The Rapidian

Album review: 'Promise Land' by Vox Vidorra

All eyes are on indie-soul band Vox Vidorra after their first album, Promise Land, took home the prestigious and well-deserved album of the year award at this year’s Jammies.
Vox Vidorra

Vox Vidorra /Photo courtesy of WYCE

Where to see Vox Vidorra

March 19 @ The Loft in Lansing, MI

May 7 @ May Day Fest in Detroit, MI

May 13 @ The Mitten Bar in Ludington, MI

May 20 @ Shorts Brewery in Bellaire, MI 

May 21 @ Frauenthal Center in Muskegon, MI 

It would be tempting for Vox Vidorra listeners to focus entirely on singer/frontwoman Molly Bouwsma-Schultz. She is a quite a personality—her powerful voice and commanding stage presence demand the attention of a crowd. But to ignore the other three members would be to overlook some of the band’s most shining aspects. The lush string arrangements composed by Theo Ndawillie II are among the strongest parts of the album. The arrangement in the intro of “Go Your Way” is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and the transition to the song’s verse is equally impressive. The band’s rich vocal harmonies also serve to accent Bouwsma-Schultz’s vocals, enhancing her voice without overpowering it. “Sounds Are Broken” is a great example of this—the Beatles-esque backing vocals add another dimension to an already stellar chorus.

Each song on Promise Land is well-crafted, and the sparse instrumentation showcases the musical chops of each member without becoming overbearing. The record starts on a strong note with song of the year Jammie winner “We’re So Lonely!” This song strikes a near-perfect balance between all the band’s strong points—solid backing vocals, a catchy chorus and a pleasing string arrangement that complements the song nicely.

It would be a sin to talk about this album without at least mentioning the incredible production work by Goon Lagoon’s Tommy Schichtel. They did well to record this album to tape—it adds a certain level of rawness to an already very soulful and emotive record. The vintage keyboards and fat bass tone complement each other well, providing Bouwsma-Schultz a canvas to paint on with her vocals. This is definitely an album to listen to with nice headphones. It truly feels like you’re sitting in the room with them, and each instrument is perfectly clear in the mix. This is equally due to Schichtel’s excellent production work and the band’s ability to avoid stepping on each other’s toes.  

At times, the band’s greatest strength can also be its greatest weakness. They’ve found a (literally) winning formula, but sometimes adhere to it too closely. Many songs on the album start quietly, with Bouwsma-Schultz singing in a low croon. The song builds in intensity until she explodes—belting, flipping into falsetto and performing an array of vocal acrobatics. The “quiet verse, loud chorus” formula is a tried and true one, but at 50 minutes long the album becomes a little tiresome by the end.

That’s not to say the album has no diversity. The album’s title track features only a barebones kick-clap drum pattern and a reverb-soaked lead vocal backed by some beautiful harmonies. This is in sharp contrast to the sprawling, nearly 10-minute-long closer “Let Me Be,” which features another expertly composed string arrangement. Those songs that deviate from the typical structure help provide some additional textures and variety to the album.

Bouwsma-Schultz does, at times, fall into a trap common to singers with her level of talent and vocal range: she uses her incredible range and power too frequently. She’s prone to turn a one-syllable word into five syllables, and toss a few belted-out “whoas,” “yeahs” and “oohs” into just about every song. Eventually, the shock and wonder her voice can create wears off.

Vox Vidorra isn’t necessarily breaking a lot of new ground with Promise Land. The album is unique, but still fits firmly within the nostalgic retro-soul movement that’s brought attention to bands like Lake Street Dive and Alabama Shakes. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They’ve masterfully crafted this album within those parameters. At the end of the day, Promise Land is a remarkable achievement for Vox Vidorra. If this album is any indication, the band has a very promising future ahead of them. 


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