Change Is in the Air 

The Shifting Sound of the Velvet Teen

THE VELVET TEEN has a sound that is slippery, bound to jump from genre to genre, unchecked by the boundaries of consistency. Over the course of three LPs, the Santa Rosan trio has taken a chameleon-like approach in finding the defining aspects of their sound. While Out of the Fierce Parade (2002) was a haunting, melodic introduction to a band rooted in alt-rock, 2004's Elysium eschewed this more traditional sound, dropping the guitars entirely and using laptop production to fuse decorous strings and piano with a more modern, electronic sound. Change is inherent in the Velvet Teen's music. As lead singer Judah Nagler says, "Spontaneity is key in everything we do. I don't see us being one of those bands that plays their 'hits' forever."

Two years later, the band has once again diverged from their prior sound with the electro-rockfest of Cum Laude! Taking cues from both Out of the Fierce Parade and the guitarless Elysium, Cum Laude! is a solidly rock-oriented album, tinged with a dark stain of electronic noise. For every moment of pounding guitar, fronted by Nagler's wailing vocals, there is the slightest hint of almost video gameish beeps and bloops lurking near the edges. Take "Tokyoto," a showcase for Nagel's sweeping vocal talent and the astounding drum hammering of newcomer Casey Deitz, all backlit by a wavering, whining synth hum.

Nagler says of the new sound, "We revel in the sonic freedom of electronic exploration, and I just bought two Fender Twins, so it's going to be loud and riotous for a while."

Nagler points to Deitz as the catalyst for the group's current sound. "I've been making electronic music for eight years now, and have been wanting to incorporate it into the band. This wasn't possible until the addition of Casey, who can play fast, electronically influenced beats. He has stretched us, and we have stretched him." Deitz's alluded influence is readily apparent on many of the album's tracks. "333" features almost entirely Deitz's concentrated snare/cymbal outbursts over distorted drones and squeals, while "Building a Whale" opens with a machine gun spray of cadence that drives the song in its panicky thrash.

With the Deitz's addition, and the continued support of bassist Josh Staples, Nagler seems pleasantly content with the future of the Velvet Teen's sound, "I think we may have a template for our creative process now, so the genre-bending may be less severe on future releases."

Fans of the trio's ever-shifting oeuvre need not worry though, as the band will continue to warp the dynamics of their music. "We have to play these songs countless times, so our first priority is keeping it interesting for ourselves. Everything else takes a backseat. But backseats have their roles too. We just hope the audience will stick it out through the experimenting."

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