If it feels like Vukovi’s rise hasn’t been nearly as meteoric as some of their peers, that’s because the path they’ve travelled to get to here has had a fair few more twists in it. They might have started out as a capable but generally untapped math-rock band, but falling off the radar for a while before reinventing themselves in a more focused, pop-rock-adjacent mould was a rather sizable shift that, unfortunately, saw them fall victim to some kneecapped momentum, even if their platform was a lot bigger. For the past few years, it hasn’t felt as though Vukovi have been growing as a band rather than pressing forward as much as they can, and that is disappointing when their self-titled debut showed they are capable of great things. But for a band who seem to be against the elements whichever way they turn, pressing forward is an admirable quality, and the fact that Fall Better exists at all shows an impressive resilience and desire to evolve even amongst everything else.
And this certainly does feel like an evolution, as Vukovi once again give their sound another rather significant overhaul into a heavier, more electronically-driven form of alt-rock that might be a bit unrefined at this stage, but has a grasp for the contemporary without being watered-down and without compromising genuine creativity. As far as pop-rock goes, this is unequivocally Vukovi’s own path that they’ve carved, and between a handful of impressively strong directions and melody that’s always been there but has really come into its own, this does feel like the one for Vukovi to settle on a turn into something huge.
Of course, it’s not like Fall Better is the finished product quite yet, especially from a production standpoint where it becomes obvious that a bit more time needs to be taken in fine-tuning the balance and modulation of what’s here. The guitars are blaring and wrestle with the synths in a clash that draws some rather sturdy thematic parallels, but when everything is pressed right up against the front of the mix, it can make a track like Behave feel a bit cluttered, especially with the weight of the percussion on that song that only makes it seem even louder. Compared to a song like Where Are You which is designed to be a bit more open and sweeping (though even then could afford to tone things down just a bit), it highlights how obtrusive the production can be at points, which is a shame as Vukovi are definitely capable of riding with this heavier style when they need to. All That Candy has a phenomenal command of its groove and steamrolling propulsiveness that makes for an obvious highlight, while Aura and C.L.A.U.D.I.A play to nervy tension in quicker, more detailed guitar passages for a backdrop that’s a lot more suited to Janine Shilstone’s howl. As far as pop-rock goes, Vukovi are well and truly kicking back against the uninspired, sanded-back model that’s become such a headache within the genre, and bringing their own ideas through as clearly as they do makes for a constantly engaging – if not always entirely agreeable – listen.
But at the same time, the imperfect, closed-in nature of Fall Better does, in a way, run in tandem with what it’s trying to say, as Shilstone succumbs to the perceived forces that cloud her view and spurn on the reactions to her diagnosed Thought-Action Fusion. The presence begins as a manipulative, almost infantalising force on Violent Minds, but it morphs into almost an alter-ego defined by recklessness and the impulses of the id on C.L.A.U.D.I.A and Play With Me ‘Cos I Can Take It, and there’s a sense of helplessness that makes Shilstone’s reaction all the more potent. She calls out for help from someone who’s no longer but whom she desperately needs on Where Are You, and regardless of any power she believes she has over this force, a track like Run/Hide has it lurking and ready to emerge again whenever it’s ready.
It’s the sort of distinctly human framing you’d expect from a band currently rising through Britrock’s most fruitful time for honest, confessional material in a long time, and that drive does set Vukoki in good stead moving forward. Fall Better feels like an album that could open some significant doors for them, settling on a more distinct sound and vision than ever before and doing a lot to lay down a path that’s arguably their most solid and definitive to date. It’s a shame they’ve not quite nailed it to the point where this could unequivocally be the start of something huge, but they’re closer than anyone’s ever really given them credit for, and that does count for something. More than anything, the confidence that’s never been lacking for Vukovi is coming through and crystallising in a noticeable way, and for where they are now with Fall Better, that’s worth more than anything else.
For fans of: Yonaka, Marmozets, Biffy Clyro
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Fall Better’ by Vukovi is released on 24th January on VKVI Records.