Wednesday, April 5, 2017

EP Corner: Halogen Days by Vassals

There's an edgy, insomniac nervousness to Halogen Days, the new EP from Brooklyn band Vassals. Shay Spence's staccato basslines twitch like sleep-deprived eyes as she sings of nights spent awake and days spent wandering around in an aimless daze, squinting in the fuggy sunlight.

Spence's lyrics are rather opaque for the most part, conjuring vague ideas and images rather than making plain statements or carving out straightforward narratives, but her words and the band's music come together nicely to create a compelling - if somewhat hazy - overall impression. You listen to opening track Sea Spells and you see a restless creative sitting on her bed in the middle of the night, pulling wild, romantic thoughts out of the air and taming them, spinning them into sinewy songs that land on the floor with a heavy thud; writing not because she wants to but because she can't not write, as though she is somehow hypnotised or bewitched.

"Can anyone break a spell they put on themselves?"

Vassals are a three-piece unit with a lean, muscular sound that flickers and jerks and occasionally explodes into a feral, furious fireball. Moonless, my favourite track on the new EP, has a blustery beginning but drops to a whisper immediately afterwards, as if the band just heard something rustling in the bushes and now they're listening out for it, hearts in throats. Eventually, the noise begins to build back up again, and the tension is held brilliantly until Spence cuts loose and lets out a series of wordless, unearthly-sounding shrieks. It's a real adrenaline shot.

Halogen Days seems to exist in a fearful place where the passing of time is arbitrary: the sun comes up and the sun goes down, but everything stays the same here on the ground. "Now morning just brings unbearable light," sings Spence on final track Ghostwood; "unbearable light, the hot shower steam". An uneasy sense of discomfort - of feeling out of place and unable to settle into any sort of groove - permeates and pervades this EP, and it manifests itself in numerous different ways, from the unnamed and unseen but nonetheless fearful spectre that haunts Moonless to the uncertainty of Spence's repeated assertion at the end of SoHo that there's "something I'm forgetting..."

Then again, there are also moments of great catharsis here, and these parts are all the more striking for how they contrast with the unsettled, out-of-sorts feel that otherwise prevails. The climax of Moonless is one such moment; another one arrives at the very end of the EP in the form of Ghostwood's minute or so. At around 2:49 on that closing track, the band snap out of their daze and everything snaps into place: the drums sound more purposeful and uptempo; the guitar is free to roam around and explore; the bass sounds strangely optimistic and hopeful. That final jam has a renewed, refreshed feel - as if everything in the world suddenly makes sense and feels right - and it's a fabulous way to bring Halogen Days to a close.

The Halogen Days EP is out this Friday (7th April 2017). You can pre-order it here.

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