Review Summary: Another worthy addition to the band’s neglected discography.
The Veils are one of those bands where one really can’t believe they’re still just as relatively unknown as they were when they released their debut, The Runaway Found, in 2004. Kiwi Finn Andrews and his original band crafted a delicate, haunting collection of indie rock that found its way onto hit shows like One Tree Hill, but the band never took off and disagreements disbanded it shortly thereafter. 2006’s Nux Vomica was even more under the radar, with Andrews collecting a new, talented group to share his raw lyrical outbursts and instantly recognizable vocals. It was also one of the best albums of the year and still a perennially underrated favorite of mine.
Sun Gangs still finds the band on Rough Trade, surprising considering their continuing lack of success, but the Veils’ penchant for sharp guitar melodies, affecting acoustic slow-burners, and Andrews’ inimitable vocals and nakedly emotional lyrics remain just as fine-tuned as ever before. Opener “Sit Down By The Fire” is vintage Veils, opening with a gentle piano/guitar riff and Andrews’ compelling, Nick Cave-influenced voice. Lyrically it starts off a bit rusty, with more than a few forced rhymes and cringe-inducing heart-on-your-sleeve sentiments (“just say you don’t love me anymore”), but when the bluesy bridge kicks in and Andrews intones “some day / a little rain is bound to fall,” it’s clear that the Veils haven’t lost a step yet.
The following title song is a gentle piano dirge that alternates between optimism and self-pity, with the controlled vocals as the main attraction. It’s placement on the album, however, is more than a little odd, stilting any momentum the surging “Sit Down By The Fire” generated at its end, and the climactic crescendo seemingly promised in the last third never arrives.
Highlight single “The Letter” quickly dispels the gloom, however, supported by a descending, chiming guitar melody that quickly sticks in the head and featuring a sonic blast of a chorus that coats itself in waves of reverb and Andrews’ piercing howl leading the way through. “The Letter” kicks off a run of the album’s best, most notably the fierce “Killed By The Boom” and the reflective blues of “It Hits Deep.” The former recalls Nux Vomica’s “Jesus For The Jugular” with its distorted rip current of a guitar line and Andrews’ anguished, throat-tearing screams. It’s the only song on the record that approaches the best of the sonic nastiness of their sophomore effort, and Andrews’ performance is that of a man possessed. “It Hits Deep,” meanwhile, is the kind of gradual, poignant buildup that the Veils have mastered and that their singer has made his trademark, creating the same kind of tension that the title track mustered and releasing it all in a sing-a-long ending that is restrained and cathartic at the same time.
The rollicking rock of family tragedy “Three Sisters” is pulsating, fist-pumping guitar glory in its finest with the kind of primal lament Andrews has made his own, while upbeat “The House She Lived In” is a complete 180-degree turn into regretful ‘60s Brill Building pop and typically emotive lyrics. Both are excellent examples of the Veils’ versatility and Andrews’ consistently passionate lyrical talents.
“Scarecrow,” unfortunately, is also a fantastic example of what drags the Veils down, namely plodding metaphorical ballads that threaten to go somewhere but never really develop from what they started off as. The dangerously long (eight-and-a-half minute) “Larkspur,” however, is a microcosm of the Veils’ oeuvre as a whole, taking the band’s mastery of the crescendo to the extreme. It’s an interesting illustration of the band’s bread-and-butter, a slowly rising boil of fuzzy distortion and Andrews’ undeniable charisma, but it is neither gripping nor innovative enough to merit such an extended running time.
The band ends, as they tend to do, on the soft, contemplative notes of “Begin Again,” merely Andrews and a commanding piano framing a fairly clichéd “start anew” lesson. While the record ends with a disappointing whimper, Andrews and his supporting cast have made another worthy addition to the band’s neglected discography, one that fails to match the epic indie rock ‘n poetry of Nux Vomica but one that more than stands up on its own, with some of Andrews’ most vehement showings and eloquent lyrics. One can only hope that they’ll be able to continue doing what they do best, and damn the sales.