Psych pop duo Wampire emerged from the Portland party house scene brazenly riding the wave of lite FM rock fetishism ushered in by groups like Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Cashing in on 2013’s whimsical streak, their debut album, Curiosity, emblazoned the campy dynamics of their peers with a dash of the macabre. Ostensibly comfortable in their station as oddball misfits, Wampire delivered their freakish ax work with equal parts goofiness and groundedness.
Now, the experimental project from Eric Phipps and Rocky Tinder has expanded into a five-piece for Wampire’s sophomore effort, Bazaar. As if to to cement their evolution into the psychedelic big leagues, the group enlisted the aid of Unknown Mortal Orchestra producer Jacob Portrait. What ensues is an eclectic collection of noir rock distilled by newly polished production. That isn’t necessarily a good thing. As a group that drew character from slipshod production values and goofball antics, Wampire’s new attempt at maturity poses a seriously awkward hurdle.
Opening track “The Amazing Heart Attack” begins with a ghoulish cackle that unfurls into frenetic psych rock guitars, eventually simmering down into ringtone synthesizers. That bizarrely diabolical tone underpins much of the album’s first half, resulting in tracks that fall flat from a lack of any sense of identity. It’s as if Wampire are trying to establish themselves in an irascible avant garde, but it just comes off as confusing and contrived. “Bad Attitude” and “Fly on the Wall” follow suit, invoking the grit of ’80s glam rock and dancehall horns. Similarly, “Too Stoned” carries an unwieldy hodgepodge of peppy refrains besieged by an aimless medley of saxophones and cymbals.
Things don’t start getting interesting until “Millennials” comes in during the second half of the album, a return to the hazy ’70s surf rock that sparked the band’s initial charm. “Life of Luxury” further engages this aesthetic, as twangy, languid guitar strums accompany dreamy, drawn-out vocals. But Bazaar lacks a cohesive thread to signify any real musical progression. If the second half of the album signals anything, it’s that Wampire have what it takes to tap into something more resonant without losing any of their quirks. They have the potential for a ripened synth rock sound; they just aren’t there yet.
Essential Tracks: “Millennials”, “Life of Luxury”