The Velvet Teen
f nothing else, the Velvet Teen is to be lauded. They’ve made their way from the reasonable and pimply-faced Out of the Fierce Parade to the hysterical and falsely confident Elysium and now they’ve come out the other side. Apparently, it’s graduation time. And, like most indie bands, they’ve chosen to undersell it. Why not magna? Even summa?
The answer is in the music, of course. The reason that the Velvet Teen don’t overreach in the diploma arena, is because they’re still busy doing it on record. This time around the group has brought back the guitars, and now the keyboards are even louder than before. In fact, Cum Laude is loaded with electronic flourishes, from the synthesized melodies of “Noi Boi” and “Tokyoto” to the beat that aids Casey Deitz’s speed-freak drumming on “Gyzmkid.” For the most part they’re neither here nor there—sometimes they act as welcome break from the guitar/bass/drum tedium, other times they act as squealing partner to Judah Nagler’s vocals.
The problem isn’t the increased reliance on electronics to serve as interesting background companions, it’s that the songwriting that they help to support is too often indistinguishable for it to matter. When “Around the Roller Rink” comes around near the end of the record, its twitters have become commonplace. Unfortunately, so has the breakneck muddle of the song. The group is more often than not content to rely on the ability of Deitz to drum at a superhuman pace and pushes the song headlong into a blistering rush. A sound and a fury signifying…
Sure, it sometime works. “Tokyoto,” whose accompanying video makes it plain that drum ‘n’ strobe is the goal, works its fractured self to a satisfying conclusion. But those moments come few and far between—and are usurped by tracks like “Building a Whale” and “Rhodekill” that are full of bluster, but end up leading us nowhere in particular. At least they’re more interesting than “False Profits,” wherein the band does little more than channel Wilco for somehow-still-feels-like-seven three minutes.
Like Out of the Fierce Parade and Elysium there are moments that make you want to believe fervently in this band. The aforementioned “Tokyoto” and “Spin the Wink” show that The Velvet Teen knows exactly what they’re doing with this new direction and can incorporate what they’ve learned before. But Cum Laude has the same problems as its predecessors—there’s been no time to take stock, to mature, to get in a groove and explore it fully. Just like high school students, they can’t wait for college. Let’s hope they buckle down when they get there.