The Velvet Teen | No Star (s/r)

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This music sounds as if it’s meant to score an interstellar war among mechanized manifestations of the Athenian Pantheon [Greek gods in robot form], fought over the souls of humanity.

 
 
In Chicago back in 2008, I got my first opportunity to see The Velvet Teen live. The pressure was on because my friend and his wife were with me, and I'd prodded him to check The Velvet Teen a few years beforehand. He had gone right out and purchased Elysium, the bands newest release at that point, and his initial reaction was, "It wasn't what I was expecting." I blamed myself partially, because I'd become a fan when Out of the Fierce Parade came out and talked that record and style up to all my friends with similar taste. My friend and his wife ended up developing a deep appreciation for Elysium, though, and they were hoping to hear a great deal of that material at the show.
 
When Cum Laude, the album The Velvet Teen were promoting on the aforementioned tour, came out, my friend was slightly disoriented. The guitar distortion, the vocal style and the frenetic pacing were such a departure from the band’s previous release. Midway through their Cum Laude –heavy set that night, reality set in. The music came alive and created a mini-rave in the club. Cum Laude was meant to be blasted, and hearing the material live was akin to hearing Kid A live; the songs took on a new life and showcased the band as performers, as opposed to producers.  
And that was the last I heard from The Velvet Teen, until videos of local shows in their neck of the woods started popping up every six months or so, featuring four new songs.
These new songs seemed to signal a return to straightforward, high-energy indie rock. Josh Staples, The Velvet Teen’s longtime bassist/vocalist rejoined the group after having left to focus on his own band, The New Trust. With Matthew Izen and Judah Nagler on guitar and Casey Dietz enthroned behind the drums, The Velvet Teen triumphantly returned as a four-piece band. Those YouTube videos offered a bit of hope back in late April of 2009—nearly three years after the release of Cum Laude, during which time the band had been through the death of drummer and co-founder Logan Whitehurst, Staples’ departure and the demise of their label, Slowdance Records.
 
17 months later, the four new songs have been officially released as No Star. The EP is short, sweet and brilliant. It incorporates all the elements that made The Velvet Teen my favorite new band seven years ago, as well as the best of the variation and expansion of their material in the time since. All of this is channeled through the intensity and propulsive energy that makes their live shows so cathartic and inspiring.
 
The EP opens with its title track, a waltz. This band has mastered high-energy rock waltzes like no other, so I was shocked to find that they could take it up yet another notch with the closing crescendo, an ever-evolving progression of upper-register fretwork that falls somewhere between baroque and ballistic. “Forfor” follows, pounding forward but driven by an elegant melody that’s amplified to the great affect. It’s anthemic and sophisticated.
 
“Fixing a Faucet” is what I would call motorcycle music; it revs you up, makes you want to accelerate through life. It also has plenty of creative embellishments that give you the feeling of darting through a crowded room, stopping short of collisions, nearly spilling a drink and then realizing the exit was right behind you a third of the way across. “Pavlovian Bell” mellows the vibe as it begins, driven by one of Staples’ signature bass grooves, only to blossom into kaleidoscopic fractal images of itself in an ever-ascending coda. 
 
The interplay of the guitars, bass, vocals and drums throughout are feast for the ears, offering layers of sounds to decipher with different elements springing into prominence after repeated listens. The tones are crystal clear, a pleasure to the senses. Neither Nagler’s nor Staples’ voices have declined with time; their tenors are both warm and resonant, with Nagler in particular sounding both buoyant and grounded. Their vocals bring a sense of emotional release that elevates these songs while humanizing them. This music sounds as if it’s meant to score an interstellar war among mechanized manifestations of the Athenian Pantheon [Greek gods in robot form], fought over the souls of humanity. I guess that’s what happens when an already independent band releases their own music on their own terms—at least, in the best-case scenario. A+ | Wil E. Smith
 
RIYL: Circa Survive, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Mars Volta, Further Seems Forever
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