Veil Veil Vanish: Change in the Neon Light


RIYL: Pom Pom Diary, The Sounds, White Lies

Metaphor time. Take a chocolate cake, for instance. Even a bad one has some tasty bits, and a good one is always a treat, no matter how many times you’ve had it before. Sure you can feel like you’ve OD’d on too much chocolate, but give it a little time, and you’ll be back for more.

A lot of rock music genres are the same way. The musical elements that define them as a genre or style are the same elements that become quite familiar and overused, both appealing and repetitive all at once. The heavily ’80s-influenced post punk revival of the past decade fits this description to a “T”, as does the debut album by Veil Veil Vanish, Change in the Neon Light. Only seconds in, it is obvious where the San Fran quartet got their recipe; it is all Cure, spiced with Echo & the Bunnymen, sprinkled with early U2 and iced with Gene Loves Jezebel. There is nothing subtle here, and one could argue it is derivative, but that is only on the surface. Take one big bite and you’ll find that Change in the Neon Light is one helluva good chocolate cake.

The atmospheric qualities of the entire album are shimmering and driving, an album full of layered guitars and danceable percussion. The opening title track and final song “Wilderness” perfectly bookend the darkly emotive mood that fills the album. Keven Tecon’s vocals are plaintive but never whiny, while Robert Marzio deserves MVP accolades for signature drums that carry every song forward relentlessly. The album never lets up. From beginning to end there is not a weak track, and it really hits its stride in the second half with “Secondhand Daylight,” where Amy Rosenoff’s bass line and Cameron Ray’s guitars play off each other expressively, and “Detachment,” which serves up Siouxsie Sioux-like power. “It’s no fun if it doesn’t leave a mark,” they sing, and this album proves the point.

Veil Veil Vanish (a name just ridiculous enough to stick) is a surprisingly strong as a band on this debut, and it bodes well for the future. They haven’t drastically changed the recipe in creating Change in the Neon Light, but they definitely know how to cook. Their debut sets a high bar for the next course. Recommended. (Metropolis Records 2010)

Veil Veil Vanish MySpace page

  

April Smith and the Great Picture Show: Songs for a Sinking Ship


RIYL: KT Tunstall, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Liza Minnelli

Sometimes great singers try a bit too hard to prove that they’re great. April Smith is not one of those singers. The arrangements on her latest and most impressive album Songs for a Sinking Ship fit her sultry voice like a glove and her songwriting is both playful and intellectual. April Smith is clearly capable of controlling the whole circus when it comes to vocal acrobatics but possesses the restraint to allow each song to shine as bright as her ability.

After numerous listens, I’ve yet to find a track that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. A standout track on Songs for a Sinking Ship is “Wow and Flutter” which combines semi-dark theatrics with a refrain that could have found a home on a Ratt record. Odd, I know, but it totally works. Additionally, the closer “Stop Wondering” is easily the most delightful “fuck you” to a former lover ever recorded.

April_Smith_02

Aside from her glowing talent behind the mic and the pen, she’s clearly figured out the business side of things as well. She used kickstarter.com and her ever-growing fan base (acquired from near constant touring over the past few years) to fund this release. We always hear stories of bands collecting cash online to fund their latest projects but many of those bands were once privileged enough to receive that initial “major label” push. April did it her way from the start and we can only hope that in the years to come she will be recognized as the fearless trailblazer that she is.

There are no gimmicks on Songs for a Sinking Ship. Only great writing and performing which is a very welcome change of pace from your typical release. You’re going to want to sing along with April Smith but you had better stretch out before attempting it or you will most certainly hurt yourself. (Little Roscoe 2010)

April Smith and The Great Picture Show | Official Website
Click to buy Songs for a Sinking Ship from Amazon

  

The Heavy: The House That Dirt Built


RIYL: The White Stripes, James Brown, The Rolling Stones

When the Heavy broke with their debut, it truly was Great Vengeance and Furious Fire from every speaker. Listening to that album was like getting kidney punched by the raunchy, drug dusted love child of Curtis Mayfield and the Gallagher brothers. “That Kind of Man” and “Girl” were sheer aural addiction, funky and fun and groovy as hell. It was a smashing debut, chock full of powerful singles…and seemingly no one noticed it at all. The US release in 2008 made no discernible impact, and that is a crying shame.

The_Heavy_04

Now the Heavy are back with The House That Dirt Built, turning up the volume and the heat by taking their ‘60s and ’70s influence and punching it up with everything from jacked up Bo Diddley beats to Roland Gift-like vocals wrapped in roughly layered, minimalist production. “How You Like Me Now” is full tilt James Brown-esque bravado that shifts into a Mick Jagger-like pleading bridge before ending with a seriously hard-hitting, percussion-driven finale. They also continue to use digital samples to set mood and theme in a way reminiscent of Big Audio Dynamite’s first records. “Short Change Hero” is their Sergio Leone ode while at the same time begs for a Grace Slick vocal.

