Off with Their 'Head 

The Velvet Teen's Albatross

Santa Rosa's the Velvet Teen have an albatross around their neck. Seemingly every review of theirs manages to reference the same band, claiming the two are of the exact same ilk, with the Teen aping more than just a similar-sounding lead singer. And while yes, that band (starts with "radio," ends with "head") serves as a pretty good stepping stone, the Velvet Teen are much more than generic Anglophiles, seamlessly shifting from sprawling rock to muddled pop to spastic noise with what can only be considered ease.

Taking a different route, the Velvet Teen could have easily turned into Death Cab Jr. The two have a similar penchant for melody, equal dreaded-three-letter-word-starting-with-"e" tendencies, and hell, Chris Walla from Death Cab produced their first record, 2002's Out of the Fierce Parade. And while, at that time, the two certainly fell under the same indie pop umbrella, what set the Velvet Teen apart, and what continues to set them apart, is their sonic reach. Taking their cue from classic power trios (Rush, anyone?), the band sound as though they should have at least three additional members; trios, for all rock purposes, are not supposed to sound that full.

Shifting gears for their next release, 2004's Elysium, the Velvet Teen ditched the indie pop (and the guitar!) for a more somber, expansive, and reflective sound, one that is a perfect late night/early morning soundtrack. But in the span of their career, evolving has been crucial, and with the release of last year's Cum Laude!, the band welcomed back the guitar and created a nearly flawless album that convincingly tied together all their shifting styles thus far. Bookended by vocalist Judah Nagler's up-and-down range and Casey Deitz's unreal spastic drumming, the band holds nothing back in ambition, emotion, or skill, with songs that are noisy as hell but never lose sight of their pop melodies (think Dismemberment Plan or Parts & Labor). Sure, the albatross is there, but pay it no mind: The Velvet Teen have, over the course of three albums, undoubtedly proven themselves as a distinctive, major creative force, not just disciples of a British rock band.

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