Vox Von Braun: Rich and on Wheels – album review
Vox Von Braun – Rich And On Wheels (Subroutine Records)
Cath Aubergine digs into the New Dutch Underground and finds this gem ofÂ perfect fuzzy stoner pop with a heart of pure rock’n’roll.
It’s almost two years now since LTW first reported on what we called, for want of a better name, The New Dutch Underground and a lot’s happened since then, not least our collective love for Rats On Rafts which led to a vinyl release on the LTW imprint. It was the ever brilliant Subroutine Records however who had first launched the band in our general direction with their debut album “The Moon Is Big” in 2011. For those of us outside the Netherlands, the label is a great place to start exploring the country’s contemporary alternative music (they’re also home to The Sugarettes, one of Shell Zenner’s tips for 2013 elsewhere on these pages) and it’s from their Groningen base that the long-awaited second album – the first, “Something Ainât Wrong”, was way back in 2008 – from VOX VON BRAUN slipped out just before Christmas.
In the grand scheme of things, releasing an album on 21st December is insane. Most of the music press is busy listing its favourite everything of the year (a year which seems to stop abruptly around mid November) and even the most devoted sons and daughters of rock’n’roll have shit to do like buying last-minute trinkets or drinking improbable concoctions round the Christmas markets. But then sane isn’t necessarily a word you’d apply to Vox Von Braun at the best of times.
Improbable as it may seem, I personally first encountered them in the back room of a pub somewhere outside Accrington. Great Harwood, to be precise. The year was 2007 and our friends at Incendiary Magazine had organised a tour featuring a clutch bands from the then nascent Dutch Underground Scene: it was a night none of us will ever forget, with most of the players including The Sugarettes – just starting out and gigography still in single figures – struck down with food poisioning attributed to a nearby chippy, and the lads from the gasworks over the road waiting for the egg man to arrive and fill their stack of empty egg boxes while a lost fire-engine attempted a seven point turn with blues and twos flashing outside the window. (This doesn’t actually begin to describe the general surrealness, but you get the picture). In the middle of all this mayhem was Vox Von Braun’s singer Wymer Vaatstra, seemingly protected from his cohorts’ intenstinal turmoil by the many pints of the local brews he’d been enjoying all afternoon to the point where when the band finally got on stage he was barely able to stand unaided and apparently invented a whole new raft of lyrics to replace those he could no longer remember, wired eyes staring into some middle distance behind the now somewhat confused but wonderfully open-minded and supportive gasmen. They were outstanding.
I’ve met him a few times since and discovered that that state of fucked up serenity is his natural one, those eyes always wild. One could speculate that this may be part of the reason it’s been four years between albums – Wymer does not do anything to order. What he does do, when the mood takes him, is write the most gloriously perfect fuzzy stoner pop of the sort rarely heard since Ultra Vivid Scene drifted out of sight. It’s got their hazy, psychedelia-tinged warmth by the spliff-load, but spiked with the harder, dirtier edges largely absent from the Teenage Fanclubs and suchlike that followed. Listen to these eleven tracks and you’ll find yourself humming one later; listen again and it’ll be another one.
There are no attempts to be overly intellectual here, no ear-twisting polyrhythms nor thesaurus-munching sops to the sort of people who wear thick glasses they don’t need and deconstruct music over craft beers. I’m pretty sure those familiar with the Groningen scene will recognise those given a friendly nod in “A.R.T.I.S.T.S. Are Go” or an equally friendly dig in the title track, and the rest of us can recognise people we know ourselves there. The music? Well, as anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar knows, sounding this effortlessly great actually takes real skill and inspiration. As does choosing the right people to help realise the sounds: Matthew Twaites from Electric Soft Parade and Peter Hayes from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club both have a hand in the mixing here. The second side (yes, my copy is a proper twelve inch record and this seems right, somehow – and no, I’m not one of those people that insists everything is or sounds better on vinyl, just some things…) shifts into a harder driving stoner space blues with Hayes at the controls; “Pitch Black Heart” especially up there with his own band’s finest moments of such. And crucially, they resist the temptation to overload content-wise, too. Five tracks on side one and six on side two, like records used to be.
A couple of years ago, tour-managing for some British bands visiting Groningen, I had cause to stop by chez Vaatstra to borrow a bass amp; it was the middle of the afternoon and he’d just about woken up. Twelve hours later he’s sitting in the corner of the venue, surveying the scene surrounded in his own smoky haze and the same innate rock’n’roll presence we’d seen onstage back in Great Harwood. This is why “Rich And On Wheels” works. This isn’t music designed to be anything – sure, the re-emergence of Dinosaur Jr and plethora of new young bands mining the early nineties mean it may well find more fans in 2013 than in 2007, but you get the distinct feeling that whatever was going on in the rest of the world – a disco revival, a metal kids’ takeover, the apocalyptic collapse of civilisation as we know it – Wymer Vaatstra would be doing this anyway, and doing it brilliantly.