Vanessa Van Basten - Closer to the Small / Dark / Door
Record Label: Robotic Empire
Release Date: December 14, 2010
They're not a solo artist, and they're not women. Vanessa Van Basten is actually a core duo of Italian musicians, featuring a revolving door of guests. Now that that's out of the way, let's begin discussing their album Closer to the Small / Dark / Door. First and foremost, it will undoubtedly fall into the "post-rock" camp. The genre tag will be unavoidable, much to the chagrin of their American distributor Robotic Empire. Van Basten's music falls prey to the clichés of the genre: heavy reverb, echo, slow tempos, repeated quarter and eighth note cymbal hits, droning chords, and more reverb. It's a relatively short album that feels long considering the slow tempos and drones, not to mention the obnoxious empty space between the actual final track and the useless hidden track.
The album succeeds in its varying tones, able to be soothing, frightening, and occasionally optimistic. "Putana" begins with a tough chord rhythm, bearing the influence of contemporary hardcore and metal, but then heads to the moon with soft synthesizer touches, barely audible vocal textures, and even a danceable beat in the song's coda. If Closer needs a single, it would seem to be "Putana," as it captures most of the album's moods.
"L'Uomo Che Comprava Il Tempo," featuring a very tasteful saxophone, actually becomes reminiscent to the Psychedelic Furs' "Sister Europe" as the song creeps along. Van Basten got it right by adding the sax, and the song's execution is as close to perfect as the album might get. The mood, tone, and production are all just right as the sax enters.
As arrangers, Van Basten try to remain interesting enough. Their production ideas meet their music well--not surprisingly of course, as post-rock tends to rely heavily on the studio as an instrument. The problem with the music is that there is nothing terribly original brought to the table. You've heard the ideas before in Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and a slough of post-hardcore bands who dabbled in "ambient music," such as Supermachiner. The album frequently falls prey to its drones and snail tempos, becoming sleepy and walking the line between boring and stimulating. There are sections of the nine-minute "Fuck the Best, Take the Rest" that arguably act as filler for the more exciting moments of the song, where the dark "Scolopendra" meanders for five and a half minutes.
Perhaps the most interesting moment is the acoustic "Domio '95," lilting a folky guitar instead of the more frequent sludge guitars. Quickly, the track turns into a kind of lullaby that sounds akin to both My Bloody Valentine and middle period Echo & The Bunnymen. This is where Van Basten's unique qualities lie, and it is unfortunate that they don't follow this up throughout Closer. The similarly acoustic "La Selva dell'Orba" doesn't match "Domio," but pairing the two songs together on the album was an obvious choice.
Overall, Vanessa Van Basten have a decent record on their hands. It'll surely win over the post-rock nerds, and might win over some contemporary hardcore fans looking for a taste of something else--note Van Basten's "street cred," as they claim to be from Italy's "extreme underground." However, Closer to the Small / Dark / Door is often too slow, fairly unfocused, and uninteresting. Instrumental music often has this problem for rock fans, and post-rock is often a rather sleepy genre. Van Basten will hopefully curb their approach in the future.