The Velvet Teen unloads fierce electronic sound and a new reflective rock on Planet Gemini.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Last October, the Velvet Teen were invited for a week-long tour in Japan. The cinematic quality of the music seemed to have mass appeal among the Japanese youth, who packed every one of the band’s seven shows.
But it has taken the Sonoma County-bred outfit four years to release any new material.
“Things were in a state of flux for a while,” frontman Judah Nagler says. “We had ideas coming together that slowly took shape, but it was hard to get things up and running.”
That struggle is understandable – the group had to face down the collapse of its label and, most painfully, the loss of its drummer to brain cancer.
“[Logan Whitehurst’s death] was a huge factor in why the album took so long,” Nagler says. “The whole experience really bummed me out for a while, but now, things are a lot more creative and consistent; it’s nice to be getting back on track.”
It’s a commentary on their passion for music – and their popularity – that they never stopped touring, and are now gathering a second creative wind. The quartet’s recent EP, No Star, showcases the band’s new musical direction and the debut of a new second guitarist, Matthew Izen.
The record is flush with dramatic guitar rock, which is a definite departure from the electronic-centric sound Nagler went for on previous albums.
“We’re trying to get back to the rock-and-roll thing,” he says. “We use a lot of harmonizing pedal.”
The album’s title track begins with a hurricane of distortion similar to Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock.” But Nagler sounds nothing like Billy Corgan – his voice is more reminiscent of Elliott Smith, only minus the perpetual melancholy. Guitar solos shoot off throughout the tune like rapid-fire lightening bolts, and when Nagler reaches the chorus, his voice soars to a falsetto chant in the style of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.
The lyrics are introspective and poetic: “When you’ve tried your hardest and seen your forest turn to sawdust/ keep pining for the harvest… no darkness can keep you from my sight.”
“I try to keep my writing vague enough to not be too obvious,” Nagler says. “It gives the listener a chance to make up their own mind about it.”
No Star definitely diverges from the Velvet Teen’s last full-length album, Cum Laude, which approaches a rowdy mix of fuzzed-out vocals, noisy guitars and manipulated tones and sounds. Though Nagler veered towards straightforward rock with No Star, the album does incorporate a layer of effects into each song.
“We do whatever feels natural and in the moment,” Nagler says, “and we still go in and out of the electronic stuff.”
Crowds rally around the band’s music as much in the States as they did in Japan: When Nagler sings through a bullhorn during live shows while dancing around schizophrenically, the energy rubs off on everybody near.
No Star may be only 14 minutes long, but its release represents a much-needed boost for a band that seems poised to start putting out records at a pace to rival its touring schedule.
Word on the opening group, proto-folk rockers Themes, is that they incorporate baritone guitars with a sound that has been compared to Nick Drake and Neil Young.
In short, this eclectic, high-octane double bill will have the Planet spinning tonight.
THE VELVET TEEN plays 7:45pm Thursday, March 3, at Planet Gemini, 2110 N. Fremont St., Monterey. $10. 373-1449.