Vanish Valley - Self-Titled
Owain Paciuszko 16/09/2010
Laidback folk debut LP from Los Angeles resident Andrew McAllister opens with a vocal somewhere between Wayne Coyne and Mark Oliver Everett, both in bittersweet mode; as he croaks 'Get the bad things out of me' over a tentative musical backdrop. Become The Night seems to be the result of this exorcism, a relatively optimistic tune, propelled by a quirky drum loop and McAllister's weary vocal, it's kind of by-the-numbers in the alt-folk cannon, but pleasant enough.
The same can be said for Home Fires which feels like a leftover from any number of recent Eels records, and its rising organ lines create a rich vein through the track that is somewhat heart-warming, but it lacks the certain something to push it beyond being a listenable if disposable tune. The wayward swagger of Past Is Dreaming fares better, creaking harmonica and gently tapped drumming building towards eerie camp-fire choruses with the spooky menace of a black and white Halloween cartoon.
Hunters uses cooed backing vocals to good effect, but the track itself is stripped a little too bare, leaving nothing for the listener to really engage with. McAllister garnishes Yakima with brushed snare and light, twinkly finger picked guitars, but just as soon as the track seems to be finding its feet it stops and it's frustrating. Meanwhile Sunshine City has the carefree attitude of Grandaddy's Nature Song being covered by Lone Wolf, but it never moves beyond the placid level of pleasancy that isn't so much an albatross around this record's neck as just an easy hurdle that McAllister seems content to keep effortlessly hopping over instead of trying to raise the bar.
A particular standout on the record is Blood of the Famous which evolves from a moody refrain into an embittered, angsty rocker for a few bars before drifting back down a gear. Meanwhile Prettiest Girl From California is a simplistic ditty that for the most part finds McAllister cooing in falsetto or repeating the title with dreamy wonder. Similarly Light of Your Life is an upbeat if sleight tune that closes the record on a reasonably optimistic note, but there's little body to the music leaving its folky wonder a little thin.
Vanish Valley, for my tastes, seemed to have a lot going for them, but whilst this is a nice and zippy record, it's also a little too bright and breezy, never developing ideas or pushing a feeling; it's the soundtrack to a quick stroll in the park on your lunch break rather than a euphoric escape to the wilderness. Which is a shame, as the cover art features penguins frolicking in a wood, and I was kind of hoping for the musical equivalent. I think McAllister is capable of producing a richer effort, but this record is a touch too relaxed and carefree to leave much of a lasting impression. It's a nice listen but quickly drifts into the ether.