Lots of things make me think of David Bowie nowadays, and this CD is one of them. Not that Vox and the Hound ape Bowie to any great extent, but they do hark back to something that he set in motion during the ’80s—when his Let’s Dance album spawned a movement of stylish, elegant dance-rock, with the singers reaching for the heavens. Bowie (and to a lesser extent Bryan Ferry) practically dared a generation of singers to be soulful and great. The likes of ABC and Paul Young took up the challenge in the ’80s, and Vox and the Hound are doing it now.
There’s good reason why vocals feature prominently in the band’s name: Frontman Leo DeJesus’ emotive tones usually carry the show; the band’s arrangements—with textural use of sax, guitar and synths—are about building a wall of sound, not showing off soloists (exception: Rory Callais’ tasty slide guitar solo on “Moxie”). Instead of hiding their ’80s inspirations, the band have some fun with them: Opening track “Recapitated” opens with a sampled voice repeating one rhythmic syllable—think of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”—and “The New 30” has some drum flourishes out of the Phil Collins bag of tricks (the most retro moment, however, has to be a mention of VCR’s on the title track). Local influences aren’t out of the mix altogether—“I Can Taste the Himalayas” pairs an airy melody with a funky George Porter Jr.-esque bassline—but it’s refreshing to hear a soul-based local band reaching outside the box for influences.
The production is likewise more detailed than you hear on many local releases; the layered vocals on “Ethyl” and the sonic layering on “The New 30” make good use of studio possibilities. And of course, none of this would matter if the songwriting didn’t hit the target: The standout, “Heart and Spade” is a terrific song with some Costello-style wordplay (“The taste of her lips lingers on my spine”) and a chorus hook that won’t quit. Lots of albums make you want to see a band live; this one also makes me wish I could turn on MTV and catch their video. (Disclaimer: Lead guitarist Callais, who I’ve never met in person, is a frequent OffBeat collaborator.)