Review Summary: The Velvet Teen composes another opus of wholly original work, but may not fit every fan's musical palate.
My best friend at Webster University in St.Louis, Missouri introduced me to this band during one of our late night trips to Border's. After hearing the first measure of "Out of the Fierce Parade" I immediately asked him what artist was playing. Needless to say, I bought their Album "Out of the Fierce Parade" that very night, and became hopelessly fascinated by Judah Nagler's unique vocals, and their subtle approach to extremely provocative music.
During January of this year, I finally picked up my copy of their latest compilation "Cum Laude."
As this is my first review that you will have read from me here, I should probably tell you how I go about 'reviewing' an album. It's quite simple really. I try to enjoy it as much as possible the first listen through. I give it another listen through, and then another. But, it is that first impression that influences seventy percent of what my final score for that album will be. For in that first impression are undeniable traces of the album's ability to reach the listener, and hopefully, an accurate introduction to their talent as musicians, writers, and artists. The difference between a good opening track, and a bad one is the difference between a well thought out thesis statement for a research paper, and garbled prose that falls short of a kindergartener's valentine. And so it was with Cum Laude that I examined the first, and subsequent 'listen throughs' with this criterion in mind.
The first track of any album is the showcase for what is to come, and should not be forced on the listener by any means (unless it is clearly justified by the theme of the album). Cum Laude does this quite well if the listener happens to be a fan of the group in question. I would hazard to say that if I was not a fan of The Velvet Teen in the first place, I would have skipped the first track. It begins in what seems like a hybridization of electronica and indie, and then molds itself into something completely different by the time the chorus kicks in. This makes for a rather orgasmic first track to an otherwise mellow album, and leads the listener astray if only for but a moment. It was not by any means a disappointing first track, but rather the opposite.
In the subsequent tracks, much to my relief, the three Velveteers (as I like to call them) still know how to play their instruments. Their integrated riffs are a far cry from the repetitive 'banging' that is so prevalent in many new bands that we see emerging today, and it compliments Judah Nagler's vocals like red wine with venison. Sadly, his voice is consistently warped with a filter that would seem nice at first, but really is only tolerated for a couple of tracks, let alone a whole album.
The Velvet Teen continues to pump out eerily original sounds, especially in "Spin the Wink," and "Bloom." The melody and lyrics are admittedly fresh. This is an album where I could sit back and say to myself "Wow. I definitely could not write lyrics as ripe as these." A thing to note about Velvet Teen is that their lyrics are on a spectrum where the opposite end would be home to cliches, or recycled 'verbage' that gets a part in everyones sticky production in the seedy underbelly of the lyric-theft black market. So, I give The Velvet Teen credit for not copping a minimalist approach as an excuse to write one stanza lyrics to four minute songs.
Cum Laude succeeds as a testament to the unique talents of all three band members, who truly have yet to be rivaled on their level of composition. I hesitate to give this album higher than a great score because of its tendency to rely heavily on electronic distortion and vocal filtering. This non-salient feature isn't entirely distressing, but may be just enough to turn away a potential fan listening to The Velvet Teen for the very first time. If you happen to find yourself wanting to listen to The Velvet Teen (having not heard them before) please try your ear on either "Elysium," or "Out of the Fierce Parade." If your feeling bold, then try "Cum Laude," but it may give you a completely different take on their musical charisma.