Article by KevW
Many bands are built around songwriting partnerships, and Wigan collective Vukovar (who, for some reason, have chosen to take their name from a Croatian port city) are no different, being based around the work of tunesmiths Dan Shea and Rick Clarke. No doubt the rest of the group will have had input at points too, especially as many of them are making guest appearances from other better known bands, but what really shows on their debut album 'Emperor', is the range of influences and styles they delve into, flitting from one to the next without a second glance. Naturally, a record made this way will leave different people having different favourite tracks, but as a body of work it stands up well, with a few real standouts whatever your taste. Admittedly, when we talk about different styles, they could all fit somewhere into the indie/lo-fi/grunge/alt-rock spectrum, so this isn't as fractured as it could be, but it does keep your attention well by changing gear several times, and this is in part thanks to the size of the group of musicians and studio boffins involved.
Opening track, 'Silent, Almost Sleeping', would fit the lo-fi bracket but toys unexpectedly with becoming a folk dirge as reimagined by The Lemonheads ('90s alt-rock and college-rock is never far away). At a lofty six-minutes, the brooding post-punk of 'Regular Patrons Of The Salon Kitty' touches on psych-rock and really shows the diversity that hallmarks the band, then they change again for the frantic, electronic scuzz of 'Lose My Breath' which stalks you throughout its two-minute duration. Another even shorter tune appears in the beautifully sung and spaciously produced 'Part 1: Ms. Kuroda's Lament' and sits right between their ability to create genuine alternative anthems and hidden gems. The title of 'R'duced' is likely a pun in itself, but the music is dark, disjointed and moody, almost like a faltering mind struggling to process information properly. Final track 'The Staircase' is a patchwork of found sounds, spoken word and unusual percussion, and is generally very unhinged, with layers overlapping and creating an odd form of discordant psychedelia.
For more instant likability then 'Koen Cohen K.' is perfect outsider pop with a chorus that elevates it above much of the album; it's the first of several potential singles. Perhaps 'Nero's Felines' could be considered another, as it introduces itself like something Nirvana might have created but again has a (this time wordless) chorus that sticks easily, and 'Concrete' comes over like a screaming version of The Cramps, just tidied up enough to open them up to a wider audience; it's a fine modern garage song. Floating, drifting guitars abound on 'No Guilt Felt' which is like Tom Waits on a downer to begin, but hurtles into a whole new section before slamming to a halt and then starting again. It's been something of a journey by the time you hit 'The New World Order', but it's here that Vukovar are at their most accessible, and they manage this without compromising their vision or even shying away from the alternative world in favour of the mainstream; this is purely and simply a catchy, well-written and instantly likable track that wouldn't be out of place on radio stations that are even slightly more adventurous than usual. The whole of 'Emperor' shows a multitude of talents and also several potential avenues to pursue on future releases (which, judging by lyrical content, will have some form of political undertone), and it's a great way to start out.
Buy the album
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