X Ambassadors Show Incredible Potential on Debut ‘VHS’
Spirited, talented New York newbies X Ambassadors are “pretty good” to say the least. If your ears have been blessed with “Renegades,” or collaborations prior to debut VHS, then you’re aware of the band’s talent. Overall, X Ambassadors get it done, but not without flaws. None of the imperfections ultimately derail or kill the vibe.
“Renegades” is among the biggest attractions from VHS and certainly X Ambassador’s biggest hit within the mainstream. “Renegades” has all the cues working for it – it grooves, it’s catchy, and ultimately well delivered. Follow-up “Unsteady” is another well-rounded track, anchored by its urban sounding hard drums. The soulfully invested vocals of frontman Sam Harris are definitely a selling point.
“Hang On” is ambitious, maybe overambitious given the busy production. Still, give the band credit for having an experimental side that is prevalent throughout VHS. “Gorgeous” easily eclipses “Hang On,” embracing the popular urban-pop sound. In fact, “Gorgeous” sounds like a variant on Nick Jonas hit, “Jealous.” With “Gorgeous,” think blue-eyed soul.
“Fear” featuring fellow alt-rock band Imagine Dragons is interesting. The ambitious, experimental side rears its head, so “Fear” requires a couple of listens to follow it completely. Even if “Fear” is confounding, the big time chorus certainly exemplifies the spirit of rock…or alternative…something like that.
The overactive, hyper-busy (is that even a word?) groove of “Nervous” definitely suits its title. Yes, indeed it makes you a bit ‘nervous’ to listen to, but even if it is the slightest bit overproduced, the chorus is a pro. “Low Life” follows, slowing the pace and stripping back the heavy instrumentation of “Nervous.” Is “Low Life” as interesting without as many sounds? Actually yes, thanks to British singer/songwriter Jamie N Commons’ gruff, expressive vocals, which accentuate the song. Does it trump “Renegades” or “Gorgeous?” “NO.”
The sounds on “B.I.G.” are truly big! Heavy, there is more balance on “B.I.G.” compared to the jittery “Nervous.” You can argue what more comprises the substance of the lyrics than girth itself (LOL), but if crowd pleasing with sensational production is the modus operandi, X Ambassadors have it on lockdown here.
The timing (and groove) of “Feather” makes it worthwhile, even if some may find its lack of straightforwardness a bit confounding. Give ‘em credit for going beyond common time or six-eight. The heat is ignited with “Superpower,” which embodies the industrial sound (think Nine Inch Nails). Sure, it’s unlikely Trent Reznor references Superman, but you never know. “Superpower” is one of the reasons why VHS dons the parental advisory sticker.
“Loveless” ditches the profane for the manic, characterized by quick pace and a driving, hyper- rhythmic groove. Heavy once more, “Loveless” one-ups “Nervous,” despite similarities. Jamie N Commons returns on “Jungle” which benefits from its epic, gargantuan sounds. “Naked” concludes VHS consistently and pleasantly.
Overall, VHS is strong with ample, enjoyable songs to whet taste buds. The eclecticism of the band is definitely one of their selling points. The album is imperfect, but its flaws don’t eclipse its pros. Is VHS Worth the listen and money? Definitely.
Gems: “Renegades,” “Unsteady,” “Gorgeous,” “B.I.G.,” “Superpower & “Jungle”