Despite what his band's name may suggest, songwriter Tim Bettinson is not from Vancouver. The Australian native decided to name the title of his musical project, Vancouver Sleep Clinic, after the city because of how beautiful he thought it was. While the name may be deceiving, VSC has proven its honesty with its sophomore album, Onwards to Zion.
The album has eleven tracks and was written primarily following Bettinson’s trip to Bali with friends in the fall of last year, according to a press release from the band. Its predecessor, 2017's Revival, received praise for its depth of production and relaxed atmosphere. However, Bettinson has admitted his dissatisfaction with much of his earlier work due to the gap of time between its composition and its release. How has Onwards to Zion, having been written closer to its introduction to an audience, compare?
To begin, it’s much more consistent. It takes the elements VSC has adopted in its artistry and fine–tunes them, bringing out the lethargy in its lyrics and production. There’s a newfound sense of maturity and solace in the way Bettinson sings of themes that have occurred in his transition to adulthood, from longing to sense of self.
Such can be seen on “Bad Dream,” the album’s lead single. It’s a stark indication of Bettinson’s path into what can only be described as “electronic R&B,” as it's characterized by airy vocals and a trance–like sonic structure—as if the song itself is drifting into sleep. Similar things can be said of the project’s only interlude “Lovina Beach (Sunrise),” where VSC masters the act of layering as the simple piano melody fades into the background with that of an electric synth. The title alludes to the house Bettinson and his friends stayed at during the writing of the album, and communicates a range of emotions rather than just happiness.
The song's return to the acoustic mirrors a nostalgia threaded throughout the album. On “I keep searching endlessly,” Bettinson reveals as he reflects on the late passing of a close friend, and audible pain is infused into each syllable. The song is noticeably different, as the rest of the album blends into one lengthy lullaby.
The closing track, “Love Love Love Love Love Love Love Love Love Love Love Love,” relies on sounds more than words. It exists in the same realm as pieces like A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, the latest album by The 1975. Both feature organic–sounding samples distorted electronically, and feel longer than they are. It's one of the highlights of the album, projecting the listener into one final dream before disappearing.
Onwards to Zion adopts the heaviness of life and airs it out, calming us down from the heights of tragedy. Vancouver Sleep Clinic, through its earnest approach to growing older, enables its audience to take a deep breath, despite all that is occurring around them in a chaotic world. Tim Bettinson fuses together the electronic with the acoustic, the desire for the past with the unknown of the future—and in turn releases an acceptance of sorrow with a hope for the better.