In 2002, Davey Von Bohlen was the one threatening to stop playing guitar, having undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor and pondering what his life would have been like if he had taken the humbler life-at-home route instead of being a performer. The Promise Ring’s final album, Wood/Water revolved around these themes, which may have foreshadowed the impending collapse of the band. Yet, that proved not to be the case, as a few years later, von Bohlen and fellow bandmate Dan Didier regrouped with Dismemberment Plan bassist Eric Axelson to form Maritime. Now, as the band’s sophomore release is seeing release in the US (half a year after its Japanese debut), it’s Axelson who’s the one calling it quits, which is quite the bummer.
I’m not going to dispute Axelson’s motives here, being on the road nonstop for seven years is a pretty draining lifestyle. Still, it’s We, The Vehicles on which Axelson really shined as a bass player most prominently since his days in the Dismemberment Plan. The guy really knew how to hammer out a groove, and does so quite awesomely here, even if it’s not quite to the same spastic levels as before, it still moves fluidly, and with rhythmic finesse.
I’m not lamenting Axelson’s loss because he made the band, so to speak, but that he was an integral part in a group that was truly coming into its own as a formidable entity in pop music. While Maritime’s debut Glass Floor was nice enough in terms of breezy, lighter-than-air melodies, it didn’t have quite the punch to make as much of an impact as the weight of its expectations did. We, The Vehicles does, however, with tightened instrumentation and songwriting, remaining just as accessible while adding a heightened sense of tension and melodic sharpness. As much as I loved the horn section on “Adios,” the moody minor keys and instrumental interplay here provides a much more substantial sonic meal.
It’s still breezy in some places, as on the bouncy “German Engineering,” or the spacious “People, the Vehicles,” yet both songs hide a deeper complexity within their respective structures. And much of the album abandons the faux lounge pop of Glass Floor for something much more commanding and confident. Opener “Calm,” for instance, not only boasts a driving melody and some of the most rocking riffs the band has ever recorded, it also finds von Bohlen announcing a sort of empowered self-affirmation: “We are powerful despite our injuries.”
“Tearing Up the Oxygen” is similarly immediate, with a touch of synth added for texture, making this new-wavey rocker the ideal choice for a single. Yet, “Parade of Punk Rock T-Shirts” is the free MP3 and the song being used to promote the album, and with good reason. It’s simple catchy and impossible not to like. The award for most interesting track may have to be awarded to “No One Will Remember You Tonight,” however, for its locomotive drum brushes combined with taut, jerky acoustic chords and absolutely heavenly melodies. This stuff is truly brilliant.
With Axelson taking a break from being a touring musician, Maritime plans to carry on with Decibully bassist Justin Klug in tow. After being part of a set as solid as We, The Vehicles, it’s a shame to see Axelson step aside. The band seems to have picked up enough momentum, though, that nothing should be able to slow them down at this point.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.