Vehicles & Animals Album reviews.
Release Date: 05.18.04
Record label: Astralwerks
You Can't Appreciate What We Were Into Then
by: bill aicher
By 2003, Brit-pop had pretty much been declared a dead genre. Bands like Blur and Stereophonics had moved on from their upbeat little ditties, instead opting for electronic, urban and roots-rock sounds as replacements. Radiohead had ditched the genre years before, and bands like Coldplay replaced brit-pop's irreverent sounds with their U2-lite introspection. This abandonment of the genre is perhaps what makes Athlete's Vehicles & Animals such a welcome record. Acting as both a throwback piece, as well as a fantastic nugget of British pop completely relevant in 2003, its combination of cheeky nods to the genre as well as its straightforward approach to songwriting were definite factors in its nomination for the 2003 Mercury Music prize (which was won by Dizzee Rascal).
This being said, Vehicles & Animals isn't exactly a brit-pop record, but rather an embodiment of what Brit-pop evoked. It's a damn enjoyable recording, never once attempting to affront its listeners with misdirected attempts at world-changing views. Rather it works extremely well as a lazy listening record: quite well-written and performed little rock ditties spattered throughout with electronic blips, beeps and beats.
For, at times, Athlete does transcend its pop/rock roots, as in "One Million" where a slow dropoff of sound gives way to a tremenous use of breakbeat or in "Out of Nowhere"'s high-treble electronic-bass intro. These little flourishes abound on the album, creating a sonic mood more akin at times to Super Furry Animals or The Flaming Lips than their like-minded brethren, Supergress and Blur.
This feel-good atitude does have its problems, however, as from time to time one may be led to wonder whether Athlete really have anything to say. Songs about "everybody wants to be part of the rock scene" (Westside) and "There are moments of escape for everyone of us / and the beauty in the times that we create" (Vehicles & Animals) don't bring anything new or astonishing to the table. Still, they do seem to speak of the magical bits and pieces of human nature that we don't always take notice of.
So, maybe this joy of life's simplicity is what Athlete is really all about. And simple pleasures are quite a good find, at that.
At its core, Athlete's sound and premise really seems to be encapsulated in "Shake Those Windows," where a simple song can bring us back in time to a perfect time and place from nostalgia. "Just let the music play / and bring it back again." Maybe that's what Athlete's doing here - just bringing music back to what they think it should be - a soundtrack to our lives. If you don't dig them, it's likely they wouldn't be offended - so long as you find your own little happy place in time and space.
12-Jul-2004 9:00 AM