Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Veils - Nux Vomica

Not too long ago, a friend of mine offered me a ticket to come with her to see The Veils in concert. She'd played one of their songs for me, but as soon as she put it on, we promptly began talking over it, so I hadn't really paid too much attention. So when I got to the Empty Bottle, I was pretty much oblivious to what I was about to hear. Finn Andrews and his crew took to the stage like lightning: as soon as he picked up his guitar, he got this look on his face like he had very much just had his heart broken and was not going to be able to hold back the emotion. They dug into the set hard: they got through maybe a verse or two of solid songwriting before he couldn't hold it back anymore, and started shrieking like a wildcat. The whole evening, I'm not sure I ever saw him play the guitar, but whenever he liberated himself from the song structure and launched into one of his freak-outs, he strangled and mangled that thing for it was all it was worth. In short, there is not enough Prozac in the world to save this guy from himself. After that first song was over, I asked if perhaps we should leave, because I wasn't sure he could top what I'd just seen.

Since the show, I've been trying to limit myself to one spin through the album daily, if not less. It's gotten under my skin so completely that I can't stand not listening to it, but I'm terrified I'm going to play it out. The sound is a bit more nuanced than what I described for their live performance: the anguished roars are still present and still potent, but they're spaced out by excellent, well-crafted pop. The best analogy here is Nick Cave circa The Lyre of Orpheus, with digressions into Nick Cave circa From Her to Eternity. Finn Andrews doesn't have Cave's guttural baritone: he gets frequent and accurate comparisons to Jeff Buckley, minus the unpleasant moody 90's rock associations. Veils songs are generally moody, to be sure, but "Jesus for the Jugular" and "Pan" sound like someone trying to exorcise his own demons and wracking himself with all the Linda Blair symptoms, rather than passively wallowing in them.

The first part of what makes this album so impressive is that while it feels at times like the songs are spiraling out of control, it still functions within its own rules. The title track is a long, slow burn driven by a steady drum beat and a rolling bass line, punctuated here and there with some bursts from the guitar. Andrews sings his verses like he's preaching the apocalypse, and the band waits politely in the wings, waiting for him to finish so they can actually unleash that apocalypse.

However, the second half of the charm here lies in skipping the roar altogether. The prancing, slightly melancholy pop (the chorus ends, "what's there left to believe in?") of the second track, "Calliope," leads very nicely into "Advice for Young Mothers to Be," which is best described as a disco track with a ska beat. I know, it sounds perverse, but it works. Without the lush production, "A Birthday Present" could almost be an old Irish folk tune, and "One Night on Earth" could alternately be entitled "The Song Interpol Almost Wrote, But The Veils Got There First." The album closes with one of those tracks with a mood (if not style) like Tom Waits' "Old Shoes & Picture Postcards" or Brian Eno's "Some of Them Are Old:" it's the perfect coda, that acknowledges that what has come before has taken you through the emotional ringer, and yeah, the wreckage is still there, but there's still hope on the horizon.

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