Friday 24 November 2023

TAFKAVince Band - A Problematic Opera (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Garage Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 May 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website

Kudos to the Artist Formally Known as Vince for a name that grabs attention in a crowded market; it certainly elicited a smile from me when this was submitted for review. Now, it's all fine and good to get eyeballs on your product, of course, but the product has to stand for itself once it's been noticed. Fortunately, this is fun enough stuff to work and Vince isn't new at this, with releases going way back to the nineties.

They describe themselves as glam trash rock 'n' roll, which is as fair a description as any, but to me they sound like a garage rock band playing pop songs, though what precise sort of pop songs has a lot to do with whichever one we're listening to. Expiration Date is a quirky pop song in the vein of maybe Missing Persons, sans squeaky voice, but Sugar Pills ups the punk guitar, even finding what sounds very much like Rose Tattoo's Nice Boys at one point, and Conquer the World dips obviously into seventies glam rock. That's a riff we might expect from the Sweet but the vocals don't follow suit.

While Vince himself delivers the most prominent voice on Expiration Date, his is not the only voice here because Lauren Kurtz also sings lead and the pair often sing the same thing together. In some songs, it's hard to tell which is singing lead and which backup, because they're kind of both singing both. That leads me to pull in a B-52s comparison, but this is rock music just as much as it's pop and the B-52s never quite went there. Maybe this is the B-52s with a little Cramps thrown into the mix. However, each song, for all that they play consistently together, generates different comparisons.

There's some straight up rock 'n' roll soloing on Magazine Pages but it approaches rock 'n' roll the way the Beatles did, so it's very much a pop song rocked up. This would be an easy song for a bunch of different bands to cover and put their own very different spins onto it. The title track, even with that nod to opera in its name, is old school British punk in the Buzzcocks style but with those poppy vocals. Of course, it drops into a pop opera midway, complete with guest accordion and euphonium, of all things, and it ends, after the band have downed their instruments, in solo calypso guitar. This is agreeably unusual and highlights how Vince isn't interested in playing every song the same way.

In fact, the only song that feels pretty straightforward is Rabbit Hole, which is the closest to pure garage rock. It kicks off with drums, adds bass and unfolds exactly as we might expect for a bunch of young musicians playing in a garage with simple equipment. Except when it isn't, because they just have to throw something more unusual into the mix and here that comes in Kurtz's vocals, as she adds quirky flourishes here and there to punctuate their typical joint male/female lead.

And that's it, because this is an EP rather than a full album, with the length the most obvious flaw. There are only six tracks on offer and they're generally not particularly long, four of them ending under three minutes and the relatively sprawling Expiration Date only lasting to three and a half. That just leaves Conquer the World to stretch out to a breath over five minutes, making it almost an epic for this band. That means that this EP wraps in under twenty minutes, which isn't long for an established and experienced band. Then again, it's only $7 on Bandcamp, so it's fairly priced.

I liked this, in large part because it feels honest. I've heard a lot of very carefully produced albums in 2023, where engineers, mixers and producers have dedicated energy to making them sound exactly right. This, on the other hand, feels exactly like the five members of the band showed up, plugged in and blistered through twenty minutes of music on the spin, just for the love of performing. The only reason I know this really was produced is because there are moments clearly done in post, like the radio voices within Expiration Date.

The point is that this back to basics approach feels vibrant and refreshing. I bet they have a lot of fun on a live stage and, given that they're based out of Chicago, maybe I'll have chance at seeing them some day. Thanks for sending this over, folks!

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