Violet Indiana is guitarist/producer Robin Guthrie, formerly of the cult band Cocteau Twins, and vocalist Siobhan De Maré, late of the "alternative" rock duo Mono. Cocteau Twins were always one of those bands I heard a lot more about than I heard; I remember having a friend or two in high school, in the '80s, who were fans, but they never broke through to me. The word that comes up most often in reviews of Cocteau Twins albums is "ethereal", and Guthrie's guitar does indeed have a delicate, artful feel. Mono is an even more unknown quantity; they received some attention for their appearance on the Great Expectations soundtrack three years ago. I did see the film, but if I ever heard anything else off their one album I have forgotten it. I tell you this to establish that whatever preconceived notions with which I come to Violet Indiana, they are the product not of a serious, longtime fandom but of a sort of whispering campaign, things I've heard and read about.
As I listened to this Roulette for the first two times, I prepared myself to write a review that would point out things like the way the slow flow of most of the material sometimes makes it difficult to know where one song leaves off and the other begins. And if I’d written that review, I’d be right, there is a sameness to many of the songs, particularly on first hearings, especially in songs like “Little Echo” and “Poison Gorgeous”, which are based on unremarkable guitar figures (though the latter does build to a splendidly killer hook). My initial reaction to the album was: Oh. I get it. A less sample-driven Portishead, heavier on the guitar. And there is a resemblance, not just to that band but to the entire trip-hop sound they popularized, in the minimalist production on the opening “Air Kissing” and the later “Rage Days”. There’s also a similar film-music sound to a couple of the tracks. “Hiding” ought to be used in a psychological thriller with it’s quietly rapturous, dark piano line and “Killer Eyes” could hold up as well as anything in a coming of age story. It’s pretty but with an intensity that intimates intelligence, a description that could apply to the whole record.
Yet on repeated listening, a yearning, warm feeling to Guthrie’s guitars and De Mare’s breathy vocals come through, making for a warm sound that is almost all trip with little or no hop, superior and more intricate than it may at first sound. “Busted”, one of the best showcases for De Mare’s overdubbed and multi-tracked voice, is a song that, perhaps remixed with the drums a little higher, might make for a hit. That is, if Violet Indiana want that sort of thing. “Poison Gorgeous” is another. The press release claims the brooding “Feline or Famine” explores the dynamics of sex. Can’t say as how I heard that, but it’s certainly got a bittersweet allure . . . wait a minute, that does sound like my sex life . . . .
I admit to being surprised, but this album has found a place in my heart. These are the kinds of songs you find echoing in your brain when you haven’t even been aware you’d been thinking of them—and the lyrics suddenly make a whole lot of sense. It’s also music for rubbing someone’s shoulders, making love, dreaming to.