December 8, 2011

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Veronica Falls

Veronica Falls


The London quartet Veronica Falls has a pop duality, combining a shadowy side with a brighter one, each fighting for attention often within the same song. We’ve heard this conflicted nature before in other forms—take the bubbly Scottish group Altered Images which turned from sinister to sweet or the morbid, bipolar jangle-pop of The Smiths—and we know that really, most goths are softies at heart. “Found Love in a Graveyard,” the opener on the group’s self-titled debut album, seems like a thematic sibling to, say, The Smiths’ “Cemetry Gates,” capturing youthfulness with a gloomy undercurrent; though dominated by beefy floor tom beats, the pop side breaks through with a short rhythmic nod to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” Drummer and band co-founder Patrick Doyle is essential to the group’s sound, using primarily a floor tom beat mirrored with tambourine strikes, bringing to mind some combination of The Velvet Underground’s Moe Tucker with Black Tambourine’s Mike Schulman. Also key to the group’s identity are the girl/boy vocals from Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare and unrelenting guitar strums, reminiscent of The Wedding Present at times, like on “Right Side of My Brain” which sports the confrontational chorus of “Take your hands off me” yet manages to end on a tender note.

After the solid one-two punch of those tracks, the listener is likely waiting for the opening salvo to let up—remarkably, it never does. The entire 12-track album maintains a driving momentum and a consistency of quality; every individual track is a worthy candidate for being a single. Various ’60s, ’80s, and ’90s pop/rock hallmark details can be heard at different times, like the bratty garage rock-influenced “Beachy Head,” the irresistible bass line of “Stephen” lifted from the Pixies’ “Debaser,” or the C86 British pop qualities of “Misery,” using the most basic pop chord progression and ending oddly with a vocal round that could have been a Renaissance-era tune.  Throughout the album, there’s an invigorating kind of tension—it’s not insecurity, but a sense of comfort, even with the seemingly dual personality, inside the band’s skin.

Torlesse Super Group

Torlesse Super Group


This writer is a proponent of the “get the most out of what you have” thrifty rocker philosophy, who tries not to get caught up in gear fetish mania and believes that playing ability isn’t necessarily the most vital aspect of a musician (not to say that virtuosity doesn’t have its place). New Zealand guitarist Roy Montgomery is a kindred spirit who often uses a cheap Teisco guitar, whose design flaws (like pickup interference) are transformed into virtues by more experimentally minded players. Regarding conventional playing ability, Montgomery stated in an interview with Perfect Sound Forever, “Whatever people tell you you shouldn’t be doing, you do to see what happens.” This is apparent when listening to his work—often long, entrancing drone-guitar pieces that have given him a solid reputation over three decades in underground circles, as a recording artist for Kranky and other labels and a contributor to the practically genre-defining drone compilation Harmony of the Spheres.

Montgomery’s latest release is with his duo Torlesse Super Group, named after New Zealand rock formations, with Barnard’s Star member Nick Guy, and the twosome is in fine form, creating engulfing, sometimes transcendent abstract sound-ether pieces. The album begins with the three-part “Erewhon Sentinel” which first teases with sustained tones before sliding into its hypnotic second part, using a modulating low guitar drone, a slow-but-steady drum loop, and crisp, echoing guitar notes with timbre qualities like a cross between a piano and a xylophone. The 12-minute “Torlesse Transect” uses a bed of muffled guitar noise with phaser-treated sound bounces that meander yet eventually gel into a chord progression; Guy provides scattered satellite bloops that intensify and raise in pitch, adding to the slow-burn song payoff.

The album closes with “Peninsula Piece,” with Montgomery providing loose rhythm chords that, ten minutes into the song, finally come together with crashing elements to sweep everything up into a sound funnel, ending another engaging, abstract but not unhinged, interstellar sonic voyage from the Montgomery camp.


December 8, 2011

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