It’s hard to be unique. There’s only a finite amount of genres and styles out there, and only so much you can do in any one of them. At this point, any band hoping to do something original is arguably best off combining two disparate styles of music and hoping for the best. Whilst The Vacant Lots likely found their sound in a less haphazard way than that, it does appear to be essentially what they’ve done. Although ‘Endless Night’s sonic bedrock lies in moody, sinister electronica, they overlay the synths and drum machines with warm, ringing rhythm guitars and the sort of twanging lead guitar licks that wouldn’t be out of place on some semi-obscure mid ’60s garage rock LP. It’s a meshing of genres that takes the listener by surprise at first glance but it works so well that it soon becomes hard not to wonder why it hasn’t been a thousand times before.
On paper, the electronic groove of ‘Empty Space’ wouldn’t meld too well with the bright, mellow guitar chords and subtle reversed lead part that give the song it’s easy-going psychedelic atmosphere. In execution, however, it works surprisingly well, giving the song a woozy ambience all of its own. Coolly understated vocals give a set of deeply atmospheric songs room to breathe – the composed delivery recalling Lou Reed at his least agitated, the album’s sonic aesthetic likewise bringing to mind the dark experimentalism of ’60’s New York.
‘Endless Night’ is an album that has a sense of propulsion at it’s heart. Vivid repetition and groove are central to the impact of these songs – so it’s an unfortunate quirk of a sound rooted in the ’60s that so many of the album’s songs fade out far too soon, often cutting the album’s mesmeric reveries far too short. To hear a song fade out after only a couple of minutes may have been common in the era that The Vacant Lots hark back to but today it’s the only unwelcome aspect of the band’s vintage influence. Album opener ‘Night Nurse’ establishes itself straight away as a strongly rhythmic track, the pounding drum machine and punchy synth bass pivotal to the song’s impact. It’s a shame, then, to see it abruptly fade after only two minutes; it’s a song that could have easily gone on twice as long and not outstayed it’s welcome.
The twisted synth-pop of ‘Elevation’ is a compelling detour into more exclusively electronic territory, boasting a fetchingly bouncy synth line and moody, affecting vocals. It’s frustrating to see the song denied its potential full running time, then, with a fade out occurring just two and a half minutes in. When The Vacant Lots do let their songs stretch out, it’s to powerful effect. ‘Empty Space’s five and a half minutes may not be especially long but it’s the album’s most expansive track and perhaps the highlight of the whole record.
Album closer ‘Suicide Note’ is a heavy hitter, featuring vocals from the seminal Suicide’s Alan Vega. Raw, unbridled and full of life, the track is another highlight for the album. Recorded only a few weeks before Vega’s sudden passing, his powerful vocals serve as the yin to the album’s usually understated yang.
‘Endless Night’ is a strong effort from The Vacant Lots. Punchy and immediate, the band’s blend of twisted garage rock and frenetic synth-pop is compelling and makes a lot more sense in practice than it does in writing. If, at less than half an hour, it’s a short listen then it’s one that does at least place quality over quantity and the results are unique and compelling.