Review Summary: "I'm gonna kill you with kindness."
Ever wondered what The Strokes would sound like if they had a bit of a spazzed-out indie pop vibe about them? Yeah, can’t say I have either, but Cincinnati indie rock duo Bad Veins gives us a rough idea of what such a combination might sound like. There’s something about the pair’s unhinged, Devil-may-care demeanor that strongly recalls the zeitgeist of those five New York garage rock revivalists. Perhaps the parallels lie in how frontman Benjamin Davis actually sounds like a less visceral Julian Casablancas – in no small part thanks to his subdued, yet completely self-confident vocal style and the casual manner in which he doffs putative and/or passive-aggressive one-liners. It could also be due to the manner in which drummer Sebastien Schultz brings about a gritty edge to proceedings, with his enthusiastic membranophone thrashing giving the ten tracks spread across The Mess We’ve Made
a lean, almost-mechanical sheen. But then Casablancas and co. might say, hell, who gives a damn anyway?
The Bad Veins’ stints in the studio have often been threatened to be eclipsed by the band’s own on-stage theatrics: famously, Davis and Schultz usually perform in pseudo army get-ups – a tacky sort of homage to Davis’ father, who served in Vietnam decades ago. That isn’t all. The pair is also frequently joined on stage by a vintage megaphone, rotary telephone, and a reel-to-reel tape player nicknamed Irene, who is often counted as the band’s third member. You read that right. It’s the sort of gaudy, cheap-trick presentation that starts off being both cute and novel, but runs the risk of becoming stale virtually overnight. Miraculously however, the band’s self-titled debut somehow just about managed to sidestep all those potential pitfalls and achieved critical acclaim. In fact, lead single “Gold and Warm” was even chosen as the backing music for a video segment on Good Morning America
, and appeared on the soundtrack for the blockbuster film Chronicle
– a sure sign that a band is well on its way towards mainstream success. To that end, creator-in-chief Davis is clearly hoping lightning strikes twice, with the multi-instrumentalist choosing not to mince his metaphors when asked about the guiding vision for his band’s second studio release: "If the first album was the cool, vintage car, this album is the newer sports car," he grins. You can almost see the twinkle in his eye.
Recorded over a three month period at Audiogrotto, a church turned recording studio in Newport, Kentucky, The Mess We’ve Made
actually feels like just that: a sleek beast with all the required bells and whistles to be a hit with the silent majority. The album opens with the catchy “Don’t Run”, which comes packed with a set of see-sawing violins that straddle its geometric center, allowing a gamut of synths to run riot in the background. But while the lyrics themselves are trite and even mildly obtuse – with Davis zeroing in on his listeners within the first forty-five seconds and asking “Is this gonna be a problem? Cause I’ll make it my problem!” – the song’s chorus has enough of a kick for it to qualify as a proper summer anthem. Elsewhere, lead single “Dancing On TV” reaps the benefits of having a thick bass groove and a compelling quiet-loud-quiet dynamic that illustrates just how good the Bad Veins really are at constructing a proper pop hook. Fourth track “Chasing” is even better, with Davis freely swapping heartbreak for grim resignation in order to deliver a sterling riposte to the one who has spurned his love: “I’m not gonna go chasing you around/I’m not gonna waste any of my time/I’m not gonna go standing in a line/I’m not a fool – just waiting for another chance to make you mine,” he vows, his mouth a thin crease of abject determination.
But while the Bad Veins’ biggest and best weapon is their unnerving ability to craft massive choruses capable of burning their way into their audience’s ears, they also frequently display a tendency to overcompensate, resulting in a few songs aboard The Mess We’ve Made
not having nearly enough room to breathe. Album closer “Not Like You” is a case in point, with what appears to be a poorly tuned trumpet heaving and collapsing all around Davis’ anguished howls, as the packet of cheesy, day-glo synths in the background makes it look like the band descended into a severe overproduction fetish one particularly uninspiring Saturday evening. It’s the kind of deflating denouement artists are wont to avoid, but in trying too hard, Davis and Schultz do occasionally walk straight into a trap of their own making. While not a fatal error by any means, it does suggest that these Bad Veins may be in need of some more blooding yet.