The Rock II – A Mixtape by Vassals

We all know that feeling, that grief, that comes with the end of our favourite film or television series. That moment when a character you’ve taken into your heart is suddenly ripped from you, and you have to come to terms with the fact you may never see them again, and never know how their story ends.

Music perhaps doesn’t have an equivalent moment; sure it’s devastating when a band you love split-up, but more often than not you know you’ll hear from them again, even if they never reach the same emotional peak, they still carry on existing.

But what if those characters stories never ended? What if at the end of Casablanca, we found out how things worked out for Rick and Louie and their beautiful friendship? What if Psycho didn’t end with Norman coming across all Mrs Bates, but carried on into his psychological treatment and let us know if they ever got Norman back? What if anyone had a clue what was going on at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey? Perhaps there’s something beautiful in the fact we’ll never know….or perhaps it’s time someone made a sequel!

Press Shot 1 CREDIT Jeni Magana
Both press shots by Jeni Magana –

Formed back in 2011, Vassals are a Brooklyn based trio, built around the songwriting of Shay Spence, alongside guitarist Jeff Fettig and drummer Jon Smith. Vassals initially caught our attention because they include members of Magana’s backing band, but the music they make as Vassals bears little resemblance. Vassals released their debut album, In My Dreams I Am A Sailor, back in 2012, and are set to return next month with the Halogen EP, the first new material since then, aside from their frankly excellent, tongue-in-cheek Christmas EP, Here We Come A Vassaling.

Halogen serves as a welcome return, recent single SoHo starts off life with lurching, disorienting guitar lines and off-kilter percussion, before Shay sings, “who would ever call this fun?”. As the guitar line settles into an easy rhythm the whole track seems to crunch into gear, and builds to a storming piece of slacker-rock, the easy-going groove in contrast to the songs darker lyrics. Shay seems lost, muddled by social anxiety, as you listen to her words, you can’t help but feel tense and anxious along with her, “everything I’m dreading, SoHo on the weekend, a jacket for a wedding, I don’t want to be in, I wanna feel alright. I’m faded, dematerialized swimming in a sea of light, I’m swimming in a sea of light, I’m floating on an awful high”.  It ends with Shay repeating, “there’s something I’m forgetting”, and as listener you can feel that awful anxious lurch at the very pit of your stomach.

Elsewhere the record seems to take in a slew of influences; from a muted beginning opening track Sea Spells is a driving piece of Dinosaur Jr. like rock, while Moonless has the same impassioned, skittering quality of Clap Your Hand Say Yeah, as Shay seems to grappled with her fears for the future, “I know the end is near,we’re gonna burn so bright, on a witch’s stake, I tear the name from my beer and I wait”. Possibly most intriguing of all is the closing track Ghostwood, a quietly pulsing build of a track, the vocals soar and howl, above a somehow distant bed of crashing, loose drums and squalling distorted guitars, before the whole thing collapses into a frantic blur of dissonance.

Halogen is frenetic and energetic collection of tracks, capturing some of the spirit of their highly acclaimed live shows. That said it is also a collection of tracks that sees Vassals explore darker territory than their previous output; there’s still plenty of noisy, hook-driven alt-rock, but equally there’s a brooding, uncompromising quality to this record. Vassals sounds like a brand growing into their own potential, and in doing so they sound more interesting, more vital, and more daring than ever before.

Today Vassals have put together a mixtape for us featuring the likes of The Band, Elvis and Waxahatchee, all based around the sequel to the movie The Rock, as they explain…

The three of us recently had the pleasure of revisiting the classic 1996 film The Rock. Over the course of the movie, we came up with our own sequel, titled The Rock II: Drain The Rock, Johnson. The following playlist is the soundtrack to what will surely be cinematic history.

