Nearly two years have passed since the arrival of From the New Nation of Long Shadows, Voyager One’s first proper full-length, and by any account, they have been years well spent. Whereas New Nation was completed in just 13 days, Monster Zero took 13 long months. And whereas New Nation faltered in places, at increasing odds with itself as it moved further along in running time, Monster Zero is more cohesive, more elaborate, more mature, and more visionary.
Some might dispute that last adjective. How visionary can a band be if critics constantly invoke comparisons (non-pejorative, I might add, and entirely justified) to Ride, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and other early ’90s shoegazers? In spite of these familiar critical touchstones, however, Voyager One has continued to develop as if the shoegazer movement had continued unabated, which ought to absolve them of any accusations of stagnation or imitation. Though traces of the aforementioned bands are no doubt present, guitarists Jeramy Koepping and Peter Marchese, the core of this Seattle outfit, have undoubtedly come into their own with this release and realized a distinct identity. Some of the strongest proof of this is to be found in “Wires,” a song that sounds as if it were trapped in the multi-dimensional limbo between a psychedelic dance remix and a peculiar recurring dream. Old schoolers will note the definite musical debt here to My Bloody Valentine, yet it sounds undeniably progressive to the contemporary ear. Next comes “Gun,” a track that could have been pulled from a Curve setlist were it not for the subtle digital elements that have really only begun to surface widely in the past few years. And after all that, if it still seems like Voyager One is derivative, check out what Koepping, Marchese & co. do with their cover of Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Bedbugs And Ballyhoo.”
Exactly why or how V1 was able to do on Monster Zero what it could not on New Nation is a curious thought. In addition to the band’s propensity for experimentation, a personnel change might have had an effect on output. Drummer Tony Zuniga has since stepped into the role once held by John Hollis. And, incidentally, by the looks of the Web site, longtime bassist Dayna Loeffler has been replaced by Cody Burns. Whatever the reason, Monster Zero sees the band in its present incarnation pushing toward the elusive, intricate songwriting of Radiohead (I think “Snow Angel Summer” and the title track are testament to this) without sacrificing the pop sensibility that endears them to so many denizens of the Seattle indie scene. Voyager One has leapt off the shoegazers’ clouds and reached for its own stratospheric heights. But — and I add this more as a word of caution than outright cynicism — it will be a precarious climb from this point upward. A wrong step could lead to a very steep fall.