Photo Credit: Grant Spanier
Having debuted in 2015, it’s just a bit odd that New York City synth-rock outfit’s new album Night Drive is only their second full-length release, so perhaps not surprisingly the band is still relying largely on what they’ve already become known for. Despite its title, the opening cut “The Dark” brings to light much of what the listener will be able to expect from this album: tight, to-the-point synth-rock in the vein of ’80s new wave. This extends to New Romantic bands of that same era, particularly on “Survive” and “Arcadia” (the latter title which might be a nod to a Duran Duran side-project from 1985). However, the Killers – another current band largely inspired by ’80s pop – might also come to mind on “The Dark” and a few other songs here.
Despite the quasi-nostalgia aspect, most of the album does undeniably reflect what’s currently trendy within this type of sound. However, “Deep End” presents a very strong subtlety in the second part of the verse. “Someone Somewhere” offers an unexpected accent on some of the vocals in the chorus and winds up as probably the album’s best track. It’s also typical of the way that VHS Collective tends to contrast bouncy, uptempo sounds with downer-ish lyrics (“Alone in the dark, a new generation // Lost in the woods without a kind word // So I’ll run away, I’ll run away again”).
Nowhere on the album is this more apparent than on “Anyway” which veers toward an adult radio feel-good song when it’s actually about alcoholism and suicide (“I found my courage in a box of wine // Tried to get away from it all // Should I pull the trigger ‘fore I change my mind”). Still, a few songs do convey at least a cautious optimism, such as the aforementioned “Arcadia” (“Tonight we’re fighting gravity // For all we know // It’s a long way to fall”). Overall, the seemingly stark contrast between the music in lyrics in many of the songs does help VHS Collection to stand out among other current bands with a similar sound.
While Night Drive mostly stays in a single lane musically, “With or Without” is just a bit more raw, if only by default. Oddly enough, VHS Collective choose to give Night Drive a twist ending with the closing track “The Party.” Despite following nine bouncy uptempo tracks, this one is an acoustic guitar song sang in a shy vocal framed by a distinct we’re-happy-but-we’re-really-sad ’90s irony. On that tip, it’s probably intentional that some of the lyrics are noticeably clichéd (“Baby you look so good // Let’s go out tonight // Everything is right”). Was this song meant as an afterthought? Or is the band possibly giving us a preview of a new direction? To be frank, VHS Collective’s sound would benefit from a bit more diversity, even if what they do, they do rather well. Night Drive is a trip worth taking, but as with much night driving it’s probably best that it be a short one.