1. We Built This City – Jefferson Starship

The movie opens on present-day San Francisco. Tech bros and weirdos mill about (I’ve barely ever spent time in San Fran so bare with me). The city carried on in its blissful unawareness of its near obliteration 20 years ago. The name Goodspeed rings absolutely zero bells. CUT TO:

2. Rockin’ in the Free World – Neil Young

John Mason (Sean Connery) is working feverishly with computers and drainpipes and multicolored wires, somewhere dark and cavernous. He is visibly unwashed and his hair and beard are back to federal prison lengths. He’s muttering to himself and it’s ridiculous. We learn all sorts of exposition, like that his attempts to reintegrate into society have failed and his daughter is no longer speaking to him. He is bitter and self-radicalized and is hellbent on destroying San Francisco, the city he thanklessly saved before his life crumbled into dust. CUT TO:

3. Jailhouse Rock- Elvis Presley

Dr Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) is manically cooking breakfast and singing this song at an uncomfortably loud volume. He’s making a goddamn mess. Between verses he is yelling to off-camera about egg temperatures. Here we are reintroduced to Carla (Vanessa Marcil), now married, and their daughter:

4. Hot Rock – Sleater-Kinney

Mason Goodspeed (Willow Smith), 20 years old and home for the winter break (oh this is a holiday movie now by the way). She’s busy hacking into a mainframe and blaring music to drown out her dad’s absolutely unhinged singing. She doesn’t even eat eggs, dad, but he’s always willfully forgetting that.

5. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree- Brenda Lee

The FBI contacts Stanley, breaks the news of John Mason’s plan to destroy San Francisco. Christmas is ruined. They don’t yet know the specifics, but know that Mason is working to fill every cell in Alcatraz with mystery chemicals. They need ingenuity. They need expertise. They need Goodspeed.

6. Rockin’ Chair – The Band

Stanley is shaken. Having sworn to secrecy, he’s never confided to anyone the horrors he experienced that day on The Rock. Even Carla can only guess what caused him to come home a different man. Now, after decades of PTSD and bizarre physicality, Stanley doesn’t know if he has another mission in him. And to take down John Mason, a man he loved so much he named his firstborn after, is an emotional undertaking he isn’t sure he can survive.

7. Under A Rock – Waxahatchee

Mason intercepts the message and considers the situation. A quick hack into the FBI database tells her everything she could know about her father’s top secret exploits. She computer magics her way into Director Womack’s cellphone and convinces him that she’s the Goodspeed, no – the Bestspeed for the job. “I’m putting this in your hands” says Womack (John Spencer), “but there’s no way you can do this alone”. Mason doesn’t like partners – she’s been burned one too many times before – but she’s willing to put her feelings aside to save her beloved hometown. “You need someone who can get into his head, someone who can think like Mason (bad guy Mason I mean, not you). You need Johnson.”

8. Rock You Like a Hurricane – the Scorpions

CUT TO: super max federal prison. Armed guards lead Mason through a series of checkpoints and heavy doors. Along the way, Womack breathlessly runs down some backstory. “…when he was finally caught, the bureau estimated that he had stolen upwards of $20 million worth of assets. This ranged from priceless artifacts to personal ephemera of politicians to pieces of evidence from notorious unsolved cases. 15 years old, the youngest convict ever in super max, and this is where he started ~by unknown means~ communication with Mason. The two of them would play these coordinated games that drove the guards fucking insane. As far as we know, they never met in person”. They arrive to the final door, Womack grimaces then straightens, throws the latch, and they enter. In the center of the room, shackled beyond belief, sits Johnson (Dwayne Johnson). His dark eyes flit over Mason, her infinitely dyed hair, her unwavering posture, her massive boots, and an ultraviolet smile just barely cracks open on his giant face. “So I hear we’re gonna drain The Rock”

9. Woodland Rock – Ty Segall


Halogen Days is out April 7th via Post Fun – click HERE for more information on Vassals. Sadly no date for The Rock II is yet set – but keep on rockin’ ’til they make it.

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