I remember a period of my life when the term “Pop” was a little bit of a dirty word. I was into Punk, Grunge and everything else a teenager needs at that age. That stuff still has a special spot in my adolescent heart but over the years my palette has become more refined.
Tangents and nostalgia aside, the debut album from Vaya is the kind of music I would’ve said I hated back in high school but secretly blasted when I got home. Luckily, I can fully admit to liking “Pop” music these days, even in a public forum like this.
The Chicago-based trio released this self-titled gem barely a month ago and I can’t seem to get enough of it. I find myself pinpointing more and more of the band’s influences with every listen. The thing they do so well (and what most really amazing bands do well) is that they don’t attempt to lump their music into one neatly defined genre. Instead, they let that wide range of influences bubble up and explode into a tasty blend of sounds and styles.
The opening track, “I’m Not Listening” has all the ingredients of a power pop hit. The bass line is infectious and Jeff Kelley’s vocals are equally catchy.
Kevin Claxton provides the low-end, but with a baritone guitar instead of your average 4-string bass. The difference might seem negligible but it offers a dimension to the band that is really unique. I couldn’t imagine the track “Neon Skull” without it. The extended range of the baritone guitar is a perfect compliment to Jeff’s treble-y riffs and nearly falsetto vocals.
The band really starts to explore their math-rock influences towards the middle of the album. “Sprawl” calls to mind elements of great Chicago acts like Joan of Arc and Shellac. The major difference is, Vaya manages to retain their pop sensibilities. This is math-rock for the masses.
It seems that whatever style the band explores they do it well. Their guitar work gets even more erratic and angular on the next track ” Disappear”.
A standout in my mind however is the song that follows it called “The Evolution”. If it had more of a dance beat behind it you might think it was a Prince song. However, the catchy chorus is offset by a slew of guitar noise and the pounding rhythm of drummer, Eric Ridder, as the song comes to a climatic end.
Towards the end of the 11-track album is the optimistic “(If Our Tongues Are Tied) We’ll Sing Together”. A catchy tune with a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” sort of tone to it.
The art-school kid in me can’t help but love the subject matter of the album’s closer “My Girl’s a Tetrachromat”. If not for the brilliant composition, and the fact that they managed to fit the word “Tetrachromat” into a chorus, then definitely for the line “I fell in love with a girl who got off on colors”.
Overall, it’s an impressive debut that really bridges the gap between experimental math-rock and pop music. VAYA is bound to get the punks, indie rockers, and everyone in between dancing to these tunes.
Head over to Vaya’s bandcamp page to hear the rest of the album. You can also pick up a physical copy on Vinyl or CD (limited to only 500 copies each!). The band hand screen printed the simple, yet gorgeous artwork so be sure to reward yourself with more than just the digital copy.