'Fall Better'- Vukovi / Turned Up Louder
After a three-year wait, followed by a string of singles released over the course of a year, fans of Scottish pop-rockers Vukovi are, by now, yearning for a second full-length body of work, containing all the cutting sass and proud self-acceptance that they have come to expect, and adore, from the band’s songs, shows and entire philosophy. And finally, that album is here. Titled ‘Fall Better’, the record really does what it says on the tin- taking inspiration from some of the darkest human emotions, and attempting to confront, conquer and build upon the remnants of them. Stepping out of their comfort zone and into the unknown, musically as well as lyrically, may have been a big risk for the ambitious duo, but it has delivered in abundance.
The introductory interlude, ‘17359’ gurgles up, almost like a much darker reflection of the intro to Wham!’s ‘Club Tropicana’, as the haunting echo of jungle sounds resonates, alongside an eerily robotic voiceover, building to a fizzing crescendo, before the plummet into the guitars of ‘Violent Minds’, which fizz and scythe with the viciousness of a wasp. Drums ripple like water over stones in the intro to the chorus, with an infectiously catchy hook to the bassline that makes hip-swinging impossible to resist! Vocalist Janine’s idiosyncratic vocals are almost melded with the melody, as if the soaring vocals peer from behind a thin veil. Lead single ‘C.L.A.U.D.I.A’ was released almost a full year before the record itself- Vukovi like to keep us on our toes! Bringing a sucker-punch of a chorus, which has already seen many a raucous live outing, the real bite is in the crashing cymbals that flank the introduction to each chorus, complimenting all the unapologetic sass that Vukovi are known and loved for.
With this second full-length, however, Vukovi haven’t been afraid of taking risks when it comes to experimenting with even poppier, more electronic elements. Pulsating, clubland beats rise from the depths of ‘Play With Me ‘Cos I Can Take It’, firing outwards into a pulsating, electronic starburst of hauntingly droning notes and staccato drums, making for a very heady concoction. The biting disdain of Janine’s vocals is more potent than ever, yet the whole track needs a few listens to really sink in.
At times, exploring the myriad of possibilities that enhanced electronics provide doesn’t quite hit home, however. The guitar tone in the verses of ‘White Lies’ is simply delightful- creeping and deliberate, as the vocals shimmer and crawl over the top. Yet the iridescent, electronic shimmer of the chorus doesn’t quite carry the mosh-pit-starting hook that you might anticipate; though the eventual return of a cutting riff in the closing moments ensures that the rockier notes remain intact.
Far from the delicate ballad its title suggests, drums shove their way into prominence on ‘Aura’, as the distortion on the vocal effects breaks into a cantering, pop-rock chorus. Here, we get the first track that is almost saccharinely upbeat- the feeling of sugar-induced mania diluted into a relentless melody and undulating bassline. Yet the lyrical refrain ‘don’t be scared, you’re not alone, we’re weirdos too’ perfectly captures the message of this record- sometimes indulging in the madness, internal and external, and letting yourself free-fall through the chaos, is the only way to truly live freely. This sticky sweetness rears its head again in the second interlude, ‘Verify Your Worth’, as the blaring electronic sirens emerge with even more ferocity. The return of the robotic voice-recording, listing a series of defining labels, before winding down eerily, isn’t the most unsettling aspect of this short bookmark-track. A second character’s voice also comes into play: a young girl placating the listener with sickly-sweet assurances, laced with malice.
The next track takes that feeling of dark temptation and delves ever deeper into it. An ethereal chorus of Janine’s harmonies open ‘All That Candy’ and remain lurking in the background of the sliding guitars and darkly sinister vocals. The track’s lyrics speak of the inescapable dark shadow, which vocalist Janine has come to recognise as a physical manifestation of her Thought Action Fusion, a form of OCD, which is characterised across the record as a toxic partner, a presence that over time sticks and binds itself to you in an inescapable embrace.
Though Vukovi’s shows are heralded as spaces that celebrate strength and antagonism, expressing your vulnerability takes an equal amount of strength. The first display of this comes with ‘Behave’, which boasts off-kilter, distorted vocals that filter around the pummelling opening drums, and a virulent, light-hearted melody that glitters with twinkling xylophone-esque synth notes peppered throughout. Lyrically, the song’s message stands as a stark contrast, taking the desperation of clinging to a relationship on the brink of collapse and channelling it as the irrepressible driving force behind the melody.
While Janine’s personal vulnerabilities are explored across the entire record, they are felt most potently in its latter stages. The swelling introductory guitar line of ‘I’m Sorry’ bounces and bounds skywards, but then filters off into a touchingly soft verse, filled with delicate pain and laced with apologies. Though the chorus swings up a gear to compliment the soaring vocal lines and beautifully layered harmonies, the entire track feels crafted with a lighter touch than its predecessors, and has all the more grandiose, pop-ballad magic for it.
Similarly, on ‘Where Are You’, the guitar tone changes entirely: far from being deep and grumbling, it now shines brightly golden, with all the singeing potency of an arena-filling rock anthem. The rumble in the belly of the pre-chorus hints at a return to ass-kicking derision, but this chorus takes on a different kind of rousing elevation, with the arrival of huge, swinging guitars and a lighter-waving grandeur. With other tracks on the record, the deeply vulnerable personal experiences that inform the lyrics are woven so tightly to the raucous melody lines that they require some searching before you find the perfect spot to connect with them. Whereas here, stripping away some of the electronics leaves you with tracks that are a step down in pace and revelry, but a more immediately accessible window into the heart and soul from whence they came.
Bringing all the rousing ferocity of the album’s early moments back with a bang is closer ‘Run/Hide’. The driving lead guitar that punches through the chorus and the return of the cast of characters’ voices leads into a flurry of pummelling drums that make for a fist-waving finale.
Performing live is where Vukovi shine most brightly, and there is no doubt that these tracks will be sensational additions to the set, when partnered with a sea of flickering lights and a packed-out room of raised fists and bouncing heads. Lyrically, the songs’ dark poetry resonates clearly and profoundly, and after a few listens, they will embed themselves as powerful, shout-along anthems. ‘Fall Better’ embraces the darkness and turns the pain of it into a search for a powerful new sense of autonomy- truly mighty stuff.
'Fall Better' is out this Friday, January 24th, on Vukovi's own label, VKVI Records.
Check out the video for the latest single, 'All That Candy', below:
Vukovi will be touring the UK in support of 'Fall Better' this month- dates can e found below and remaining tickets are available here: