Whatever your opinion is on the permeation of bass-heavy electronic music into just about every other form of pop, you can’t deny that it’s officially happened. Hell, a few years ago Taylor Swift was singing acoustic serenades to Tim McGraw, now she’s one or two wubs away from a Skrillex collab. But what do we do once critical mass is reached? What happens when the roller coaster passes its highest point and starts coming back down again? Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps of Wampire just might have an answer.
Back in 2007, the two partners were knee-deep in house party schtick as Portland, OR’s resident bassheads (for a time they apparently were best known for stripping down to just their underwear mid-performance). Until, as Tinder explains, “For us to bring our own P.A. and blast a backing track and guitars and get everybody dancing was ideal then but a couple of years later we’re like, besides just loving the parties we were never super into that.” After washing off the glitter and Natty Ice, they decided to crank up the guitars, add a drummer, and start making rock indebted to electro, rather than vice versa.
With that in mind, Wampire’s debut LP, Curiosity, is a record made backwards, at least by today’s bass-dropping standards. Most artists start incorporating drum machines and laptops only after they’ve moved on from traditional instruments. Wampire went the opposite route, resulting in a short-but-sweet assembly of synth pop that’s focused without sounding rigid, fresh yet reverent to a host of A-list influences, and insatiably listenable. The nine tracks that make up Curiosity are even good enough to forgive Tinder and Phipps for what is easily one of the most god-awful album covers of the year.
They blast out of the gate with ferocity as the lead track “The Hearse” finds Wampire running for their lives. With its minor key chord changes and spooky ambient breakdown, it’s essentially a great horror flick in musical form, condensed down to four minutes and 40 seconds. It’s awesomely frantic, Tinder’s warbly singing voice twists and turns as the climax builds, until it you can practically hear his sweat dripping onto the microphone. In a live setting, the song is a powerhouse. Tinder and Phipps’ guitars bounce off one another and harmonize like The Allman Brothers on molly. The addition of a full rhythm section rounds out the sound, further burying any notion of Wampire’s house party roots.
“Orchards” could easily pass as an above average Real Estate track thanks to its lounge chair guitars and sunny aesthetics, but then the “La la laa” chorus hits and the song hops a jet from a stereotypical hipster suburb to Eastern Europe, of all places. This makes sense; Phipps spent time in Germany, where a group of friends bestowed upon him the nickname that would eventually become his band’s moniker. Thankfully that name wasn’t the only think he brought back to the States. Though they’re often buried under fuzz and take a few listens to sink in, these subtle touches of Eastern Europe peppered throughout Curiosity are a rewarding surprise.
Wampire employ much of the same VHS-player haze thrown around by bands like Ariel Pink or Woods, but the Kraut flavor and synthesized afterglow on tracks like funky closer “Magic Light”, allow Wampire to stand out in an crowded field. It’s a good sign when one of the only complaints with Curiosity lies in its unusually short length. These 32 minutes over nine songs total — a total that could easily qualify the collection a long-ish EP — leave you thirsty for further reverse-engineered fun.
Phipps and Tinder’s graduation from bass addicted party animals to a fully-cohesive entity could serve as a model for groups wanting to ease themselves off the ubiquity of garish electro in today’s music scene. A few times through Curiosity might have you realizing that once we reach peak dub, the best way out is to begin to head right back towards where we started.
Essential Tracks: “The Hearse”, “Orchards”, and “Outta Money”