Picking just ten albums out of the pack is always a tricky thing. This site has reviewed around 500 pieces of music this year from throw-away pop singles to album length progressive flights of fancy, from the well trodden grounds of classic rock to cutting edge experiments which are creating a whole new musical future. Add to that the fact that I am lucky enough to largely write about music I find interesting, which means if it even makes the page there is something I like about it. Anyway, below is 10 of the standouts of the year, I could write another 10 articles like this, but I won’t, better you explore the site and make your own mind up. Enjoy, comment, discuss and leave the cash in a brown envelope in the usual place! (I wish)
I continue to be amazed by The Veldt’s ability to similtaniously shimmer yet saunter, chime but groove. How do you even do that? On the one hand they play with sounds which seem built of almost intangible, ethereal qualities, the stuff of stardust and dreams but the clever part is that they then bolt those fey and ephemeral vibes on to soulful and sultry rhythms, pulsating beats, raw post-rock guitarwork and infectious boogies to fashion the perfect blend of texture and solidity.
Whilst there are undeniable parallels with a whole raft of challenging post-punkers, timeless progressive trailblazers and modern day sonic explorers, what keeps the band tied to the real world, rooted in something more structured, is the soulful, R&B undertones and the ability to mix unreconstructed and unabashed grooves with these more gossamer and floating sounds. I can’t think of any other band who walks a more perfect line between such seemingly unconnected worlds.
And proof of just how original a path they do walk is demonstrated by the calibre of the people they attract to work with. People like A.R. Kane’s Rudy Tambala, New Kingdom’s Jason Furlow, the godfather of soundscaping Robin Guthrie and Carlos Bess of The Wutang production team all adding their not inconsiderable skills to the mix and production of the record.
Yes, you can tell a lot about a band by the company it keeps and such associations speak volumes, but it is their mercurial and singularly unique sound, one which evokes old soul records as easily as it does dense walls of shoegazery, which draws such icons to their flame, and rightly so.
I need to stop viewing the world through my own skewed cultural lens, the one dividing it up into the things that were new, exciting when they defined my own formative years and the things which later referenced the music of my youth. Yes, there is a lot of the darker end of the 80’s post-punk movement to be found in Jenn Vix, but as much as later musical historians try to frame that time as the new beginning following the punk year zero reset, the reality is that the likes of Siouxsie Sioux and those who quickly grew out of punks narrow confines were also looking back to artists such as The Velvet Underground who were in turn inspired by everything from garage rock to free jazz to avant-garde and African drumming.What I’m trying to say is that it’s all about evolution and Jenn sits at the end of a long line of non-conformists and explorers of darker musical places.
Unlocked is a collection of songs built on interesting contradiction. For music so cloaked in many of the musical trappings which often result in the tag gothic — fuzzy and visceral guitars, otherworldly echoes, strange sound washes, bleak atmospheric and glitchy electronica — there is a wonderful accessibility here, not to mention a distinct lack of pretension which normally goes hand in hand with the label. Maybe something more like dystopian pop or doom disco (the ultimate generic juxtaposition perhaps) is more suitable, if indeed we need to label it at all.There is also a vulnerability about the vocal delivery which, ironically, only comes from total confidence, utter focus and musical discipline rather than the little girl lost world it often hints at.
It is an interesting line to walk, one that meanders between pop accessibility and darker sonic reaches, alt-rock muscle and slick electronica, atmospherics and white noise, the then, the now and the what may be… but it is one which she does so both deftly and brilliantly. And to note that both John Ashton of The Psychedelic Furs and The Veldt’s Danny Chavis can be found contributing here says a lot about the allure of her as an artist and the attraction of the music that she makes.
Music is cyclical, we all know that, 30 years seems to be the recognised time span for music to drop off the fashion radar long enough to seem cool or cult and be rediscovered and reinterpreted by a new musical generation. Brit-pop was a re-discovery of sixties guitar bands, punk was the distilled spirit of rock’n’roll for generation feeling similarly lost and even grunge had its roots in the garage rock and nascent metal scenes of a previous generation.
My own musical future-nostalgia moments, however, lie in an altogether more ambient place. Once the punks had shown us that making music was not just something for the dedicated, or indeed talented few, a whole movement of back bedroom aspirants began rewiring cheap keyboards and running battered guitars through homemade effects pedals and the result was glorious.
