It's the second great Arcade Fire album of the year.
The Veils, a group of Kiwis based in London, finally get a release for their wonderful second album, Nux Vomica, in the U.S. through Rough Trade. The album was released in the UK last year -– if you were technologically savvy you might have heard the first single, "Advice for Young Mothers to Be", on a few UK-based blogs around September. So as tempted as we might be to contextualise the Veils' new album in the context of a particularly bleak, post-Neon Bible indie scene, it's useful to remember that this dark balladry precedes this latest strain of melancholy. 2006 wasn't all twee pop and chamber electro, turns out.
The Veils have gotten more sophisticated in the time since their debut, The Runaway Found. "The Tide That Left and Never Came Back", their breakout single, was a pulsing, Editors-style anthem that never really pulled them out of the pack of pulsing, Editors-style groups of 2004. For Nux Vomica, the group's rounded out their sound with strings and plenty of guitar and keyboard effects –- you wouldn't pick the core group as a trio. The songs tend to fall into two categories: darkly gothic, depressive rock songs, and seemingly upbeat, catchy pop songs that'll fool you into thinking they are as positive with their initial blast of keyboards and syncopation.
The swirling indie-rock drama will net them the Arcade Fire comparisons, and on a few of the songs these are more or less apt. On "Calliope!", in a move typical of the more famous band, guitars take a back seat to keyboards and the strings play a sharp marcato, with none of that canned pop schmaltz. The song's wonderful, though, and it should really be heard. "Nux Vomica" shows another point of parallelism -– the preoccupation with the direction we're going, the turning to God but receiving no answer –- and the feeling is just as genuine as on Neon Bible. When lead vocalist Finn Andrews screeches, "I'll see you all, and I'll raise you" as the song explodes, it's a great moment. But at their most upbeat the band reveals a love of melody that places them more firmly in the in-the-best-of-worlds-big-radio-stars category. That's true most of all for the first single, "Advice for Young Mothers to Be", which is so determined to be bouncy you almost forget its genuinely frightening point of view.
If you haven't seen it yet, check out the video for "Advice for Young Mothers to Be". As the band plays out the song in a pink padded room, babies (real ones) crawl out of a little red velvet door and fill up the stage, to the band's apprehension and annoyance. The homoerotic under- (and over-)tones here, and throughout, the album place Andrews in that category of songwriters like Antony, or Rufus Wainwright, writing smart songs with an easy universality, but nothing like the Scissor Sisters or, luckily, Mika.
In fact (and this is somewhat true of Arcade Fire, as well) there would be no Veils without Radiohead. You can hear strong influences here and there throughout Nux Vomica, incorporated into the core of the Veils' appeal. In particular, "Jesus for the Jugular" uses the same booming bass and hollow drum of "Climbing Up the Walls". And there are times when you think the band's going to drop into Britpop territory, as at the beginning of "A Birthday Present", but through clever arrangements and production that purposefully muddies the sound, the result is never obvious. Even on the slower songs that drift towards obligatory ballad territory the group pulls out some astonishing beauty. "Under the Folding Branches" showcases the weariness in Andrews' voice, as a chorus at once loss and stasis settles beneath a snow-filled sky.
With lyrics like "A neckerchiefed spaniel patrols the swamp / And drinks from the garden of our tears", you might find the Veils a little precocious, but the rub is that underneath, and when they choose to reveal them, the emotions hit hard -– it comes down to "I'm not sure God knows we're here". The U.S. has finally got the chance to discover the Veils, and it should jump at the opportunity: regardless of when it's released (and despite its odd title), Nux Vomica is a dramatic and powerful statement about uncertain futures, strong-felt regrets, and occasional, barely concealed joy. The stuff of life.