Vermilion – Flattening Mountains And Creating Empires

4 out of 5

Label: Redwood Records

Produced by: Steve Albini


I worked at Tower Records.  Thus are the minimal Cool Points I have expended by stating this.  Though when I dig ‘tween the cushions of my life (yes, my buttocks), occasionally I can find (…er) nuggets of Cool, still gleaming, waiting to be expended all over y’all.  One such nugget was procured when rifling through the promo stack at Tower, taking the leftover non-50 Cent CDs.  Keen indie training could allow one to sift through a stack of crap and find some not-as-crappy crap; luck would sometimes allow one to happen across something notable, such as a disc produced by Steve Albini.

Now, second tier Indies know that an Albini credit doesn’t mean much in itself.  He’s a gun for hire, and though that doesn’t mean he won’t apply himself, his name isn’t an automatic guarantee of talent.  But still, finding an unknown group with namedrop credibility was a hot commodity; the fact that it was from an unknown label (Redwood?) and that we, for whatever reason, had a promo, seemed to suggest that maybe there would be a Spin write-up pushing them soon or something.

I’m still waiting for that writeup.  It’s hard enough finding any information on the band, and the few wackos who’ve heard the album also seem to treasure it as I do.  I can barely piece together a small circuit of linked players that involve The Building Press and some other bands to check out, but otherwise, these guys were here and then not.  Also doesn’t mean anything in itself except for how good Vermilion sound.  Other groups that appear from randomness and try to pull off this kind of proggy, hard-rock either come across as wankery or amateurish or, often, both.  They’re flashes in the pan; the exact kinds of bands who do get Spin write-ups, and then their next album has, like Krautrock influences or something.  But Vermilion sound seasoned.  The songs evolve and grow, and though there’s some indulgence – that docked star – there’s an amazing amount of material here, spread across four long tracks, that explores and expands with the same kind of depth people romanticize in much more storied bands like prime-era Don Cab or Mogwai, which are horrible comparisons that don’t really come close to summarizing the scope of this disc.

Let’s get the nib out of the way: That the first track is an acronym spelling FUCK SEATTLE and that, for whatever reason, one of the band dude’s decided to add some screamy hardcore vocals to it.  These are small indications of youth, and it’s unfortunately distracting given how strong this song is without these brash aspects.

Otherwise, though, take Damon Che’s amazing drumming from the rock era of Don Cab, some breakdowns from Breadwinner, some ebb and flow from Mogwai, and then toss in an amazing finger-tapping climax, then ditch all those expectations and just add Vermilion to a list of instrumental gods who include it all – and let’s be honest: that’s what you’ve always wanted.  You’ve always wished those long, building songs would just explode in a bit more fearlessly punk rock kind of way, and you wish those math-core bands would just set the metrics aside and Yes out for a moment.  You wish people indulged just enough while still having their slow, swooning string lead-in; you wish the same band in which everyone (two guitars, bass, drums) knows how to solo to the stars without stepping on each other’s toes also knew how to chill and write engaging, yet layered spacious themes to go between those solos.  Welp, yeah, Vermilion is / was that band, and someone has uploaded the album to youtube, so check that out.

For the record: Albini is in great form here.  This is an incredibly clean performance that almost sounds tweaked, given how perfect the balance of the guitars and bass are when they trade off making background noises or taking the lead, and yet the disc sounds live and up front at the same time.  It rocks my socks, it’s true.

Anyhow, I dug for those cool points a bit too deep, so pardon me while I apply some salve.  (Ah, but you know I’ll just be digging again sooner rather than later.)