Album Review: Vistas – What Were You Hoping To FInd?

[Retrospect; 2021]

How long can you go without a break? That is, how long can you listen to a band belting out 110% energy before the fatigue sets in? If you’re at a festival, surrounded by a swathe of sun-drenched attendees, all swaying, jumping, and singing along like it’s the last party on Earth, then that communal spirit likely keeps you going for some time. But at home, hearing a band like Vistas throw their best entry for ‘the next indie hit on the radio’ at you over and over for 40 minutes, chances are you might not last the full trip.

The Edinburgh band are almost ruthless in their approach to songwriting, like it’s a submission tactic. Their sophomore album What Were You Hoping To Find? will certainly rouse your spirit or have you cranking up the radio, but as a whole it’s an exhausting document from a band who sound overly eager to please and/or not lose your attention. Four tracks into their album and you’ll find yourself begging them to slow the pace down just for a couple of moments. Vistas don’t do ballads here though. With synth-to-the-max sucker punch after sucker punch your attention is demanded over and over.

This isn’t necessarily a bad quality. This kind of maximalism definitely has a place in the world, even if it isn’t ever entirely original sentiments or sounds the trio are throwing out. Taken on their own it’s easy to get swept up in the individual qualities the songs have. “Tied Up” has an infectious (and all too familiar) bounce to it, not unlike that from The Feeling back in 2006, while “Upside” and the opening title track have a swish, early Surfer Blood garage-rock swagger. “Young Forever” feels like an ecstatic half-memory of your first singalong at a packed gig, and even though it jumbles in hooks from other songs you’ve heard a hundred times, it’s all too easy to get lost in joy of it.

When all dials and levels are set to maximum exhilaration then Vistas sound like all the joyous, infectious British indie music from the mid 2000s stuck into a blender and served as a luminous milkshake: undeniably likely to give you a burst of energy, but probably not good for you in anything other than small doses. “Dayglow” is almost blindingly fluorescent during its instrumental breaks; “Brand New” throws out plain platitudes (“I can open up your eyes”) for the masses in attempt to try and ascend above its own mediocrity; and the flashy and insistent “This Information” takes on the state of the world (“Your balance grows while the world’s disappearing”) but never gets beyond sloganeering that is still stuck in the workshop phase (“You’ll only divide us / With this information, misinformation”).

Even Kaiser Chiefs had tracks like “You Can Have It All” or “Team Mate” on the boyishly vigorous Employment, but Vistas don’t let up here. It’s all the more curious since they attacked with the same tactics on their own debut, Everything Changes in the End. Considering that album came out last year, it’s certainly impressive the trio have churned out another album’s worth of full-blast hits so quickly. Vistas know how to write a big hook, and if they are forever setting themselves on the path of being an anthem band, then judging by What Were You Hoping To Find? this shtick is only going to get more exhausting with each subsequent release, no matter how tantalizing the hooks are. (The seemingly smirking album title and it’s self-referential nod is, however, not lost or unappreciated.)

But there is some hope for change in the final two tracks of the album, even if they aren’t drastic ones. “Some Are Not Meant to Belong” enjoys a more ambling, acoustic pace with vocalist Prentice Robertson cooing with his higher register playfully. Fittingly it feels like a wind down track after all the bluster that came before. Final track “The Love That You Leave Behind” sets its aim high, and all the crashing cymbals and thorny guitar certainly bring the bombast. But here it sounds like the band are building up scaffolding to a grander finale as opposed to starting with everything at max. It’s a rare instance where they could have justifiably extended the track even more for one last hurrah.

After all the bustle and energy that preceded it though, many might not be so keen on increasing the length of What Were You Hoping To Find? in any way. Perhaps if some of the more mediocre middle tracks were culled, and others like the overzealous “Start Again” made snappier, then it would make more sense. But as it is the album is best in small doses so as to save it becoming a tedious, draining experience. Each track here overtakes the previous one’s place in your memory almost instantly, smushing away any recollection like a new, fancy, well-decorated cake thrown on top of another one fancy, well-decorated cake, over and over; the best Vistas song is the last one you heard, so dive in a find a hit if you have the energy.