The poet Robert Frost once defined tone as “what comes through a closed door when people are speaking out of earshot. We cannot understand the exact words, but the tones of voice tell us what is going on. You can tell if the voice is pleading, demanding or doubtful.” The U.K. band Veronica Falls is all about tone. The song lyrics on its self-titled debut album are sung clearly enough, but the words are frequently and intentionally masked by the sound of an electric guitar, drums, or even harmony vocals. The music and lyrics are meant to be heard together.
However, you can clearly tell which songs are “pleading, demanding or doubtful” or even celebratory and loving, without understanding the words. Drummer Patrick Doyle gives the skins a solid workout as the beat, the beat, the beat becomes incessant. He propels the pop conventions of boy / girl vocals and guitar hooks into something more intense and important. Roxanne Clifford, who sings and plays guitar, prefers to keep her vocals in the background while she and guitarist James Hoare shoot riffs against each other. Bassist Marion Herbain contributes to the overall flow.
This allows the band to fool around, and this is a fun record! There are sing-along lines like “Stephen / King of everything” that turn one’s mouth muscles into a smile. The darker sounding tracks, like “Misery” and “Bad Feeling”, have a sugar-coated sheen. Listening through the closed door of sound, the pain does not sound so bad. Nobody’s wailing. Sure, there’s pleading – but it sounds like the pledges of love. And love hurts. More importantly, there’s a potent energy to the music. It keeps moving and takes the listener along for the ride.
Veronica Falls has a strange sense of humour. The band opens the record with a ghost story, “Found Love in a Graveyard”. While the details are nebulous, this is clearly not a goth tale. It’s the irony of discovering true love with a spirit. Veronica Falls does not explicate as much as repeat the lyrics as there is nothing else to say. Can’t kiss or consummate relationships, duh! Or there’s “Wedding Day”, whose main refrain “You don’t look at her / The way you’re looking at me” seems to be the main point. There’s nothing else there but what’s there. Ironic, huh?
That’s kind of the point. The music of Veronica Falls suggests the influence of eighties twee pop British music (e.g., Aztec Camera, Wedding Present, Orange Juice) without the angst behind it. This was the Thatcher era, when innocent pop was wielded as a weapon against a materialistic and commercial culture. Like The Point’s Oblio, not having a point was having a point. It stood for nonconformity and a rejection of mainstream values.
The political climate in England may be different now, but there are certain things that may have gotten worse. It’s not for me to judge, but Veronica Falls’ music suggests it’s time to not pay attention again. “It’s tone I’m in love with; that’s what poetry is, tone,” according to Frost. The tone of this album invites one to dream. To escape is to make a statement about living in the world simply by not making a statement. Does Veronica still fall? Sure, just listen.
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// Notes from the Road
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