Vitskär Süden – Vessel Review

Los Angeles County is about the last place I’d expect to find a band name Vitskär Süden, but the promo sump has been known to act like an Infinite Improbability Drive when I’m mucking around. The psych/stoner rock four-piece last graced these halls in 2022 with The Faceless King, an album that was quite favorably reviewed by our gone-but-not-forgotten Huck, a reviewer whose bands I have apparently been stalking. Their latest album Vessel promises to “…push genre boundaries yet again, experimenting with additional progressive elements.” Intrigued by the promises of the promo sheet, lead single “Vengeance Speaks,” and Huck’s effusive prior review, I dove headfirst into the high-noon California haze of Vessel.

The prior two LP’s from Vitskär Süden were loosely conceptual, but Vessel sees the band exploring new sounds and stand-alone ideas. The aptest comparison here would be King Buffalo, but I hear a lot of Radiohead and Thom Yorke’s recent excursion The Smile in the vocals and shoegazey arrangements. The main star of the show is Martin Garner’s warbling, plaintive tenor, often quite exposed in the mix with sparse accompaniment. The album feels less like a collection of full band tunes and more like Garner’s lyrics and melody accompanied by a rotating ensemble of timbres, colors, and instruments. It’s important to note that the band met each other through the L.A. film industry; there’s an undeniable cinematic scope to the music, and a focus on atmosphere over technical details. Vitskär Süden was clear that the new record would explore “…seven distinctive soundscapes,” and while they are clearly experts at crafting vibes, the rub lies in their ability to blend the tracks together to form a cohesive unit.

Vitskär Süden’s attempt to stitch seven sound worlds together ends up producing something of a mixed bag. It’s telling that the band released opener “Vengeance Speaks” and mid-album acoustic dreamer “Hidden By Day” as their singles; they clearly possess the most distinct identities on the album. The former opens the album with Garner’s personal songs-from-a-pulpit style, accompanied by ethereal female vocals and strings before dropping into a dusty, thumping groove via drummer Christopher Martin. The latter introduces a sparkling acoustic guitar against piano melody, with Garner’s vocals and recurrent string arrangements floating in and out. Special mention should be made for the spacious DR 9 master, which sounds wonderful in quality headphones and transports the listener into a misty, trippy dream for the bulk of the album.

Sonically, Vessel sounds great, but fails to maintain songwriting consistency across a seemingly well-edited 40-minute runtime. It’s not unheard of for bands to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks, especially when changing tack (like moving on from a two-album concept). But it’s rarer to hear of an album created in this style succeeding. The band experiments with Lovecraftian themes and vibrant electronic backing tracks “R’lyeh” successfully, but without any other songs in that style it stands out, in a noncommittal way. The biggest drag on the album, however, is the mid-paced jam-band vibe on “Through Tunnels They Move” and the late album slog of “Tattered Sails” and “Everyone, All Alone.” Lasting for a whopping 20 minutes, these two tracks operate at the lowest level of tempo and energy of the entire album, failing to muster significant momentum or melody while indulging in long-winded background noodling. With nearly half of the album feeling like an unrefined jam session, the high points get lost in the morass, and the dream of a focused image of an LP becomes a set of seven, fuzzy moments in time.

I expected more from Vitskär Süden’s latest effort, especially after listening back to The Faceless King, which featured much more energy, dynamism, and presence of the full band throughout the album. There are certainly moments here that signal a potentially fruitful direction (“Vengeance Speaks,” “Hidden By Day,” “Elegy”), but they’re weighed down by a lackluster collection of unfocused sister tracks. The band shines—and they do shine bright—when they create greater variance in dynamic and tempo in their songs, and when they rein in their jammier instincts. Hopefully, this album represents a reset for the band as they settle in on a new path. I plan to keep an eye out for a future release to see if they’ve found a diamond in their sun-soaked rough.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: WAV
Label: Ripple Music | Bandcamp
Websites: | | Bandcamp
Releases Worldwide: May 17, 2024

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