The Velvet Teen
ho needs a guitar anyway? Not even rock bands anymore, it seems. The Velvet Teen’s second full-length album Elysium trades them in entirely for piano, strings, woodwinds and synthetic means. It’s an interesting move, but more accurately it’s an ambitious one. And with any ambitious undertaking it doesn’t quite live up to all of the expectations it sets.
But it proves its worth enough to justify the undertaking. “A Captive Audience” is one such example of success, seamlessly weaving a pounding piano melody, swelling strings and simmering drum lines together into a rich tapestry that transcends the sum of its parts. Similarly on “Forlorn” Judah Nagler’s Bukley/Yorke vocal tendencies are employed to great effect, amid a strong bassline and a soaring synthesizer part that obscures the melancholic narrative that emerges.
But for every success there is equal failure. “Chimera Obscurant” is an otherwise fine song that is in love with itself so much that it doesn’t stop until the thirteen-minute mark. Conversely, “We Were Bound (To Bend the Rules)” fades the album to its close, but provides little sense of actual closure to the album. It’s an odd sort of ending that begs more, but offers none.
But these are minor problems with the album that deflect attention away from the major issue. It seems like the comparisons to other bands leveled at the group after their first album coupled with their ambition have forced the Velvet Teen to move away from the major-chord-approved rock that defined their excellent debut. In a similar move as the one that Radiohead made after OK Computer, the removal of guitars from their songwriting process belies a reach towards maturity that exceeds their grasp.
Because while Radiohead had The Bends and OK Computer under their belt before their Kid A, The Velvet Teen have only gotten through their Pablo Honey. The comparison is all relative, though. Elysium doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to Kid A in musical or in lyrical content. This is the sound of a much younger band finding itself as it experiments with structure and sound. Here’s hoping they make their guitar masterpiece next time, so that the “experimental” won’t be far behind.