Velvet Crush: Pre-Teen Symphonies

Pre-Teen Symphonies offers a fascinating snapshot into the life of a song, from its most embryonic stages to the shape it takes post-release as a piece of a band's live act.
Velvet Crush
Pre-Teen Symphonies
Omnivore Recordings

Power pop as musical genre draws inspiration from artists, that quite frankly, people like more than the acolytes. At least if one goes by record sales. But if you’ve ever sat in a bar and perked up when you saw another soul nodding along to “September Gurls” or proselytized about Jellyfish to your fellow college radio DJs, you know the type of devotion these artists inspire. There’s something beautiful in failure, though pursuing one’s dreams and making art that people love, fall in love to, and make a part of their lives hardly constitutes a failure. 

It’s the same reason you cling to hapless professional sports teams that haven’t been worth a damn since before your grandfather was born.

There’s a promise that one day it’ll all pay off, reaching the place of joy and highest exultation will be even better because you’ve stuck by them through the good and the bad. That’s the promise of bands like Velvet Crush and Pre-Teen Symphonies really demonstrates why.

 It’s a compilation split between demos of songs for Teenage Symphonies to God, the band’s high-water mark and the quintessential ’90s power pop album, a careful blend of ’60s nostalgia, ’70s power pop forefathers, and the influence of ’80s college rock and alternative music. The ’60s nostalgia comes in the title, a pet phrase of Brian Wilson’s for SMiLE. Velvet Crush bears the imprint of Big Star, one of the godfathers of power pop, whose later work set the template for more of the off-kilter output of ’80s alternative acts. Mitch Easter, of jangle pop band Let’s Active, produced Teenage Symphonies to God and also manned the boards for Murmur by R.E.M.

Velvet Crush released their album In the Presence of Greatness on Creation Records to critical acclaim and the group hoped to reach new heights on their sophomore album.

The value of Pre-Teen Symphonies is in hearing the embryonic forms of classic cuts from Teenage Symphonies to God as well as previously unreleased cuts such as the excellent “Turn Down”. Easter actually plays guitar on it.

According to Ric Menck, that factored in tapping him to produce. 

“…We quite deliberately asked Mitch to produce Teenage Symphonies to God, not only because he was a first rate recording engineer, but because he could also play guitar like Jimmy Page if required. This was important to us, because we wanted to take the new album in a decidedly heavier direction. As you can hear on ‘Turn Down’, Mitch spits out licks like a street tuff in a knife fight,” writes Menck in the liner notes for Pre-Teen Symphonies.

 The demos give a real appreciation for what Easter brought to the table as a producer. They’re refreshing in their own way and may grow in estimation beyond the finished album cuts.

 The rest of the album is dedicated to previously unreleased live cuts from 1995.

Pre-Teen Symphoniesshows what a terrific live band Velvet Crush was. The energy of the live cuts matches or exceeds that of the ones that appeared on Teenage Symphonies to God. One of the challenges of being a producer is finding the right balance between capturing the essence of band’s live performance, but at the same time creating an engaging piece of entertainment. 

This is a compilation that will appeal solely to those already converted, though there is something to be said about showcasing the band as a studio presence as well as a live act. At first glance, this release has the makings of a cash grab, as these tracks could have easily been appended to a remastered and expanded version of Teenage Symphonies to God, fortunately there’s enough quality material to merit a standalone release. It’s a fascinating look at the birth of songs and what shape they take after they been released to the world at large.

RATING 7 / 10
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