Get ready to go on a tropical vacation in the midst of Vermont winter.
No Showers on Vacation, a home-grown UVM band, has just released its first full-length album “Aquaband” on Feb. 26, 2021.
“Aquaband” is the band’s second release in the last year. Junior Sam Lyons, sophomores Emmett Lurssen, Alden Nichols and Pat Maley have created an immersive, subaqueous adventure that entrances their audience with funky instrumental grooves.
NSOV started playing together in the fall of 2019 with Lyons on drum kit, Lurssen on electric guitar, Nichols on keyboard and Maley on saxophone.
Friends from high school, Lyons and Lurssen have been playing with each other for more than four years.
After arriving at UVM, Maley was recruited, and a post to the UVM Class Facebook page brought Nichols to the band.
The band’s sound is heavily influenced by traditional jam bands like Phish, but have integrated many different musical elements from 70s funk and hip-hop. Despite spending “like a billion hours in Phish-land,” Lurssen said, the band has identified their own signature style.
Extremely evident in “Aquaband,” NSOV has created a mosaic of diverse and dynamic ambiances guaranteed to hook and reel their listeners into a trance-like tropical state. Imagine a technicolor, 3-D version of Phish’s first album “The White Tape.”
“We’ve done this album and the last EP all during the pandemic. It’s forced us to record separately and it shows how limitation can sometimes be a good thing,” Lyons said.
Lyons and Lurssen are from California, Nichols from Vermont and Maley from Massachusetts, so creating an album during winter break while on opposite sides of the country is no small task.
All the tracks were self-recorded and mixed by the band members in their bedrooms, and they used Logic and GarageBand to produce and combine each individual part.
“The person who wrote each song produces that song and is in charge of the mix. Because everyone has their own kind of feel, it requires a lot of trust. It’s improvised, communal and trust-based songwriting,” Lurssen said.
The communal songwriting process also pushed the musicians to challenge themselves technically.
Both Lurssen and Maley said they struggled with specific musical elements; for instance, learning to play an arrangement on guitar that was written on a keyboard, and integrating difficult rhythms more sensical to a drummer.
Nichols said that, conceptually, the tracks on the album are best described as “tropical Mario Kart party rock and roll music.” The record captures the band’s playful ingenuity, especially when it comes to mixing unconventional soundscapes and melodies.
The first track, “Chestnut,” is magnetic and offers just a taste of their musical prowess through bubbly, jazz rhythms. Its bright keys and soulful saxophones and guitars set the tone for the album and will leave you wanting more of those smooth jams.
The second track, “Space Trash,” seems to follow suit as Lurssen’s enthralling chorus establishes a lush funk.
The glamour is lost when Nichols attempts to build synthetic key layers below Maley’s repetitive saxophone verse, extending the jam for 15 measures too long.
The band’s Achilles heel is the obvious desire to install space for seemingly improvised jams in every song, which has led to repetition, redundancy, and awkward, clashing melodies.
Songs like “Chonk,” fall flat. An attempt to create a strong and mysterious soundscape falls short, leaving a chaotic and dissonant melange of chords and textures.
To be fair, NSOV has been fighting an uphill battle. Short a bassist, Nichols has been double-tasked with the responsibility of carrying bass lines while also crafting a nuclear, synesthetic experience. Their production value cannot be translated into their live performances, so without a bassist, the bluesy jams of “Aquaband” cannot actually be heard live.
But when they hit the mark, it is spot-on.
“Key” explores many different styles and interesting auditory peculiarities between Lurssen and Nichols’ reinforcing rhythms. Lyons’ building hi-hat beat and woodblock lead into a harmonious rest stop, where the mind is allowed to relax into a melodic dreamscape.
NSOV definitely has songs that shine brighter than others, but “Aquaband” is a true exploration of their musical abilities, and the band’s artistic potential is on full display throughout the record.
Perhaps the most dynamic songs on the album, “Uranium Rain,” “Powdered Milk” and “Gold” have distinct styles, and showcase Maley’s, Nichols’ and Lurssen’s tight technical skill. These tracks are bound to surprise listeners as they explore great ranges of tempo and rhythmic variation.
Having recorded and produced “Aquaband” during the pandemic, NSOV has already managed to overcome several obstacles that have impeded other bands. This includes not being able to play live shows, a central element to their two strongest genre influences: jazz and jam bands.
NSOV also said that the pandemic provided them the opportunity to focus on writing and recording, swept away from the world of dorm common room shows.
“We were kind of an all cover band before coronavirus, and Sam became a powerhouse of writing and brainstorming,” Lurssen said.
“Aquaband” explores many different musical elements, and showcases the band’s technical skill. But it is clear that the best is yet to come.