The CD's cover -- soft focus photography, sunshine, '70s style -- says it all.
You may remember the name David Vandervelde from last year. The Brooklyn (via Chicago and Nashville) singer-songwriter put out a record called The Moonstation House Band in January 2007, which received some positive press and fleeting blog attention (is blog attention anything but fleeting?) for its fresh take on glam rock. He’s back now with a sophomore LP, Waiting for the Sunrise, which, though similarly inclined towards the past, is stylistically quite distinct. Instead of the nasal glissandi and funky basslines, Vandervelde has turned to more relaxed, rootsy source material for inspiration.
Unlike bands like the Magic Numbers, who look (further) back with a firmer sense of straight reproduction, Vandervelde is undoubtedly interested in our experience now. At any rate, he’s in his 20s, and (as Keith Gessen tells us) when you’re 20, or 21, or 22, or 23, what you want from life is inextricably tied up in what you think of yourself.
But then this time, unlike the debut on which Vendervelde wrote every part and played every instrument, members of Vandervelde’s band, including Jay Bennett (Wilco), contributed to the composition process, and the result is more consistent, yet more homogenous. By about the fourth song on the record, things settle into a predictable groove, with rootsy guitars and layered vocals filtered through a soft-focus '70s haze. It’s not repetitive so much as merely a comforting tour through tropes made entirely familiar by many "lite rock" stations. Still, there’s plenty of pathos to be mined from this arrangement, and Vandervelde grasps this with a casual grace. As “Old Turns” fades out, he asks, “How long will it take me to understand how old turns to new?” It could be a justification for the whole backwards-facing attitude of the album, or a much more personal realisation about the effect of time on love.
The album is front-loaded with a series of sparkling tracks that strongly make Vandervelde’s case for the relevance of nostalgia-rock. Opener and first single “I Will Be Fine” is so laid-back it almost doesn’t exist -- but then again, propulsion’s not the point. Guitar lines wander around in the mud, in no hurry to emerge back to another verse; vocal parts cascade into echo at the end of a line. “Breezes”, immediately following, will be a natural hit. Shamelessly filled with West Coast nostalgia, the tune rides un-self-consciously over a bank of Wurlitzers, and is entirely successful.
Thankfully, along with this relaxed musical approach, Vandervelde has dropped the Bee Gees-esque vocal affect. His natural singing voice is smooth and light, and the songs on Waiting for the Sunrise allow it to shine. Sure, there’s less edge to the material, now, but with old AM radio pop as the template, this comes with the territory. There may be a slightly more serious problem. Though Vandervelde gets all the separate pieces right -- the buzzy horns, the funky Beatles percussion, the rattling organs -- it occasionally fails to completely gel. More relaxed ballads like “Need for Now” have a hard time leaving a strong impression, perhaps because they’re so breezy that they’re all atmosphere and no impact.
Nonetheless, Waiting for the Sunrise is never boring. At worst it dips into ‘pleasant’ territory, and if that guitar jam comes precisely when you’re expecting it, let’s call it “classic” rather than “formulaic” songwriting. This album may not catapault Vandervelde into the mainstream, but it should cement his reputation as a somewhat nostalgic, but solid singer-songwriter with an ear for catchy melody.