ᑑᕐᖓᐃᑦ is the debut album of vod, the solo project of bassist Dave Trembley. For full disclosure, he is a co-founder of Can This Even Be Called Music?, which I read a lot, but I have no personal relationship with him.
Over the past two weeks, as I’ve listened to this, I’ve come away with some mixed feelings. The first thing I noticed was its sparseness. The album makes good use of atmospheric sounds, space, and repetition. But these things in combination with being only drum and bass made the album feel thin somehow. The sound has grown on me quite a bit, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I think my hesitancy at first came from the lack of familiarity. It is definitely a unique sound.
Part of the brilliance of this album is that it can make very simple things interesting. The first track can be seen as development of a single pulsing note. In fact, this is much of the 11+ minutes of the song. Yet the rhythmic complexities that develop, and the other riff that eventually makes an appearance have the ability to capture your attention for the whole song. It also builds into some fairly intense moments.
The album claims Tool as an influence, which I hear, but I think the band that most matches the essence of vod is Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin. They are not as heavy but similarly set up minimalistic rhythmic patterns which can lure the listener into a zen-like trance.
I think this is where the album succeeds the most. I can really get into the grooves which morph and change subtly all over the place in unexpected ways. It still surprises me that the parts of such extreme repetition are the parts I like the most. I also think the very few, brief moments of trumpet succeed wildly. The album is very uniform in tone, and those trumpet sections provide a nice change in timbre.
I actually wish there was a lot more of it. Those quiet trumpet noodles fit the context of the album well (and the last track provides a glimpse of what the album could be with extended sections of it). The album takes several listens to start to grasp just how much care and detail were dropped into these patterns and to hear the layering that keeps them interesting.
It pains me to say it, but the parts where the album breaks out of these patterns into heavier parts or climactic parts feels off. I see their necessity, because without them, it would probably be too much repetition to the point of tedium. On the other hand, they feel a bit weak or thin or contrived. It’s hard to articulate exactly what feels off to me. It’s also not all of them, because some of them really build into a big, heavy climax that works (for example, parts of the fifth and seventh track).
Maybe it is when too much is done with the drum programming. Simple is better, and when the drum pattern gets to be a bit much, you can almost feel the programming which pulls you out of the experience. Maybe the cleanness feels sterile.
Overall, this is a solid and unique album. I highly recommend it to someone who is interested in what I said about the rhythmic and repetitive aspects. I also have reservations, because there are parts I could leave. The trumpet teases me and leaves me wanting more. I’ve enjoyed my time with it and welcome the departure from how unoriginal many bands have become. I’ll give it a 7.5/10.
It officially releases April 9, but samples can be heard at bandcamp: