Album Review: Vandoliers – ‘Forever’

The short version: Vandoliers’ ‘Forever’ is the kind of tight, fun album that’s easy to enjoy, has more depth to it than one would expect, and features a unique sonic palette. 

  • Favorite tracks: “Tumbleweed,” “Cigarettes In The Rain,” “Shoshone Rose,” “Sixteen Years,” “Troublemaker”
  • Least favorite track: “Nowhere Fast”
  • Rating: 8/10

Author’s preface: I hate having to address this, but let me give an author’s preface before really digging into this review. Yes, Vandoliers is a band signed to Bloodshot Records. But at The Musical Divide, the actions of one garbage human being will not deter me from covering the artists on their roster (unless of course it’s somehow proved later on that any said artist or band had any hand in the Lydia Loveless case. Even in that case, only that particular band/artist will be excluded). The Musical Divide does not currently work with record labels or publicists due to the small size of this blog, but that only furthers my point that coverage at TMD is given based on what I want to cover, not based upon who I have any standing relationships with. It’s not fair to deny coverage to bands based on something superfluous as what record label they’re signed under. Please note though that while I feel it’s important to point out the relationship between Bloodshot Records and Vandoliers in the following review, that does not equal an endorsement or anything of that nature.

With that out of the way …

The long version: What does “making it” mean to you?

For Dallas, Texas based band, Vandoliers, their big break came through in 2018 when they signed to Bloodshot Records. Their previous releases on State Fair Records weren’t bad by any stretch, but they felt unfinished and a little too off the walls to maintain a solid level of consistency.

But Vandoliers is also a band that’s constantly growing and learning not only about themselves as people, but also crafting a sound that’s undeniably Texas-influenced and unique. Like any good old alt-country story, their origins begin with front man Joshua Fleming veering his sound toward a mixture of country and punk once he discovered the similarities between the two while watching the Marty Stuart Show. The rest is history.

Listening to Vandoliers’ new album, Forever, though, this sounds like an album made by a band that’s finally achieved at least a few of their goals and are still hungry for more. Every element of theirs has been refined and improved immensely on this album, with great production, catchy hooks, and a punk attitude that tips its hat toward country more than most albums these days. Forever is one of those rare kind of albums that would sound better live, but also sounds great as a studio release.

You can tell lyrics aren’t the biggest focus on Forever, but there’s a consistent theme running through this album of narrators staring down crossroads of where to go next. For Vandoliers, that’s reflected in the fact of how they’ve grown the past two years, but it’s also a sign that they don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Of course, the album is never meant to be necessarily dark and heavy. Even more somber tracks like “All On Black” and “Cigarettes In The Rain” come with an optimistic outlook that everything’s going to be alright despite the circumstances. Other times, the band revels in the misery, like on “Troublemaker” with its clever lyrical twists and “Sixteen Years” with that huge hook.

On the other hand, the lyricism also often plays to very broad sketches and clichés at points. “Miles and Miles” isn’t a bad track, and it’s a fitting opener all things considered, but there’s not much to it. “Fallen Again” is also a rather plain downward spiral sort of track where the punch isn’t there in the same way it is on “Cigarettes In The Rain,” a brutal track where the narrator loses out on the one he loves most due to his addictions.

And of course, that’s one moment that really stands out as a highlight in the band’s discography thus far. The other moment is the closer, “Tumbleweed,” a different track that develops its point from the outside perspective and where, despite the pain this old friend has caused the narrator and others for developing too big of an ego, the focus is more on forgiveness than any lingering contempt. Sometimes the road ahead is exciting, and on some of these tracks, that’s reflected well. Other times it’s the unknown that scares us most, and that only leads to personal destruction where the healing still needs to take place.

But again, the lyrics aren’t even really the main focus of this album. In terms of the band’s sound, their brand of punk-infused fiddle-driven country mixed with Mariachi feels much more focused on this album, with the melodic foundations and hooks all the better for it. Fleming’s vocals aren’t going to be for everyone, and to a small extent, I’d have to personally include myself in that group, but it’s that raspy howl that lends itself nicely to the joyously catchy “Sixteen Years.” On that note though, there’s also times where his voice can feel a bit buried or muddied in the mix, with “Fallen Again” and “Nowhere Fast” sticking out as the most obvious examples.

With the addition of some fantastic bass lines driving a good majority of these tracks, Forever is also a groove-heavy fun time. The head thumping groove of “Shoshone Rose” is one example, but the swampier outlaw grooves of tracks like “All On Black” and “Bottom Dollar Boy” also equate to songs that feel more pronounced and full, especially the latter track which was brought over from their debut album.

And between that and the Mariachi horns driving the insanely good “Troublemaker” and “Sixteen Years,” Forever is the rare kind of album that can hit listeners either for its aforementioned lyrical arc or just for something fun to listen to. More than though, it’s a unique sound save for “Nowhere Fast,” a track that just feels like a ripoff of a weaker Bruce Springsteen track.

Forever overall though feels like the celebration of a band happy with their success and still looking eagerly ahead for more. It’s a fun album with a surprising amount of depth to it, and the band has never sounded as tight or consistent as they do now. That’s something worth celebrating indeed.

(Light 8/10)

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