Not long ago, I re-discovered the music of the Vincent Black Shadow, a Canadian rock group that’s,sadly, fairly unknown. I initially discovered them through their single Metro on the Sirius/XM satellite radio channel Iceberg, and then bought their album Fear’s In The Water on iTunes. Here’s a song-by-song review of the album. Following that, I’ll add my thoughts about their other work.
Track 1: Metro
This may be the single happiest song about drug abuse since Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life”. The uptempo beat cleverly offset’s the dark lyrics (displayed in the video above), and the singer’s vocal style is reminiscent of vocal jazz with a hint of 1960s pop. As I’m not an addict myself, and never have been, I can’t tell how accurately this depicts going nuts due to drug abuse, but it does seem to accurately reflect what friends of mine have described. The half-repetition of the first verse helps to construct a cyclical feeling, as if she’s gone through this before, something many addicts claim happens to them. This song also has a music video, which was on the soundtrack for the movie Feast and as such, uses clips from that film. It’s quite easily my favourite song on the album, and the chorus is a major earworm.
Track 2: Control
This song is a bit more downbeat than the last. It’s one of several relationship songs (specifically about wanting, uh, control in a relationship…it might be about S&M [as in Sadism and Masochism, not Swords and Magic], but I’m not sure), and it shows off former lead singer Cassandra Ford’s vocal range adequately. The lyrical visual imagery of some lines, such as “so sweet you’re drawing flies” are nothing short of brilliant. There are few of us who haven’t had a relationship with someone like that, who we feel something for and yet, that same thing we’re attracted to repulses us. Not the best song on the album, but a good one regardless.
Track 3: Bullet On The Tracks
This band has been described as “cabaret indie pop punk rock”, and this song is probably the one that most accurately fits that description. It’s a break-up song with a harpsichord and pop-punk drums and rhythm. Fun, jaunty, and another good example of lyrical dissonance.
Track 4: Don’t Go Soft
This one’s a full-on ballad with prominent keyboards and a string arrangement. Some might feel that’s a cheap way to make the listener feel something for the song’s protagonist, but I’d argue that the lyrics themselves can to that well enough on their own (There’s just one more thing/To fake before you go/I’ll stare at you, you’ll stare at me/And fill my hands with pins and needles). Great for fans of heart-wrenching ballads, and proof that unlike other bands, the Vincent Black Shadow can cover a variety of moods.
Track 5: Valentine
This one reminds me a lot of Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, at least thematically. It’s probably not a case of anyone ripping the other off (Bad Romance came out years after this song, and these guys are so underground that Gaga probably never heard of them at all). This goes great with the previous song-Don’t Go Soft is an expression of pain and acceptance of a relationship that has failed, this one is a demand from the scorned lover for some sort of payback or retribution (You owe me another night). A strong track in more ways than one.
Track 6: Broken
Do you ever listen to an album and wonder why that one song you don’t like gets released as a music video? That’s what I feel here. It’s not that this song is bad, it’s just…it seems bland and cliched, compared to the rest of the album. Better than anything Bieber ever put out, sure, but I’ve made noises with my butt that sounded better than him. If I were giving out numerical values to each song, this one would get a 5/10 for middle-of-the-road blandness. However, the music video is probably better than the one for Metro, so it has that going for it.
Track 7: The House Of Tasteful Men
This one has a bit of a rockabilly feel, at least to the instrumentals. Once again, a fun song about a less-than-happy subject. I certainly hope that this wasn’t written about a specific person, since its verses are all about how the guy sucks and the chorus is a backhanded apology (I didn’t mean to hurt you boy/But this is how it’s done). The only good thing she says about the poor bastard is that she likes when he punishes her for doing bad things to him…which helps my theory that the singer is into S&M.
Track 8: Surgery
This song is called “horror punk” by some. For those unaware with music snobbery on the level I am, horror punk/horror pop is basically punk/pop that has horror elements. That’s about it. Anyway, the song itself features excellent strategic use of the keyboards in what’s otherwise a straightforward rock song. I’m not quite sure what to make of the lyrics…they suggest that she was mutilated by somebody, but then again, they’re so vague that it could mean a lot of other things. In fact, it is just as likely about growing up and becoming a woman who wears too much make-up. So, the lyrics are a weak spot for me, simply because I can’t tell what is being said. It’s a great thing to have debates over the meanings, but when those debates have no clear winner, it’s pointless.
Track 9: Ghost Train Out
This is the closest to a country song on this album. In fact, I’d actually call this a country song about skipping town with your lover. It’s a passably good song, better than Broken though also a bit cliche and bland itself. I generally like bands expanding their sound on a song or two, but this is a case of a band doing this and failing.
