I've always regarded Vaux as more a live band than a studio one. It's not that their records are bad, per se -- both 2003's debut full-length, There Must Be Some Way to Stop Them and the followup EP, 2004's Plague Music both convey the band's best trait -- intensity -- quite well. However, when attacked by a bawling, suffocating wall of noise including three guitarists and blinding spotlights in person, that's when you really start to understand the band. Maybe that's why it's so peculiar that the oft-delayed Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice finds the band deeply exploring Radiohead influences to go with their normally Refused-styled, art damaged, electronic-tinged hardcore.
From that angle, sure, it's quite strange that the band would choose to integrate Thom Yorke's eerie, bleak and spacey vibes so heavily, because while it hardly affects Vaux's signature melancholy, it does reel in some of their aggression. However, let's remember for a moment that this is a band that gave subtle nods to the intensity of early Nirvana on their back catalog -- let's just say they're embracing `90s alternative in a different manner on Vice. Sure, that very slight style of pissed off grunge does manage to momentarily pop up, like on the first single "Are You with Me" (imagine Nirvana's "You Know You're Right" after several lines and a fifth of whiskey and you're starting to get the idea on that one). But the Pitchfork gods reign supreme as far as obvious and consistent influences go.
Don't be too mistaken: there's plenty of diversity, too. It's good to hear their roots still firmly in place on tracks like opener "Identity Theft," which starts off with a quick riff, a few drum kicks and sudden bursts of frothy screaming that sound sampled from any of Planes Mistaken for Stars' last few efforts. The aforementioned "Are You with Me" certainly proceeds with a vicious swagger, and that song's followup, "Cocaine James," is titled appropriately. "Never Better" even begins with chords that sound an awful lot like the ones that start Thursday's "War All the Time," but snarls at the chorus, culminating in the bridge with frontman Quentin Smith pleading under distortion "It couldn't get much worse!," building on his already prevalent desperation. "The Rope, The Pistol, The Candlestick" buries trip-hop beats in the mix so Smith can depressively elaborate on his paranoia ("somebody wants to do me in / somebody's got my number / somebody has it in for me / somebody's got my number"). "To the Nines" even rings with a bit of a Cash-like country twang at points.
It does seem that the further in we go however, the more suspect we are to this Radiohead influence. "A Simple Man" could be a Muse outtake, matching the 'head with distorted singing and a hard rock foundation. "The Last Report From..." creepily crawls with light piano and organ and healthy acoustics, Smith dragging his voice throughout ("I can't move anymore / it's so much harder than I thought"). "Burn the Bandwagon" is one of the few exceptions in the second half, going a little more rock'n'roll than its surrounding tracks.
The Vaux of old is hardly lost, but they've found some new tricks that while should provide for a confusing mess, somehow works. Paranoid, desperate, intense, and melancholic, Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice certainly stands up to Vaux's other efforts -- now let's just see if it can make an equally strong translation to the live setting.
Are You with Me
Need to Get By