Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Van Dale are a trio delivering a modern re-imagining of the sort of fuzzy indie-rock that was all the rage back in the 1990’s when bands like Guided By Voices and Built To Spill ruled the airwaves. The band first appeared back in 2013 with their self-titled debut album, before re-emerging four years later with the acclaimed, Of The Valley II. Hauled up in the studio since then, putting music down in a delightfully old school way – live direct to reel-to-reel tape – the band return now with their third record, The Visitor, which we’re premiering here today.
The Visitor is a record that instantly took us back to some of our earliest musical memories, to our mind it’s the sound of MTV2 circa 2002. A sort of post-grunge, heavy but definitely not metal sound, all fuzzy, over-driven riffs, clattering snare heavy drum beats and vocals that ring with anguish and intent in equal measures.
Opening track, Hard Year, is Van Dale at their most breezy, the distorted vocals and rapid pace channeling something of the much missed Trust Fund. Elsewhere Pier Pressure has a touch of American Football-like majestic slowness, while Mama adds a certain punky snarl and Pool Party channels a Dinosaur Jr. like intensity.
In amongst the moments of vital driving noise, The Visitor is equally a record of melodic tenderness; take the excellent break-down in Porch when guitarist Lisa Brokow’s vocals are given space to shimmer and shine, as she sings, “if you want it then it’s already happening”, channeling the majestic indie-pop of Night Flowers or Slowdive. It’s a trick they repeat with even more delicacy on the album’s oasis of calm that is, Burnin Up, a three minute interlude of muted guitar riffs and prominent bass, pitched somewhere between Sebadoh and The Beta Band, which finds the band pleading with the listener to, “use your heart son, you know you have one”, before ending on a searing slow-motion guitar solo.
The album concludes on the sublime, Have A Nice Life One Day; a slow burning epic, all sludgy bass-lines and gently unfurling guitar mastery, before shifting into a downbeat sing-along as distant voices repeat the track’s title in emotive unison. It’s a fitting finale to a record of passion and poise: a noisy masterpiece and one of the finest records you’ll hear this year.
Check out the album below, and read on for the band breaking The Visitor down track-by-track in a uniquely fascinating fashion.
Hard Year: This song is probably about loss, grieving and acceptance but I like to imagine it’s about the members of Creed reflecting on the year 2003. Granted, their slow decline began with internal turmoil and alcohol abuse in 2000, but everything came to a head on December 29, 2002, when the band attempted to play a show in Rosemont, Illinois. Scott Stapp was so gone on booze and pain pills that he couldn’t perform any songs. Like, couldn’t form words. Some ticket holders actually sued the band because of it! Anyway, they went on hiatus for over a year after the show before breaking up in June, 2004. Crazy. Ok, so imagine you’re in Creed trying to celebrate New Year’s Eve on December 31, 2003. You might ask yourself, “How did we get here? What happened? Where did it all go wrong?” You may never know, and even if you do, you may not want to believe it. But you can probably appreciate that 2003 was a hard year. The ride’s over. The fame isn’t coming back.
Numbskull: Depending on your lifestyle (i.e. job, location, media habits) you may be exposed to anywhere between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements a day. Granted we tune most of them out, but if you are exposed to an ad enough it may cross a threshold into your consciousness. Do I actually want to buy this Seinfeld shirt or was the desire planted in there at some point? I wonder if it’s the same with people. Am I just a composite of reflections I see of myself through interactions with people? Or is there actually something real and consistent under here? Is there a me? I have no idea.
Pier Pressure: One summer during my childhood some friends and I hid behind a massive mound of dirt and, one by one, started shooting rocks into a neighbors pool with a slingshot (more about pools later). This probably wouldn’t have been a big deal except for the fact that my neighbor and his family were in the pool at the time. I’m not sure how many times we hit or nearly hit the pool (honestly, it felt like a long time) until he loudly exclaimed “FUCK,” jumped out of the pool and tried to catch us in the woods. We escaped but didn’t appreciate that he knew all of our parents and it was only a matter of time until we had to eat some neighborhood justice. This is some insane stuff, though. Like, what if we had hit someone and caused a head injury? I’m not sure the concept of consequence had entered any of our lives at that time. My apologies to the family.
Porch: “I had an experience Saturday night and was just wondering if anyone else is dealing with this too. I stepped outside Saturday night around 7:30 or 8:00 and saw several people next door on their patio with a dead Goat or maybe two. They looked at me and then turned back around and started chopping and cutting the Goat up. I am glad I did not have children or grandchildren here. I was not pleased.” — a post from a concerned resident on the Nextdoor App discussing current events in our neighborhood.
Mama: I feel like my posts are getting shorter.
Lower Bowl: When I look at “Lower Bowl” I want it to be a palindrome. It has potential, just not quite there. So I looked up the longest palindrome and found this article about the longest palindrome sentence. As the author points out, it’s really just a list of nouns, but “Lisa,” “Joey,” “Tim” and “Dale” are all contained within the sentence (Van Dale is Lisa, Joe-now-Joey and Tim). You are probably in there, too! Unless your name is Scott. “Scott” is not in there. I had to look it up for the Creedheads (“Creed” isn’t in there, either).
Burnin Up: The first time Joe(y) showed us the chorus for this song it was stuck in my head for weeks. Part of me hopes this gets remade as an R&B ballad by Timbaland and Amy Lee from Evanescence.
Pool Party: Across the American Midwest there will be so many pool parties this summer. A staple at many of them will be a Sad Dad. A strange juxtaposition. You’d think summertime by the pool (especially your pool) would be cause for celebration. Well, that’s exactly what the goons at Northwestern Mutual want you to believe. Just look at this ad. Put in the pool and your kids will like you more, your wife will love you more and you won’t have to mow so much grass. Fast forward a few years when the Son in this commercial is in high school. The Daughter is probably away at college (part of the Northwestern Mutual financial plan) and if this marriage needed a pool to save it, it’s probably over. So now the Son is splitting time between the parents. Dad kept the house because Mom married Doug, who is actually pretty chill and has his own place closer to downtown (no pool…Mom doesn’t care). The temps are heating up and Son decides he’s going to have some buddies over for a swim. Right on! Let’s have some good times and enjoy this pool! Unfortunately, the pool only serves as a cruel reminder of the perfect life that eluded Dad, so while he’s out there getting crispy, he’s feeling really down. One of the Son’s friends notices a Sad Dad and tries to cheer him up by thanking him for the party. “No big,” says Dad, trying to be cool and relatable. And he is cool and relatable. Just wish he’d realized it before he put in a pool.
Crystallina: There is a video on our Instagram (@van_daled) of us performing this song on April 30, 2017. The refrain asserts that “life is never long enough.” I don’t know, though, maybe we have too much time over here.
Visitor: This happened. Very strange. As he was walking away he told us to “have a nice life one day” with alarming sincerity. It was like he knew things were going to get worse for us before they got better. So far I think he’s right.
Have A Nice Life One Day: Thanks for reading these. Please enjoy the day and don’t miss “Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919 – 1933” at Tate Modern in Bankside, London, running now until July 14th. Wrapping up nearly a year-long free exhibition of “German art from between the wars,” this collection begs the question: oh, really?
The Visitor is out now via Keroleen Records. Click HERE for more information on Van Dale.