Douglas Martin’s Dirty Shoes: Green Glass Room and the Emerald Surroundings of VATS

Dirty Shoes returns with a look at one of Seattle's best new bands, VATS.
By    September 1, 2016

vats

Douglas Martin invented King Felix’s K Corner.

Even though we all live in places that could be considered “locales”—unless you live in a remote forest or cave, far, far away from civilization, in which case I might need you to email me to get that Airbnb plug—it’s difficult to gauge what being a local band really means anymore. We have bands who play a lot of shows in the cities they’re from, who record in local studios and sometimes even foster entire scenes from within. But let’s be real with ourselves, the idea of a “local” band pretty much died when Lars Ulrich wanted to buy a pet falcon and found out people were listening to his shit for free on Napster. We’re well into a time in music where anyone who uploads their music to Bandcamp is instantly global.

People often ask me who my favorite band in town is, even people who don’t live here. When La Luz decamped for Los Angeles early this year, I made haste in searching for my “new favorite local band.” I enjoyed a few things coming out of the city over the course of the year’s first half (the debut single from Boyfriends being my go-to for getting drunk and dancing around Douglas Martin Headquarters with a lady friend for a while), but I don’t think there was anything I was willing to fully hang my hat on.

In my personal opinion, it’s been kind of a slow year for rock music I can throw my full enthusiasm behind. Maybe that says more about me than it does the state of rock music, but a spade is a spade.

Enter a trio from Seattle by way of Tacoma, a place where I’ve literally hung my hat for about eighteen years (shout out to Stadium High School), with an album recorded at Office Space, a studio/venue hybrid quickly becoming Seattle’s premier DIY spaces, playing the sort of balmy post-punk extremely difficult to not be reminded of the Pacific Northwest while listening to. Enter a band who will name drop Seattle rock scene legends A-Frames as quickly as they would German band Malaria! Enter a band releasing their first official full-length (after a few promising self-released tapes) on End of Time Records, the label which brought us Wimps, the label owned and operated by Sarah Moody, basically the Mary Anne Hobbs of Seattle DIY punk.

VATS’ Green Glass Room opens with its title track, a spate of gnashing guitar noise like a set of storm clouds, eventually clearing and making way for a snappy, skittery, feedback-peppered post-punk tune reminiscent of Erase Errata rhythmically, early Sleater-Kinney vocally, and containing the kind of woozy, directly catchy surf-rock guitar line Beat Happening pretended they weren’t good at playing, as the whole modus operandi of Beat Happening was to pretend they weren’t good musicians. But “Green Glass Room” isn’t the sum of its parts, it’s the sound of a band fully finding their voice and putting the results up front, evoking touchstones and slapping the table with their own personality simultaneously.  “Green Glass Room” is the recurring dream you have where you hear music but don’t know where it came from, its lyrics evoking a dreamscape littered with emeralds and cellophane.

There’s a split between how the lyrics serve the music of Green Glass Room: The aforementioned dreamscapes filled with images far away from the half-finished buildings and support cranes standing tall over the city of Seattle, a world with castle blocks and precious jewels floating in the sky, a world without debt, a world where the moon is not a reminder of the horrors human beings do to each other in the small hours of morning.

On the other side are those horrors of domination where women are dragged down “into the world that you control,” the horrors of overconsumption: “You find what you love and let it kill you.” The bulk of the lyrics on Green Glass Room, the words formed between the bleating guitars, gusts of feedback, and tight rhythms aren’t so much lyrics are they are battle screeds. On “Impenetrable Urge,” the central lyrics are, “We have no interest in helping with pent-up frustration / We do not owe you council.” Album closer “Half Night” is a rallying cry against the multitude of institutions whose primary goal is to govern what women can and can’t do with their own bodies. The final lyric on “Drag” is “disrupt the order.”

There are dreams and there is the real world. Sometimes dreams are the only way we can escape the struggle.

On par with the band’s excellent rendering of worlds both real and imaginary, VATS happen to be excellent at making music, bordering on exceptional. For instance, the rolling guitar lines of “Uncanny Valley” and “Drag.” The darkened climax of “Excessive Days.” The emotional climax of “Half Night.” Or how they can take that Malaria! influence and turn it into something that wholly represents their sound, and makes it better because of it.

The original version of “Your Turn to Run” is a fine song. It’s insistent, it’s interesting, it’s got this sense of urgency right underneath the surface. But admittedly, it’s a little plodding. VATS cuts out the subtle low synths that make up most of the melody on the original and makes it grungy without implementing the cliches of grunge. The band cuts the song up and rearranges its structure, grooving right through the steady heartbeat that makes up most of the song until it’s just drums and vocals in harmony. It’s a testament to rearranging old songs and making them yours.

Something extra rustles in your heart when a person or group of people are creating art you find worthy of obsessing over while basically living in your backyard. We’ve all experienced this feeling. Regardless of what it means as far as the de-localization of musicians in this weird time in music, with one fell swoop, VATS have become my favorite band in Seattle. As big as the internet seemed not too long ago, it is starting to get smaller and smaller every day. Sharing the same streets as an entity producing interesting art is a matter of pride.