Music Reviews

VHS Collection's New Album ​"Retrofuturism​": An 80's Fever Dream

We didn't want to like it.

Brooklyn-bred electronic rock band, VHS Collection, is compellingly nostalgic, borderline gimmicky, and undeniably fun.

The group's members are long time friends, and were probably the guys in your dorm hall you could always count on to have weed: Conor Cook, James Bohannon, and Nils Vanderlip. Their music makes you feel like you're wearing a beanie and intentionally torn jeans, drunk on Coors Banquet in a dirty Bushwick bar — even when you're sitting in your Midtown cubicle in kitten heels. Apparently, that's an appealing effect, as the band has garnered over 50 million streams on Spotify since 2015, including three tracks featured on the US and Global Viral Charts, and have performed all over the country from Lollapalooza to Austin City Limits, selling out headline shows from coast to coast. VHS Collection has released two EPs to date, and today, Popdust is offering an exclusive first look at VHS Collection's first full album, Retrofuturism.

The album lives up to it's name, offering a call back to the soulful rock ballads of the 80's, and featuring pulsing synths and plenty of reverb, clearly hoping to mentally lead the listener onto a neon-lit dance floor among a throbbing crowd of big hair and body glitter. James Bohannon lends the album true rock-and-roll-front-man vocals, often reciting the lyrics in a rhythmic baritone, but just as easily sliding into an infectious falsetto that you should only try to emulate in private. Meanwhile, Conor Cook's ever-present electric guitar and Nils Vanderlip's versatile synth strike the perfect balance between familiar and otherworldly, supporting Bohannon's vocal prowess and emotional performances.

A literal VHS Collection.

While the band's talent is undeniable, the album reflects most flatteringly on the production wizardry of Chris Zane (Passion Pit, St. Lucia) and Tony Hoffer (The Kooks, Phoenix, Beck). The record masterfully walks a fine line, balancing extreme listenability with an electric techno vibe that would sound at home in any club. We wish the band members had Mohawks and white pleather jackets, but otherwise, you can't ask for much more in terms of a band you can point to as proof that you, "mostly like oldies, but there are a few good modern groups, I guess. Mostly in Brooklyn."

Lyrically, the tracks touch on themes of isolation, love, escapism, and patriotic skepticism. But that doesn't really matter, because they're songs made to be played during a makeover montage in a movie like Sixteen Candles, not to be thought about. To VHS Collection's credit, this album is a journey of levels when listened to in its entirety. The singer laments lost love and lost hope, but also offers the listener a look into moments of carefree abandonment, like in the song "Animal Master" where the singer repeatedly says, "I just can't control myself/I'm an animal/All I know is I need you". An album that leaned into a stylistic choice as much as this one did, could easily become a wash of synth and repetitive choruses, but Retrofuturism manages to offer the listener twelve distinct tracks that make a cohesive whole.

VHS Collection, the human band.

"American Cynic Master" is a standout, a song where Bohannon shows off his vocal and emotional range. The track begins with a soft melodic verse with very little synth (a rarity on this wanna-be Back to the Future soundtrack) but soon the song soars to what will inevitably become a rallying cry for every young "American cynic" who hears this pulse-pumping song while out of their mind on ketamine bought with Grandma's Christmas money: "I'm not your critic/I'm a believer/American Cynic/I'm just a dreamer."

If you've seen the Netflix show Maniac, you already understand the vibe of this album. The record is reminiscent of a 1980's that never was, and is nodding to an image of the past that this generation of 20-somethings have fabricated from the secondhand experiences of 80's movies and music. So what is created is exactly what the title of the album decrees: a retrofuturism, a call to the past and the future simultaneously. The album is the music equivalent of a pair of high-waisted, acid-washed mom jeans — bought new at Urban Outfitters last week. On one hand, it feels like a desperate attempt by VHS Collection to distinguish themselves from the thousands of other techno rock outfits coming out of the cracks in the Brooklyn sidewalk right now, but on the other hand, it's a good fucking time.

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡

The band recently released a remix package for their single "One," featuring takes from RAC, Fred Falke, and Zach Nicita. PRESS HERE to listen.

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.

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