Our return voyage to the darker side of pop continues this week with a look at another up-and-coming band packing retro glam style and a decidedly spooky sensibility – this time the eerie-sounding and remarkably catchy San Francisco quintet Veil Veil Vanish. Their first full-length studio release Change in the Neon Light – which hits stores Tuesday via Metropolis Records – follows the sizable success of their debut EP Into a New Mausoleum by drawing once again on the doom-filled influences of iconic bands like The Cure… but this time they’ve managed to kick the intensity and precision of their sound to a higher level. I gave their CD a spin recently, and I’ll break it all down for you below the jump… so flip it over!
Veil Veil Vanish are no strangers to their fellow Bay Area denizens, thanks to a steady stream of club gigs, a well-received appearance at SF’s Noise Pop festival and a fair amount of local radio play. But lately the team (vocalist Keven Tecon, guitarist Cameron Ray, bassist Amy Rosenoff, keyboardist Justin Anastasi and drummer Robert Marzio) has also drawn international attention and critical praise for fusing ‘70s glam, ‘80s new wave & synth-pop and ‘90s shoegaze onto current post-punk revival styles to create an atmospheric tapestry that draws frequent comparisons with the Cure at their peak. It’s no surprise then that the band recently took part in the Cure tribute album Perfect as Cats, along with other indie, electronic and dark-pop artists like The Dandy Warhols, Bat for Lashes, Jesu, The Muslims, Tara Busch, Caroline Weeks and Lemon Sun.
Hearing Change in the Neon Light for the first time, I quickly found the Cure connection – I mean, who wouldn’t, after hearing the rolling bass lines, reverb-saturated lead guitar and Tecon’s vocal delivery. But honestly, it’s more a matter of the artists being tuned to the same offbeat frequency than a direct lifting of that iconic band’s style. What struck me more was their colossal wall-of-sound technique – a product of old-school DIY gear tweaking, multi-layered arrangements and epic-sized studio production (courtesy of Atom, whose credits also include the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) that gives the songs weight and power. They also manage to mix and match genres and styles in enough diverse ways to keep your attention from start to finish – and these days of media over-saturation, that’s pretty hard to pull off.
The opening strains of the title track effortlessly set the tone with a colossal, cavernous soundscape punctuated by powerful drum lines and glassy synths – with that warm, rolling bass as a menacing heartbeat. The edges get rougher with Anthem for a Doomed Youth, a faster-paced run highlighted by crunchy rhythm guitars and Tecon's slightly doubled, trumpet-clear vocals. The equally up-tempo Exile City makes excellent use of an insistently stabbing lead guitar line that occasionally breaks up into strange harmonics, which in turn blend perfectly with chilly synth washes.
The less guitar-driven but very powerful Modern Lust opens with a low, sawtooth electro-buzz straight from the archives of late '80s synth-pop, brimming over with dark, lusty energy. Together with the equally strong Pharmaceutical Party Platform, the band manages to capture the essence of that era's romanticism without a misstep.
Secondhand Daylight offers an interlude in the form of a lighter, airier number with a bold and bright chorus, but the mood turns dark once again for the speedy, raucous This Is Violet, which features some of the album’s strongest, rawest lead-guitar work. Detachment is a decent mid-tempo piece benefiting from excellent vocal harmonies and frenetic repetition of the song's title, before we gear down for the haunting, grinding ambient synths, tremolo guitars and electronic beats of closing cut The Wilderness, which builds to a seriously creepy instrumental coda – another standout track ideal for lights-out listening.
It’s quite possible that Change in the Neon Light might push Veil Veil Vanish fully into their own creative sphere, although I expect the Cure references will continue to draw a lot of attention. That’s not a bad thing: the Cure’s brand of dreamy, high-atmosphere post-punk is practically a genre unto itself, and I think it’s fair to say VVV has mastered that genre’s rules – an essential move, even if rules are made to be broken. And break them they do, soaring off into some amazing new dimensions. Creating dark, dreamlike moods through dense, epic arrangements is definitely their strength… and if that’s the feeling you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed.