Kaspar Baum, formed during lockdown from various bands, wrote, recorded and produced the whole of Vuurland themselves, and it’s amazingly crisp for a debut effort. The Dutch group aim for the lofty, brooding theatrics of Editors or The National, coupled with an alt-rock edge that tries for Joy Division meets Arcade Fire but often falls into a generic sound. Vuurland (roughly “fireland”) is an evocative title, but like much of the album, it’s unclear how it fits into the bigger picture.
Erny Green’s pronounced baritone sits front and centre from minute one, weaving in and out of the serrated guitar jabs of Ugly Black Monster and Licking My Wounds (the latter trying on a pseudo-Springsteen twang that returns on Green Fields). The lack of lyrical heft is immediately apparent through the repetitive hooks that try to convey feeling through tone, rather than, y’know, actual words. Then Funky Coat comes along, a song literally about having a funky coat and the wonkiness veers into Sparks territory: is this so simple/trite/absurd, that it’s actually amazing?
However, the band mostly play it straight, and are at their best when taking a subtler approach, like on the atmospheric Hollow (despite the creeping U2 feels) or acoustic-leaning Kid on the Carpet. Forty One mixes it up with some playground synths and country strumming, another song that overrides the lyrical vacuity with a great arrangement.
Visions closes the album and Erny Green can’t resist one last hurrah, trying on a weathered troubadour style, with lyrics about freedom, salvation as a “shimmering light” and leading the chosen few like some sort of tortured prophet. It’s a deserved final piece of pomp in keeping with the delusions of grandeur that permeate the album.
Despite the gossamer-thin veil between this band and their influences, they still manage to surprise from track to track (for better or worse) and have a clear knack for clean, radio-ready production. If they just dialled down the melodrama a notch and gave the lyrics a little more thought, they’d surely have some hits on their hands.