ALBUM REVIEW | Don Vail – Fades.


ARTIST: Don Vail


RELEASE DATE: 13/05/16


There are few joys as stunningly high as stumbling onto, and subsequently being swept away by new music. Fades, the second self-release from Canadian group Don Vail, has a steel grip on my (deletes dirty joke, writes) lapels. Released on Friday, May 13th, the album over-flows with hooks and soaring melodies built on a sturdy pop-rock foundation by leader Mitch Bowden who is joined by pals David Dunham, Bill Priddle (Broken Social Scene/Treble Charger), Bob Wilcox, Jordon Zadorozny (of Blinker The Star), Kori Pop, & Luke Bentham (of The Dirty Nil). But don’t let that long list of names distract from Bowden’s unique talents as a solo-artist. He wrote and played much of this on his own, including drums on the latter half of the album, recording “all the instruments” first, and then bringing in others to flesh out the sound. It’s great stuff influenced, but not weighed down by “sixties and seventies psychedelic rock.”


Fades kicks off with “Personal League” a lush, mid-tempo gem featuring Bowden’s understated vocals and outstanding harmonies supplied by Kori Pop. It’s reminiscent of, well, I can’t put my finger on it. This is important as it tells me that Bowden has created a universe all his own; similar in some regard to folk-pop like Sebadoh or dream-pop like Lush yet infused with McCartney/Lennon flavors. Lyrically, there’s compelling twists that leave one wondering what this is all about. Bowden sings “You can scratch an itch until it doesn’t exist, but you just forget it’s real” and “tell my mom I’m moving beyond any telephone calls to God” feels like a revealing of truth from an artistic point of view. Maybe a longing for an explanation of truth in our universe. Maybe not. Half the fun is creating stories all your own, right? My one quibble with the song, and others on this excellent album is that It feels like they end just as they’re beginning. I’d LOVE to hear these songs stretched out with the hooks repeated. Alas, Bowden tells me there’s method to the madness as he prefers to eschew musical convention. “Standard song structure has never appealed to me. There are enough artists already doing that. I like when the best part of the song only happens once. If you want to hear that part again, you just listen to the song again. Some songs end up sounding too watered down (on) the 3rd chorus – it loses impact.” This is an important artistic twist. Whereas bands like Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain used sonics to make the old new, Bowden’s Don Vail gently steers pop in a new direction via unique, almost instinctual song-structure.

The second song on the collection, “Strangers” is a lush dreamscape built on massive drums that finds Bowden telling someone (himself/others?) to “let the world disappear…just fall out.” Listen closely for the tasteful McCartney, high-on-the-neck bass line and the sonic artistry of guitarist Priddle who stands out here, and on “Only Exes” . Both are excellent instrumental excursions featuring the former member of Treble Charger who, Bowden says is “good at `noisy bits’ and leads”. It’s all done with subtlety; the feedback never overwhelms but instead adds strange new colors. Lest you think these are songs left unfinished, note they are “instinctual” choices made by Bowden. “it’s definitely intentional. Generally I don’t have much trouble coming up with vocal parts, but sometimes a song is better without it. On the record’s two instrumental tracks, the feeling/emotion was already there, and I didn’t want a vocal walking all over it.” There’s intriguing lyrical twists in “The Truth is, Diane,” as Bowden softly says “Our love’s dead, dead now, stop trying, `cause the truth is dyin’, the noose is tied…”) or “Seventy Three,” in which Bowden sings “sell everything…I can’t sell my soul.” Is the latter commentary on the music industry? I hope so as his art comes across unique, all his own and uncompromising.

The fifth song on the album, “Fake Blood” is truly special and may be the best of this excellent collection. It hits on an emotional level with crushing lines like “…gold in your veins…old friends remind me of you.” Musically, there’s so much delicious McCartney here, it hurts. Bowden’s artistry is on full display as he spreads layer upon layer of vocal melody while twists and turns lead to an explosion of guitars. This is interesting, complicated stuff that I’m not sure I’ll understand for a while. “Fades” ends with the punk-infused “Sister” featuring David Dunham playing the shit out of the drums. Don’t be fooled by the fast pace, yelling and big guitars as there’s melody swimming throughout this sucker. Thankfully it’s more pop then punk.

Don Vail’s“Fades” is the best thing I’ve heard so far this year and the most complete artistic statements since Death Cab For Cutie’s – Plans or Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues. It’s a glorious journey full of soaring, melodic pop and quirky guitar sonics that twist and ricochet in surprising ways worthy of a front row seat in your collection.




Owen photo for Primal

Owen Murphy is a radio producer, co-host of the podcast Weasel Radio, and the artist behind the musical project New Age Healers. Follow on – Twitter , Facebook and Instagram.

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