Elysium, the Velvet Teen’s 2004 sophomore album, hinted at the band’s love of glitch-pop eccentricities. Opener “Sartre Ringo” played around with electronic atmospherics before breaking down into the piano that would play such a large part in the album. On that record’s follow-up, Cum Laude, the band takes a layered approach to implement electronic instrumentation into its sound.
It’s easy to get lost in the complicated opener, “333,” which is well-written and well-performed nonetheless. Throughout the record, singer/guitarist Judah Nagler has decided to mask his voice with an electronic filter, which seems totally unnecessary, especially after Elysium showed how talented a vocalist he is. On songs such as “Gyzmkid,” the effect works. But a scream at the end of “333” is made more piercing by the brittle electronics, almost to the point of becoming annoying.
The record feels at times like a strange jam session. Casey Deitz’s skills allow the drums to be a fluid entity during many of the songs while the guitars, keys, and Nagler’s voice explore various paths before shifting into another part. It is hard to point to a part on Cum Laude that isn’t well done, where the craftsmanship of the pieces is poor, but it feels as though the record gets too caught up in its own energy and can lose focus.
“Gyzmkid” was our first peak into the constantly shifting world of the Velvet Teen and Cum Laude, and yet no other song seems to be able to bridge that gap between angular indie-rock and IDM as effectively. Many of the songs with heavy electronic leanings get buried in the blips and bloops, leaving the slower and more focused songs to be the more poignant. “Noi Boi” finds a way of folding the electronics into the mix without them becoming overpowering, taking its time and only playfully veering off course at times.
Cum Laude is constantly a mystery — which has both positive and negative implications. You are never really sure where you have the songs, they blend so easily into the atmosphere and the energy, pouring from one song into another like some strange journey. After a few listens, when your brain stops craving a more traditional formula, the record becomes a strange, lost sort of adventure through soundscapes – very 70s in many ways. While it isn’t a flawless record, it is a very difficult record to figure out, like one of those books where you have to stop and reread entire paragraphs to fully absorb the meaning. Cum Laude can be a tricky and intricate record to get into, but once you’re there it becomes a very difficult record to grow tired of.
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