Under The World
Accurately describing VOWWS is a difficult proposition; the transplanted Australian duo invoke enough different musical styles on their second LP to make a simple label like darkwave or postpunk pretty inaccurate. Then again, the twangy guitars, groovy electronics and dueted vocals by members Rizz and Matt are blended so seamlessly on Under The World that you can’t help but admire how singular their take on dark rock music ends up being.
Where 2015 album The Great Sun seemed interested in exploring some of the tension inherent in mixing and matching stylistic markers, the VOWWS of 2018 keep things smooth and steady. Aside from the drum programming and some prominent organ-type sounds, the electronics are produced and mixed with an ear towards atmosphere. It’s often easy to forget when listening to the record how much synthesis is present, with songs like “Burn” and “Forget Your Finery” sounding particularly live rather than programmed.
A lot of that feeling is probably due to how prominent the ringing tremolo guitars and the vocals are in the mix. Right from the jump, opener “You Never Knew” defines the shape of the record to come, as Rizz and Matt’s voices and a full on surf-riff ride a garage rock backbeat. The lush “Esseff” takes it even further, with a sly melody that summons sixties spy flicks and vintage lounge in equal measures, bolstered by a swinging rhythm. It’s a template that allows for a lot of variation: turn up the tempo and add a bit of chug and you get a convincing bit of dancefloor fuzz in “Inside Out”, slow it down you get the slinky and sinister “Agents of Harmony”.
There really is something special in how well VOWWS’ voices fit together though, to the point that they start to sound like a singular vocalist. While each member has solo moments in the spotlight, the effect is often used to highlight the point where their partner joins in or leaves them. Both singers have strong, expressive voices, and in tandem they become especially potent, as on the chilly harmonies of “Structure of Love” or the unexpectedly sweet chorus to “Wild Wind”.
For all the times Under The World calls rock and pop tropes of yesteryear to mind, VOWWS don’t particularly come off as a retro-minded throwback act. The emphasis of their compositions is on melody and wringing the most out of the brief arrangements, resulting in an LP of succinct and surprisingly fun rock tunes, pleasingly unique in the current dark music landscape.