Vaportrail – The Angel Has Landed

Vaportrail
The Angel Has Landed

Although it’s a fact rarely acknowledged, some albums don’t even have to be listened to in order to hear the music on them. Though it’s certainly not a hard and fast rule, it holds true far more often than it should, as certain albums just look the way they sound. Judging by the name of the band, the fanciful title, and the cosmic debris cover art, plus the fact that the running time is just under 45 minutes with only eight songs, this album seemed to scream “space rock!” And for many of us, that serves as a warning to run as far away as possible in the other direction. Thankfully, though, San Francisco’s Vaportrail emerge from The Angel Has Landed with more than a little galactic dust on the amps; this is not the standard space rock or even an experimental rock album. What it is, however, is a purely modern amalgamation of early 90’s Brit-rock, shoegazer pop, and good ol’ American indie rock. And for the most part, it’s pretty good.

From the soft tinkling of two guitars – one electric, one acoustic – over purring keyboards of the opening “Finders Keepers,” the overall effect is reminiscent of a somewhat less dramatic Mercury Rev, but with naked sentiment presented without the strange otherness. Restrained in a pristine textural clarity, soon muddied by churning guitar feedback, the song sets the pace for the album’s following excursions through soft sincere acoustic pop to floating guitar sparkle. It doesn’t take long to see that the theme is pure escapism. Lead vocalist Roger Anderson has just a little of the Cure’s Robert Smith in his voice, helping sentiments like “safely suspend me from your open sky” not dissolve into over-earnestness. Further, when Anderson beckons the listener to “come live in my lucid dream” over a simple acoustic guitar, you might not be inspired to jump on the next plane to San Francisco, but you might be induced to take a mid-day nap.

When moving away from the dreamy pop textures into more abrasively soothing textures, Vaportrail still manages to carve out moments of gorgeous stillness. Like Yo La Tengo drained of their dissonance or a less drone-happy Galaxie 500, Vaportrail attacks guitar histrionics from the angle of the great Brit-pop bands of the early 90’s. And while they still occasionally burrow in the same direction for a little too long, the big open structures they construct allow them free reign to stretch out into just about any direction they choose. The swirling scrambled masses of guitar feedback of “Dream Yourself Awake” bring to mind the salad days of Oasis, though the more shimmering sonic textures of “Eta Carina” find common ground with more recent converts like Doves.

Often, Vaportrail finds just a little chilly guitar rock that Radiohead perfected on pre-OK Computer releases before actually blasting off into the cosmos, with Anderson scratching out a few Jonny Greenwood-worthy guitar solos and the element of angst and paranoia being pleasantly absent. Of course, that makes the whole album feel a little emotionally neutral, but their whole modus operandi appears to be escapism more than existential disillusionment. In the end, a certain amount of hazy innocence works to their advantage.

So, even though an examination of the Vaportrail album cover from a deaf detective would result in a report that would be correct to a certain extent, you’d still miss hitting the totality of the album by quite a lot. Their balance of acoustic ethereal jangle pop with hanging skyscraper guitar skonk may not be entirely unique, but few artists have ever done as well by simply splitting an album between the two ideas. Overall, they may spend time staring into the night sky, but their sound isn’t aspiring to break from the earth’s orbit quite yet.