aking music and cooking have this much in common: good ingredients help in both, but getting the blend right is still the difference between a good curry and yellow glop with too much turmeric. Minneapolis rock-meets-Bollywood-meets-trip-hop band The Violettes are definitely cooking with some interesting ingredients, but, like many a first-time chef that attempts wasabi-infused brownies, they’ve gotten the mix a little off their first try in the kitchen.
The uniqueness of The Violettes’ sound is both the best and worst thing about their debut: while their blending of sitar, flute, and varied electronic sounds is definitely singular, it becomes much less so when repeated ad nauseum. For example, take the use of sitar. As one element of the almost-too-pretty “Heavenly White Roses,” it’s a nice element of a track built around echo and upright bass. However, as the centerpiece sound of “A Thousand Times No,” “Awkward Moment,” and “1-2-3 Go!”—three songs quite inconveniently placed back-to-back-to-back—the sitar loses its novelty entirely within three tunes that wouldn’t have much to offer with standard instrumentation. Strangely enough, the band’s own belief in how special their sound is also leads them into derivative territory. No matter how different they may sound within the material, “Pretty Flowers” is still second-hand Portishead and “The Deep Blue Sea” (featuring the least appropriate use of sitar on the album) wouldn’t make it onto a three-sided PJ Harvey single.
Although singer/songwriter Sarah Khan isn’t quite ready to sing in the deep end, her alto is the appropriate dreamy voice for a band not quite of this planet, delivering sometimes forgettable lyrics (“If you’ve ever thought that life’s a game/ Anyone can play you just the same”) without underlining them. As the most accessible instrument in her own band, her understated alto conveys peace with love (“Jugamuga”), fate (“In Sh’Allah”), and uncertainty itself (“Sunday”). With this much of an Eastern feel to the album’s themes, it can be said that although the Eastern sounds don’t always work, they are at least genuine.
Tellingly, album highlight “Melodium” is basically nothing but a Casio keyboard demo beat and an electric guitar line, proving that for all their stylistic flourishes, The Violettes don’t need sitar and tablas to make good music: what they need is good music to play with sitar and tablas. There is plenty of promise in The Violettes, and just enough songs in which it is fulfilled to make for a good listen. But for The Violettes to become a special band, they may have to rethink exactly what makes them special.
Reviewed by: Josh Drimmer
Reviewed on: 2004-09-30