Unfairly or not, expectations were raised for Vita and the Woolf after they made waves at SXSW in 2016. They were listed on several publications’ and websites’ favorite discoveries at the mammoth festival. Their single, “Brett”, which was released just prior to SXSW, sparked interest across the internet, including landing on our 2016 Mega, Mega Playlist of our favorite songs. Jen Pague (vocals/keyboards/synths) and Adam Shumski (drums) suddenly became one of the buzziest bands on the planet. Their plans to record and release their debut album went into full swing with hopes of unveiling it to the world early in 2017. After a couple of false starts, TUNNELS has finally seen the light of day, and it is one of the most awe-inspiring records of the year.
The album’s beauty lies in two elements. The first is Pague’s incredibly powerful and exhilarating vocals. They fill the air like Florence Welch, yet they possess the breathtaking, operatic beauty of Austra’s Katie Stelmanis. Her voice, without exaggeration, is one of the most powerful, dynamic, and memorable in music today. The second is the cinematic soundscapes that the two, long-time friends create with just a couple of instruments. From cosmic to ethereal to haunting to heart-pounding, Vita and the Woolf cover the entire field. The album’s opener, “Sun Drop”, offers a glimpse of what is to come. It starts off as an edgy, sinister electro-rock number, grabbing our attention with the pulsating rhythms and searing synths. The ending, though, is explosive, specifically Pague’s piercing vocals during the aria.
“Mary”, though, is the first time when Vita and the Woolf showcase the knee-buckling power of their art. The music is breathtaking and enrapturing. Pague’s voice takes on a spectacularly intimate quality, whispery at first before blowing us away with her stunning power. Her songwriting is also immaculate, as the song feels like a dedication to a person who has always been at her side. “My dancing days are gone, even though Mary held my hand”, she sings emotionally.
On “Brett”, arguably the album’s highlight, the duo deliver a dark, brooding, methodical number. The start is creepy with the production work sounding like a fluttering heartbeat. The song then slowly intensifies where at the climax Pague and Shumski unleash their fury. It’s an eye-popping, mouth-gaping moment, leaving you wanting more. The mesmerizing and creepy “Feline” sees the band dial down the synth and percussion to create a suspenseful, haunting atmosphere. This is the sound of the antagonist on the prowl. “Please, don’t tell me that you burned it down”, Pague sings with a quiver of hesitation, as if she’s afraid of the answer.
The duo go a bit pop-rock opera on the euphoric “Super Ranger”, a rousing ballad about unrequited love. It is also the one track that Pague really goes all-out Mariah Carey, where her voice rises above everything. On the buzzing “Earth”, Vita and the Woolf channel Florence + The Machine and create a fantasy-like, delirious anthem. “I’ve been digging this earth, digging this earth for you”, cries out Pague, as she tries to convince someone to stay with her and make her home theirs.
The album’s finale, “Qiet”, is another enrapturing experience. It is also the LP’s most uplifting number. Pague’s vocals take on the soulful qualities of Lake Street Dive’s Rachel Price. The instrumentation is more alt-pop than synth-pop. Consequently, the song possesses a richer and more intimate quality, perfectly reflecting Pague’s lyrics of perseverance and determination. In many ways, this song is Vita and the Woolf’s personal anthem. It represents their own struggles to be heard as an independent band and depending on the kindness of friends, family, and strangers to fund their KickStarter campaign to record the album. Thankfully, it finally arrived, and we are the great beneficiaries of an album that truly is spectacularly beautiful and cinematic.
Featured photo by Ebru Yildiz.
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