Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Speck Mountain...Veronica Falls

The theme for today is female-fronted bands that are named after natural landmarks, I suppose...unless it's writing about whatever the hell has been clogging my inbox lately. In any case, here are new releases by two groups that I've reviewed before and liked, and whose follow ups seem cleaner, clearer, less mysterious and vaguely disappointing.

First up, Speck Mountain, a Chicago-based outfit whose debut I reviewed back in 2007 at Dusted, saying "It's that combination of sweetness and unearthliness, of accessible pop and trippy psychedelia, that make Summer Above so appealing…and so hard to get a grip on. And yet, if you lie perfectly still, the combination makes utter sense. It's space rock made with warm organic instruments, pop filtered through the language of the subconscious, and, finally, a waking daydream too beautiful to shake off."

Their third album, Badwater, is out in January on Carrot Top. It is the first to feature a regular drummer (Chin Up Chin Up's Chris Dye) and an organ player (Linda Malonis). As before, though, Speck Mountain's dreamy, drifty aesthetic derives mostly from singer Marie-Claire Balabanian and guitarist Karl Briedeck, who manage to embue chilled, ethereal space rock with a certain amount of warmth. I do like the guitar work a good bit on this one. It meshes with the drums very nicely, though it is perhaps this traditional rock element that makes Badwater less narcotically strange than the debut. I felt, finally, that you didn't really tip over backwards into these songs, the way you did with "Way Out West," that there was a scrim of performance or production or effort or something that made it harder to immerse oneself in this third album.

I also quite liked Veronica Falls' debut a couple of years ago. It came within a hair's breadth of making my top ten for 2011, and I wrote for Blurt:

Had enough of drone-y, dissonant, reverb-drenched R ‘N R? Too bad. It's time to suck it up and make room for one more band with bright-and-shadows harmonies, rackety riffs and a thing for guitar effects. Veronica Falls, out of London, runs way ahead of the Pains-of-Being-Dum-as-a-Vivian Girl pack with a bittersweet debut. They nod to all the usual influences - Jesus & Mary Chain, VU, Orange Juice etc. - but in fresh and unaffected ways. "Found Love in a Graveyard" may explore a nexus of death and teen love as old as, say, Wayne Cochran's "The Last Kiss," but it sounds unencumbered by history, as if these four had just cottoned onto the scary idea of mortality.

Veronica Falls' second album, Waiting for Something to Happen, is due out on Slumberland in January, and while the sound is recognizably the same (good melodic singing, slanting, stinging guitars, a rather tense, tetchy rhythm section) the indefinable oomph of the first album has been dialed down. To be honest, it's hard to quantify these things. I was never really sure why Veronica Falls hit me as hard as it did (when there were tons of records, then and now, attempting the same sort of thing). Now, I'm not really sure why the follow-up is leaving me all "well, all right, fine, nothing wrong with that really".

Anyway, judge for yourself. There's a soundcloud stream of the first single "Teenage" up now, and if you're at all on the fence, be advised that it is clearly the best cut on the album.

So that's it for now, though I might mention that I've caught a bit of the new Scott Walker on Brian Williams' WFMU show yesterday and thought that was about enough of that. Also been dabbling in this all Everly Brothers, all covers collaboration from Bonnie Prince Billy and Dawn McCarthy, which definitely has its moments.

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