The indie frontman has been an interesting case study recently, mostly because nearly all of them can be deposited into one of two camps – the wannabe edgy ‘icon’ (Matty Healy) and the arrogant, dickhead rockstar whose personality is outright ignored by legions of followers (pretty much everyone else). It’s strange that for a movement whose name literally means breaking away from mainstream conventions of style over substance to put music first, most of its biggest shareholders have fallen into the exact same pattern. But look over to VANT and their frontman Mattie Vant, a character who seemingly breaks all of these conventions. Sure, the accusation of rockstar behaviour could be argued (the entire band is named after him, and his face alone adorns the cover of their debut full-length), but VANT have become known recently for injecting the indie-rock template with an energy and relevance that comes from their politicised lyrics, something that mainstream indie has been desperately starved of.
Straight away that sets them ahead of the pack, but VANT also have the skill and know-how to pull it off well. The result is Dumb Blood, an album that hits that sweet spot of rock that’s tailor-made for radio domination, but with a sting in its tail and a refusal to censor its very pertinent message. It’s actually quite surprising just how biting and waspish VANT are; they’re grounded in an undoubtedly mainstream vein of music, but lyrics like “My sister’s got a black eye / She got raped by your first son” betray a restlessness that their peers simply don’t have. From a songwriting perspective, VANT can be a bit too terse to drive home their more nuanced points – Lampoon is probably the best example of this – but as blunt methods of getting a clearly defined point across, Dumb Blood deserves a lot of praise for the subject matter it addresses. Where the endpoint for more accessible acts straying into more conscious territory is the current fractured state of humanity and the fear-mongering that spurs it on (which is tackled on Put Down Your Gun), VANT go even deeper, touching on the crisis in Syria on The Answer and the frightening prevalence of sexual assaults on Parking Lot. When they go for a broader narrative on the state of the world like on Fly-By Alien and Headed For The Sun, the overall feeling is less assertive and like it’s treading on ground that’s been covered numerous times (though the former framed as the perspective of a passing extraterrestrial is a nice touch), and while VANT clearly have their ears to the ground in terms of what’s going on in the world, moments like these feel that they’re missing the extra layers of detail that makes the best-written tracks resonate as much as they do.
But taking into account the musical canvas that VANT play with, it’s hardly a surprise that there are some thinly-spread areas. This isn’t a hardcore album whose primary objective is to hammer in its own personal ideologies; at its core, Dumb Blood is designed to appeal to a mainstream audience, and that it does that while still managing to deliver a tangible message is no mean feat. For the most part, this is indie-rock at its most hook-laden, from the scuzzy Karma Seeker with its big shout-along chorus to Peace & Love which is a guaranteed radio smash waiting to happen. What’s more, there are already hints that VANT aren’t limited to this particular path, that being the seven-minute-long Are We Free? with its creeping half-grunge, half-post-punk cascade of riffs that’s far more impressive than what’s possible from the confines of the restrictive indie straitjacket. Whatever VANT try on Dumb Blood, the results are almost always strong; the only moment of stumbling comes in Parasite whose more ragged production feels disruptive to the album’s flow, and is the only track where you can really tell that a lot of this album consists of earlier EP tracks bunched together.
But even so, there’s a lot of distinctive quality on show on Dumb Blood, even more impressive considering the very real possibility of VANT being lumped in with various other faceless indie bands. What’s actually on show is a compelling, boldly topical album that might carry its fair share of flaws, but makes up for it by being just as good as it is. The buzz around VANT has been ongoing for a while now concerning their live show and previous EPs, but with a full-length project finally out, there’s ample evidence that they can transcend the current restrictions of modern indie into a seriously potent force.
For fans of: The Strokes, Wolf Alice, The Hives
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Dumb Blood’ by VANT is out now on Parlophone Records.