Vermont take more than a full step away from the expected emo associations and do well to follow up on the restrained and reflective tones of their debut. However, much as their press release writers would like to christen them as the originators of emo-pop, such a proclamation would seem at least somewhat premature, as we’ve seen these kinds of sounds take center stage before, most prominently in the projects of Mark Kozelek and Elliott Smith. Most importantly, though, that pesky emo bug is nowhere to be seen.
At first listen, when paired with the largely acoustic set-up, VonBohlen’s soft, creaky voice brings to mind Jeff Tweedy, which when paired with the occasional pedal steel and pastoral arrangement, bears more than a passing resemblance to Wilco. The lazy contemplative flow of “Kill An Hour” and the tinkly keyboards and piano of “Hello_Sex Goodbye” are both warm and inviting, completely inoffensive and serene. The songwriting displays an impressive feel for slightly melancholy pop melody, as well, with the gorgeously sinuous chorus of “Chlorine Chlorine” and the quietly marching drums and twiddling electric guitar of “Where the Wild Drums Are” ranking among the most memorable tracks.
Still, the centerpiece of the album arrives with the strikingly hummable hook of “Ballad of Larry Bird,” which despite featuring rather silly lyrics like “I’m a straight shooter with curly hair like Larry Bird,” benefits from both outstanding harmonies and a melody that could probably make your girlfriend cry, easily placing it as the best song to feature the Boston Celtics’ great. Slightly less successful in citing pop culture references is “Arrest Harrison Ford!” which, despite being a passably nice track, generally sounds like a Wildflowers-era Tom Petty outtake that never quite delivers on the humor or quirkiness implied by its title.
Of course, being a creation by those intimately related to the emo genre, a few painfully sincere sentiments do manage to creep into the set. Going over the minutiae of the setting of rather commonplace scenes can grow somewhat tiresome, and tracks like “*” and “Screw-On Shoes” never really seem to build up enough momentum to become terribly interesting. Further, as many songs land on some variety of relationship themes, the potential for slightly overwrought sentiment always seems to be lurking around the corner to distract from the altogether pleasant nature of the arrangements.
Ultimately, Vermont’s greatest weakness may be their inability to present anything that breaks the pastel colored moodiness of Calling Albany. Although the album’s continuity is to be applauded, too many of the same elements line up in more or less the same way throughout the album’s 12 songs, making one grand pleasantly depressing statement. Overall, it’s probably not an album that will grab you by the throat and renew your faith in rock and roll, but it’s an undeniably pleasant listen for fans of slightly morose laidback pop and makes a welcome partner for a lazy day of solitary contemplation. And it’s better than most any emo album I ever heard.