As you might have heard, a certain Tom Vek is back after five long, long years away. Some are calling the delay the cleverest move of his career, increasing anticipation for his second record. Others lost their mind a little at the news he’s back – us included – and all this just on the basis of one song, first single ‘A Chore’, as premiered by Zane Lowe a few weeks ago. But below, we’ve got the first response to the full album, ‘Leisure Seizure’, to be released through Island on June 6. So, was it worth the wait?
‘Hold Your Hand’
As far as reintroducing yourself to the world after five mysterious years away goes, drawling “I’m a lost cowboy / Waiting for the truth that’s written on the wall, yeah” is a pretty striking, yet perfectly enigmatic statement to make. Vek’s voice is perfectly his own, utterly inimitable, yet there’s no giveaway as to what he’s been up to, or what truth he’s waiting for. What’s immediately striking is how much more densely layered these songs are to those of his first album, ‘We Have Sound’ – only ‘Nothing But Green Lights’ from that record achieved anything like the peculiar, spiky building blocks present here.
The first verse is comprised of oddly paired synthy organ couplets over which those non-sequiturs linger intentionally awkwardly. Rapid, kicky drums come in – let’s not forget, Vek’s original trade was as a drummer for The Poverty Jetsets – and the chorus (“Hold your hand” belted over and over) is full of strange arpeggiated synths, a fast stuttering bass line, metronomic guitar pings and various swoops and swishes. It’s really quite hard to put into words, but perhaps the key is its robustness – considering Vek played all these parts himself, piecing them together could have amounted to an incredibly disjointed sound. And it is disjointed, but wonderfully so.
Bounding in on slightly Battles-ish kettle drums and sampled lady “aah”s, ‘Aroused’ is a more fun listen than its predecessor, coming across as some bizarre Teutonic calypso. The best part, however, is the chorus, where Vek bellows “You look arooooouuuuused! You look awaaaaaaake! You are the liiiiight! Turned ooooooon!” over just the kettle drum pattern. The following verse makes it seem as though, sadly, he is actually talking about sleep (or using it as some discombobulated metaphor), but it is much more fun to imagine him booming this in erotic fashion at a startled bedfellow.
His grand comeback, accompanied by a video that might shed some light on his mindset over the past few years…
‘We Do Nothing’
One of the most intriguing facets of Vek’s sound is how his vocals never sound in any hurry to catch up with the intense, strange rhythms of his rickety drum kit, and so it is here. Whilst he’s typically oblique lyrically for the most part, you don’t have to be a genius to work out that the chorus-ish dragged out refrain of “we do nothing with our time” might correspond with the half-decade it took to get this album out. This number is slightly more emotive than the rest so far too – “I haven’t bought flowers but you just don’t seem well,” he sings, over clipped drum fills and bustling, mirror-bounced synths.
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‘World Of Doubt’
Following samples one of the many, many drumbeats he must have recorded onto all those hard drives, a riff comes in like the theme to Kill Bill, which continues unrelenting through the entire song. Structurally it’s pretty simple – creepy electronic organs and synths follow the guitar and cascade around it – but the intrigue sits in the words, again, a series of cryptic nonsense, essentially, that may or may not add up to some semblance of meaning. “The lion’s den is open and you won’t even flinch,” he states, sounding hard and sardonic, ending, “I have my thoughts behind me and they’re really quite cruel.” The intro sounds like a variation on 00:12 – 00:20 here.
The thrumming synths and bass almost hold down a dub rhythm here, as, again, Tom emits cryptic orders and obtuse social challenges – “Why don’t you change your scene and see if you still love it? Hold it down, I’ll introduce…”. He hits some jarring notes vocally here, adding to a pretty tense, nervy feel ground into submission by a snaking, oblique bassline.
Apparently this was the other obvious first single choice, so Tom said in our interview. Its chorus is a catchy thing for sure – he intones “A-P-O-L-O-G-WHYYYYY?” over a cacophony of slightly less-than-crisply recorded, incredibly frantic drums, sparkling bells, and lots of synth whistles. It’s another reminder of Vek’s fairly unique way with percussion – essentially this song is built around a series of beats, there’s little in the way of ear-pleasing melody present, more heavy thwacking bass in the verses. There’s a certain similarity with Liars, and even Mark E. Smith vocally (the way he tags “yeah?” onto the end of a line has that same “and what of it?” shrug as Smith’s “-aaahhhh”).
‘Someone Loves You’
Speaking of beats! ‘Someone Loves You’ is a hell of a lot more danceable than anything else present here – some twonk will probably call this his post-whateverstep moment, but it sounds more as if dance bugs infected Beck’s brain, syncopated synths squelching and bouncing around a skeletal, steady guitar line that stops it from soaring away. Vek hasn’t sold his soul to the blubstep devil.
Oh hang on… This has definitely got an air of the nightbus to it. (Aside: I had to explain the term to Vek when I interviewed him, he looked pretty bemused by it) A grey-sounding synth bed cushions just staccato drum pad ticks and splats and Tom’s voice, making for a much closer, sparser listen than the rest of the record. It’s a lot less busy than the frenetic layering elsewhere, and he’s almost singing – the softness suits him.
‘On A Plate’
“Hallelujah it’s going down, I really thought the sun would never set, I find it easier to think at night when everything is softened by a dim light” – once again, Vek seems to be giving a slight insight into the way he works, and the anxieties that have plagued him over the past five years. It’s paired with an almost fairly industrial riff, not dissimilar to the sort you might hear emanating from Factory Floor’s dark coven, and quite gamelan-sounding drums.
‘You Need To Work Your Heart Out’
We’re in misanthropic mood here, Tom lambasting someone and telling them “you need to work your heart out”, “your heart, it needs a better work out,” which is an interesting concept/conceit. The drums return to a more prominent role, though they’re less thrashed out than earlier on, exploring more exotic rhythm patterns as eddying, cloudy synths blur beneath.
In a way, this could sum up Vek’s relationship with his co-producers Tom Rixton and Liam Howe. In our interview, he described how he had to get other people on board to help him filter his ideas, and stop him throwing away what he’d been labouring away at: “I tried and I failed this time, sweeping it under the carpet, this worthless equipment I blame, you tell me that it’s too bad.” That same sense of fun as ‘Aroused’ returns, synths firing like Space Invaders over organ synths and very locked groove bass. Throughout the record, there’s been this recurring idea of answers and truth, that he never discloses – “this is the answer now,” he sings here. Intriguing indeed.
If you liked ‘We Have Sound’, then you’ll definitely love ‘Leisure Seizure’ – Vek’s taken those compositional ideas that sounded strange and vanguard back in 2005, and managed to still make a record that sounds wholly different to anyone else around at the moment. And if you weren’t into him back then, then the infinitesimal, intricate drumbeats and strange bass sounds that form the backbone of this album should prove fairly irresistible. In short, the wait definitely paid off. Just don’t make it take so bloody long next time, Tom, mmkay?