Named after a vintage ’50s motorcycle, this Vancouver, BC quartet — the Kirkham brothers (guitarist Robbie, bassist Chris and drummer Anthony) fronted by Filipina vocalist Cassandra Ford — comes on with the surface trappings of goth horror (starting with Ford’s cover paintings for Fears in the Water) and cabaret decadence (particularly in the musicians’ fashion sense). But the band brings too much melodic focus to its songwriting and too many pop-wise touches to the production to be stuck in the goth box so easily. On the swinging numbers “Metro” (with Ford’s scat-style syncopation on the verses) and “The House of Tasteful Men,” and the ballads “Don’t Go Soft” (“…on breaking my heart”) and “Ghost Train Out,” the melodies, eclectic musicianship (including keyboards and horns) and Ford’s powerful, pitch-perfect, multi-tracked vocals make TVBS sound like a Dark Shadows version of No Doubt. More rocking tracks, such as “Control” and “Valentine,” still manage to show off the band’s musicianship, particularly Anthony’s nimble drumming. The songs can get repetitious; when Cassandra and Robbie (the group’s principal songwriting duo) come up with a good chorus or hook, the band tries to wring the last drop of juice out of it. Despite that tendency, Fears in the Water is still an enjoyable album full of memorable tunes.
The songwriting on El Monstruo is credited to The Vincent Black Shadow as a whole, but additional input doesn’t mean an appreciable change in style. A few of the songs do show TVBS stretching its sound a little. “Dig, Dig, Dig” opens with a brief piano-and-strings intro to the Kirkham brothers’ hard-rock attack and Ford’s tense against-the-rhythm vocal on the chorus. “The Taste of Copper” features an excellent duet between Ford and Chris Kirkham. “Never Met Another Woman Like Me” shuffles along with forlorn saloon-style piano, vibraphone, horns, banjo and ultra-torchy vocals (you can almost picture Ford reclining on top of the piano, swishing her feather boa lazily as she sings). Most of the album, though, simply continues the approach of the debut; “Stupid Intruders,” “Pale Man” (which adds a children’s choir to the chorus), “The Last Few Minutes” and the title track sound like more musical transmissions from the dark side of the tragic kingdom. The only truly weak number on El Monstruo is the closer, “Moon Cake”; the overtones of ’80s mainstream rock on the chorus don’t suit the band so well. But overall, The Vincent Black Shadow avoids the sophomore slump handily.
Head in a Box combines two rocking non-LP originals (“Other People’s Children” and the title track) with a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”
Chris Kirkham also records and performs his own songs under the name Nim Vind. (The three Kirkham brothers are known to open TVBS shows as Nim Vind, with Chris swapping instruments with Robbie and singing lead.) “Saturday Night Creepers” and “Killer Creature Double Feature” stand out as Fashion of Fear‘s most melodic tunes. The rest of this album presents Nim Vind as a Bauhaus-infatuated punk trio, with excellent drumming, occasional horror-movie keyboards and Peter Murphy-influenced vocals. It also offers some real lyrical howlers, such as “Heart-shaped bloodstains drown his dreams in the moonlight” (from “The Midnight Croon”). The CD closes with the danceable “Astronomicon” and the mostly acoustic “Bitter End” and “Interviews with the Icon” (which sounds like a lost track from Bowie’s “Space Oddity” days).
Caveat emptor: At least one other band performs and records as the Vincent Black Shadow. As of early 2009, this Baltimore-based quintet has released two albums of muddy, acid-psych-saturated punk, Vincent Black Shadow and More Deeper, on Heartbreak Beat Records.