I wrote two months ago that I would be interested to see if Vertical Horizon experimented with any new sounds on their forthcoming album Echoes from the Underground, given that they’d crowd-funded the making of the album on PledgeMusic and avoided the influence of a major label. It is fairly evident throughout the album that they were not concerned with making their songs radio-friendly. This is evidenced by the fact that many of the songs eclipse the 5 or 6-minute mark. Songwriter Matt Scannell didn’t cut them off early because he needed a good 3-4-minute single, but rather let them develop organically along whatever path they took him down.
In addition, this album is much more sonically diverse than any other Vertical Horizon offering. The keyboard gets a lot more mileage in this one, popping up frequently in the second half of the album and most prominently on “Lovestruck,” which opens with a minimalist sixteenth-note riff from the keys, with kind of an airy feel. “Lovestruck” also departs somewhat from Vertical Horizon’s typically wistful and sad lyrical style, in which the main character realizes he has fallen in love with someone. However, there are seeds of doubt in his happiness, as he asks his new love not to leave him.
Other interesting sounds include what sounds like a bird call, an appropriate opening for a song entitled “South for the Winter,” and an interesting guitar plucking sound in “I Free You.” Neil Peart, drummer for the immortal rock band Rush, pitches in on this album just as he had on VH’s previous album, Burning the Days. His drum fills in “Instamatic” sprinkle the song with the progressivism of Rush, giving it a complex and unconventional beat, and pushing an instrument normally used in the background to keep the beat much more into the forefront.
The first half of the album has a raw and edgy sound to it, with the corrosive chords of “You Never Let Me Down,” and “Half-Light,” which might be my favorite track. “Half-Light’s” lyrics offer further evidence that Scannell wasn’t concerned with radio-friendliness. They explore a similar theme to “The Middle Ground,” a song on Burning The Days, in which the protagonist wants a real relationship with his significant other, with all the rewards and struggles. But “Half-Light” is much more subtle and less accessible, and is probably open to other interpretations that aren’t immediately apparent. It’s not so opaque that the listener has no clue what’s going on, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with its message, either.
Scannell further demonstrates his lyrical talent on “You Never Let Me Down.” Given the title, the listener expects a tribute to a friend or some other positive theme. Instead we get an acerbic takedown of someone who always seems to ruin the happy times in life: “Cause happiness is overrated/You’re always there to complicate it, yeah you never let me down.” Interesting lyrics also happen in “Song for Someone,” a song about offering comfort to someone in need, but not at all specific about the identity of the person. I also like the concept of “Instamatic memories” in the namesake song. Evoking Instamatics, the cheap Kodak point-and-shoot cameras of the 60s and 70s, convey the idea of transient memories that aren’t lasting and don’t impact the protagonist’s life beyond a few fleeting moments.
All of this comes together to create a tight and cohesive album that has many layers beyond the surface. While Vertical Horizon now feels less like a band and more like a Matt Scannell solo project, as he dominates the composition of each song and record, the result is a diverse medley of sounds that keep the listener engaged all the way through. While I wondered some about the album, after hearing the first single, I am confident enough in the end result to say that this album is worth a buy. While it doesn’t quite live up to the band’s magnum opus album Everything You Want, it comes close and shows a much more mature sound. Here are my track picks:
“You Never Let Me Down”