Wednesday, July 15, 2009

of faith, power and glory by vnv nation

Anyone who as ever spoken with me at length (or even in brief, I imagine) about music knows that I'm pretty big on electronica. The synth is my homeboy. While I have no doubt that I would have inevitably fallen in love with the genre one way or another, the path that led me to where I am today owes a huge debt of gratitude to VNV Nation. This British/Irish duo, along with futurepop contemporaries Apoptygma Berzerk and Assemblage 23, more or less defined my love for techno music in the early half of this decade. Years later, they still epitomize what I look for in a solid electronic track: they're raw, energetic, have a keen ear for melody, and they're extremely danceable.

Naturally, it is a with a tremendous reserve of goodwill that I approach Of Faith, Power and Glory, the band's newest record and seventh album overall. Historically, VNV's discography is by no means either perfect or consistent. Barring a couple songs, I was none too impressed with either 2002's Futureperfect or 2005's Matter + Form, and on the flipside I've spent years trying to reconcile the fact that it is extremely unlikely that they'll ever again make an album as fully realized as 1999's Empires. That being said, it seems the best they can do at this point in their career is to strive for a solid, satisfying middle ground. 2007's Judgment started this trend and, luckily, Of Faith, Power and Glory seems quite happy to continue it.

When I say that VNV have found a workable formula and stuck to it, I don't mean to imply that the new record is a retread or that the boys have stopped trying. On the contrary, it just seems as if they've reached the plateau that all bands invariably aim for: they've become comfortable being themselves. The necessity for restless invention and tweaking has become secondary to writing songs designed for their already-established sound. This attitude makes it tempting to label Faith as "just another VNV album," and maybe it is, but they're so good at what they do that it scarcely matters.

As with every one of their releases, some of the material clicks and some just doesn't. The downtempo "Ghost" is probably the only song here that I'd say doesn't work at all. I see what Ronan Harris is going for, but it's just too much of a slow-burner and it never quite gets off the ground. On a similar plane, the piano-driven "From My Hands" is pretty and atmospheric, but doesn't do a whole lot to hold my interest. But for every track that doesn't quite click, there are two that do, and -- again, like all VNV albums -- the highlights are so strong that you can spot them a mile off. For one thing, the opening triad of "Sentinel" (amusingly misspelled on the CD cover), "Tomorrow Never Comes," and "The Great Divide" is likely the best 1-2-3 punch the guys have delivered since "Standing"/"Legion"/"Dark Angel" on Empires. While "Tomorrow Never Comes" is perhaps the most straightforward floorkiller of the bunch, "The Great Divide" is practically radio-friendly, and "Sentinel" delivers the kind of soaring synth-pop chorus that New Order would've killed for twenty years ago.

Still, as great as these songs are, they wisely save the very best for last. The majestic "Where There Is Light" is quite simply one of the best songs they have ever put to tape. While still making inherent danceability its number one priority, it also comes equipped with a heartstring-tugging melody and the record's most powerful vocal delivery. Shoot me before I get too corny, but it's dangerously close to being the musical equivalent of standing on a high cliff, arms outstretched, with the wind rippling through your clothes and hair. It's magnificent.

In the end, the album is admirable for being exactly what it sets out to be: a VNV Nation album. With upwards of fifteen years of experience behind them, these guys have been at this long enough and have worked enough magic through their past output that they've earned the right to just sit back and let the mold they've worked so hard to create serve them for a change. Contrary to their abbreviated Victory, Not Vengeance moniker, Of Faith, Power and Glory isn't a victory lap. It's just the kind of record a band makes when they've managed to conquer the world. I mean, where exactly can you go from there?

mp3: "Where There Is Light" by VNV Nation
mp3: "Standing" by VNV Nation

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