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August 09, 2004 - Image 12

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2004-08-09

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ARTS

The Velvet Teen age
slowly on new album

6

"M Cec~

1St

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By Puja Kumar
Daily Arts Writer
Music REVIW *
Picture a boy - 14, maybe 15 - in
black-rimmed glasses and a band T-
shirt (Blink 182? Travis? You pick!),
headphone-fitted
head bobbing to The Velvet
the changing time Teen
signatures of
northern Califor- Elysium
nia's bottest indie
export. Elysium, Slowdance
the sophomore LP
from trio The Velvet Teen, is the perfect
album for adolescents who are starting
to realize that Creed sucks but aren't
sure what musical steps to take next.
The Velvet Teen, however, are only a
baby step in the right direction. Hack-
neyed lyrics like " 'Cause even the peo-
ple / That you call your friends / Can
fuck you over / They never cared" in
"A Captive Audience" and bland, unin-
teresting melodies don't really distin-
guish Elysium from the work of many
other alt-rock bands that are seizing
radio waves and molding minds of
young listeners. Perhaps what has
allowed the band to become small-
scale media darlings is that they
refused to sign with a major label,
thereby earning a scattered "Hell
yeah!" from suburban indie kids.
So with the freedom granted by a
small label, what have The Velvet Teen
done? Write really long songs, for one.
With no tracks under three minutes
(and most of them over six), no obvi-
ous single stands out on Elysium; the
album flows more as a whole work
than as a jumbled assortment of sin-
gles. This offering is trifle more experi-
mental than the more mainstream
artists that many of The Velvet Teen's
fans are used to: Though decidedly
built on rock 'n' roll, Elysium features
no guitars. Instead, the band constructs
each little opus with the sounds of a
baby grand piano, various strings and a
liberal sprinkling of electronics.
It may be a heartwarming testament
to artistic growth that this twenty-
something trio is spreading its small-
time wings to write larger art-rock
endeavors. The problem is that the
tracks simply lack momentum and
originality - vitally important features
of lengthy songs.
Elysium opens with a glimmer of
promise, a synth-noise intro fading into
slow, ghostly piano and a somber string
arrangements. The band does a decent
job of pulling listeners into songs and
creating pretty, moving lines; but
ScJw

instead of arriving at a climax, the
swell of strings and falsettos only reach
a trembling, underwhelming plateau.
"Chimera Obscurant" (whose intro
bears an uncanny semblance to a cer-
tain Radiohead song about a suspicious
robot), is Elysium's soaring epic,
rounding out at almost 13 minutes.
Created around piano and vocalist
Judah Nagler's intense delivery, the
song stands on its own, but without any
hurrahs. The backing vocals on all the
tracks come across as bombastic and
echoing, but on "Chimera Obscura" in
particular, the production (by Nagler
and brother Ephraim) makes the back-
ground vox worthy of a Budweiser
GreatAmerican Heroes tryout tape.
Nagler is often compared to Jeff
Buckley, but he only peripherally
attacks the late singer's relaxed but
highly emotional sound. More accu-
rately, his is a hit-or-miss imitation of
Radiohead politi-crooner Thom Yorke.
But while Yorke's vocals add a dose of
grandiosity to his music, Nagler's less
sophisticated falsetto usually comes
across as an ineffectual whine.
The last two minutes of "Poor
Celine" show the band atits collective
best. Nagler's vocal performance con-
veys that nebulous combination of
optimism and melancholy that Rufus
Wainwright has mastered; here, his
falsetto is truest. The piano and strings
play on a charming, twisted seesaw,
and drums carry the song through at an
exploding pace.
With Elysium, the listener is con-
stantly waiting for a catharsis that the
band seems to be on the verge of deliv-
ering. A few malcontents may find
therapy in the cryptic lyrics, while oth-
ers may be assuaged by the fact that the
trio is only two albums into their
career, and have a lot of room for
improvement. After all, the boys them-
selves close the album with these wise
words: "Times are always changing /
But life never ends." Maybe The Velvet
Teen will use time to their advantage
and keep maturing.
ART~e ^

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