Release Date: May 14, 2013
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop
Wampire’s freshly minted sound doesn’t submit so easily to single genres as it does overarching sentiments. Their influences are held close, but they draw from so many seemingly distant places on their full-length debut that it’s a wonder it emerged as focused as it did. Produced by Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jake Portrait, Curiosity is both retro-grabbing and forward-minded.
Admittedly, Wampire is probably not the best band name, bringing to mind a spelling-challenged Robert Pattinson being followed around by pre-pubescent teenage girls. Wampire the band, however, is little like what one might think, and infinitely cooler than one might expect. Somehow an amalgam of '80s synth pop, psychedelic guitar rock, dance music, and soul, Curiosity seems to shape-shift as one listens, both across songs and within them, until the final product can be validly called something new.
There’s been no shortage of cutesy synth-pop bands sprouting up in Portland over the past few years. Wampire is one of them—once a two-piece with a drum machine, they became a power trio three years ago only to recently return to their future-primitive ways. It’s been a long road for core members Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps, who’ve become household names in their hometown (mostly for their sweaty, dance-in-front-of-the-mirror live shows), and they’re finally shimmying their way beyond the Pacific Northwest with their debut full-length for Polyvinyl.
Whatever your opinion is on the permeation of bass-heavy electronic music into just about every other form of pop, you can’t deny that it’s officially happened. Hell, a few years ago Taylor Swift was singing acoustic serenades to Tim McGraw, now she’s one or two wubs away from a Skrillex collab. But what do we do once critical mass is reached? What happens when the roller coaster passes its highest point and starts coming back down again? Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps of Wampire just might have an answer.
WampireCuriosity[Polyvinyl; 2013]By Rob Hakimian; May 15, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGIt’s a common occurrence in today’s music landscape that a band releases a debut single that’s instantly catchy, warrants repeat plays and gets you excited for the full length. When the album finally comes, it’s not uncommon for the single to remain the far-away stand-out track. When Wampire released “The Hearse” a few months back, I was instantly drawn in; the song possesses a galloping quality, an unstoppable groove and a delightfully playful keyboard line – “The Hearse” is an apt name for it, but this one is undercover as a getaway car, rather than a slow-moving corpse carrier.
Judging by Portland duo Wampire’s cover art and music, they appear to live in an alternate Eighties universe. There are no grim realities: no Thatcherism or Reaganomics, no Chernobyl- just soft focus photography, MTV and big hair; a lifestyle perpetually based on and within a John Hughes film. In a similar way to fellow nostalgists Summer Camp, Wampire take the innocence and mischief of an idealised American suburb and imbibe it into their music; the cliches, the knowing lo-fi amateurism and the dual teenage experience of joy and heartbreak are very much present on Curiosity, but, as the album title suggests, Wampire also keep the listener guessing.
Portland five-piece Wampire's debut, Curiosity, casts the familiar gold sounds of a bygone and misspent youth (1960s psychedelia, 70s soft rock, 80s new wave) as something foreign and, at times, a little unsettling. It's nostalgic, but with the reflection seen through a funhouse mirror. Like Ariel Pink, Foxygen, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra before them, Wampire's emergence seems to have benefitted from the trail blazed by MGMT’s Congratulations.
The wink at the dark side in Wampire's name extends to the music on their debut album, Curiosity: the keyboards that dominate the Portland-based duo's songs add a certain horror-show flair. Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps collaborated with Unknown Mortal Orchestra's Jacob Portrait on the album, and his production bears his flair for the dramatic as well as for trippy sound effects, both of which are in full force on "Orchards. " Curiosity's synthy sound recalls Unknown Mortal Orchestra as well as fellow Portland fixtures STRFKR, although the best moments, like the bittersweet, surprisingly anthemic album opener "The Hearse" and "Giants," have a color and depth to them that belongs to Wampire.
In 1979 Ron and Russell Mael, better known to the world as Sparks, issued No.1 in Heaven, a record that paired the duo’s characteristic humor with production courtesy Italian genius Giorgio Moroder. These are the guys who had by then gifted the world with records such as Kimono My House and A Woofer In Tweeter’s Clothing and would, by the early ‘80s, issue Whomp That Sucker and Angst in My Pants. If you’ve never heard those clever boys—and statistics suggest that you may not have—race out now and find something from their considerable discography and cherish the crap out of it.
Creeping out from the quiet warbles and crinkles of the needle drop that begin Wampire’s debut, an archetypal pipe organ leaks notes of familiar darkness. A shadowed, Draculesque figure hunches in front of the haunted keys as metallic, baroque horror echoes off the walls. Buckling to an irresistible curiosity, we approach the figure, a pool of sweat collecting on our brow in the cool humidity of his dungeon hall.
Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps’ journey commenced about 11 years ago when the two were still in middle school, and since then there’s been no looking back. After honing their synth-pop sound for years in Portland’s underground party scene, the duo, dubbed Wampire, has finally released its debut full length, Curiosity, which finds Tinder and Phipps maturing in surprising and charming ways. Ditching their grungy tone and opting for a more airy, upbeat sound, Curiosity does exactly what it’s supposed to do: it keeps you on your toes.