The Veils | Sun Gangs (Rough Trade)

cd_veils.jpgSun Gangs impresses by presenting particularly interesting permutations with great conviction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s painful to admit, but there’s only so much mileage that can be dragged out of the 1980s. It’s not that the decade or its rich palette of sounds are suddenly unworthy, but rather a case of it becoming ever more difficult to unearth the decade’s underexposed gems, or to find something fresh to say about bands bearing the influences. The fact that the Veils manage to aggregate their Reagan-era (and other) influences into a compelling whole tosses the group a can of energy drink and spots them a several stride lead in an increasingly fatiguing footrace.

Sun Gangs doesn’t impress by mining ultra-obscurity, but by presenting particularly interesting permutations with great conviction. "Sit Down by the Fire" bursts forth with the trench-coated sweep of Echo & the Bunnymen and the spiritual yearning of the Waterboys, exuding a remarkable sense of drama and true romantic vulnerability. The title track is more downcast, haunted by the ghosts of a disarmingly sincere Lou Reed, and cross pollinated with the resigned, orchestrated mortality of latter-day Leonard Cohen. Yet it sounds disappointed in its loss, as opposed to not-so-secretly and gleefully fatalistic. "The Letter" edges forward with a martial, mulleted-Bono U2 drumbeat and cathedral echo guitars, shifting into a wailing wall of noise in the chorus, before finally remembering to take a deep breath, exhaling and regrouping back for another verse. It’s a magnificent sound tempered with the deflated, inevitable atmosphere of a long-term lover about to reveal a hidden, guilty infidelity. This stark emotion is also found in the naked album closer "Begin Again," offering heavy-hearted regret over a bed of solo piano.

The album isn’t able to maintain its heart-pounding openness; by the disc’s second half, the influences become more varied and the spirit noticeably walled-off. The ragged raving of "Killed by the Boom" suggests PIL-era John Lydon fronting Blur at their most garage-punk. It’s electrifying in concept and execution, but also somewhat mechanical. Oddly, at certain points the band appears to tire of the ’80s altogether, and instead skips ahead to the late ’90s/early 2000s heyday of earnest post-Britpop. The vocals and pacing of several songs remind of a far less po-faced Starsailor. "Larkspur" is the beneficiary of a late-album second wind, an epic worthy of the Verve at its most cosmic, full of noisy breakdowns and messianic Richard Ashcroft posing. The band even finds time to dip into weird, post-punk doo-wop territory.

There’s a scattershot thread running throughout the album that both bolsters and harms it. The vague genre hopping pays off by imparting a truly dynamic tone to the disc, but it also makes it slightly tough to reconcile noisy, experimental rock with dramatic, gothic pop, flag-waving post-punk and tortured emo-pop. The only flat-out error is subtracting the Cinemascope grandeur that’s proffered in the first half. The Veils make meaty music; the sole wish for Sun Gangs is that it would manage to wear its heart on its sleeve the entire time. B+ | Mike Rengel

RIYL: Earnest post-punk; the thought of a slightly less ove-the-top take on "This Is the Sea"; the variety of the more obscure, non-synth ends of the ’80s

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