Unlocking the Vaults: ICA, 3 September 2014

There was something serenely peaceful about attending a music event in the pristine environment of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Darkness fell and the gallery started filling up with a crowd of predominantly white 20-30 year olds, eager to witness the ascension of this much-hyped, enigmatic talent called Vaults. I admit to not having heard about Vaults before but in an age of over-exposure, taking a leap of faith into the unknown is always exciting. And the night did bring its surprises.

The all-black-dressed trio, accompanied by a classical string trio, immediately immersed themselves into their eleven-track long set without uttering a word. The Virgin/EMI signed outfit presented heaps of unreleased material, as well as their well-received tracks Premonitions, Cry No More and Lifespan to a joyous audience.

The sound itself was a layered combination of haunting vocals, cold, echoing bells, and crushing synth lines, which coalesced to create an unexpectedly soulful result. Midway through their set, Orphan (new material) abandoned the epic synth lines, which tended to drown away some of the vocals beforehand, and instead was replaced with radiant guitar tones; it was a great moment of spontaneous sound alteration that fortunately continued throughout the next songs.

Despite the simplistic and slightly derivative production (think London Grammar, Metric, Florence and the Machine, Alt-J etc.) the central female singer managed to inject powerful energy into the audience, with her graceful tai chi-like movements, emotive voice, and, of course, her undeniably alluring stage presence. During the latter part of the night, after Lifespan, the mysterious Blythe Pepino disappeared only to come back moments later wearing a wicker-man-like crown made of bright yellow glow sticks… an image which brings me promptly to the visual side of the night.

Although simple, the lighting design complimented the sound effectively with deep-sea blue, amber green and rich purple colours, instilling a peculiar sense of intimacy into the atmosphere of the night. The show was altogether very well-presented; as the bass disappeared, the mesmerising singer’s vocals managed to convey the subtle and tender melancholy of the lyrics ‘You took what you wanted to take/And yet you never wanted nothing from me’ (Lifespan) and ‘To pull yourself from harm/To be the braver one/ To raise a weary heart/ In a house that’s built on sand’ (Cry No More). Bathed in beautiful green, the band concluded with a haunting soon-to-be-released track called Bloodflow and the audience erupted in rapturous applause.

After the show, I had the pleasure to speak with a few members of the audience and their reaction was unanimously positive, with many of them praising the layered effect and intrigue of Pepino: “What a sound! Very original – almost hypnotic. And the theatricality of the lead vocalist – doesn’t it remind you of Kate Bush? Great performance.”

Selling out a venue like the ICA and delivering a carefully constructed, slow-building, but in the end powerful performance was no small feat; I look forward to seeing what this promising band will have in store for us in the future.

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