Austin’s Voxtrot made an impressive name for themselves off the strength of merely two brief EP releases, Raised by Wolves and Mothers, Sisters, Daughters and Wives. Though each one gave only a limited view of the melodic world of Voxtrot, both were outstanding achievements in British-influenced jangle pop, with nearly flawless executions of pop single followed by pop single. After announcing their signing to Playlouder, Voxtrot released yet one more EP, the even shorter 3-song effort Your Biggest Fan, which came, one could have presumed, as a preview for their forthcoming full-length. With three well-received single releases behind them, Voxtrot could have easily thrown a few of their classic tracks into mix, thus reducing the work required to finish up their first LP. Surely, few would complain about hearing one or two familiar songs on their proper debut, especially considering how good pretty much all of their songs have been up to this point.
Well, Belle & Sebastian didn’t have to dip into their existing material to finish an album, and neither does Voxtrot. On their first proper full-length (finally!), the Texas quintet offers up an entirely new tracklist, which makes its arrival all the more inviting. Of course, as soon as the motherfucker leaked, that’s when the backlash began. I could wag my finger and question those who were so quick to write off the album, but this merely proves that Voxtrot has catapulted into a new realm of success. All great bands have their haters, from Radiohead to The Arcade Fire. There are still people complaining that The Velvet Underground don’t deserve the accolades they’ve received over the years. Now Voxtrot has their naysayers, though I’m still not sure why.
Voxtrot is a fine piece of music, expanding upon the sounds explored on Wolves and Mothers, maintaining the group’s songwriting magic while discovering the nooks and crannies of their melodic identity. It’s an album of greater subtlety and diversity, and the band is clearly maturing into a deeper, more sophisticated outfit. “Introduction,” though the first track, is an actual, fleshed-out song rather than a short, launching segment, and reveals one of the group’s prettiest melodies to date. Frontman Ramesh Srivastava sings verses of alienation (“this house is clean/ but it’s not my home,” “you looked just like a stranger“) while, underneath, strings weep gently. “Kid Gloves,” the first single, has more of an agitated rock sound, which finds Srivastava demanding “Cheer me up, cheer me up, I’m a miserable fuck.” The next track, “Ghost,” seems to combine the strengths of its two preceding tracks, marrying orchestrated graces to a propulsive and dramatic progression.
After the streamlined trio of opening songs fades, in comes “Steven,” with a ’70s AM radio pop sound, with a bouncy piano melody guiding it into a light and easy verse, while “Firecracker,” um, explodes into a backwards tape loop, which then gives way to a dub-like delay exercise, and subsequently a catchy-as-hell chorus. “Brother in Conflict” is the hardest rocking song on the album, and finds Srivastava shying away from subtlety as he pronounces, “I wanna drown you in a pool of blood.” More ’70s-influenced pop joys arrive with “Easy,” which seems to find the meeting place between lounge and new wave, and with a memorable guitar hook to boot. Only “Real Live Version” deserves skipping, the band’s take on a straightforward ballad sounding a bit cheesy and out of place among a greater selection of wiry jangle pop.
After an extended period of great anticipation, Voxtrot’s debut delivers on the promise of their earlier material, with only the occasional misstep holding it back from being that truly essential long player we know they’ve got in them somewhere. Until then, take solace in knowing that Voxtrot still has half an album’s worth of fantastic, potential singles, all which only grow more endearing with time.
MP3: “Kid Gloves”
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.