by Peter Joseph

16 August 2005

Percolating beneath the current crop of retro retreads and bland noisemakers is an art punk band that looks back to the past for inspiration to reclaim the gallery space for music.

PopMatters Associate Concerts Editor

Pop Art = Art Pop

Right before VOY begins, the lights come up in the gallery, revealing bare, gleaming white walls. The whitewashed plaster might be a gallery staple, but it’s the polar opposite of the gloomy, dark, and dank clubs where most bands perform in New York. Yet it’s the ideal setting for this LA trio’s first performance on the East Coast.

So far tonight, the lights stayed off and two run of the mill avant-noise bands alternately surged and dirged through their sets. I never thought I would be able to describe a band as both “avant-noise” and “run of the mill”, but alternative/indie music has finally turned the noise—whether mordantly slow, droning, stoner guitar or frenetic, squealing, scrabbling feedback—into a de rigueur feature of most concerts.

VOY has taken the high road, writing songs that float beyond simple pop music but still trail wisps of catchy, radio-friendly melodies. It’s easy to understand the appeal of noise for guitarists—after all, not every guitarist can pull off a Joe Satriani, but any eighth-grader could probably pull off a convincing Fred Frith. VOY has steered clear of the avant garde’s dangerous waters by ditching the axe altogether. The band’s sound rests on thrumming bass, a flutelike, very nearly cheesy keyboard, and a fizzing, clicking laptop that provides the barebones percussive backdrop.

From such a simple description, it might sound as if I’m introducing the next Postal Service or Notwist to you, but VOY’s recently released EP reaches much further back than post-millennium IDM. Like many new bands, they’ve drawn inspiration from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s alternative greats—and, for once, it’s not Gang of Four! Instead, VOY have True Stories and Stop Making Sense in their Netflix queues; they have Remain in Light and Fear of Music locked into their iPods. Or perhaps they’re Luddites, and would just tell you they like their Talking Heads on cassette.

In this live gallery setting, singer Tom Texas Holmes sports a Dali-esque mustache and the fervid eyes and widespread hands of an art-gospel preacher. Most importantly, he has the voice to carry the torch. Recalling David Byrne’s reedy pipes and Mark Mothersbaugh’s slyly irreverent twang, Holmes veers between soaring, full-throated choruses and breathless, staccato barks. His mixture of earnest straightforwardness and technical distance is the sort of fine balance seen in the paintings of Wayne Thiebaud, Roy Lichtenstein, or Larry Rivers.

And just like those visual artists, what VOY creates is Pop Art in the best sense of the term. The beats are danceable, the choruses catchy, and the tones are bright. There is, dare I say it, a sense of hope, a sense that the act of creation and artistic invention has true worth. With such a perfect balance of earnestness, charm, and absurdity, VOY’s songs are the musical equivalent of a year’s worth of Fresh Air with Terry Gross episodes.

Discovering VOY in a Tribeca gallery is a rare stroke of luck for me and a small, surprised crowd of New Yorkers. The band has never toured on the East Coast, instead largely sticking to the LA art scene. But once they finished playing, numerous voices clamored for a return appearance. Until then, the band has posted a few songs on the web to tide us over. And like any young band worth their salt, they’ve eschewed a website entirely. Websites are old news. Apparently, MySpace is where the real music listeners are.

[band website]

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