(By Shaun Katz, Staff Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
For those old enough to remember when punk took those first baby steps away from a stale and regimented formula, yet idealistic enough to still see the genre as vital form of expression, then Vanishing Life début (2016) album ‘Surveillance‘ will be something to get excited about.
‘Surveillance’ walks that noisy line between hopefulness and cynicism. The band’s veteran players, which is made up of Walter Schreifels (Quicksand), Jamie Miller (Snot, Bad Religion), Zach Blair (Rise Against), and Autry Fulbright (…Trail Of The Dead), all bring a sneering, playful, and uncensored energy to this impressively cohesive release. It probably wouldn’t have the same impact if its members were ten years younger and yet to develop the world-weary sensibilities of middle age.
Vanishing Life might be loud, but they’re never angry. At once freewheeling and precise, what we get instead is something completely cool and quick on its feet, which benefits from not only the sum of its parts, but also experiencing the album as a whole, from start to finish.
For all of its self-awareness, ‘Surveillance‘ is fuelled by a stylishly cool swagger, presenting a velvet hammer styled, boiling pot of dark garage punk. The album opener ‘Realist‘ is the album’s obvious single, which immediately fires on all cylinders through a thick, driving bass line that sets the pace for the album, against a wall of feedback (and then a wall of noise), all the way into the next 38 minutes.
For those familiar with members that make up Vanishing Life, it won’t be a surprise to hear that its ringleader is post-hardcore’s artiste extraordinaire, Walter Schreifels. Being the brainchild behind Quicksand, Gorilla Biscuits and Rival Schools, Schreifels‘ projects are as unique from one another as they are similar in how they share his singular attitude towards songwriting and lyrics. Schreifels‘ is well aware of his vocal shortcomings, and what he lacks in vocal talent, he makes up for in spades with his leading presence and vision.
As the sonic architect here, Schreifels designs a high tension, back to basics trip into the punk rock womb. ‘Surveillance‘ creates its own set of rules and blasts around within its big and bouncy confinements, drilling deep into its rowdy personality and lyrical themes of personal mistakes and harsh life lessons.
The occasional ambient interlude allows for its charged energy to dim and coil up again, as it does in ‘Painter‘ or ‘Pretty Ruined‘, where extended bass solos lend a sense of space to the experience. While Fulbright‘s bass playing is a big part of how things gel together (with the lead guitar unusually subtle in all this), the real rock star here is drummer Jamie Miller, who blasts away on ‘Exile‘ and ‘Seven Pointed Star‘, every single beat registering with clarity. This isn’t surprising, considering that Miller himself mixed the album.
‘Surveillance‘ doesn’t look to do anything unique, but instead puts a spotlight on the personalities of the four members and their chemistry. ‘Surveillance‘ in its strongest moments builds some serious momentum, with its personnel looking for new ways to outdo themselves, as well as each other. ‘Image‘ (one of the album’s many stand out tracks) recalls the driving rhythmic stylings of Helmet, but beyond that has an identity which is wholly its own.
If the main criticism around ‘Surveillance‘ is its repetitiveness, or even its vocalist’s limitations, then one might be missing the point of what makes it such a great release. ‘Surveillance‘ is all about displaying a style and personality. It’s attitude is smarter, cooler, more knowing, but definitely like all of Schreifels’ projects, intended for a specific type of audience.
For those destined to be won over by ‘Surveillance‘, it may take several spins in order to reveal its infectiousness – booming in parts, more laid back in others, with many subtle treasures lying around for the dedicated listener to pick up on.
Whether or not Vanishing Life will be able to pull another album together is unlikely given that ‘Surveillance‘ took around five years to make, due to scheduling challenges of the members and their various projects. It’s ultimately a testament to not only their songwriting abilities, but a high point in the catalogue of all its members.
Vanishing Life‘s ‘Surveillance‘ is available on digital, CD, or vinyl record via Dine Alone Records Storefront. There is also a 7″ single vinyl press of ‘People Running‘ with ‘Vanishing Life‘ on B-side available here through Collect Records.
‘SURVEILLANCE’ TRACK LISTING
4. Seven Pointed Star
6. Pretty Ruined
9. Vanishing Life
10. Thinking Weightless
11. People Running
13. Big Other