Review Summary: Reliably perfect.
Remy Zero’s Villa Elaine
is, above all else, warm
. It’s an inviting little record, sweeping you off your feet with its infectious alt-rock and then returning you safely to the ground with its stirring, poignant balladry. It’s an irresistible concoction of all things indie/rock/folk, satisfying any vaguely “alternative” cravings in one setting with the faint glow of 90s nostalgia flickering in the background. While this album’s successor – 2001’s The Golden Hum
– would go on to become the band’s calling card along with their most identifiable hit “Save Me”, Villa Elaine
feels like the forgotten gem of their discography. It’s elegant and understated, but also features the most accomplished songwriting of Remy Zero’s entire career. In other words, it feels exactly like an “indie” classic should – perhaps not as appreciated as it deserved to be in its time, but viewed as one of the best of its era decades later.
Despite its indie credentials, Villa Elaine
did receive some notable recognition in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Moviegoers may recall hearing the album’s biggest hit ‘Prophecy’ on She’s All That
in 1999, while ‘Fair’ was featured on Zach Braff’s award-winning Garden State
soundtrack in 2004. Although the album retains these moderately admirable distinctions, it arguably never received the popularity nor critical acclaim that it deserves. Part of the reason for this is because the band was often viewed as a lesser Radiohead, an unwelcome stigma that came from Remy Zero opening for Thom Yorke & co. during their tour for The Bends
. The vocalists indeed share some similarities, but whereas Yorke’s signature wail is better suited for experimental music, Cinjun Tate’s vocals feel more human
– seemingly designed to bridge the gap between stadium packing grunge-rock anthems and heartfelt indie-folk ballads. Time has been kind to Villa Elaine
in that regard, as Radiohead would go on to pursue a career of electronic trailblazing whilst leaving this specific sound – emotive, melodic alt-rock – to Remy Zero. In that sense, Villa Elaine
stands as something of a relic from its time. Many other 90s bands, some far more popular than Remy Zero, delivered variations of this sound to the masses – but few, if any, executed it better.
is much more than a nostalgic piece to be viewed through rose-tinted glasses, though. The music here is lush, powerful, and sweeping – yet still so effortless, down-to-earth, and relatable. You’ll get this immediately from ‘Hermes Bird’, which overlays acoustic and electric guitars while sliding the intensity up and down along with Tate’s vocal delivery. These same sort of bittersweet melodies and oscillating inflections can be found throughout Villa Elaine
, where the primary objective is to immerse you in the album’s aura of emotional proximity. ‘Life In Rain’ is an obvious example, with its glistening acoustic guitars and layered hums creating a cocoon for its listeners to retreat into. ‘Wither Vulcan’ absorbs us into its apathetic late-summer haze with echoed verses and gorgeously layered, Brian Wilson-esque harmonies. ‘Fair’ is the record’s signature ballad and biggest mover of the emotional needle; the song performs a delicate dance between the breathtakingly melodic and rawly expressive – with the slight crack in Tate’s voice when he sings “So what if you catch me, where would we land?” lending it just the right amount of character. It’s not just the softer moments that define Villa Elaine
, though, and that’s why the album is such a complete listen from start to finish. The aforementioned ‘Prophecy’ is an absolute banger of an alt-rock anthem, ‘Hollow’ transforms from an atmospheric piece into a barn burner featuring the closest thing to Remy Zero screams that I’ve ever heard, and ‘Goodbye Little World’ closes out the record like a parade – it’s a jaunty, rhythmic number that celebrates close-knit friendships while foreshadowing the band’s premature demise (Remy Zero would break up with three albums under their belt from 1996-2001) : “This little world needs not much more to be a completely perfect world / We will be leaving soon and we might never get back to you / But before we do, goodbye and fare thee well.” Regardless of what style Remy Zero decided to execute on Villa Elaine
, the songs always seemed to come out sounding exciting, brilliant, and meditative – and that’s a kind of magic that simply can’t be manufactured.
Sometimes artists just find a perfect sweet spot, and that’s exactly what Remy Zero did with Villa Elaine
. It was their best album even though it wasn’t their most famous, and its reputation has only grown as each song here continues to age like fine wine. It’s a complete record that never once falters, and it blends everything from grunge-rock to indie-styled balladry without a single moment sounding forced or misplaced. Villa Elaine
will seemingly always have two claims to fame in ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Fair’, but I encourage anyone who enjoys those songs – or has even a passing interest in 90s rock – to experience this album for all of its unfurling beauty. We all have that one record that, for some reason or another, stands the test of time even if it doesn’t constantly dominate our headspace or our streaming service’s “most played” stats. For me, that album is Villa Elaine
– it’s reliably perfect, never gets old, and is always there
. Like returning to one’s hometown, Villa Elaine
is a warm embrace that will always feel just right.