V.O. – On rapids (Humpty Dumpty Records)
The second album of the year produced by John McEntire of Tortoise which is guaranteed to feature in my end of year faves list (the first was Yo La Tengo’s Fade). And it’s another match made in paradise.
V.O. is a band of elegantly cut men and women out of Brussels lead by the superbly moustached Boris Gronemberger who follow a broad jazz pop manifesto. What does that mean? Well, there are smooth brass swells, slinky keyboard themes, deliciously low-key male-female harmonies, slow and sure unwinding vocal melodies, tidy unfussy stickwork.
The single ‘When you see red’ has all of these things, as well as a breezy, propulsive bass (synth) line. But although it nods to the lounge and the smoking jacket, it gradually reveals itself to be a protest song, or more precisely a song of counsel to the 21st century dispossessed (that’s you and me, friends). The fact that such a conceit is smuggled in such a smooth package is a brilliant sleight of hand which makes the message doubly persuasive. And I’d suggest you can also feel free to throw that message out the window and just succumb to its irresistible, offbeat groove. Vive la revolution!
But that is just one of the many highlights here. Be sure to check also ‘The missing part’ with its beautiful tumbling organ notes; the great smooth-but-aggressive feel of ‘Everything is bathed in light’, something I associate with The Sea & Cake; the slow-building, brass-assisted grandeur of ‘A safer place’; the sublime instrumental ‘Seven trees’ (am I the only one who thinks the trumpet melody bears an eerie resemblance to the theme from The Little House on the Prairie?); the luminous tones of ‘Giant steps in the plains’; the soft cooing of Aurelie Muller’s backing vocals over a purring organ on ‘Gently’; and the elegaic piano/strings ending of ‘L’exode’.
The whole thing is brilliantly restrained but still manages to make you want to shake your ass. It’s a wonderful, beguiling piece of work and is sure to get right under your skin.