The sonic landscape that they described was one of drifting beauty and sharp angles, of raw guitars and delicate minimalism, of ethereal atmospheres and of industrial noise. It was supported by fledgling record labels such as 4AD and Sarah Records and was gathered into journalistic gangs and given names like dream-pop, shoe gaze, new-wave, underground-pop and new romanticism.
And if the likes of Kate Bush was proving that such new and defiant approaches could sell records via the more traditional model, bands such as The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and even The Birthday Party where the street corner punk hustlers pushing their own, more confrontational but no less beautiful sonic dreams.
And today, the circle has turned and those once lost, sweet sounds are finding their way into modern music once more as musicians discover that same acoustic beauty in the dusty corners of parents record collections and incorporate them into their own musical visions. Torchbearers such as Shameless Promotions gather and collect both new takes on the past as well as bands that have been carrying the flag for all these years. The Veldt’s reverb soaked soul, Ummagma’s chilled delicacy, the cavernous majesty of Tombstones In Their Eyes and Black Needle Noise building music for movies you haven’t dreamt of yet are the centre of that new exclusive universe.
Bands such as Fassine come at these sounds from another angle, one which links chilled ambient dance with futuristic pop, which is both massively commercial yet effortlessly cool, a chart headed Trojan horse to spread subtle influences through a musical charm offensive.
The one advantage of staying close to music for so long is that you get to see a new generation get excited, deconstruct and redefine the sounds that made you fall in love with music in the first place.
This new wave of bands both pull nostalgic heartstrings and point the way towards a bright new dawn and for that I can’t thank them enough.
The Veldt has always been a fascinating concept. Two black school kids in 80’s Raleigh, North Carolina dressing like European New Romantics and listening to the underground releases of London’s infamous 4AD label. A bold stance to take but one which led to the gathering together of like minded individuals and the result of course was The Veldt; a mercurial blend of the sonorous dreamscapes drifting in from across the Atlantic and more soulful and jazz infused homegrown grooves.
If the Old World evolution of dream-pop led to a less tangible, less structured form, The Veldt’s hazy, neo-psychedelic New World echoes were always grounded in a soft r’n’b groove, something which added warmth to what can often be a clinical and non-organic sound.
The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur EP sees them still exploring this gene splicing of the soulful and the sonorous, resulting in a sound somewhere between a lucid dream, half heard, half remembered and alien soul music picked up from the depths of outer space. Moody soul built from blissed out shoegaze…now there’s a concept, one which modern listeners would associate more with the likes of The Weeknd than its originators. At its most solid, And It’s You, weaves Marvin Gaye’s progressive reinvention through chiming guitars and slow electro dance grooves, at its most transient, Sanctified is distant, smoke-like and skittering.
And whilst the originality of their sound has gained them admirers in all the right quarters from Rudy Tambala (A R Kane) to Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins), they have also acted as a beacon for other like-minded souls looking to break out of the existing conventions. None other than Doc McKinney (The Weeknd, Drake, Estherio) said,
“For black artists, doing anything outside of the bubble, beyond what’s derivative of what white kids are doing, being able to express yourself honestly, is not celebrated at all. So when I heard these guys, it gave me confidence.”
Some bands make innovative and artistically important music, others break down cultural barriers, others still thread together ideas, which up until then weren’t even on nodding terms. It isn’t often that you find a band that stands for all of those things.
If, like me, your references for shoe gaze come largely from a white, art-school, M4 corridor hinterland then The Veldt are the perfect reminder that often the best musical ideas tend to appear simultaneously in small pockets of creativity across a myriad of musical landscapes and geographical locations. The common factor has more to do with artistic references and mind set that it does with the flimsy journalistic constructs of scenes and fashion.
And whilst fellow dreamscape travellers such as The Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine were creating their sonorous sounds, The Veldt, from their North Carolina base were using a whole different pallet of sound as they headed towards a similar musical destination. Marvin Gaye and Sun Ra where just as much a reference point as the more obvious and more recent reverb drenched post-punk scene and through the years they have created music that is as beautiful as it is unique.
In a Quiet Room comes from their latest EP The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur which in referencing none other than ee cummings again hints at the depths and wide ranging references that they employ when approaching their craft.
Actually, forget all of that, the fact that they release their music on a label named 5 BC (gedit?) tells you everything you need to know.