Friday, August 11

Album Review: The Velvet Teen

“Cum Laude”
Slowdance; 2006

For those that don’t really know about this band, The Velvet Teen is an indie-rock trio from the Bay Area. It originally consisted of Judah Nagler on vocals and guitar, Josh Staples on bass, and Logan Whitehurst on drums. Their first few EPs and their first album, "The Great Beast February", featured a nice mix of rockin’ tunes and sweet ballads. Then in 2004, the band released the very different “Elysium”. It featured 8 tracks of pianos; strings; delicate, swooping ballads; sweet, clear vocals; and long, instrumental sections. Oh, and there were no guitars on the entire thing.

So to pick up the “Gyzmkid EP” a few months ago and to hear a sweet, pumped-up rock song with computerized sounds, fuzzed up falsetto vocals, guitars, and some honest-to-god badass drumming surprised me. The band even had a new drummer since Logan Whitehurst departed the band a year ago to work on his solo project. But as soon as I heard this title song I knew I was going to love the new album.

Yeah, and I do love it. “Cum Laude” is brilliant in so many ways. First off, Judah Nagler’s songwriting and vocals have improved with every CD, and this is no exception. His falsetto grabs you and demands attention, even though it’s really difficult to catch what he says. But the vocal melodies are just so sweet and fit the songs perfectly, like in “Flicking Clint” and “False Profits.” The distortion also obscures the words to the point where Judah knows where he can play around with them. “Gyzmkid” is a prime example of this: the first chorus contains the line, “you’re all I could ever want / in this eternal moment” while the second chorus is, “know you’ve all my love / in this sea turtle moment.” But when Nagler is singing at such a high pitch with that distortion, do the words really matter? It’s pretty funny, though, to look up the lyrics and find things such as this, as well as all those clever word games in the song titles. Don’t fret though, there are some warm, heartfelt lyrics on the album. It’s not all entirely pointless fun and games.

And my God, new drummer Casey Deitz kicks ass. Honestly, listening to this album is the aural equivalent of getting kicked in the nuts, Deitz rocks that hard. Before Green Day’s American Idiot was released, Bill Joe Armstrong was telling people that the album would be a “drummer’s wet dream.” He lied. He was really just talking about Cum Laude and didn’t know it. Need some samples of this greatness? That opening fill in “Flicking Clint” is both exciting and semi-simple. Then the constant, frantic rhythmic riffing in “Around the Roller Rink” compliments Nagler’s similar but more drawn-out rhythmic play in his vocals. And then the entirety of “Gyzmkid” just speaks for itself. I don’t know how the guy can play all those drums so fast. That whole song is just like a drum solo.

In fact, a lot of this album is like a giant drum solo. Deitz rarely ever stays on one groove and sits on it for a good while. Instead, he’s constantly thinking and playing out loud cool riffs, hooks, and other ideas that tie in with some of the musical figures of the song. “Tokyoto” is a nice example of this. Here’s a test for anyone out there: listen to that song and transcribe what Deitz is playing, note for note. It’ll be both incredibly tiresome and impossible. And although some people may think he playing is too eccentric and filling up the songs with too much clutter, I disagree. Deitz’ drumming gives the drums a more important role in the music. The drums aren’t just playing time and catching some hooks and figures every now and then; they have their own, unique voice in the song.

And among all this is Josh Staples bass playing. Staples’ plays exactly what is needed from him. He grounds all the songs with nice, solid, and still interesting bass playing. And I would imagine it must be intimidating to be paired up with Deitz, but the pair work off each other very nicely. And then the last thing—and sadly the only down side of the album—are the all the electronic toys and sounds. Sometimes they’re a nice addition, but a lot of times they just don’t sound that great. It feels too video-gamey sometimes, and I don’t want to listen to a video-game. I want to listen to The Velvet Teen. It’s only a minor setback though. The album is still amazing, and perhaps one of the best I’ve heard this year.

Did I mention the drummer’s amazing?

The Velvet Teen - Gyzmkid
The Velvet Teen - Flicking Clint
The Velvet Teen - Tokyoto

- John Higgins -

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At 10:46 PM , Anonymous Ren said...

Hey John, thanks for covering this band. "Flicking Clint" is pure ear candy.

At 9:11 PM , Anonymous John said...

No problem, it was my pleasure. And yeah, "Flicking Clint" is probably my 2nd favorite track, just behind "Gyzmkid."

And for anyone that wants to know, I made an error in the review. Velvet Teen's first full-length was Out of the Fierce Parade, not The Great Beast February. My bad



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