I have to preface this post by saying The Velvet Teen is a band near and dear to my heart.
I first saw The Velvet Teen in 2002 down in the basement of Jerry's Pizza. At the time, I was rather infantile in my musical taste; I had spent the better part of my adolescence listening to Creed and Metallica. To this date, I'm still trying to pay penance for those early musical sins. A friend of mine from school got ahold of a sampler for Some Records. There were two songs from The Exit's New Beat, and two songs from The Ghost's This Is A Hospital. A few of us decided to head to see both bands play one Saturday night when they were in town.
The Velvet Teen was their opening band. None of us had heard of them, or knew anything about them. I was impressed with the band, but I was more interested in seeing the other bands on the bill. After the show was done we were dropping all our cash at the merch booth (and by booth, I mean the booth upstairs that the bands threw all their swag they had to sell). Down to about $10, I asked the guy running the merch table what else I should get. I really wanted another shirt, but he told me to buy The Velvet Teen's current album instead. A little voice in my head went off and said, "This is a good idea. You'll thank yourself later." So I popped down that last $10 on Out Of The Fierce Parade. That night, I put it into my CD player and got my mine blown away. Almost 9 years later, the album still holds up.
Now, this is the part of the review where everyone pulls out their "this band reinvents themselves every album" card. Instead of pulling out said card, I'm just gonna say that saying something like that is the biggest bunch of bullshit any critic can say. Bands don't 'reinvent'. They put out new material. The only way you can reinvent a band is by getting a completely new name and putting completely new people in the band. So, seeing The Who close up shop and four other blokes starting a band called "We Are Not The Who" would be a reinvention. Judah Nagler and Josh Staples are probably two of the best songwriters of our generation. To call each album a reinvention of the band is a cop out, and a disservice to the both of them.
Comparing from the earlier albums to now, the music has been pushed quite a bit. Logan Whitehurst's passing brought in Casey Deitz to take over drumming duties. Not to say that Whitehurst was a bad drummer, but Deitz appears to be quite a bit more technical. The addition of Matthew Izen on guitars has bumped up the orchestration capabilities both live and on the record. While Izen was brought in to fill the spot vacated when Staples left the band to focus on The New Trust, it's apparent that keeping Izen in the band was a good decision musically (and hopefully for the overall band's well being).
I've always had questions about an EP. Is an EP supposed to be a stand alone unit of songs? Is it a teaser before a full album? Are these songs that just didn't make the LP? I'll be struggling with these questions for the foreseeable future. Taking No Star by itself, the four songs stand up completely on their own. I'd be happy seeing them as a foundation for a strong 8 to 10 song album, or just by themselves as a preview of a future full length. The biggest stand out is the leading track "No Star". Lyrically, Nagler pumps out some great prose per usual. What draws me to this track is the interplay of the band. The Velvet Teen picks up where they left off with Cum Laude with their use of lo-fi synths and vocal effects, but the musicianship has moved to the next level. Specifically, the outro of "No Star" has a great interplay between the instruments. It's not pretentious experimentation with meter and motif just to be different and get all those shoegazers to the concert. I hear musicians having fun playing, probably the best thing to capture in the studio. Certainly better than anything your Yingwie Van Halen will ever pop out.
Check out The Velvet Teen's website here and preview/purchase No Star here.
Coming soon- That review of Songz Fo Da Def by Richard Def and the Mos Pryors.