Sometimes, it’s easy to tire of the self-conscious irony or the posturing, preening libido that seems to permeate rock. Are there any earnest bands out there anymore? And when I say earnest, I don’t mean the fanatical zeal of U2 or the bleeding-heart sensitivity of the approximately 2,304,823 emo acts in the US today. I mean, are there any bands that actually write what they feel anymore, without dressing it up with rock genre stylings like so much dressing on salad?
Venice is Sinking thankfully answers that question with an unassuming “yes”, delivering a debut album full of the most honest, understated songs to come out in a while. The Georgia five-piece comes off the tail end of a shoegazing rebirth that seems to be sweeping the indie world, combining the swirling dreaminess of Low with the stately, melodic pop of Death Cab For Cutie. And while they don’t say much – the lyrics are sparse and appear to be drawn out to cover the maximal amount of instrumental space - what they do say, they say without pretension, and in an awfully pretty way.
Just by listening once, it’s pretty clear that although this is a debut album, these guys aren’t beginners when it comes to music – they have significant touring experience, and it shows. They root their sound in a wistful, firmly midtempo guitar template, with Steve Miller (no, not that one) providing steadily impressive bass hooks. Lead singer Daniel Lawson (who’s sure to have to fend off comparisons to Ben Gibbard of Death Cab) provides the perfect vocals for this type of record: clear, ringing and unobtrusively melodic.
But the lion’s share of the credit for the musical prettiness has to go to Karolyn Troupe, who handles her viola (and flute, and violin, and cello, and singing!) duties with a lushness that infuses the entire album. Other bands usually treat their strings either as a gimmick, or as an excuse to completely overwhelm songs with excess sentimentality. Here, the viola is an integral part of the sound that lends it an orchestral maturity beyond similar indie rock bands.
With all that musical talent at its disposal, Venice is Sinking writes startlingly beautiful pop tunes. The band sounds like bummed-out guys (and a girl) who just happened to wake up on a rainy day – or in a drowning city, whichever you prefer – and spontaneously decided, instead of falling into depression, to compose some songs to cheer themselves up a bit. So “Tours” rides an uplifting viola and sweeps listeners along with the wave; “Arkansas” strikes a perfectly epic balance between the tough guitar riff and majestic strings. And while Lawson sings his words sparingly, the wordplay he does show is full of throbbing wistfulness: on “Undecided”, he sings through a beautiful vocal hook, “If no one moves then no one gets hurt / If nothing moves then nothing gets worse”.
All of the album is contained within this same midtempo, lush frame; the same honest wistfulness that’s so emotionally appealing also means the songs tend to stay fairly predictable, and some of the weaker material tends to just fade into the background and out of the memory. But it’s also a credit to the band for sticking to what it knows, and with the exception of an experimental ten-minute blast of ambience on “Blue By Late”, the tracks are impressively consistent. An orchestral pop gem if there ever was one.