For a time, Vinyl Theatre genuinely could’ve been the scene’s next big alt-pop band. Natural buzz and groundswell amounts to a lot, but signing to Fueled By Ramen for the release of last year’s Origami could’ve been the crucial stepping stone to superstardom that they needed. But because Fueled By Ramen has a terrible habit of focusing all its resources on its biggest players and no one else, Origami didn’t exactly perform as well as it could have, and thus Vinyl Theatre became the latest band to be cycled out of the roster. At least they landed relatively on their feet, with Starcruiser seeing the band retooling their approach and arrive as the relatively quick follow-up to advance their lofty ambitions even further.
In doing so though, it feels all the more apparant that Vinyl Theatre aren’t quite over the breakup yet, given that they’ve resorted to emulating their former label’s biggest players Twenty One Pilots. And while on paper this seems like a good move for progress considering where trends in alternative music are currently moving, this isn’t something that works for Vinyl Theatre at all. For the impressive number of synth combinations they have at their disposal, they can make about half work with any decent effect; otherwise, they become this week’s botched pop experiment, favouring crashing, overweight beats over any desirable melody.
And in this case, it feels like an unfortunate side effect of how closely the Twenty One Pilots aping goes. It’s most obvious on a song like Knock Knock with its plodding drumbeat, skittering, thinned-out synth and faint piano accents that’s trying to serve as an approximation of Vessel’s style, but it’s not something that feels natural, and alongside an even more brazen take on We Make The Music, there becomes less and less to latch onto. It doesn’t help that some of these tones don’t work regardless of context, like the excruciating squeals of Vandals, or the fact that Vinyl Theatre seem so adamant in crushing everything together so that what guitars are there are actively fighting for space with the blaring synths. Then, of course, there’s Keegan Calmes, and while it’s no secret that his vocal timbre is almost identical to Tyler Joseph’s, his nasal tones still don’t particularly work on their own, especially when he adopts a quicker hip-hop flow and the comparisons couldn’t be more obvious.
Granted, Starcruiser does have its moments of quality, but funnily enough, they come from when Vinyl Theatre actually verge on adopting their own style. Don’t Worry is easily the best example with a smoothness and airy swell that works with an almost R&B-esque suppleness, and with the gentler Masterpiece and the great bass work on Hold Me Down, there’s definitely a kernel of something potent that Vinyl Theatre could easily do more of to forge their own lane in a rather monotonous alt-pop scene. But instead, Starcruiser defaults to an almost overwhelming sense of anonymity, and even then it struggles to effectively utilise that most of the time.
Worse still, this could potentially be an almost unavoidable halt to any progress Vinyl Theatre were making. There was definitely promise there in a more clear-cut pop-rock role, but moving away from that to the extent they have – let alone the fact that they clearly aren’t great at it – could be a hefty kneecap to that momentum. Starcruiser is clearly the work of a band with ambition and a goal, but playing to trends almost to the letter isn’t the way to achieve that, and it probably won’t be long until Vinyl Theatre find out the hard way.
For fans of: Twenty One Pilots, I Don’t Know How But They Found Me, New Politics
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Starcruiser’ by Vinyl Theatre is released on 31st August on Outerwave Records.