One of bedroom pops royalty having a blast.
Tom Vek has progressively made his albums cleaner and more pristine over the course of his musical career. Moving from the funky indie pop-rock from his debut towards more electronica dance-related music, his high energy and simple but catchy riffs always get the heart pumping. ‘New Symbols’ sees him move towards a rockier sound and retraces his roots in a glorious surprise rock party for the messy.
On Tom’s 2005 ‘We Have Sound’, the drum loops and bass were what pushed the music forward in a tinpot homemade rootsy way. 15 years later and Tom returns to this bedroom pop sound. This time around, the guitars are way louder. For ‘New Symbols’ the drums are suitably crunchy, the vocals are recorded with a lo-fi echo to them. The guitars are more like rages of saw waves and dare I say borrowing from shoegaze logic too. The synths have a mesh grizzle or hiss to them. It reminds me of Tune-Yards’ debut too and in some ways, Tom Vek has had a similar trajectory as he makes cleaner music overtime and now pulls back to the messy sounds of youth again.
This all works beautifully for the anthemic rock classic ‘Survive’ that opens the album with six and a half minutes of manic chaos. The guitar jangles, the stuck tape riffing outro, the shouty spoken vocals and The Go! Team approach to drums. For something that is exceptionally loud, there is a lot going on and the energy is turned to full. Swapping guitars for siren synths, ‘Guilty Pleasure’ is a manic party that effortlessly flows and explodes around you. It also showcases that Tom has some fantastic singing vocals when he pushes that direction. Everything sounds huge – so much so that the speakers cannot contain it! Vek classic ‘All The Time in the World’ is the best example of these. The kick drums throb as the grizzly synths merge together to thrust the catchy and quirky chorus and codas at you like a weapon.
Returning to more groove focused indie-pop, ‘Slippery Fish’ dabbles with psyche-rock vibes over retro beats. The way the guitar just noodles away doing its own thing whilst the rest of the track does something else is a weird twist. ‘Rolling You Down’ is a percussive gymnast’s wet dream. The song tumbles various drum loops (and synth notes) in a shanty sway whilst synths zap around your head and childish guitar riffs float around in the background. ‘My Child’ even dabbles a little with synthwave as thickly layered synths soak the guitars to a whisper. Instead, vocoders create an eerie chorus for what is possibly Tom Vek’s most emotional track to date.
The album closes with ‘Washed Up on the Beach’ which tries its hand at dark Knightrider tinged synthwave. It also perfectly shows off Tom’s writing for this album and his work in general. The way four or five separate tiny riffs or patterns interplay makes for a busy and melodic track. If you just listened to one or two of these riffs alone, you’d be driven mad but altogether, they create a wonderful collage of music. This ends with ‘Fountains Spit Your Name’ which has more in common with darkwave music than anything else. The skittish drums, deep basslines and rubbery trance undercurrent make it a potent exit from an album that celebrates the messy side of life in all its glory.
‘New Symbols’ is possibly the most cohesive and consistently brilliant album from Tom Vek to date. Each track feels earned and a full charged attack on something – be that good or bad. The overall production may put a few off but I think returning to this messy lo-fi nature adds extra grit to what are already quite twisted songs. It has been six years since his last album ‘Luck’. What this shows is no one makes giddy music quite like Tom. Welcome back.
Recommended track: All The Time In The World
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