By: Joseph Kathmann
So I'm gonna essentially spoil my review right off the bat. VHS is not an album. It is a compilation of singles, thrown together with a horrible attempt at cohesion using what's meant to be a VHS player playing different memories from a person's life. However, the singles are fantastic, and some of my favorites of the year thus far. "Renegades" has already hit number 1 on the Alternative charts, and I expect several more songs from this album to hit that spot in the upcoming weeks as well.
If this first paragraph is any indication, it should tell you that I, on a general, surface level, enjoy an album made up entirely of decent singles. VHS certainly delivers on this front. We'll get to why I'm so high on this album but first? Lyrics. Lyrically, this album sucks. Let's just get that out of the way. Most of the songs try to be "edgy" and are made for today's mainstream hipster, with lyrics like "Won't you follow me into the jungle/ain't no God on the streets in the heart of the jungle." This is from the song "The Jungle," which was a major hit a few months ago. Wow guys, you're so edgy with a refrain like that! But it doesn't matter.....I freaking love this song. It's not my favorite from the album, but I can't help but jam out whenever I hear it. It's catchy, what can I say?
Ok, I can't help but laugh at that thumbnail. They're trying to hard to be edgy! Just stop! Do what you do best: make catchy music. So why am I so high on this album? Well, besides for the fact that most of the songs are catchy as hell, there's just something about the frontman, Sam Harris, and his brother, Casey Harris. So, personal anecdote: I saw this band live in Virginia back in March and discovered Casey, the band's piano player, is blind. I can't help but respect this band for just this reason alone. However, there's also something about the voice of Sam Harris. It really comes out in songs like "Nervous" and "Unsteady" on this album. He's not afraid to stretch the limits of his voice, which is more than can be said for most singers today. While the lyrics of "Unsteady" are very typical, opening with the line "Hold/hold on/hold on to me/cause I'm a little unsteady," Sam Harris makes the song extremely interesting and fun to listen to just with what he does with his voice. And yes, he makes the song, and many others on this album, good. In my highly subjective opinion.
There were a few other bold tracks on here as well. It was obvious these guys were simply throwing as many ideas against the wall as possible and seeing what stuck. Not all did. The biggest of these misfires was "Fear," a rather bold and (unusually) unique collaboration with Imagine Dragons. I tried to like the song. They really went all out trying to create something that doesn't sound like every other mainstream Alternative song out there. But, there's just too much production on top of the track tying it down. There's so much crap going on. The production makes this song a convoluted mess, because more is always better, right? Well....not so much here. Honestly I would love to hear a stripped-down version of this track, with just the band and the basic parts. I think that could be a great song. Such a wasted opportunity....
There isn't much else to say about this album. At the end of the day, I still had fun listening to it, and I've found myself playing it quite a bit in the car. I just wish they owned up to the fact that it is a compilation of singles thrown together and not bothered to include the VHS interludes. Honestly, I'm still not sure if that was supposed to be a VHS player. It certainly didn't sound like one, (since I'm old enough to remember what those sounded like) but why would you call the album VHS and then not make the interludes VHS-related? I don't know, and I don't care. It was just silly, and a horrible attempt at creating cohesion between songs. Despite the negatives, I'm still very high on this album because the singles are catchy, fun, and some of the songs are even good. This album is destined for my guilty pleasure list, and I'm certainly not ashamed to admit that.
My Number: 7/10
Derek: Hans, you took the words right out of my mouth. This is, at its core, a collection of singles thrown together and sprinkled with some pointless interludes to call it an album. This could very well have been a X Ambassadors greatest hits album, spanning two decades of band development and a rotating cast of bandmates, that's about how much cohesion can be found here. Whereas a band like alt-J can add interludes to an album that actually make sense, this feels like X Ambassadors were trying to make a concept album for the sake of having a concept album.
For me this album had too much layering, too much production, and was too schizophrenic to be taken seriously. Yes, some of the songs are catchy; yes, these singles will get airplay. That being said, whatever meaning and emotions many of these songs were trying to communicate get lost in the sheer number of things going on. There are just too many bells and whistles. It's fitting that they collaborated with Imagine Dragons on a track because I have the same complaint about them too. Everything is overproduced to the point where I don't know what to listen to. So I won't.
My Number: 3/10
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.