Copies of the Vaad's debut, Kissing the Sea on the Lips, should come with a foldout map — street names and specific locations are that important. A hapless tourist navigates Paris' Champs-Élysées in "The American," while on the next track, a streetwalker traipses up and down the titular Christopher Street. Elsewhere, we hear of a social club on Weaver Street, a brokedown philosopher dropping knowledge on Zydu Street and more names of cities, countries and Great Lakes than you can count on two hands. This level of intimate detail is fitting for multidisciplinary artist Ben Kaplan, who helms the Vaad and has been kicking around these songs, in some form, for the past seven years. Kissing isn't a one-man show, however: Local musicians John Horton, Jack Petracek and Mary Alice Wood contribute throughout the disc's nine tracks alongside Kaplan's friends and collaborators from outside of St. Louis.
The album's neatly carved-out sense of place helps Kaplan juggle the themes of disorientation and belonging that reappear in these songs. "The American" takes the stereotype of an innocent abroad and turns it into a sweet, sardonic love song. That same out-of-placeness gives "Across the Green Line" its sense of despair and hopelessness amid images of an endless Middle Eastern struggle. But those are Kaplan's global concerns; his local odes describe a private universe, as on the beautiful, bucolic mood "Back Porch Swing." Kaplan's guest musicians fill in on guitar, bass and drums, though nearly every song is carried by a drum-machine pattern, which places the album's tone somewhere between electronic, slightly experimental rock and more traditional rock and folk forms. The rhythmic patterns and pulses on a song like "Back Porch Swing," along with mutating, swarming synth chords, give the song a dreamy, amorphous quality. Only on "Niagara" does the synthetic rhythm overpower the song and push the vocals too hard and too fast. Elsewhere, though, Kaplan holds the center of this project together with a warm, worn tenor voice that's part storyteller, part tour guide and part singer.
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