The San Francisco Bay Area rockers known as The VRBs were born when two members of Audiobender joined with the drummer from Weapon Eleven to form "a whole new sound of contemporary rock with a distinctly '90s feel." Their new release is a double album simply titled The VRBs, but it combines two separate collections titled The White Album and The Black Album. You can download them separately or together on Bandcamp.
The band members are Jared Richard (guitars/vocals), Paul Cingolani (bass), and Jeff Ham (percussion). While not mentioning any specific influences, they describe their songs as "melding powerful vocals, guitar-driven power pop, and neo-grunge." All songs were written by guitarist Richard, with arrangements by the group. Recording took place at Reeds Recordings in Campbell, California. This double set features 15 tracks, so I'll be talking about my favorites.
Having heard the album through, I can tell you it's alternative rock very much in the vein of Pearl Jam's Vs./Vitalogy era, with Jared Richard's lead vocals showing traces of Eddie Vedder, Ozzy Osbourne, and even David Lee Roth. He has that classic rock voice that hits most of the notes and cuts through the buzzing guitars like a hot knife through an ice cream cake.
"Take Me Home" starts the set with descending hardcore guitar riffs that slowly give way to roiling drums and locked-in bass riffing. When these guys mentioned guitar-driven power pop, they weren't kidding! The guitars, bass, and drums are locked in like a Swiss watch, squeezing every bit of juice from each chord. These are not those cheating two-note "power chords" guitarists use to sound heavy (though that's coming soon) but full, across-the-neck voicings that ring and wail. Awesome rock solo too!
"Say Hello" has a good helping of The Killers and The Strokes energy. Based on a fairly simple blues structure, Richard overdubs himself in a higher register for the relentless, unavoidable choruses. I love how the guitars seem to come back alive toward the end, one joining in after the other until the barrage is complete. "New Drug" puts us on a war footing with pounding toms à la "52 Girls" (B-52's) and slashing chunks of guitar that stop and start on a dime. The choruses dare to recall the glory of The Sweet or The Knack. The topic isn't new (paging Huey Lewis), but that barely matters! "Paper Claims" again mirrors classic Van Halen and Roth.
"Without You" is based on a skeletal descending riff on bass and then guitars, joined by sweet, heartfelt harmonies for a surprising trip back to late '60s power pop. The choruses sound like a great lost single by a one-hit-wonder band. "Scream for Me" spreads the musical diversity into disco for a danceable, funky romp heavily dependent on spicy 7th chords. Disc One ends with yet another surprising detour into waltz time with "Under the Sea," which has the lush, pop sheen of a teen dance closing song. Halfway through, the volume kicks up, and we're back to classic alternative rock. A perfect "intermission" track!
"Gravity" opens part two with an ominous rumbling, followed by "emergency alarm" fuzz guitars and wailing leads. Right away, the boys feel more serious, heavier, and not willing to mess around: when they sing "gravity," it sounds like a threat! "Closer" features a fuzzed-out bass and slashing guitar chords atop a marching John Fogerty-style riff.
This one takes its time getting funky and provides lots of "air" between guitar chords, while the vocals seem to insinuate many amorous adventures ahead. "Hog" is dominated by phase-shifted guitar surrounding dark, Sabbath-like vocals: "Our friends are what you might call strange / They lack moral fiber."
"Do You Remember" is another minor-key tune that starts like a ballad but blasts in with guitar choruses so nasty they should be illegal, along with super intense vocals by Mr. Richard. A late favorite! If anything, "Blow It Up" ups the blazing guitar ante even further, with Richard displaying the trademark sneer of Quay Lewd. It's almost like the guys can't wait to hit the finish line and just keep playing faster to get there.
"Run" moves into yet another genre, Tex Mex. Shimmery desert guitars and pickaxe drums play a tune that could be the soundtrack of a Sergio Leone potboiler, with Richards singing like a cowboy wracked with regrets. The unrelenting chorus chants of "cry!" are especially powerful. "Down the Mountain" is a nine-minute epic that ends the second album with a more introspective vibe, with Richard in Eddie Vedder mode (I can almost see his eyeballs fluttering!). The guitars quiet down significantly, giving the drums and bass a lot more spotlight. The middle section has a sweet, pared-down dialogue between (clean) lead guitar and drums that sound different from everything that's come before. The final section could be a different song entirely but still fits perfectly.
This is an especially lengthy album, but amazingly there's very little repetition and tons of variety within its basic framework. The songs are all top-tier with some real gems throughout. Great work!