Polyvinyl Records, 2013
Reviewed by Kent Manthie
After many years playing in their rooms and basements, then becoming darlings of the local, Portland (OR) house-party circuit, Wampire have finally come into their own. Just released is Curiosity, their first full-length CD for Polyvinyl Records.
Starting up back in 2001, in their hometown of Keizer, OR when Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps were 14-15 years old, the two were excited enough just to have each other and something they could call a band. At first, their output consisted mainly of jamming together, just finding a groove and then rolling with it. Still, they were a long way from what they’d eventually do on there new CD, Curiosity.
It doesn’t, to one born in the early 70s, seem like a long time between 2001 and 2013, but for a kid that’s forever! And for those long adolescent years, Tinder & Phipps made a lot of racket, did stuff that pleased them. But the most important things they did was they stuck together. Theirs was a friendship that stood the test of time.
Then, around 2007, when they were about 19, the duo started making a splash as the band to have play at your house party – no doubt, they would be playing the ones that had the older, college-aged set as opposed to the teenager parties that are memorable, still, to us who were there, years later, when some kid in high school’s parents went to Europe or the Caribbean, etc. and they’d have, say, 100 people in a big, ritzy house, kegs in the garage, three floors of different stuff going on and, no doubt, the place would have several bedrooms and a study or two for “private” goings-on, etc…But, being 19, I can’t see these two regressing to teeny-bopper parties. From an interview online at stereogum.com, I found the quote that describes this period well: “At first it was just the two of us dicking around and writing songs and just like playing funny house shows where we were like, in the corner, as far back crammed as we could be,” Tinder says of their first real foray into a scene, “At that time, 2007 through 2009, the wild shitty house show was at its absolute climax[.}”During that phase, it was more about the performance aspect of the show than the actual output of the musicians. Their trick was to add some rhythm and melody to crazy sounds on tape sputtering out over a P.A. System. Eventually, however, this got a bit trite and the two decided to pack it in, go back to the drawing board and start whittling away at a genre, at something they could get in on and not be just another dive-bar cover band.
According to the way they put it, there wasn’t any arc that took them from where they were to where they arrived. Sure, like anyone else, there are always influences that, no matter how much one says they don’t have any, still exist, if even subconsciously.
What eventually developed was a bass-heavy, alt.-pop, danse macabre. Sort of “The Cure meets The Cars”, if you will; another words, dark undertones topped with slick, saccharine-free pop. Even though that might sound limiting, as a description, Wampire is more than this, of course, as is any band that gets a “XYZ meets CDE” comparison.
Wampire’s first single, which was, indeed, released as a 2-song, CD-single, was Curiosity‘s opening number, “The Hearse” b/w an otherwise unreleased (not on Curiosity) cover of the classic Kraftwerk song, “Das Modell” (or, for the Deutsche-challenged, “The Model”), which, incidentally, was also covered by Chicago legends Big Black on their Songs About Fucking LP, in 1987. The difference between the two covers is that while Steve Albini & Co. did their cover in a post-punk, snarky, sardonic attitude, Wampire’s cover is more of a dreamy, hypnagogic, updated version of the electronica classic.
Besides “The Hearse”, other tunes on Curiosity include “Orchards”, “Spirit Forest” and “Snacks”, for starters, are, besides being “bass-heavy” are also “keyboard-heavy”, with the guitar(s) in the back at times, although their presence is usually felt. Then there’s “Giants”, a favorite of mine from the album, which starts out with a surf-rock guitar snarl that then whips up the candy-floss keyboards but the guitar keeps up with the rest of it, making for a great whiplash tune. “Outta Money” is another great one on Curiosity. It is slower, with a light touch of a melancholic blue note. It’s not a slow depressing number, it just brings the tempo down a couple notches and shows a more passionate side of Rocky and Eric.
The album winds down with “Magic Light”, an aptly titled song which is also slower than most, but rather than any “blue note”, “Magic Light” is just a dreamy, slow-motion fever-tinged tune that sounds as if it’s a plaintive (“love song” is such a loaded cliché, but…for lack of a better term(??)), calling out to new love with a cry of anxious excitement, if not outright desperation.
All in all, though, I was impressed by the “newness” of the material. Notwithstanding the comparison “The Cure meets The Cars”, Wampire has certainly spent plenty of time together and has been able to hone their craft to a unique sound that is definitely NOT derivative, that defies invitations to be the next “so-and-so”, et cetera.
Since most, if not all, chain record stores have gone out of business, your best bet is to get to any of the many indie record shops around – there’s bound to be one in your area – and one reason that these independent stores are still thriving, while the corporate junk-sellers have gone under is Amazon.com – if you’ve ever bought music or books or just about anything from Amazon, you’ll notice, when you go to pick out the particular item you’re buying, you’ll see that it’s due to be shipped from one of a large number of small independent shops around the country – even in the U.K. – when you click on the cover of the album for which you’re looking, you’ll then get a list of prices and when you pick either the used or the new price, it’ll then take you to a list of the various shops around the US that have copies of said item and you then pick which one you want, based on the price, the shape it reads it’s in and even that particular store’s satisfaction rating (usually in the high 90s). So, thank goodness for Amazon.com, for keeping independents alive and well. That is a wonderful thing to see done in this day and age of the corporate octopi that swallow up “Main Street, USA” mom & pop shops and put in Walmarts and Home Depots and Targets, etc. Besides just Amazon.com, the whole internet is a juggernaut that is redefining and re-energizing the whole idea of the DIY culture, what with “netlabels”, You Tube and Facebook, among other places, where artists can put up there stuff to offer the masses either to give away promo demos or to sell music, art, books, et cetera, to people hungry for quality, merchandise that is NOT mass-produced.