Keeping up with Vacation’s output takes some effort. The Cincinnati-based quartet — which currently includes guitarist John Hoffman, drummer Dylan McCartney, vocalist/guitarist Jerri Queen and bassist Evan Wolff — has dropped a torrent of releases via various indie labels since surfacing in 2009, nearly all of them anchored by Queen’s first-person-laden lyrics and a brand of Rock & Roll they call “Grit Pop.”
The band’s latest full-length, Mouth Sounds #2699, is available Friday (July 27) through Indiana-based Let’s Pretend Records. In typical Vacation fashion, it’s a whirlwind ride, spitting forth a dozen songs in 27 minutes. Album opener “Action Road” seethes with urgency as corrosive guitars and a driving rhythm section frame Queen’s vocals, which have grown more nuanced and expressive over the years. The first thing we hear him say is, “I’m coming alive.” It’s a telling sentiment for a song that culminates with an unexpected acoustic guitar break before bleeding into the second track, “Broken or Breaking,” a barnburner with even more corrosive guitars and a guttural, almost pleading, emotional thrust. “Broken or Breaking” is two minutes of sonic chaos that recalls Fugazi at its slashing best — or, for those who need a more recent reference, Metz, a Toronto band equally adept at railing against injustices both personal and universal.
“My Fake Life” sounds like a lost transmission from Bee Thousand-era Guided by Voices, a drum-less missive curiously laced with rudimentary keyboards and a bluesy guitar outro marked by this request: “Please let me stay in my fake life.”
“Born On a Bass” is the longest song by far — nearly five minutes of noisy guitar riffage and thunderous bass with incomprehensible vocals that barely emerge from the muck. The very next song, “Deflector Head,” might be the most accessible, with clearly delineated beats and guitar lines and uncommonly discernible lyrics, the most evocative of which is “like a stinking upper lip that’s been smeared with my own shit.” That’s not to say “Deflector Head” is any less gritty or urgent than the tunes that surround it.
In fact, the sequencing of songs is one of the album’s strengths — each track plays off the next in a cohesive yet dynamic way, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Afghan Whigs’ bassist John Curley recorded the album at his Ultrasuede Studios, the longtime locally beloved venue that recently closed after nearly 30 years in existence. Further, Mouth Sounds #2699 was mixed by the band, which includes Queen and Hoffman, both of whom have worked at Ultrasuede for years. (Hoffman co-produced the most recent Wussy record, What Heaven Is Like.)
The band’s studio background gives Mouth Sounds #2699 a sonic leg up. The guitars on “Skyline” — which opens with this instantly recognizable bit of local color: “I took a drive down 75” — are so visceral, so lacerating and engulfing, that it seems as if the listener is literally in the room or on the stage while the band is playing.
Album closer “A Lap as Ken Worthy” might be the most curious song here. There’s an uncommonly wistful tone to Queen’s vocals, and the pace isn’t as frenzied — it’s the culmination of an album that leaves the listener yearning for yet another track. It also includes a bit of studio trickery — about two-thirds of the way through it seems like whatever device you’re listening on is breaking down when, in in fact, the disturbance is intentional.
“Cincinnati doesn’t have a specific sound,” Queen told Stereogum back in 2013. “That can be a blessing or a fucking nightmare when it comes to local artists. It’s a town that should have been but never was, and I think since the turn of the century its people have been searching for some sort of identity. But I think the best bands around have always known exactly who they are and what they want to do. Honesty in music is so important to me.”
His words remain intact five years later: Mouth Sounds #2699 is not just honest; it’s sure to be one of the best Rock & Roll records emanating from the Queen City this year.
Vacation plays a free show Friday at MOTR Pub (1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, motrpub.com) to celebrate Mouth Sounds #2699’s release and launch a tour supporting the album.
UPDATE: Check out the music video for new LP track "Action Road."
For more on Vacation, visit vacation.bandcamp.com and facebook.com/vacationohio.