Spend enough time in enough circles within Houston's music scene, and you're bound to meet a good portion of its major players. But sometimes an artist comes around and, for whatever reason, you have no idea who they are. I could say that was the case when I was introduced to the band Vodi, but seeing as how the band is made up of a who's who of Houston artists, it was more like that I wasn't prepared for what their music would do to me. When you grow up being into punk and other music on the fringes of the mainstream, anything that doesn't fit that mold can throw you for a loop.
However, with Vodi, I find myself welcoming the change. Almost as if you took softer music and amped it up, Vodi stands alone in the local scene with an engaging sound not unlike The War On Drugs. On their debut album Talk, released this week, Vodi easily feeds that sound into your ears — and, more importantly, into your heart. In nine songs, they carve out a space in the music world that's all their own without echoing much of what we've all been force-fed over the past 20 years.
Still, peel back the many layers of this album, and you'll find things that remind you of how music sounded in the late '70s and into the '80s. Made up of Tank Lisenbe (Robert Ellis); Austin Sepulvado (Ancient Cat Society, Dollie Barnes, Buxton); Haley Lynch (Dollie Barnes, Ancient Cat Society); and several others who can do far more than just carry a tune, Vodi's lineup is made up of heavy hitters and then some. Still, guitarist, chief songwriter and vocalist Tom Lynch is running the show here, and on Talk he shines like the brightest star in a galaxy full of them. Opening with the reverb-soaked guitar and lip-smacking synth tones of "Notice," over a driving bass line and snappy drums, Vodi quickly makes their presence felt.
The meandering guitars dancing alongside Lynch's vocals create a space where true musicianship thrives, while the song's almost lustful spirit immediately sticks in your head. It's so immediate that you'll find yourself locked in; the music brings to mind children playing in the summer moonlight. As a unit, Vodi makes you aware of how impressive the sum of their parts can be. The catchy, uptempo title track follows, another strong melody that, thanks to the interplay of Lynch's vocals with Haley and Sepulvado, feels like the ingredients of a well prepared meal.
By the third track, "Pressure," you should be pretty in love with the sounds that seep into your headphones. Were Vodi a loud and brash sort of band, the way their guitar tone matches up perfectly with the other instruments wouldn't be as important as it is on this song, or this entire album. That being said, the song's soft and slower should be an instant tipoff how masterfully these six musicians perform together. Despite the slower tempo, it's still a head-bopper thanks to how these artists, and I don't use that word lightly, work in subtle nuances; there's a real art to what's happening here. The band picks up the pace about a half-step on "First Time," adding little stabs from the vibraphone over a foundation of agreeable organ. Again, even with the beautiful arrangement, it's Lynch's register-hopping vocals that steal the show.
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Around "Riverside," Vodi's hooks should be in your gills and you should find yourself being en route to being thrown in the boat. The song takes the band's sound to a higher plane, offering up a new twist on the traditional rock form. The bridge alone should be enough to get you to place the track on repeat, if the drums and driving tempo don't get to you first. The '70s rock worship on "Night Creature" shouldn't deter you from giving it a spin; this song feels like what I was wanted from the bulk of that era when I first experienced it. The twangy guitar and drums up front, but not in an overpowering way, are so easy to like that it deserves its own button on social media. "Quietly" shares similarities to Bob Dylan's Blood On the Tracks era: listen hard enough, and you'll notice Haley Lynch's backing vocals just underneath Tom Lynch's vocals like a Russian nesting doll. They're hard not to hear together, pairing like fine wine and good cheese.
Vodi takes this '70s throwback feel even further on "State Line," though it's the closer, "Gold," that leaves the strongest impression. That tremolo on the opening guitar lick serves as a reminder of the many acts who have tried to add that sound to their repertoire without much success. Lynch stands alone for the bulk of the vocals here, but he carries the song with a rare grace and precision. When the organ kicks in, Lynch opens up like he's singing to the skies, and the track takes your ears to another galaxy. The song is easily one of the strongest of the album, and leaves you wanting a little more.
The album, available on November 4, might be one of the strongest local releases to drop this year. By doing their own thing while embracing a sound largely absent from modern music for 30 years, Vodi carves out a space they can easily own, while making pretty much anyone who hears them an immediate fan for life. Catch Vodi in person this weekend at the album-release party for Talk, featuring special guests El Lago and Astragal, this Saturday, November 4, at Rockefeller's. Doors for the 21 and up show are at 7 p.m.; $10 cover.