Replete with waistcoats and wide collars, Waterford five-piece O Emperor present themselves as heirs to the late 1960s/early 1970s psychedelic folk scene. Vitreous, the band's follow-up to 2010 debut, Choice-nominated Hither Thither, is left-field enough to retain that bygone quality, adopting the era's proggy excess while remaining defiantly mature and original. The result is peculiar, occasionally disconcerting and rarely predictable. Assiduously unconventional though it may be, Vitreous meanders too much to leave a lasting impression; off-putting in the same sense the dislocation of waking through a feverish fug at an indeterminate pre-dawn hour can be off-putting.
Despite a slender 29 minutes' running-time, Vitreous points to multiple musical touchstones. Marginally less melodic, less textured and less 'Radiohead' than Hither Thither, O Emperor's gentle piano again takes centre stage, and when the band hit their stride, the overall effect recalls Grizzly Bear or Villagers. Typically idiosyncratic opener, 'Grandmother Mountain', a counter-intuitive lament for the grotty city recounted over a miscellany of noodling musical tangents and detours, is not hugely meaty, but is indicative of the wistful vocals and late-Beatles/Floydian psychedelic leanings which feature throughout. Second track and lead single 'Holy Fool' retains those languid vocals, but thumps and zings along clinically. 'Contact', with its jarring, stabbing guitar, stands out as more dramatic than anything else on Vitreous. Though buried half-way through, it exudes the urgency one wishes O Emperor had brought more often and functions as a lynchpin to sustain the album. Ghostly sounds akin to a music box bolster the tipsy haze of 'Minuet', but the album is derailed more than once by borderline dreary fare ('Brainchild', 'Soft in the Head'). 'This Is It', the aptly-titled album closer, finds the group reaching for Sigur Rós post-rock grandeur.
In the end, it's unclear in which sense Vitreous is indeed glass-like. More opaque than transparent, the album is all a little tumultuous, and while the other-worldly dissonance between the quieter and more expansive elements is no doubt intentional, it results in a slightly incoherent sophomore effort which is, ironically, just a bit too hither and a bit too thither.
Review by Killian Barry | Two Stars