The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions is Vegyn’s Approachable, Dynamic Latest

After a weird career detour in 2023, Joseph Thornalley revives his beloved alias for an album that highlights his range.

Music Reviews Vegyn
The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions is Vegyn’s Approachable, Dynamic Latest

As a left-field producer who has carved a lane within the Coachella demographic, Joseph Thornalley (better known as Vegyn) is a singular figure in the modern electronic landscape. The London-based artist got his start making beats in college, before leaving school to pursue music seriously. Around the same time that he dropped his first EP, All Bad Things Have Ended – Your Lunch Included, he started orbiting the post-dubstep scene that was bubbling up from UK clubs like Plastic People. It was at the aforementioned venue that he brushed shoulders with 2010s critical darlings like James Blake and Frank Ocean. The latter eventually tapped Thornalley to work on his influential sophomore album, Blonde, thrusting him into the international spotlight (and helping him land a gig as co-host of Blonded Radio in Grand Theft Auto V). Suddenly, Vegyn’s name was appearing on songs from A-listers like Travis Scott.

As his profile has soared, Thornalley’s solo output has remained intricate and bizarre. His 2019 Vegyn mixtape, Text While Driving If You Want To Meet God!, stretched 71 curt sketches over an hour and 15 minutes. Later that year, he unveiled his official debut, Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds, which split the difference between burbling trap and acidic IDM. And in 2023, he released his weirdest album yet; The Head Hurts but the Heart Knows the Truth was a partnership with spoken-word lyricist Francis Hornsby Clark, arriving under the new band name Headache. Across eight tracks, an AI-generated voice delivered posh sentences over dry instrumentals that evoked ‘90s rave relics. In addition to his own music, Thornalley runs the label PLZ Make It Ruins, and has backed uncanny, off-kilter pop from projects including ARTHUR, OTTO, and George Riley. Whether he’s doling out concussed-sounding beats or pulling strings behind an up-and-comer’s indietronica record, Thornalley has an unparalleled knack for earworms with mildly cursed auras.

Thornalley’s new full-length, The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions, casually flips between the heady and accessible sides of the Vegyn coin. The record came about between moments of transit, as Thornalley bounced around the world for work. Plenty of these tracks would work within the context of a DJ set, but much of the album contrasts Thornalley’s affinity for laptop production. He often embraces hooky tendencies, with many of the pieces here born on guitar and piano.

Thornalley maintains a fairly low public profile, but he proudly fosters a creative community in his shadowy life. The record features drop-ins from the likes of Double Virgo, Matt Maltese and Loraine James. Rising London rapper John Glacier appears on “In The Front” and opener “A Dream Goes On Forever.” Her stoic, effect-laden flow could pass for that of a spunky robot. 20-something Joy Orbison collaborator Léa Sen’s R&B-laced vocals on “Turn Me Inside” result in what might be the most straightforward Vegyn track to-date. “Another 9 Days” plays like Aphex Twin remixing Future Islands, Ethan P. Flynn’s full-bodied singing outlined by rubbery, fractal synths. When Thornalley lets guests take the spotlight, The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions seems deeply removed from his roots in the nightlife world.

For every radio-friendly cut on The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions, though, there is one more glacial and oblique. The middle portion of the record is particularly inventive, and it contains a number of the most polished dance tracks in the Vegyn discography. “Makeshift Tourniquet” is peppy yet nocturnal; a shuffling house beat laden with heavenly, cathartic pads. “Stress Test” is glum and pensive, like looking out the window on a train ride through overcast countryside. “Time Well Spent” offers a slice of bittersweet electro-rock, crisp drum sequencing topped with a mathy guitar riff and samples of voices and fax machines. The most subdued moment on the album arrives towards the end, on “Last Night I Dreamt I was Alone.” Clattering percussion and muted melodies cultivate a push-pull dynamic that feels like an outtake from some long-lost Hyperdub release.

“When I started, I had this intense desire to be loved. I wanted to make things that other people really loved, and create these experiences. And now it’s great. I don’t care,” Thornalley said in a recent and rare interview with Crack Magazine. While it hardly comes across as careless, The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions flaunts a genre-averse attitude that allows his range to shine. The album draws a throughline between the aspects of Thornalley’s sound geared towards the warehouse and those better suited for festival crowds.

Ted Davis is a culture writer, editor and musician from Northern Virginia, currently based in Los Angeles. He is the Music Editor for Merry-Go-Round Magazine. On top of Paste, his work has appeared in Pitchfork, FLOOD Magazine, Aquarium Drunkard, The Alternative, Post-Trash, and a slew of other podcasts, local blogs and zines. You can find Ted on Twitter at @tddvsss.

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