The Velvet Teen – Elysium

The Velvet Teen wants to make it quite clear that there are no guitars used on this record. But how, you may ask, can a band that once used quite a bit of guitars and was clearly a rock band make a rock album that has no guitars? This is not a gimmick, let me assure you. There are no guitars needed here. On this epic release, originally intended as an EP but growing organically into something quite a bit more extensive, The Velvet Teen reinvents pop music to some extent. And trust me, you won’t miss the guitars for a second.

Epic is not a word I would use lightly, but trust me, it applies to Elysium perfectly. These seven songs combine piano (a trademark of The Velvet Teen’s sound), bass, drums, and strings provided by a local string quartet, and Judah Nagler’s falsetto vocals are themselves an instrument, going easily from a whisper to a soaring exclamation. These songs are not subtle arrangements, for the most part, instead going from quiet and beautiful to driving and intense, never losing that beauty and control. If you didn’t think a band could rock without guitars, it’s time to change your perceptions of rock.

The first actual song here, “Penicillin (It Doesn’t Mean Much),” soars on strings and piano and percussion. The song allows you to get your feet wet, allows you to get accustomed to Nagler’s gorgeous vocals and the intricate style the band lays out. It builds into an honest-to-goodness rock song, and you will be hooked. It flows almost seamlessly into “A Captive Audience,” the truly gorgeous crown jewel of this amazing release. The gorgeously plucked strings, the piano, the intricate beat, and Nagler’s intimate, soaring lyrics create something that is visceral yet engaging. When the song explodes, beats and piano and bass crashing, you have all the urgency and intensity of punk or hardcore but with beauty and astounding lucidity.

“Chimera Obscurant” is more than 12 minutes long, but you will hardly notice. This upbeat song doesn’t use the strings so much but rides up-tempo piano lines and gorgeous layering of the vocals. It’s a pop song that is energetic and still deeply personal. At its climax, it is emphatically urgent, Nagler singing fast over that pounding piano and rhythm, yet still a wonderful melodic line underlying the entire thing, making it even more powerful.

“Poor Celine” soars more, on strings and piano and Nagler’s amazing voice, while “Forlorn” is upbeat yet strikingly pretty. “We Were Bound (To Bend the Rules)” allows Nagler’s voice to really shine, this time over organ and some unique, vintage-sounding synths.

I never thought this band could top its astounding debut, Out of the Fierce Parade, but Elysium is more beautiful and on a grander scale. It is more intense, more intimate, more moving. And the band took just as much care in self-recording these songs as in the packaging and videos for each track. Forget pick of the day or the week, this is a pick of the year, an astoundingly powerful album that will not soon be forgotten.