Last year, the U.K. bass act Vondelpark attracted some Internet attention via the a la mode “we’re not doing publicity” thing that is now a cliché. The three twentysomethings — Lewis Rainsbury, Alex Bailey and Matt Law — have since claimed that any such media manipulation was completely unintentional, but hey, it did the job. Sauna, released on the James Blake-revived R&S Records, was a lo-fi pop reimagining of The xx’s sadsack pop, the product of extended jam sessions and heavy editing, with Rainsbury’s emotive, often unintelligible vocals leading from behind.
The boys have cemented a tighter effort on NYC Stuff and NYC Bags while continuing to cherry pick heart-tugging chord progressions and potential loops from their recorded improvisations. Memorable melancholy pervades. The complexion is predictably grey, another reflection of the urban disillusionment that so many young Brits suffer from these days. On the opening “TV,” Rainsbury’s de-tuned Blake-ian vocals sound pleading underneath a vintage Depeche Mode vibe, while the beat and samples on “Feat B” could have been lifted from a Sade torch song. Hope does shine through on the off-kilter R&B “Hipbone,” where Rainsbury sings “And you’ve got it going / got it going / for you” in a not-yet-defeated tone. The timbral choices throughout — nicked post-punk chords, garage kicks and snares — are borrowed, but executed tastefully and with restraint.
So the kids in Vondelpark are a bit bummed out and don’t like being the center of attention, two traits that land them squarely in the crosshairs of the zeitgeist. But no matter how gimmicky, the music on NYC Stuff and NYC Bags speaks for itself. And when it’s this good, people listen.