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“Uncharted Sonic Territory: The Artistic Revolution of Vast Robot Armies’ ‘The What Gallery'”


In today’s indie rock scene, where bands often blend into a homogenous soundscape, it’s a breath of fresh air when a group emerges that not only distinguishes itself but also pushes the genre’s boundaries. Vast Robot Armies, spearheaded by Jason Thomson, is one such rarity. Their latest offering, “The What Gallery,” serves as a compelling narrative of artistic evolution, unexpected collaborations, and the transformative power of letting go of control.

The initial blueprint for the album was straightforward. Thomson, a seasoned drummer and the band’s lead vocalist and songwriter, aimed to keep the project “in-house.” Teaming up with producer Jordon Zadorozny at the secluded Skylark Park Studio in rural Ontario, the plan was to record the drum tracks in Pembroke and then forward them to Thomson’s Kansas City-based bandmates, Jon Agee and Joseph Wells, for the guitar and bass layers. However, as often happens in the creative process, the original plan took a backseat to serendipity.

A mid-album break to attend a performance by indie rock veterans Shiner in Toronto proved to be a game-changer. Inspired by the experience, Thomson and Zadorozny decided to bring in Shiner’s Jason Gerken and Paul Malinowski to contribute to the album. The outcome was nothing short of transformative. Gerken ended up re-recording all of Thomson’s drum tracks, while Malinowski’s bass became a significant presence on the album. But the surprises didn’t stop there. Multi-instrumentalist Mike Dulin, whom Thomson describes as the album’s “secret weapon,” added an unexpected layer of depth and complexity to the project.

“The What Gallery” is a sprawling, genre-defying indie rock experience that takes listeners on a sonic roller coaster. The opening track, “Like a Bug,” sets the tone with its dark, gritty sound that harkens back to the energy of Queens of the Stone Age. Yet, it’s not a mere imitation; the track is infused with a pop sensibility that makes it uniquely Vast Robot Armies. Thomson’s laid-back vocals serve as a counterpoint to the song’s driving energy, allowing the instrumentation to take center stage. This track serves as a microcosm of the album’s eclectic and unpredictable nature, promising an experience that defies convention and sets the stage for what’s to come.

Another standout, “What Have You Done Lately,” showcases the band’s knack for blending contrasting musical elements into a harmonious whole. The song pairs a gnarly guitar drive with playful piano riffs, creating a sonic landscape that’s both aggressive and whimsical. It’s a musical yin and yang, where each element not only complements but elevates the other. This duality captures the essence of the album—each track is a carefully crafted blend of disparate elements that come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

Producer Zadorozny’s observation that this is an album where the main songwriter has “consciously excised himself from the recording process” is particularly insightful. It’s a risky move, but one that has paid off beautifully. The album retains the essence of a Vast Robot Armies project while being elevated by the contributions of Thomson’s musical comrades. This willingness to step back and let other talents shine is a testament to Thomson’s maturity as an artist and his commitment to serving the music above all else.

What sets “The What Gallery” apart from the run-of-the-mill indie rock albums is its unpredictability. Just when you think you’ve figured out a song, it takes an unexpected turn, often thanks to Dulin’s multi-instrumental contributions. Whether it’s a sudden key change, an unexpected instrumental break, or a haunting backing vocal, the album keeps you engaged from start to finish. It’s this element of surprise that makes each track a revelation and the album as a whole a rewarding journey.

“The What Gallery” is an indie rock album that dares to break the mold. It’s a musical journey that challenges listeners to embrace the unexpected and the beauty of artistic chaos. In a world that often feels overly scripted and predictable, that’s something truly special.