The most amazing part of this record is the fact that every song makes you sit up and take notice, every track distinct, but the album has an overarching consistency that pulls it all together with consistently dark and driving bass lines, fearless guitars and select horn lines. Throughout, Kelvin Swaby’s vocals chant, scream, croon, plead, growl and demand, always playful and soulfully sexy by turns. The Heavy know how to construct a song to be a hit, short and to the point, catchy without being predictable. This shows up in their hard rocking “What You Want Me To Do?” Two minutes and 38 seconds of grinding desperation and desire. Few bands can take such clear and well known influences and make it sound fresh and new, but The Heavy excel at it. Check this album out. Play it loud, and as David Letterman demanded, play it again! (Counter Records 2009)

The Heavy MySpace page

  

The Black Hollies: Softly Towards the Light


RIYL: The Beatles, Happy Mondays, The Takeover UK

Take the late ’60s Beatles and other British blues/psychedelia, shoot it through with early ’90s Madchester energy, add a sprinkle of indie pop sensibility and you get groovy if none-to-deep third album by the Black Hollies. Depth isn’t really necessary for this kind of album, though. Softly Towards the Light is so indebted to its sources that every track seems immediately recognizable, as if you’d heard these songs long ago sitting in front of your parent’s old hi-fi system as a kid. This immediately begs the question, “Why not listen to the originals, then?” and that is where that those “sprinkles” of modern production and indie introspection provide just enough of something different to make it resonate with today. Much of this can be attributed to Justin Angelo Morley’s breathy vocals, which carry a forceful earnestness that gives Doors-esque lines like “Lead me to the fire burning in your soul” an innocence rather than lustful intent. That is something that seems to be missing on Softly Towards… as British Blues had a earthy carnal quality, and Madchester was hedonistic in many ways, the Black Hollies bring a lighter touch that provides an airy, nothing short of happy feeling that is rare in pop music. Happy is usually relegated to overproduced, kid-smiley, bubblegum pop and not considered appropriate for adults. Here, this positive energy works extremely well with the counterpoint of Nicholas Ferrante’s bombastic drumming. The danceable, get-your-feet-moving pleasure of the Black Hollies can be credited to being caught up in Ferrante’s powerful rhythms that manages to ground them just enough to keep the rest of the band from floating away. The power tracks on the album that bring all of this together are the outstanding “Gloomy Monday Morning” in the number two slot, and “Number Ten Girl” with its soulful, darkly trippy groove.

All in all, Softly Toward the Light is an excellent album by the New Jersey quartet, and demonstrates not just a fidelity toward their sources and craft, but a real passion for making these classic sounds their own true expression. Ernest Jenning Record Co.

The Black Hollies MySpace page

  

Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson: Break Up


RIYL: Aimee Mann, Mark Geary, Nicole Atlkins

When most people wake up from a deep sleep with a sudden strange and creative urge, little ever comes of it. Then again, Pete Yorn isn’t most people. As he tells it, Yorn awoke just needing to make a duets album, and lucky guy that he is, he’s a personal friend of the beautiful Scarlett Johansson, who proves to be a true chanteuse. Together they recorded a nine-song set of ingenious lo-fi pop, simple in their beauty and deeply resonant on the personal side, and Break Up was born…in 2006. Why this sat for three years gathering dust is beyond us. Yorn described the process of this album as one of the most intimate and controlled on his part, so it took the urging of friends to get him to revisit and release it. We should all send those friends a note of thanks, because this album is like nothing else out there.

Opening with the single “Relator,” you immediately hear the uncharacteristic synth line that bee-bops along until Johansson’s smoky, almost husky vocals hit the ear like a fine shot of bourbon hits the throat. It sounds like some kind of effect was used, but Yorn insists that it is Scarlett au natural. She blends perfectly with Yorn’s classically pained and scratchy growl, and the chemistry between them is obvious. It infects every song with an emotional immediacy. “I Don’t Know What to Do” takes a slight, very slight, country tinge where Johansson is unfortunately relegated to back up, because when she sings, the whole song lights up.

It really is Scarlett’s addition that pushes this album from good to great. “Blackie’s Dead” starts out like something right off of The Day I Forgot until the harmonies of Johansson transform it into something ethereal, carried along by an a haunting steel guitar riff. This kind of song redeems Adult Contemporary because it is grown up, without being safe or boring. A perfect example is “Clean,” which features a more R&B sound, just enough to make Johansson simply ooze through the headphones with a subtly hollow sadness brought forth with the echoing production. This is mature songwriting that loses none of the passionate impact of Yorn’s earlier work.

As the second release of 2009 for Pete, he has completely redeemed any missteps he may have taken with the earlier solo album, Back & Fourth. Both that and Break Up are his self-proclaimed attempts to be more personal and direct with his music, but the latter succeeds far beyond the more prosaic Back & Fourth. Working with Johansson, Yorn has created a a gorgeous album, far beyond anything one would normally expect from a hazy, sleep inspired creative whim. This is art. (Rhino 2009)

Pete Yorn MySpace page

  

Related Posts