Vampire Hands doesn't suck, neither blood nor musically

By Megan Wang

Guitars/drums/bass? Check. Reverb/synths/drugs? Check. Falsetto? Check. Party? Check. Such is the self-described life of Vampire Hands, a prodigal artifact of the thriving Minneapolis music scene. They’re a whole different breed of shoegazing, moody psychedelia. Not moody like your whiney pre-teen sister but rather like your alcoholic uncle about to drive his car off a bridge, in the best possible sense of the image. Heavily influenced by ’60s psychedelia, their instrumental experimentation – from noise distortion and driving percussion to pure, even sweet vocals – makes them sound like all the angels in heaven started smoking weed and listening to Can.Vampire Hands is composed of Chris Bierden on bass and vocals, Colin Johnson on percussion, vocals, and general noise, and brothers Alex and Chris Rose on drums and guitar, respectively. “Virgin Dust American Lips,” released Sept. 15, is their first full-length album released on Freedom From (they also have two previous EPs out on Peppermint Coffins) after a two-year career playing illegal (and legal) venues and bars. From the first listen to the album, one thing is clear: these guys have mad skills. Damn near flawless, it uses tribal, driving rhythms and talented bass work as a backdrop for dry vocal harmonies and crunchy-fuzzy guitar embellishments.

The record opens with “Aroo, Piano,” a hypnotic and musically dynamic jam, with reverberating guitar, a beautifully executed bass line, and hints of electronic noise. Bierden’s eerily feminine falsetto chants the senseless “Aroo, piano” over Colin Johnson’s emasculated melodic shrieks. It’s followed up by “Cool Bath,” defined by heavy percussion with sweet harmonizing vocals and crunching guitar ornamentation. “Bath” finishes with a downright tribal 90-second drum solo, highlighting the pure rhythmical genius that is Vampire Hands. “Stunning Blonde” is one of the best tracks. Every instrument serves as its own entity, with the shifty bass, vigorous pounding drums, chugging guitar, and downright trippy lyrics chanting “Technicolor, surround sound and stunning blonde.” It’s matched by the playful “Opium Typhoon,” with a killer buildup eventually uniting the members in something like a glorious exultation of the sun on a bitter winter day. “Egg White Ocean” is a six and a half minute ethereal, psychedelic jam that both Brian Wilson and Sabbath-era Ozzy Osbourne would be proud of.

“Moscow Flowers” rounds the album out, being the only track in which the percussion is moderately turned down. It’s a gothic, circus-like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” in which Bierden’s falsetto lends a childish air to an outright stoner jam. It seamlessly shifts into “Oil Sea,” which starts softly as lyricless vocal noisemaking with a simple overarching snare beat. Then enters a meandering bass line, highly technical drums, and beautiful lyricism in a surreal tale: “the stocker was swift / and he gave her a gift / though it was not eternity.” “Spinning the wheels” is repeated over and over in an intense buildup of reverb and percussion, eventually giving way to a pure guitar drone.

When it comes down to it, Vampire Hands kicks ass, ’nuff said. Pick up the record at Treehouse (27th and Lyndale in Minneapolis), and I promise, it won’t let you down. Their live shows match their studio skills, and may even top them. So as their nationwide tour reaches an end, watch for a slaughter of Minnesota shows in mid-November.