Though it's nearly 2006 and these attitudes should have been laid to rest ages ago, a band that is made up of all females who didn't try out for American Idol or Making the Band is still an anomaly. So let's get this out of the way - San Francisco's Vervein is made up of four women, and they can play. Taking cues from shoegazers such as Ride, Slowdive, and Pale Saints while turning the volume up a notch through a Mogwai filter, Vervein has essentially picked up where the mid-'90s faded away and reinvented dark, melancholy, ethereal dream pop with a hard edge. Throw a bit of Disintegration-era Cure and some classically influenced arrangements and you've got a fairly reasonable approximation of the band's sound. Or just put the record on, play it loud and let the music hit you.
The Weather Inside, the band's second full-length, opens with Jess Congdon's voice ringing clear on the celestial "Code Orange," with a cascading wall of guitar, bass and drums that only hints at the songs to come. The instrumental interlude "Pelican" storms in like a bursting thundercloud at the crunchier, thrashier end of shoegaze. The melody belongs to Esther Reyes's cello, like a tree bending in a storm.
The songs flip in and out on themselves, changing time signatures and incorporating bridges, codas and crescendos that are unpredictable and striking, much like the arrangement antics Radiohead often go for. Though Reyes also plays guitar on other tracks, it's her cello that rips your heart out. The careening guitars, gorgeous cello and clattering, gripping drumming of Emily Marsh all come together to create a world of sound that feels forbidden and deliciously secret, and thankfully it's not impenetrable.
"Nothing," penned by bassist Rachel Stevens, grabs you by the shoulders and whisks you into Vervein's lush world. The simple sentiment of "Nothing to look at and nothing to do/ Nothing to keep me from thinking of you" fits the lilting music and lets you float away on this one like savoring a new crush. But their sound is epitomized on "Right of Way," the knockout punch in this 1-2-3 run of songs that comprise the album's heart and soul. Reyes once again shines on this track.
The members of the band don't make an issue out of being women, claiming girl power and saying "I can do what the boys can do too." Not to discount the impact all-female punk bands have had on future generations of girls, but when are women going to have to stop trying to prove they can play and just get on with writing and playing great songs? Vervein does just that. The members don't draw attention to their being female; they just get up there and play songs that command attention because it's compelling, wondrous music.
Vervein on Myspace.com
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