REVIEW: Violens - True

An album that crosses and melds genres in the way True does can almost only be referred to as psychedelic, though such broadly vague catch-alls can't be accurate, much less helpful. Still, it's truly hard to find words to ascribe to an album - and a band - as at once eclectic and aspirational as theirs. 

Currently on tour (sans bassist) with Lower Dens, to support the follow-up to their debut LP, Amoral, this NY-based brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Jorge Elbrecht evokes, at its best, familiar textures of shoegaze, dreampop, and 80s new wave. Gentle call-and-response vocals and clean guitars, awash in reverb aplenty open the album, longingly pleading "True, I want to know that you're true..." These melodically tender bits marry a driving rhythm section that would be at home on a dance floor-- an unmistakably rock-based brand of subdued dance, granted, that's more likely to inspire hands-in-jeans-pockets swaying and head bobbing (possibly with a side of trench coats and clove cigarettes) than anything else. 

The second track - Der Microarc - maintains that vibe, but it's not long before it dives into more jagged terrain, foreshadowing a plummet into far more unsettling ambience and discord that more closely borders experimental post-punk and no wave art rock predecessors. The songs are lyrical, but the words are hard to make out, and don't necessarily feel like a focal point, but rather a vehicle to deliver the emotive elements of their intricately woven textural fabric.

Indeed, subtlety and depth such as that captured in Violens vocals, instrumentation and production soar to places high and highly recognizable, if moody. Unfortunately, they can be all too easily lost in live settings, as Jorge himself admitted to a fan at their recent DC show, noting their music is very hard to replicate live. While this remains evident, even glaring, due to said ghost bassist who apparently left them high and dry for a much higher-paying gig (ahem, sellout!), fans of Violens will weather these storms through to daylight's break and a glorious, if dramatic, sun-drenched payoff. For they are, after all, at their best when at their most dramatic and epic, which will not likely win over fans of the understated alt-country indie whisperer. Nor, thankfully, are they young, brash, hip and trendy enough to be at home amid the acts that embrace the garishly overstated. This middle ground that they so unconventionally occupy, with little regard to the cultural barometer d'jour, along with the somewhat sleepier, smaller, less sweeping moments, may in fact be their greatest collective weakness of all - at least as concerns True. 

However, as with Amoral, the sophomore effort is entirely listenable, even thematic, and bears the sophistication of ever-maturing songwriting; once again, it has been clearly produced and sequenced with great intent and artistry, showing evidence that a progression, a story, possibly even a dream, is unfolding as each track lends way to the next. There is even a literal midpoint halfway through this twelve-song album, where end-track-six ambient washouts give rise to a darker and more raucous track seven, "Unfolding Black Wings." (Indeed.) This schizoid turbulence continues throughout the track and into those that follow, picking up the pace with the full-on relentless yet dreamy post-punk of "All Night Low," a single whose video would no doubt induce a seizure in the more sensitive and/or epileptic members of the audience. "Lucent Caries" does just that, moving this roller coaster ride from a mellow new wave hook from lucidity into areas unknown, until it unwinds and atrophies while crossing its distant, dissonant bridge - a moment entirely reminiscent of cult 90s space-rock favorite, Failure's Fantastic Planet. Dissolving into a haunting nothingness that finds its way back "Through the Window," the following two tracks return to its telltale lush 80s hooks, bringing the listener full circle, coasting comfortably but hazily into familiar territory.  

Fans of Violens will undoubtedly grow to love this album and cherish it alongside Amoral. Those yet to familiarize themselves with this act may want to keep an ear to the ground. Added bonuses await those who follow their online and social media presence, as the band releases tasty mixtapes, full of remixes, mashups and other teaser material to hold fans over between the more major releases. 

And do take note: If they ever manage to fully capture live what they've consistently done so remarkably well in the studio, then mark my words: They will complete their transformation from a noteworthy, self-produced, self-recorded studio band into a truly impressive, important, and perhaps unmistakably memorable modern band. I can only hope they live up to their fullest potential.