Congregation of Vapors: Album Review

April 11, 2020 by

“Pies” by Kinga Marciniak

Congregation of Vapors

Produced by Evan Michals & the project director
Recorded at High Bias Recordings in Detroit
Ear in Dead Wax Records

Congregation of Vapors is a study in post-ironic apocalypticism. A stream of self-consciousness that attempts to answer the seminal question, “What the fuck?”

Created by a small cadre of irreverent Detroit apostates, Congregation of Vapors (hereafter to be referred to as “the Congregation”) is a collective endeavor, a guild of sorts. Since little is known about this project, other than what can be gleaned from the liner notes, I will focus my commentary on the songs. Let’s begin.

“I Love You And It’s Killing Me” is an earnest rocker that explores a variety of styles. But no matter what tangent the Congregation wanders off on, the la-la-la-la-las always bring them back to top dead center. One minute they’re at a piano recital, and the next I swear I saw Bobby Keys keeling over in Ronnie Woods’ garage. There’s a cheeky little Clockwork Orange tweak on the way out too. Oh yeah and the whole Ophelia thing! This is a good lead track.

The instrumental, “Rachel Maddow,” is similar to an SAT analogy question. Bob Mould : The Daily Show, Congregation of Vapors : The Rachel Maddow Show. This is great instrumental theme music that recalls Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet of Kids in the Hall fame. Is Rachel Maddow’s producer out there? Are you listening, Steve Benen? Yeah, I bet you are.

The Congregation pays tribute to Jerry Jerry (aka Jerry Woods) with their cover of his casually-paranoid epic “Weird.” (Editor’s note: Jerry Jerry rules for the few who’ve had ears to hear.) This is a tight and noisy rendition, which seems a fitting homage. At one point, after a mention of pestilence, it sounds like Sting shows up on sax. I thought to myself, “furthest from God” indeed. And it ain’t over until a Mothers of Invention-style shred circle breaks out at the very end.

“A Song About Jill” is a menagerie of things that can be done with one’s mouth. Mislabeled “A Song About Everything,” this tune is fittingly jam-ass packed with clever word play. Monotonous and desperate, featuring a most fucked-up mouth trombone solo.

We’ve moved beyond irony when an artist has an inspiration like “A Song About Everything” and goes ahead and writes the thing anyway. The self-knowledge to know that you can never know all there is to know. Impressive. And where can it be found, this mythical tune? This song about Everything? Perhaps this is the playlist for the quest in search of it. And don’t skimp on the trail mix and chicken cacciatore.

To the Congregation’s musical presentation of e e cummings’s poem “the boys i mean are not refined,” I would add that the music takes its cue from the title. Delightfully unrefined, chaotic and atonal, this bit of performance art gives way to a spaced-out, unguided meditation. The bowel-rattling sub-bass reminds me that I mustn’t think bad thoughts. Yes, I can feel them “shake the mountains when they dance.”

I find it troubling to write about “If This Had Been An Actual Emergency” during an actual emergency. But I take great solace in its heartland punk vibe. Bob Dylan trapped inside Dave Pirner’s voice. And now I do know what’s got the best of me. Parlor tricks, power trips. Tapestry of steam. Burn off rust and scars. Things I never really owned. Brilliant shit. And a cacophony that speaks when words fail. Chilling and inclusive.

Congregation of Vapors’ project director describes this record as “a grower, not a show-er.” I agree with that assessment. First time through was a bit jarring, what with all the gear-grinding and genre-hopping. Multiple spins have been rewarded with knowing turns of phrase, crafty melodies and consistently interesting musicianship. Dig it on vinyl in a limited edition only available in select record stores in southeast Michigan. Or you can just stream it on SoundCloud. It’s cool. And don’t forget, the light is on the left side of your head.

Stream here on SoundCloud

“Just Look at This Fucking Pizza” by Brian Kantor

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