[Album Review] The Hydrothermal Vents- Secrets of the Deep!
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by Mark Anthony Brennan
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Label: Independent

If the aquatic theme and the ’50’s sc-fi imagery bring to mind the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” then you are in the right neighbourhood at least, just the wrong subway stop. For one thing, The Hydrothermal Vents are far more serious, even in their weirdest moments. Furthermore, this isn’t the 1950’s as re-envisioned in 1980, it is more like a redux of everything that has happened since 1980, with some ’60’s-style dream pop and contemporary indie thrown in for good measure.

Let’s first start with the strongest connections to the B-52’s: “Shark!” is like “Rock Lobster” redone by Peter, Paul and Mary (while dropping acid), so it’s bouncy, dreamy and fun. In fact, it is probably the most accessible and listenable track on the album. Whether that makes it the best is debatable. Then there is the instrumental “Do the Vent”, which unfortunately stalls out and doesn’t go anywhere, but it starts off sounding like a hyper grunge intro to a B-52’s song. So you could be forgiven for thinking this record is going to be a pastiche of early new wave. But you’d be wrong.

What THV attempt to do here (and it is an commendable effort) is to reinterpret the myriad of influences they draw upon to create a musical language of their own. And their influences are many; from Talking Heads to grunge, from ’60’s folk pop to ’80’s electropop, and from alternative noise pop to new millennium indie. A good example is the song “Hanz (Sleeping With the Starfish)” which condenses virtually all of the aforementioned styles into one, slows things down a notch, sets it to the sounds of throbbing bass and reverberating guitar, and then finally adds THV’s signature vocals, which consists of Tessa Kautzman singing prettily in a higher register and John Tielli responding in a lower (and occasionally resorting to near-spoken-word). The result is something that is vaguely recognizable on the surface but is uncomfortably unfamiliar when you dive into it. 

For the most part, the rest of the album suffers the same fate — it simply isn’t instantly likeable. “Neptune’s Grave” and “Hydrothermal Vents”, for example, take you into such unchartered territory that you find yourself gasping for air in their murky depths. It is a shame because with repeated listens you begin to get an appreciation for what the duo are trying to accomplish.

“Out of the Cages” is an indication of just how weird these two can get, so you have to give them credit for exercising some level of restraint on the rest of the album. However, for THV to achieve any kind of success one of two things have to happen; either they move even further to the middle ground to make it easier on the listener, or else we all have to come around to THV’s way of thinking. I’m kinda rooting for the second option.