Essential New Music: Joseph Airport’s “Vector 23”

Vector 23, the seventh LP from multi-city rockers Joseph Airport, is the song cycle about infamous airplane hijacker D.B. Cooper that maybe we didn’t need but should be grateful exists. In 1971, Cooper, whose true identity is unknown, extorted a $200,000 ransom and parachuted over southwestern Washington, never to be found, though there are, shall we say, a lot of theories about it all. It’s a fascinating story worth further investigation, but listening to Vector 23 will be more enjoyable.

Band members Matthew Cutter (vocals/lyrics), Dan Nolan (bass), Joe Patterson (guitar), Ben Penry (guitar), Jereme Sanborn (guitar/keyboard) and Jason Short (drums) initially bonded online over a shared love of Guided By Voices—and Cutter penned the definitive Robert Pollard biography—so it’s unsurprising that Pollard’s tunefulness and occasional eccentricity are clear inspirations (though never derivatively so), especially on nuggets like “Looks Like Tacoma Down There” and the closing “The Cat Burglar’s Deathbed Confession.” Vector 23 is also full of driving post-punk (unstoppably catchy opener “Picnic At Tena Bar,” “Agents Await Your Arrival”), Bowie-inflected art rock (“The Missing Minute”) and, at least to one listener, shades of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd (“Take Me To Reno”).

“I don’t think the Barrett comparison’s off base, but we didn’t intentionally emulate him,” says Cutter from his Rockville, Md., home. “Early Floyd is definitely an influence for a few of us. Mostly, we like to rock out and make weird music.”

Vector 23’s genesis dates back six years, with the band working on it in fits and starts, setting the concept aside while concurrently creating a number of fine LPs and EPs released in the interim.

“Jereme and I recorded demos of ‘Take Me To Reno’ and ‘The Cat Burglar’s Deathbed Confession’ in 2016 or so,” says Cutter. “I wrote a bunch more lyrics and started matching them to instrumentals, and we tracked a handful of songs together in Ohio about three years ago. Then the pandemic hit before we could finish, so it became a process of learning how to do it long distance.”

All of this leaves the painfully obvious question: “Why a record about D.B. Cooper?” While “Why not?” would’ve sufficiently answered such a query, Cutter graciously elaborated on his thought process.

“I dig historical enigmas,” says Cutter. “The ‘Paul is dead’ saga is my favorite mystery story in rock. I get obsessed with a subject, read and write all I can about it and move on. Otherwise, I’d be writing lyrics about love or the American road, and no one wants me to do that.”

Matt Hickey