Playing to Vapors takes math rock to the mainstream with “Shred the Master Design”
I’ve had this album for a long time now, and Playing to Vapors is one of my favorite bands out of the Midwest. I know this band very well, and yet here I sit still unsure how to put together this album review.
This uncertainty doesn’t arise from dissatisfaction from the record. Quite the opposite, actually. Though, to be transparent with you all, the record doesn’t present songs that yield the same feeling as previous singles “Ghost Hunter” and “Whisper.” What this album presents that previous releases do not have, is a sense of cohesiveness. The band’s Identities EP has a somber feeling and musicality that is far enough off from their current sound that I feel strange mentioning it in the same canon as the rest of their stuff. What was lacking in groove and variety in the band’s early material is made up for in this release, accomplished within the scope of what their core audience has come to know and love about their music.
I read that many of the songs were written in the studio this time around, rather than laboriously mulled over until the band was ready to record. I can hear that, though the result is far from haphazard. There’s a bit of an almost improvisational quality I hear throughout the record, save for songs that are obviously “singles.” One such song is “Switchblade,” which I heard an early demo of. I wasn’t sure if I liked it at first – the guitar work’s arrangement of that melody took some getting used to. Now, in the context of the whole record, I couldn’t imagine a different song as the lead single.
Make no mistake, the band isn’t all about being cerebral and pensive – as a term like “math rock” might lead one to believe. They know how to rock – loudly – and they prove with with a banger of an album opener in “Machine Said Maybe” and in the title track. Whilst listening to the latter I can just picture some kid at a show tweeting out un-ironically “#thatbasstho.”
Playing to Vapors also excels in their more contemplative moments. “Flash Camera” has a quiet keyboard melody that well suits late night drives, or perhaps laying in the dark in your room pondering life (or nothing in particular). “Twin Flame” makes use of a quiet melody to build up a sense of anticipation. Album closer “Lydia” is effective in this regard as well.
I have a feeling that “Shred the Master Design” is going to age well. Hopefully you’ll give it a spin!