Track 10: Fears In The Water
This one also has a music video. It’s interesting to me that they chose the three songs they did to make videos of, since they’re so different in style. This is a hard rock song, and every time I hear it I’m reminded of the band Within Temptation. That’s not a bad thing, I like that band, but it sounds almost exactly like something they’d put out. The video itself reflects that darker, heavier tone, almost a paint-by-numbers metal video. I’m loathe to say that my least favourite song on this album had the best video…regardless, this song is average by the band’s standards, thanks primarily to a derivative sound and repetitive lyrics (more so than any other song on the album)
Track 11: Dream
Oh how I love this opening. Short drumroll followed by a happy little keyboard. This is the song they should have used the Broken video for, it probably would have been a hit! In fact, if you watch the video for that song, and listen to this one, the tone and theme of that video matches this song well. It’s the song with the least lyrical dissonance on this album, as the tone almost completely matches the tone of the music. I would totally love to read a full prose story based on the lyrics of this song, so the lyrics are definitely strong. For me, one of the highlights of the album.
Track 12: This Road Is Going Nowhere
Another song with a rockabilly-jazz feeling to it. If you like both rock and jazz, you’d probably like this. Cassandra Ford’s vocals are a real treat here, and…I just don’t know what else to say here. This song kicks all sorts of ass, and other than Metro and maybe The House Of Tasteful Men and Don’t Go Soft, is the best on the album.
Track 13: Letters To No One
This is a perfect finishing song. I’m of the mind that albums should always open with a good track that makes you excited for the rest of the album, and the last one should feel like an end to a journey. Whether your album is an album or just a collection of songs, it benefits from this approach. And that’s what this song is. It might be the lyrics (Why did you say you cared you’re dead now/I told you that she wasn’t there/Thought that I wouldn’t care/You lied and said she wasn’t there, she’s dead now/Don’t just leave me here) but when that’s done, the listener gets the impression there’s nothing left to be said, the listening experience is over. It’s a satisfying ending, and a very good song if a bit macabre (it’s about adultery and murder).
A brilliant album from start to finish, with few hiccups between. Even these hiccups aren’t that bad, and would probably appeal to many people. I’m ranking this as 4.5 Mics, only missing 5/5 by a hair.
I bought that album and wrote that review last year (albeit with several typographical errors I’ve now fixed, and with a slightly different rating). As a bonus for my MIB crew, I’m adding a short review of TVBS’ follow up album, El Monstruo, and their latest release, the EP The Finest Crime.
This album is a very appropriate follow up to Fears in the Water. Thematically, a lot of the same stuff is covered. There’s horror (The Pale Man, In A Row, The Last Few Minutes) love gone wrong (Don’t Make Me So Mad, Stereogram, El Monstruo) and altered states of mind (Dig Dig Dig, Stupid Intruders). However, unlike the previous album, there isn’t a weak song to be found. In fact, the embedded video for Don’t Make Me So Mad is not only my favourite song of theirs, but is probably best music video for an independent band I’ve ever seen. This is an easy 5 Mics, and it should be in everyone’s collection. Even if you don’t get the whole thing, definitely download Don’t Make Me So Mad, Dig Dig Dig, Stupid Intruders, El Monstruo and In A Row.
The Finest Crime
The Finest Crime was released Valentine’s Day, 2011 as an online exclusive. This 5 song EP is the first release with new vocalist Nikki Hurst, and it definitely shows. At first, I hated this thing because it is a bit of a stylistic departure. It has a more hopeful and upbeat tone overall (especially their single, We Might Make This Last), it’s definitely more poppy, and the male backing vocalist plays a more prominent role, taking the lead on Never Saw It Comin’ (which has spoken word verses). However, after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “worse” especially given how diverse TVBS’ sound has been in the past. The only legitimate complaint I have is that Nikki Hurst’s vocal range is much more limited than Cass Ford’s, and her voice is flatter and has much less personality. It is a shame Ms Ford left the band to concentrate on her visual artwork, but at least she left on good terms. It’s not like Ms. Hurst is a bad vocalist, she’s just not as good as their previous singer. I could also complain about the tone, but it’s not like the happiness is fake or anything, so at best, such a complaint would be shallow. I’m giving this EP 4 Mics. Even if you don’t get the whole EP, you should at least get Watch Out! (The Finest Crime) and Never Saw It Comin’.
You can get everything TVBS related at tvbsmusic.com.