As the Verve's Richard Ashcroft prepared to release his solo album almost six years ago, he talked to MTV news about its intended use, inspired by the "head music" of his youth: "When I was 17, 18 years old, we'd lie on the floor, turn the lights out, put two speakers on either side of our ears, and try to blow our minds with music." Alone With Everybody was a success, but the album that people—including Voyager One multi- instrumentalists Jeramy Koepping and Peter Marchese—really seek to get lifted is the Verve's A Storm in Heaven. Released on the last crest of the British shoegaze wave in 1993, its dense, psychedelic structures and melancholic pop are perhaps the best comparisons V1's new album—their third—Dissolver, subliminally evokes. While the band takes issue with being categorized as shoegaze—a genre marked by droning, distorted guitars and layers of (usually) unintelligible lyrics—"the fact of the matter is we grew up listening to that music, we love that music, and it's got to have influenced us," says Koepping.
Ashcroft went on to say that while blowing people's minds is important, so is providing a melody for them to hang on to. Striving for both is what keeps Voyager One from the realm of My Bloody Valentine–like noise, which, live, one critic likened to "standing in front of a jet engine." It's tempting to reference MBV—and other seminal '90s acts like Ride and Spiritualized—when describing the self-released Dissolver or its predecessors, Monster Zero and From the New Nation of Long Shadows (both on the aptly named Loveless Records), but with each release, V1 move further from "space rock" signifiers.
Made "on no budget and with crappy equipment," says Koepping, at the Kirkland Teen Center's recording studio where he works, Dissolver is the band's best effort yet. It's brief at 40 minutes, but pleasantly drags with stretched and swirling textures—an ideal soundtrack for intoxicated activities of various kinds. "Don't look over your shoulder, baby/Just leave them behind," coaxes primary vocalist Marchese on "Endless Repeat," before Koepping and Liz Green (formerly of the alt-country band American Starlet) duet lazily on "The Good You Do Not Do." "Floating Bridge" recalls instrumental bands like Tristeza tinkering with Underworld's (Pro) toolbox, and in "Life, Truth and Light," a wisely used sample intones of "an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything." What sounds cheesy on countless recordings of this style is used sparingly here—and works.
Each composition on Dissolver is distinct—there's as much stomp, jangle, and dub filtered through the lush arrangements as there is reverb, echo, and delay—belying not only a devotion to rock going back to the Byrds and the Stones, but an attention to experimental electronic music à la Primal Scream's Vanishing Point. The spacey shimmer of opening track "Salvation" is overtaken with an "Under My Thumb" groove and hedonistic chorus to match; the foundation of "The People's Candidate" is the breakbeat from soul group the Winstons' 1969 "Amen Brother," long the most popular sample in drum and bass. V1 aren't necessarily the raving types, though. "Mostly we're into the sort of head-nodding, 4 a.m., psychedelic side (of electronic music)," says Koepping. He's a bit of a crate digger, though Marchese often performs the drum parts that become loops.
For the last two albums, V1's songs were crafted by the larger group; now, Koepping and Marchese have returned to their original state as a production duo, with the band fleshing out to six members onstage. But they're quick to point out that V1 are a septet live, with Kirk Thompson having provided visuals (under the name Projectorhead) since the band's inaugural show in 1998. "He's a mad scientist," says Marchese. "He chops and edits all the good bits of hundreds of old films, hand-etches individual frames with thumbtacks, uses bleach, all these crazy techniques. Nobody has gone to the extremes this guy has gone to." Literally—at one Bumbershoot performance, when the band moved into an unplanned improvisation, Thompson obstructed images to the music's beat, resulting in second- degree burns from resting his wrists on the lightbulbs for too long. "He told us, 'You guys were in this intense moment, and I had to keep going,'" says an astonished Koepping.
The band has its share of superfans who are equally inspired by the music's frequently celestial ambience, like one who presented Koepping with a book on superstring theory after a show. "It's about how the cosmos was created, how everything is tied together, yet not tied together," he explains. "A couple of our fans are really passionate."
Voyager One play the Seattle Art Museum at 5:30 p.m. Thurs., Dec. 15. Free.