Album of the Day: VATS, “Green Glass Room”

With their ice-cold, razor-edged guitars and blank-verse writing style, Seattle, Washington trio VATS mirror the stone-faced, no-bullshit/no-emotion/no-fucks-given M.O. of post-punk forebears like Wire and The Fall. Like those bands’ best records, most of Green Glass Room scans like a pocket guide to enacting a very serious revolution, one where victory is celebrated with a nod and a firm handshake. Most of the songs play out like marching orders. On “Drag,” over a rusted-Slinky guitar line and rigor-mortis percussion, vocalists Sarah, JJ, and Gabe (no last names, please) bellow lyrics that are part insurgent’s instruction manual, part college syllabus on the Situationist movement: “Power in numbers is the failure of lovers/ Make yourself stronger/ disrupt the order.” If all of this makes Green Glass Room sound pretty humorless, that’s because it is—but that’s also the point. There’s something deeply unsettling about the dutiful, expressionless way VATS go about the business of fomenting social change; in their songs, cultural revolution comes because the band has quietly eliminated every other option.

To this end, Green Glass Room is disconcertingly effective. “Impenetrable Urge”—the title of which tellingly twists Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge” into something more opaque—is carved to ribbons by taut slashes of guitar. Its lyrics depict a world where pleasure comes through routine, and its machinelike cadence mirrors that message: “We have no interest in helping with pent-up frustration,” Sarah sternly sings, “We do not owe you counsel.” Their cover of Malaria!’s “Your Turn to Run” is gloomier and feels hollower than the original, crossing it with Wire’s “Being Sucked In Again” and making its lyrics—”There will come a time when I’m your only one”—feel less like a love letter and more like a dictator’s idea of pillow talk. This is Green Glass Room’s great trick: at a time when young punk bands are railing against systemic injustices with power and force, VATS are pulling a Kraftwerkian bait-and-switch, adopting the ice-cold personalities of authoritarian demagogues as a way to expose their dark, sinister power. By cannily layering messages of revolt in small doses, they feel less like a band, and more like embedded mutineers, sneaking out battle plans by slipping well-placed trigger words into State Addresses. “You deny autonomy/ and I control myself,” Gabe announces on “Half Night.” That VATS plays both sides of that equation so perfectly is what makes Green Glass Room so difficult to shake.

J. Edward Keyes

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