October 18, 2004

Velvet Crush "Stereo Blues"

In an article that referenced new albums by Mission of Burma and Guided By Voices and the reformation of the Pixies, the writer snidely commented that 'old guys are saving rock and roll!' I don't necessarily think that these artists are 'saving' rock and roll--or that rock music even needs to be saved. I will admit, though, that many older artists have lately been maturing quite nicely, coming into their own and finding a fresh vitality in today's 'scene.' I don't think that's a question of age in as much as it is for artists finally breaking free and finding their voices, especially after years of misguided ideas (commerce, major label hassles, etc.) that did them no good.

Velvet Crush's new record, Stereo Blues, is a great example for my theory. After a handful of archival releases and reissued/remastered albums, Stereo Blues is Velvet Crush's first album of new material in several years. They've been releasing great power-pop records since the early 1990s, and the band's core duo of Paul Chastain and Ric Menck have a long history of making great pop music, having worked together on various other project since the early to mid 1980s. Even though you probably don't know their names, don't hold that against them, because these two guys ROCK.

Unlike earlier releases, Stereo Blues is a very concise and to the point album; each of these songs have been sugar coated with a very light glaze of rock genius, one that wastes no time in taking you on and impressing the hell out of you. So refreshed and vital does Velvet Crush sound, you're almost left wondering if they haven't felt a little bit threatened by the success of like-minded yet harder-sounding bands such as Spoon and Nada Surf. Seriously, folks, Velvet Crush sound utterly refreshed, and their songs have a tension and an urgency that's not been seen since...well, to be honest...ever. Whereas in the past their songs often got overwhelmed by overt Beatles/Raspberries/Kinks/Flamin' Groovies-style homage (a common malady of most 'power pop' bands, actually) Instead of sounding like a tribute band, they sound like the long-lost father of today's indie-rock scene.

From the first note of album opener "Rusted Star"--which kicks off with some dischordant guitar and then turns into some of the band's best-ever haromines--it's quite apparent that you're in the presence of rock gods. Indeed, the album is much rawer in nature than anything done before--even their demos didn't sound this vital, this energetic--for once, they're not guilty of trying to be something they're not, nor are they trying too hard. When they crank up the rock (such as on the gritty "Do What You Want" and "Want You Now"), they kick ass and sound like a young band who have just discovered their music writing abilities. When they slow things down and turn introspective on "Here It Comes," "The Connection" and the touching "Great To Be Fine," the maturity and wisdom of their age makes these songs even more potent and touching.

If you have any preconceived notions as to Velvet Crush's sound, you just forget about them and pick up Stereo Blues. Personally, I wasn't sure of what to expect; their earlier records were nice, though occasionally workmanlike and sometimes kind of bland, but that's most certainly NOT the case here. Stereo Blues is easily one of this year's biggest surprises, and it will be fascinating to watch these guys as they catch their second wind.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.actionmusik.com
Artist Website: http://www.velvetcrushrockgroup.com

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