The Vines - Vision Valley (2006)

After 2004's lackluster Winning Days and Craig Nicholls' subsequent breakdown, it certainly seemed like the Vines were never to be heard from again. Surprisingly, though, the band persevered: Nicholls was diagnosed with and treated for the neurobiological disorder Asperger's Syndrome, and guitarist Ryan Griffiths and drummer Hamish Rosser stuck by him (bassist Patrick Matthews left to play with Youth Group). The trio recorded Vision Valley in a few small studios around Sydney, and the album has the back-to-basics sound of a band getting back on its feet again. The Vines have consolidated their strengths, sticking to their formula of wound-up, grungey rock and pretty, psych-tinged ballads. Fortunatey, they still do both well, as outbursts like "Anysound" and "Nothin's Comin'" keep it spare and simple, while the title track and "Take Me Back" show that Nicholls and company's softer, lusher songs have nearly as much impact as the harder ones. Especially on the first half of Vision Valley, everything is tight, focused and shiny, particularly on the playful pop of "Candy Daze" and the insidiously catchy single "Don't Listen to the Radio," both of which offer a more bubblegummy take on their rock sound. If anything, Vision Valley almost feels too tightly-constructed, lacking the messiness and loose ends that made the Vines sound like they had so much potential on Highly Evolved. However, "Gross Out" captures some of the freewheeling spirit they had on their debut, and when they stretch out on the lengthy, atmospheric rock of "Dope Train" and the floaty, Pink Floyd-esque album closer "Spaceship," it feels like the Vines may still regain the momentum they had earlier in their career. Vision Valley might be a little predictable, but at least the Vines sound like they're back in control of their lives and music again.


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