Elysium is a dreamy, expansive excursion of an album. Slip it into the disc drive (skip over the experimental track one) and let the rich orchestrations and singer/songwriter Judah Nagler’s voice—soothing, soaring, and layered—transport you. The nearly 13-minute epic that is “Chimera Obscura” is a journey, at first multilayered mellow indie rock before it wraps back on itself and, backed by cries of “We are all the same,” Nagler begins breathlessly intoning the lyrics. The strings and orchestrations grow and swell, eventually drowning out Nagler’s rants and generally sweeping the listener off her feet. “We Were Bound (to Bend the Rules),” the album’s closer, is another adventure in sound layering and composition.
What you should know: The Velvet Teen is three guys from California’s Bay Area—in addition to Nagler (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), there’s Joshua Staples (bass) and Casey Dietz (drums). Founding drummer Logan Whitehurst left after recording Elysium, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor (he’s fine now, thank you—but the tumor led to some soul-searching and he ultimately decided to follow his own inner drummer, so to speak). The Velvet Teen is big in Japan, where they recently toured with The Good Life (of which Nagler gushes, “It was great just to be signing autographs with Tim Kasher”). Nagler was voted #33 hottest rock star by Elle Girl. There were no guitars used in the making of Elysium.
“We had recorded a couple things for it on guitar, but they were cluttering everything,” explains Nagler. “We just decided it didn’t need it.”
So instead of guitars, you’ll find strings—lots of strings—a horn section, drums, bass, keyboards, and piano—rich, dreamy piano.
“We wanted to do stuff with strings and some other production elements, and we had a number of piano ideas that we were starting on,” says Nagler. “We had an idea of where the songs were going, but didn’t have it all mapped out; it takes on its own momentum when you write it. For example, I didn’t mean to write a 12-minute song; the lyrics just kept coming, so I just kept going until it was done.”
The album has been atop a number of critics’ lists—The Onion, for example, named it #3 for the year—and Nagler’s voice has garnered comparisons to such greats as Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke. Buckley’s mom is even a fan (“Basically, we have the same lawyer,” explains Nagler). But critical acclaim, as we all know, doesn’t always translate into popular success.
“I don’t really keep up with how we’re doing,” Nagler says. “I asked a while ago and was told, ‘Good, but not as good as we were hoping.’ I don’t think as many people are into it. That’s why we’ll make a louder and crazier [album] the next time.”
If that’s the case, you’ll definitely want to grab ’hold of Elysium’s beauty before it’s drowned out.