#9 – VACATIONER – GONE [spotify]

(feat. track – “Be With You” [spotify])

Vacationer were born of a collaboration between members of disco revivalists Body Language and Kenneth Vasoli, late of emo-punks The Starting Line and Radiohead apostles/impressionists Person L, but Vasoli doesn’t want you to know that, or at least he didn’t for a long while. At the band’s inception, info on the group was, well, hard to find, at best; even today, their Facebook page makes no mention of the band’s members. It’s understandable; emo casts a long, ugly shadow, and Vacationer needed a moment in the sun if it was going to blossom. With Gone, they’ve bloomed into something truly gorgeous.

The band couldn’t be more aptly named. The Vacationer tincture finds Vasoli’s loping basslines swirled with hip-hop beats, tinkling steel drums, looping snippets of digitally manipulated guitar, and distant echoes of strings and horns, all dusted in a coating of crackly dirty-vinyl static. The production is hazy, with lots of dense, swampy space enveloping the clean instrumentation. The end result is something akin to staring at an oasis through the gentle distortions of squiggly desert heat. It’s a sound all its own – less 80’s-indebted than chillwave, more beat-driven and less thickety than shoegaze, bubblier than trip-hop. It’s the sound of dream-pop transmissions from an intergalactic Polynesia; the band has dubbed nü-hula.

It’s a sound that works well live, too. I caught Vacationer twice this year, once opening for Danish indie-pop act The Asteroids Galaxy Tour in the 1,200 cap Irving Plaza, once at (of all places) a Lomography shop during SXSW that fit maybe 50. The music and atmosphere translated in both rooms, intimate but enveloping, and whether astride a big stage or huddled together atop a small riser, the band’s interplay was as captivating as their obvious, and contagious, joy in playing together.

Gone is an album designed for album listening – Vacationer’s greatest charms lie in their skill at setting a mood. The recordings work together to establish a mindspace, a tiny bubble-universe paradise to escape into for a half-hour at a time, before it fizzles away in a snap. But while it’s best listened to en totoGone also happens to be composed of some truly great songs, among the best of Vasoli’s multifarious career. The breezy falsetto fantasies and meditative undergirdings of “Everyone Knows” and “Trip” make for layers of hook on hook; the five-note cascade – first from guitar, later echoed in vocals – that punctuates the end of each stanza of “Be With You” drills down into a chorus and an earworm simultaneously. Gone is packed with tight, if creative, song structures, and they keep the album grounded; it manages the tricky task of being both breezy and compelling.

I’m not sure if Vacationer are breaking through, but they’ve certainly gotten themselves in front of the right audiences – 2012 saw the band out on extended tours with The Naked And Famous and Tennis, among others, and they’re currently on a run opening for the buzz-y Niki And The Dove – and that’s a big accomplishment in itself, considering the baggage Vasoli’s name carries. I’m not sure if it’s due to his cloaking efforts, a booking agency and label with deep ties to the indieverse, or the fact that Gone is an undeniably great record, but something they’ve done here is working where it hasn’t for folks like Patrick Stump. Hopefully, there’s a blueprint here to follow; if so, as wonderful an album as Gone is, it will prove to be the least of Vasoli’s accomplishments.