VR SEX- Hard Copy (Album Review)

March 21, 2024


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VR SEX originally started as an outlet for Andrew Clinco (Noel Skum) to explore elements of gothic rock, post punk, and deathrock that didn’t quite fit within the aesthetic he had built with Drab Majesty, but over the years it’s transformed into its own entity.  Early on comparisons between the two bands were unavoidable, with VR SEX sometimes coming off like a grittier version of Drab Majesty that leaned into the guitar and bass a bit more but still utilized quite a bit of synth.  2022’s Rough Dimension was the first sign that the group was heading off in more of its own direction, as the synths had a rawer edge and there was plenty of noisy guitar work that was as catchy as it was loud.  Two years later VR SEX has gone through its biggest transformation to date, as rather than being written solely by Clinco there is now a full lineup and the group wrote their third album Hard Copy collaboratively.  With this context in mind, it makes sense that Hard Copy is the release where the group has gone completely in their own direction and written a noisy yet catchy collection of songs that span everything from gothic rock, post punk, and psych rock.

Where Rough Dimension eased you into some of the abrasive edges with its drearier synths, Hard Copy explodes out of the gate with rawer guitar work that is supported by bass and drums that have some real weight behind them.  There are still some melodies that dance over top of this rougher foundation, but it’s a very different sound right from the start compared to VR SEX’s past material and leans much more into the punk side and even some garage rock.  The collaborative nature of the full band lineup shines through on the recording, as there is more variety from song to song and the focus on the noisier guitar and lumbering bass lines makes this the most different sounding effort to date.  Sometimes it goes a bit more into 80s gothic and deathrock, while other tracks lean a bit more into post punk but you’re never sure just what VR SEX is going to hit stylistically besides the fact that there will be a punchier lead or seedier melody to grab your interest.  Hard Copy’s first half still has the most resemblance to Drab Majesty, as the softer moments on “Inanimate Love” reflect that same dreary and haunting tone, but once the distorted guitars come back in things take a more abrasive turn.  The second half is where the album fully comes into its own and has some of the strongest moments, as “Runaway Runaway” through “In Great Detail” are absolutely stunning.  “Runaway Runaway” opens with a dense wall of noisy instrumentation that pulls from the sheer volume of shoegaze or heavy psych, but transitions over into a slower number that has quite a bit of swagger to it.  I’ve also had “Jenny Killer Glue” and “In Great Detail” on constant repeat, as the former has angular post punk melodies and guitar work that reminds me a bit more of earlier Ty Segall as the riffs expand outwards while the latter embraces a driving tempo and psychedelic flourishes.  Even though the second half slightly overshadows the first, this is still the most consistently engaging a VR SEX album has been and it has some of their best riffs to date.

The vocal work on VR SEX’s material has been split between Baron Montaigne (Antioch Arrow) and Clinco, which has been one of the other key differentiating factors between the band and Drab Majesty.  On Hard Copy there continues to be a regular back and forth between the two, and it also sounds like some of the choruses bring in some of the other members.  Sometimes the rougher edged delivery makes it hard to tell who is who, though when Clinco switches over to his more deadpan take on singing/speaking it becomes much more recognizable.  With how much distortion and effects are being used by the guitar work, sometimes the vocals do get swallowed up in the mix and I found myself wishing they were just a bit louder, but this may also be a matter of taste.  There’s a similar swagger to the vocal delivery when the guitars start to get a bit wilder, and only a band like VR SEX could get you bobbing your head along to lyrics about huffing glue.

Rough Dimension found VR SEX starting to pivot further away from Drab Majesty, and that transformation has reached a new level on Hard Copy.  There’s even more punk and deathrock at play, but also elements of psychedelic and garage rock that give the material a whole slew of different textures.  In many ways it feels like the album I’ve been waiting for from VR SEX since the beginning, as it’s consistently enjoyable from beginning to end and does its own thing.  With the full lineup now involved in writing and recording, it seems like the group has reached new heights and it’ll be exciting to see what happens next.  Hard Copy is available from Dais Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg