Review: Vast Robot Armies – Dinner Music

Road 15 was always a good drive in the Camaro. A few rough patches of bad Tarmac, yes, but it was a good drive. The zippiest way from town to Emerald Quays, where the pier shined at night like a frantic kaleidoscope.

Those were the days. Us four, the “Four Jays”, as our Phys. Ed. teacher, Mr. Torkmargh used to call us. One stop at a roadside diner for a greasy full breakfast and western shore was our goal.

Yes, those were the days. Emerald Quays is now a derelict, my old high school was demolished back in ’03 and the other Jays left, about at the same time. There’s a pain in my knees, an indicator of a storm coming later tonight.

I unscrew the cap on my thermos and let the hot brew fill the cup. It’s a dark roast, the way I like it. This is the best place after work. The seaside, near the ruins of Emerald Quays. I don’t need anything but my coffee, a big ol’ sweater and whatever’s on the radio.

Figures. Radio won’t work. Radio won’t play my favorite song. It’s been giving up the ghost for a while. Just like Shauna, it finally left me. I walk around the beach, a dark tepid fog rolling in. I look around the flotsam and jetsam for anything to pass time and I see an old cd case. Man, remember CDs? I sure do. My first CD was Hum’s You’d Prefer an Astronaut. I stole it from a Walmart the day it came out ‘cuz my parents wouldn’t buy it.

I shake the cd. Front cover is a bit smudged out, but I see four faces. I take the CD and give it a good shake. Back in the car, I use an old t-shirt to give it a good clean. Two good punches and the stereo manages to come back to life. Here it goes. The stereo needs a few moments to read it, and I’m hoping no tiny pieces of sands get any bright ideas and destroy the interior of the player.

I listen to the album two times. Once as a taster, twice as a decider. No more spins, that’s my method to like or dislike. 10 songs, I’d keep 8. I like the general flavor of these guys. A little Jawbox, a little Hum, a little Burning Airlines and maybe a little Iron Maiden here, in this one called ‘Sailing Stones’. Yeah, I get a ‘Number of the Beast’ feeling in that opening riff, going into a jaunty dance vibe.

Jaunty. How long since I’ve used that adjective? I guess it fits the album just right. Vast Robot Armies likes to imbue riffs into their tracks and the chorus have a good “hook” mentality: take away the distortion and this is a happy-go-lucky pop album.

But that would be a mistake, as the spaciousness that the effects regale the songs with give all tracks a certain mysticism. Like songs you would listen to if you were one of those crazies that fly in suits along scarpments and cliffs. ‘Normal things’ is everything but, and it does feel like a rush of adrenaline.

‘Mahovolich’ has a decisiveness in it. A combination of its killer bassline and tactical drumming, I guess. It’s nice to get a rock song that remembers the crucial element that is the rhythm section. Bury it too deep in the mix and you end up with U2 after their POP period. Or during. I can’t remember. No one does.

I’m partial to ‘Commodore’. It seems to run with the “sound of the band” that you suss out after a few listens, but plays with it by adding a female vocal. I’m a sucker for a call and response track. The washed out credits barely show much about the vocalist. Virna Lisa? I think that’s what it says. This ‘Commodore’ song segues nicely into ‘No time like the present’. It’s like the loud bubble and foam sound you listen after a big wave breaks. ‘No time like the present’ is one closer to the ground. Less pie in the sky, more about putting your hands in the dirt and work. It has a 70s AOR vibe that I didn’t realise I missed until I heard it.

Right, a fifth listen? Breaking my own rules here, but the traffic on Road 15 is hellish now. The fog is getting thicker and I’ll ride it out here, on my own, listening to this tracks. Wish I had a spliff for the combo of ‘Dinner Music’ and ‘Cruel Elephant’. Both remind me of my younger days, listening to Night Ranger, The Romantics and Loverboy. Bands that had their finger on a pop sensibility while still managing to give you all the rock you could buy with your money. ‘Cruel Elephant’ has a certain undercurrent of sadness. It’s something in that lick and vocal attack that give it a sense of longing. That’s what I want in my rock music: a good serving of emotions enveloped with nice, tidy riff.

Now, some things you can shove away all pretensions of sensitivity and immerse yourself in the riptide of pure, frantic rock and roll. ‘Motor Home’ drinks 2 gallons of moonshine and drifts into the night, headlights off, looking for trouble into back roads of dark territories in the hinterlands. ‘Spider and the fly’ has a right mean attitude, making it the hardest track in this Dinner Music album. No highfalutin bravado or tricks, just honest to Poseidon rock and roll. Deal with it.

I nod off for a moment. It’s due to the music, it was a long day at work and I struggle to stay awake. I hear a storm warning in the distance. The stereo syncs with the sound. A blaring alarm, a loud synth punch. ‘Weird things’ closes the album and I think I like how the vocals are flexed around a little more. They were good in the previous tracks, but here, here they manage to shine, like the beam from the lighthouse in the distance.

A mist turns into rain. The car struggles to start but finally roars like it did almost 35 years ago. Road 15 is a little worse for wear these days, but still gives you the best sights if you know where to look at them. As I drive, the rain goes away, the fog clears and a golden hue is cast upon the shiny damp road. I listen to Dinner Music again. It’s a long drive, but it’s fucking worth it.

Words: Sam J. Valdés López

Vast Robot Armies Bandcamp. Facebook. Twitter. Soundcloud.

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