Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Album Review: Deas Vail - Deas Vail

Over the five years of their career, Deas Vail has developed a reputation for excellence, falsetto vocals, and the ability to bring something unique and beautiful to pop/rock music.  Listeners will expect nothing less from the band’s 3rd and self-titled full length album.  As a longtime and avid Deas Vail fan, I have been formulating my opinion of this album for months, hoping to unearth brilliance in spite of my high expectations for this band.  In the past, Deas Vail has demonstrated an ability to write sensitive and unique melodies and dress them with the fragility of Wes Blaylock’s elfin falsetto, all the while creating a rich tapestry of piano and revving guitars.  And they’ve done it consistently—whether they are writing minor tragedies like “Atlantis,” lengthy ballads like “Shoreline,” or a raucous pop/rock song like “White Lights.”  It is this consistent excellence that makes the collection of songs on Deas Vail, which mostly range from clumsy to conventional, so puzzling and, in the end, nothing short of a disappointment.

The album’s overall sound stays firmly placed in the territory they laid claim to on Birds and Cages, though the instrumental texture is not as dense and the production feel s lighter, with more space behind the vocals.  This might have been a good move for the band if Deas Vail were an album where the melodies spoke for themselves, but unfortunately, the songs are less impressive in this manner that might have been hoped for.  “Meeting In Doorways,” for example, seems to have the potential to capture the soaring quality of Deas Vail’s sound, but gets bogged down in repetitive vocal riffs and halting “oh oh oh”s.  The overall spirit of the album is one of safety: the songs simply take fewer risks and contain less wow factor than Deas Vail’s previous work. 

Because of the broad range of quality in songs, Deas Vail is best dealt with as a collection of individual songs than an as album.  There are a few stand outs, some sufficient tracks, and a few that fall flat entirely.  The album begins in the best way possible: “Desire” is the album’s best track and one of the band’s most memorable over the course of their entire career.  We finally get to see the full vocal chemistry of husband and wife team Wes and Laura as they sing perfect, layered melodies.  “Sixteen” and “Summer Forgets Me” are upbeat and satisfying pop tracks, even if they lack the alternative beauty of “Birds” or “Cages.”  It is at this point that things take a turn for the worst: “Towers” is a dark and disjointed song, with plodding piano, whispered verses, and crashing choruses—a combination that is as interesting as it is unpleasant.  At times, the best word to describe the songwriting is “clumsy”—a word I never thought I would apply to this usually graceful quintet. 

The album does take a few risks, though the band branches out more in genre than on each individual song.  The acoustic “Common Sense” feels very singer-songwriter—it’s a good move but the switch is still a bit jarring and the song doesn’t seem to fit that well.  The same goes for the ambient, mostly lyric-less track “The Meaning of a Word.”  If Deas Vail wants to take a sudden turn toward the ambient realm, I’ll welcome it, but they’ll have to do more than a repetitive guitar riff over echoing vocals.

Deas Vail is not a horrible album, but it is less than the band is capable of and so for that reason it is a disappointment.  A mixed bag from beginning to end, it never invites the audience to stop everything and listen the way previous albums have.  Deas Vail has excelled in the past because every tong they write feels lovely crafted and whittled into something beautiful.  Deas Vail feels more natural, but also more mainstream.  There will doubtless be some who disagree and others who will be satisfied, but this fan is hoping for more in the future. 
Track List:
1. Desire
2. Sixteen
3. Quiet Like Sirens
4. Summer Forgets Me
5. Towers
6. Pulling Down The Sun
7. Towers
8. Wake Up and Sleep
9. Common Sense
10. The Right Mistakes
11. The Meaning of A Word
12. Meeting In Doorways

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