In the early ’80s, as the United States started the transition into the Cold War paranoia of the Reagan era, Seattle’s geographically and culturally isolated youth turned to post-punk. Honing in on the nervy, wound-up anxiety the sound gave space to, bands like the Beakers, the Blackouts, and 3 Swimmers started jangling out art-damaged records, followed closely by the then-upstart zine Sub Pop, intent on elevating the albums’ profiles to dismantle the homogenous “pop suprastructure” (which the zine’s proprietor Bruce Pavitt would successfully do years later with Northwest grunge).
Seattle trio Vats’ sound harkens back to that Seattle heyday, albeit without the omnipresent abstract sax skronk of those local post-punk forebears. On Green Glass Room, the group’s first proper full-length album since its formation in 2013, the anxieties are, unsurprisingly, a little different too. The band fends off unwanted advances and overstepped boundaries on “Impenetrable Urge,” where they forewarn, “We have no interest in helping with pent-up frustration/We do not owe you counsel.” The most ominous song on the record, “Melting Culture,” laments technology’s omnipresence in the modern world, zooming in on the obsolete gadgets-turned-garbage piling up on the sides of Seattle roads. Feedback guitar squalls and square factory rhythms percolate under the dirge as the group paints the dystopian picture: “Roadside technology/Roadside trash heap/Broken glass and mangled tubes/ It’s okay/ I bought it new.”
The trio are regulars in the Seattle DIY punk community thanks to their bracing live show, and that energy is on display on Green Glass Room, recorded by prolific underground producer Ian Kurtis Crist at Office Space. That spark ignites what might otherwise be a derivative record. None of the 10 songs (including one cover of German dark electronic group Malaria’s “Your Turn to Run”) tread any particularly exciting new ground for Vats, or for the post-punk sound in general. If you’ve ever listened to Joy Division or Wire, you’ve absolutely heard these tones and styles before, right down to the driving chorus-laden bass lines, precise minimalist drumming, angular guitar, and monotone speak/sing vocals.
Thankfully, the dueling vocalists in the band never adopt fake British accents or attempt to ape Robert Smith’s inimitable cry, two no-no’s that lots of local coldwavers can’t seem to abstain from. What the band might lack in new ideas, however, they make up for in solid songwriting, the album’s title track easily standing as the group’s most tuneful work thus far. The interlocking atypical guitar melodies, warbling bass, choppy rhythmic vocals, and discordant squeals are all familiar early-’80s flourishes that Vats melds into a genuinely catchy, earwormy new iteration. Even though the band isn’t reinventing the wheel on Green Grass Room, there’s something comforting in its tonal torch-bearing for those long-forgotten earlier local bands—a satisfying temporal connect-the-dots between today’s Northwest DIY scene and the pioneers who helped foment it. Green Glass Room is out now on End of Time Records and vatsseattle.bandcamp.com.