One glance at Vondelpark might have you ready to crown them captains of the James Blake bandwagon, given the similarities between the two. Yet this UK trio has been pumping out silky smooth dub/R&B for almost five years now, compared to James’ three. After two solid EPs and mounting buzz, their debut LP, Seabed, does share much in common with the “Retrograde” singer (they also cite Arthur Russell and Drake as major influences), but what makes Vondelpark special is their ability to warm like a fire during a snowstorm, while Blake’s music prefers to stay out in the frigid air.
What’s striking about Seabed is how well Vondelpark function as a band, something exceedingly rare for this type of beat-heavy Euro dub. Forty-five seconds into lead track “Quest”, singer Lewis Rainsbury’s velvet-lined baritone is interrupted by a guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place on one of The xx’s more pop-friendly cuts. These seamless transitions between recorded samples and live instrumentation are topographical anomalies for bands like this, surprising even upon repeat listens.
Rainsbury & co. are clearly well-versed in the forefathers of the UK bass movement, but there’s evidence they keep one eye on the Top 40 charts as well. The guitar line that drives album centerpiece “California Analog Dream” is an earworm on par with “Call Me Maybe”, resulting in a much more inviting and tender take than the version that appeared on their 2010 Sauna EP. Other highlights include the starry-eyed, “Always Forever”, that drips liquid sex despite Ransbury’s virtually unintelligible lyrics.
It may have taken Vondelpark awhile to hone their craft into an album, but the payoff is one of the more promising debuts of 2013.
Essential Tracks: “Quest”, “California Analog Dream”, and “Always Forever”