The Velveteers are a trio from Boulder, Colorado, featuring Demi Demitro on vocals and baritone guitar and Jonny Fig and Baby Pottersmith on drums. They have a lot of crunch and a massive bottom end despite not having a bass player. Two drummers and a lower-than-usual guitar will do that for you. The band attracted the attention of Black Keys frontman/guitarist Dan Auerbach, who produced Nightmare Daydream, their debut album.
Opener “Dark Horse” is an interesting choice to begin the record because the drummers mostly sit out the first two-thirds of the song. After a simple beat begins the song, Demitro comes in with a simple riff, singing about being “the dark horse”. The riff changes after the first vocals, and the drums drop out, only to come back in later playing slow, simple beats. The track runs through four or five distinct guitar riffs over its three minutes, and the crunchiest one is the only part of the song to get a full dream beat. The crunchy guitars with third-hand blues riffs backed by simple drumming give away the White Stripes‘ influence.
Coincidentally, track two here is “Motel #27”, while track two on the White Stripes’ iconic White Blood Cells album is “Hotel Yorba”. That’s where the direct similarities end, though. “Motel #27” is a much heavier track than the country-influenced White Stripes song. A chunky opening chord gives way to a thumping beat and a bruising guitar riff. Demitro shout-speaks the lyrics, turning the attitude way up. As the song develops, the drummers assert themselves more and more. Tight rolls give way to breakneck dual rhythms on the fills, and there’s some fabulous technique on display. It sounds like Pottersmith may be the one with the trained percussion chops.
With their basic style established, the Velveteers spend the bulk of Nightmare Daydream trying slight variations on it. At times this works exceedingly well. The mid-tempo “Charmer and the Snake” has a slinky guitar riff, one of the record’s best earworms. The song crescendos into a loud chorus with a separate melody, but it wisely leans on the main riff for the bulk of the track. “Choking” has Demitro speaking the verses but really belting out the chorus with a great singing voice. It also includes oddball touches like the old school sounds of a landline phone being off the hook and strangely filtered layered harmony vocals.
The penultimate track, “Devil’s Radio”, might be the record’s catchiest song. Demitro has several equally melodic guitar riffs, and her vocal refrain is instantly memorable. The two drummers really complement each other here, alternately pounding together on the main beat or having one hold it down while the other does fills. On the other hand, “Brightest Light” features Demitro singing and playing an acoustic guitar, nearly on her own. It’s a genuinely romantic song, and the spare arrangement enhances that sentiment. The only percussion is an occasional kick drum and a glockenspiel, and even when Demitro switches to electric guitar at the end, the drummers hold back.
There are other times when the band isn’t quite as successful. “Father of Lies” opens with what sounds like a repeating synth bass note and is quickly joined by a buzzing guitar riff and effectively thumping drums. At over four minutes, though, it’s the album’s longest song. The two main guitar riffs are solid, but they aren’t enough to keep the track interesting for that extended length. “Nightmare Daydream” is a bit of a cowboy-style lope with a lot of piano and synths adding to the buzzing feel of the track. These arrangement choices are fantastic for changing the sound, but they don’t mask the repetitiveness in the actual songwriting.
The closer “Limboland” attempts to finish out the album on a note that’s both quiet and intentionally uncertain. It sets a melancholy, slightly creepy mood, and the refrain, “Where the milk is sour / And the honey just ain’t sweet”, is a good one. This, however, is another song that has a lot of atmosphere but not quite enough happens to keep it interesting.
Auerbach knows a thing or two about crunchy rock bands with no bassist, so it’s no surprise that he’s made the record sound great. It’s raw and scuzzy, but not so much so that the instruments lose their definition. Demitro’s vocals are always clearly audible as well, letting her lyrics and often-snotty delivery be fully heard. He’s done all he could here, and it helps the band. When the Velveteers are on, they’re great. Demitro often has awesome riffs, and whenever the drummers are unleashed, such as on “Motel #27” and later on “Beauty Queens”, it’s attention-grabbing. The sonics are enough to carry the Velveteers through the less-inspired tracks, and keeping the album under the 40-minute mark ensures that the listener won’t get bored. The trio’s songs are only there about half the time on Nightmare Daydream, however. That leaves the group with a solid first album that falls just short of being a true breakout.