A few years ago, Goodnight Myopia landed on my lap. It was a spacey and overtly catchy one man army effort. It also felt like staggering back home after a particularly bad day: emotions are raw, the sun has gone back to its den far too fast and you are seeing red, almost blinded by the dark ocher lampposts guiding you home.
Whatever shortcomings Goodnight Myopia had seem to be long gone in Vast Robot Armies new album, Little Creatures. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Goodnight Myopia quite a bit, but Little Creatures feels like a stronger piece. Raw edges have been smoothed, two coats of varnish were applied and a particularly wide array of colours were chosen to create something that is not only appealing, but sturdy.
We open strong with ‘Revenge of Nerds’. Straight out of the bat, the groove is right on the money: strong drumming that never drowns the other instruments, a dreamy bassline and a pair of guitars, one playing ground control to the Mercury Seven‘s world-circling mischief. Everything you needed to know Vast Robot Armies in less than five minutes is here, so if they are the proverbial nerds from the title, retribution is well at hand.
Actually, that was a lie. Because with ‘Little Creatures’ you have a different side of Vast Robot Armies, where they prefer to glide through the sky in wingsuits. By no means a ballad, ‘Little Creatures’ goes for that softer side of the genre, incorporating small synth atmospheres that add a hint of incense (sandalwood, of course) to the rarefied atmosphere. Later in the album, ‘Your ex knife set’ fully embraces this, disappearing into said rarefied territories by mimesis (and a cool piano).
‘Everything new is old again’ could also work as an exemplification of what’s right with this album. Again, all elements interlock perfectly and the vocals take this song way above the speed limit. The richness of ideas, like a quick acoustic riff quietly stopping by, make this a perfect song that sits in good company.
As much as Space Rock stands in that uncharted territory between post rock, shoegaze and post hardcore, Little Creatures contains songs that border into pop while still maintaining a sharp edge. ‘In Shreds’ feels like Vast Robot Armies slightly pulling some radio friendly pop rock on our collective asses, but it only makes the song catchier. ‘Foxtrot’ is just like the dance step it was named after: you feel like busting a few moves; such is the likeability of this track that never stops pulling some spacey tricks out of its seemingly never ending bag of tricks. Heck, I actually danced to ‘Mousetrap’, so you know the band can do some groovy tracks that never feel neither tacky nor maudlin.
In the latter half of Little Creatures we run into a beast from the Outer Planes. This beast has three heads, each one telling one third of a story. The first head uses its received pronunciation and theatrically lay out the first act, which includes cocaine, slow comedowns and a nuanced desperation that is hinted along. This act is called ‘Moving the needle.’
‘In the other room’ feels like the moment, that particular snapshot in this short moment we call “life” where everything makes sense: every single instrument working with the precision of an atomic clock, with perfect synchronisation that borders into mathematical precision. This is the moment where you know escape velocity was achieved a while ago and you are already floating with the rest of the crew (in this case, Vast Robot Armies). This was the second story and as any good second act, it should leave you pumped for the resolution.
Denouement comes with ‘Suckerpunch’. The Space Rock elements are sharp, with all instruments locked into a holistic communion that make this song a sort of chosen one. Nevermind that Neo that sort of flinched at the last minute, ‘Suckerpunch’ gives a satisfying end to this trilogy of sorts found near the end of Little Creatures.
And with that tremendous run, ‘Your ex knife set’ closes the album in a note full of longing. As mentioned before, the atmosphere is rich and the pace is calm, never completely fading into black as Vast Robot Armies seem to still be burning bright when this is over, as the piano and feedback slowly go quiet. The sky is dark blue, green and black, but crimson hues are still reflecting in the clouds.
Now, if you know your sci fi, you can tell that the front cover of Little Creatures perfectly captures Logan’s Run. It also goes for the impeccable artwork of the new Target reprints of Dr. Who‘s classic adventures. This retrofuturistic artwork pretty much represents what Vast Robot Armies are trying to convey and in a slight turn of their own words “everything old is new once again.”
Creating is hard. This is obvious. Creating and being happy with the final result is even harder. This sometimes isn’t that clear to see unless you have crashed and burned a few times. Creating, being happy and successfully communicating with an audience, new or old, that’s the ticket. I’d venture to say that Little Creatures manages to pull that goal and not only manages to satisfy the now growing audience of Vast Robot Armies, but also should make them feel very proud of what they have achieved.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López