Review Summary: breakdown, baby.
I loved my high school chemistry class. Not only was my teacher a chain smoking tech nerd who played Clash of Clans, but the subject matter genuinely held more of my attention than any of the other hard sciences. Its hands-on, experimental nature almost felt like a thrill within the quotidian boredom I felt every day as an invisible student. Some days in chemistry were just as boring as every other class, but it was worth it for the days that you were just able to sit down, shut up, and watch something explode.
Sweet Trip’s “Velocity:Design:Comfort” is a chunk of sodium thrown into water. The San Francisco experimental music collective work feverishly with their volatile reagents, combining heavenly, oceanic shoegaze music with glitched-out firecracker IDM drums in a violent heat transfer. This blend of disparate elements creates a wholly original listening experience, reminiscent of a very small handful of artists but never truly sounding like anybody else or any other release. The ingenious nature of the group’s songwriting throughout these 73 minutes allows for the construction of a truly engrossing atmosphere, and while the intimidating length of the album can transform a full listen into a bit of a chore, the consistent introduction of new sonic ideas is enough to keep any listener engaged. Playing around with these new and sometimes clashing musical ideas is what gives Velocity:Design:Comfort its carefree and cosmic identity, but it also opens the door for the occasional adverse reaction to rear its ugly head.
It’s not the strange nature of the album’s sound that causes the occasional problem, but the intermittent issue of many of the album’s musical voices trying to talk over one another, creating a sense of disorientation. Whether this was intentional or not, there are several instances where I don’t believe it works. “Pro:Lov:Ad” is a dizzying concoction of dreamy synthpop and intense drum grooves, brimming with potential but marred by incongruous transitions and a general sense of disorganization. What makes the song’s lack of success so much more frustrating is the entertainment value of each individual part. Unfortunately, when haphazardly sequenced together, the whole is quite lacking. Somewhat similar observations can be made about pseudo-title track “Velocity”, in which the band becomes enamored with a breezy pad, repeats the same verse too many times, and injects so many dueling percussion rhythms into the song that all the new melodic intricacies introduced in the second half struggle to even be heard in the mix. This isn’t to say that these tracks are a complete waste of runtime (the only song firmly cemented in that category is forgettable interlude “Design:1”), as even the flaws of this record remain interesting. Sweet Trip become overzealous at many points throughout the album and fly too close to the sun, but it’s much more entertaining to listen to than most other band’s missteps.
Despite Velocity:Design:Comfort’s towering reputation as a sprawling and complex masterpiece, it truly is the moments of blissful simplicity that stand out the most, whether the song structures are tight or meandering. The band’s pop songwriting sensibilities, explored further on their follow-up album You Will Never Know Why, are on full display for highlights “Dsco” and “Chocolate Matter”. These two masterpieces expertly blend shoegaze fuzz with infectious vocal harmonies and electronic blips, bordering on euphoria. “Sept” utilizes glitched-out vocal samples, Indian percussion, and a soaring vocal hook to similar effect, while “To All The Dancers of the World” builds minute upon minute of tension up to an effortless, gorgeous conclusion. The busy nature of the album is what gives it a lot of its character, but its simpler moments are what allow it to reach the occasional peak. The best example of this phenomenon has to be early album highlight “Fruitcake and Cookies”, which embodies the spirit of the record better than any other song. The first half can be described as a more successful version of “Velocity”, slightly reducing the tempo and showcasing Valerie Cooper’s vocal skill over ethereal harp samples. The glitchy drums that enter at the 2-minute mark feel like a natural progression of the song and are earned. The now famous “breakdown” of the song’s second half turns the track completely on its head using nothing but distant drums, dreamy vocals, and layer upon layer of fuzzed-out guitar. The way the band uses subtlety to slowly turn this melody in on itself over the course of the next three minutes is fascinating to listen to, and demonstrates their ability to slow down and just let it happen, when they really want to.
Velocity:Design:Comfort isn’t an album I can slap the “classic” title on, even though its reputation as a must-hear album of the 2000’s isn’t something I necessarily disagree with. The amount of risks Sweet Trip take over the course of the record has to be heard to be believed, and to stick the landing as many times as they do is admirable. It has a tendency to spread itself thin when trying to bring too many ideas to life at once, and the bloated length can be an issue. It’s not perfect, but it’s refreshing, intriguing, and almost always entertaining.