The Vacant Lots

Created under isolation, Closure is the fourth album from Brooklyn duo The Vacant Lots and is Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen’s most fully realized work to date. Out September 30th on Fuzz Club Records, the record packs 8 minimal is maximal salvos into 23 minutes that coalesce into a stun-blast soundtrack for today’s shattered society.

New York City’s artistic skyline may have changed immeasurably since the last century, yet the minimalist post-punk/synth-pop duo vividly gouge into the city’s immortal outsider spirit and underground cultural tropes, set against a pulsating backdrop of modern apocalypse.

Their uniquely idiosyncratic path started with bonding through mutual musical obsessions in Burlington, Vermont igniting a compellingly prolific procession of singles, EPs and collaborations, plus Departure (2014), Endless Night (2017) and 2020’s critically-acclaimed Interzone albums – each reflecting and documenting the increasingly surreal times they were made in.

Forged under 2021’s punishing lockdown conditions, Closure finds The Vacant Lots looking inwards. “During the pandemic the two of us were totally isolated in our home studios,” says Jared. “I don’t think the pandemic directly influenced the songs in an obvious way, but merely amplified existing feelings of alienation and isolation. The atmosphere and pervasive uncertainty was more intense but not necessarily a key contributing factor to the songs. I was more impacted by Kobe Bryant’s tragic death than having to social distance indefinitely. Nevertheless, we found ourselves writing in a more direct and vulnerable way than ever before.”

Laced with evocatively concise and lacerating lyrics delivered detached and deadpan, Closure’s spine-chilling onslaught of towering guitar shrapnel, ethereal metallic synth melodies and cold electronic turbulence comes infused with shades of New Order and Jesus And Mary Chain; the kind of modern disco and post-punk grooves that pillaged New York clubs in the 80s. Inevitably, the penetrating spirit of New York electronic trailblazers Suicide haunts the new record with its subterranean gravitational pull, having previously manifested physically when the two-piece befriended the late Alan Vega, leading to collaborations and support spots.

Since Vega’s 2016 death, Jared has joined Alan’s widow and longtime musical ally Liz Lamere in curating the Vega Vault of unreleased material, culminating in co-producing and mixing 2021’s lost album, ‘Mutator’. “With the people who are closest to me who have died, including Alan, you kind of learn how to live with the pain over the years, but it never fully goes away. It’s this lifelong grief but they become part of you. I think this duality of coping with loss comes through on the new album.”

Disco on downers dance beats lashed with gutter-rock guitar riffs underpin the opening ‘Thank You’, with lines like “Thank you for wasting my time” and “Thank you for fucking up my life.” A new take on Blank Generation ethos. ‘Consolation Prize’ slashes with desolate Cramps-ish 80s guitars alongside icy vocals reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot that ravage another theme of reconciling the duality of internal and external conflict; where the struggle of ‘reaching for the stars/life is my consolation prize’ is juxtaposed against the dissolution of a relationship.

‘Eyes Closed’ offers some solution in the redemptive power of music, its opening line, “I can you see you dancing with your eyes closed”, exhaled over blistering synths and euphoric disco groove. This is countered by the despair in tracks like ‘Disintegration’, driven by Moroder-esque basslines and harboring lines such as, “Our love’s disintegrating/and every fragment can’t be replaced” and, plot twist, “I never cared at all.”

Side two’s starter ‘Obsession’ plunges to yet lower levels in the disco of despond yet wrenches its charred soul to greater heights over scabrous synths – blurring the lines between hard-hitting dance music and psych-punk. It’s opening line being the only overt pandemic reference heard on the album, “City chaos, empty bars/Lost in a desolate state”. Written on a Synsonics drum machine and Yamaha CS-10, ‘Chase’ is a prime example of The Vacant Lots making the most with as few parts as possible. It’s another oblique love song that strikes the balance between wanting to dance and taking a pill that plunges you onto the couch. “It’s a song about longing, about the struggle of love across time zones. It’s about the desire to close that gap of separation”, Brian says.

Making for a mesmerising comedown is ‘Red Desert’, a more directly romantic sonic dust-storm set against a bright synth-pop backdrop, taking its name from Michelangelo Antonioni’s cult 1965 film. With the record’s overriding theme of closure as a sense of resolution, final track ‘Burning Bridges’ acts as a beautiful send-off, where a traumatic experience has been resolved and restores the balance to move onwards. “I don’t see closure as an end but rather a beginning,” says Jared, summarising the album’s intentions perfectly: “Sometimes you have to burn bridges to light the road ahead. Through darkness, light.”


 
PHOTO LUZ GALLARDO 2

IMAGES: To download, click above. Artwork by Ivan Liechti. Photo credit to Luz Gallardo.

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