Stranded, Not Lost by VLMVRelease date: February 16, 2018
Label: Fierce Panda
There comes a point for every artist, every liberal and every malcontent, where the fight runs out. Where even the most passionate revolutionaries might reluctantly admit defeat when the cause no longer outweighs the cost. Fighting the powers that be, is exhausting and that reluctant realisation that you simply cannot win can grant a peace of mind that idealism can never offer. VLMV’s Stranded, Not Lost knows this. It soothes the soul; a soundtrack to a quiet and mature acceptance that the battle is over and all we can do is watch as the world comes undone.
VLMV themselves are no strangers to admitting defeat. Following a swift rebranding late last year, the band formerly known as ALMA joined the ranks of what I like to call ‘The Unpronounceables’ – a throng of artists such as !!!, Chvrches, PVT, and Alt J, whose names are pronounced differently to how they are spelt. In many cases, this serves as something of a gimmick (or at the very least, a talking point for journalists like myself to introduce into their album reviews when they can’t think of a better angle) but in the case of VLMV, this couldn’t be further from the fact. There is nothing gimmicky about this band. Their music speaks for itself; tender, delicate and hanging like icicles in your ears. The shimmering textures melt into memory while singer Pete Lambrou’s voice quivers on the very precipice of composure as he bares his soul to the listener. No, this branding rethink was the result of a clash of identities with a Finnish pop artist; a clash where the bigger fish won out by head butting the underdog with a Cease and Desist.
The band, who formed in 2015, have since regrouped and returned with a fresh perspective, dropping their stunning sophomore release which owes as much to the chord progressions and string arrangements of Icelandic demi-gods, Sigur Ros, as it does to the unique blend of talent between Lambrou and Ciaran Moravian (formerly of Codes In The Clouds fame). The duo’s sound undulates amidst classic song song writing and rich, glistening soundscapes with a gradual, almost angelic unfolding. The atmosphere on this record is delicate like gossamer threads but not quite tranquil; a reflective sadness tinges the calm as thoughts of urban claustrophobia colour the ethereal melodies. Exquisite piano licks throw nods at the likes of Nils Frahm and Ludovico Einaudi while Lambrou’s signature guitar sound evokes the ghosts of past projects, Monsters Build Mean Robots and Last Days of Lorca. Lambrou and Morahan have stumbled upon a chemical fusion of singer-songwriter sensibilities with textured electronic elements that dip in and out of they call “ambient-ish, post-something”.
Stand out tracks include If Only I, All These Ghosts, and Little Houses (featuring Tom Hodge). It is on these tracks that Lambrou’s gorgeous vocal tenderly heart-breaks its way through more traditional song structures, leaving a sonic breadcrumb trail that entices the listener to indulge in the album’s visceral melancholia; a reoccurring theme of discontent that bubbles beneath the surface of an otherwise blissful soundscape. The flagship single If Only I reflects on a sense of longing and isolation brought about by being the only one awake “in a town that never sleeps”. The song seems to reflect upon the apparent madness of the world around us. I imagine Lambrou looking out at the spectacular political debacles that are currently playing out on both sides of the Atlantic and contemplating his future in a society that cultivates so much resentment, paranoia and self-loathing.
This record is quietly anxious, earnestly calm and wistfully hopeful. It’s a sigh of acceptance. It’s simultaneously serene and sorrowful in equal measure. With a successful European tour under their belt and a string of notable festival appearances in the pipeline, you would do well to soak up the serene sounds on this record and go let their intimate live show wash over you this summer.