Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Veldt - Afrodisiac (1994) 4/5

Despite originating from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, The Veldt would probably have felt more at home in the heart of England during the early to mid 1990’s. Whilst bands from the British Isles and Ireland were gaining a lot of publicity for their shoegazing ways, The Veldt were sadly overlooked, despite being around during the height of the shoegaze movement. In spite of their obvious talents, The Veldt, one of the few predominantly black alternative bands, were disgracefully swept aside due to the colour of their skin. Thankfully, before their demise, The Veldt released one of the most underrated shoegaze albums of the entire movement, let alone during the 1990’s when bands like Slowdive were coming to prominence. Despite this, the band were actually a hit in the UK when they toured alongside Cocteau Twins. Their layered approach and emotive vocals were considered a real treat to shoegazers in the UK just as much then as they are now with me.

As you might be able to tell from the title of this dazzling full-length debut, “Afrodisiac”, is at times a startling and eye opening commentary on the troubles of the black community and women’s rights at the time of its release. Songs like “Revolutionary Sister”, in particular, are evidence of this with the lyrics presenting a anti-misogyny message. “Afrodisiac” is unlike any of shoegaze album for many reasons, not only because it deals with such hard-hitting concepts and themes. One of the main differences between The Veldt and your standard shoegaze band is co-creator Daniel Chavis, the bands brilliant vocalist. Whilst most shoegaze bands during this era would employ their vocalist to use indiscernible vocals, Daniel Chavis’ uniquely shaped words are clear and concise, a major factor which contributes to the success of the album.

Not only this, but The Veldt’s influences also play a huge role in the shaping of the bands psychedelic and soulful sound. Daniel himself is inspired by none other than Prince. His collaboration with the layered, spiralling guitars is a wonderful high point on the album, though there are many to speak of. Amongst their surprising influences are also the likes of the inspirational and supremely talented Jimi Hendrix. The band also have some more “standard” influences, such as their close friends A.R. Kane, one of England’s few predominantly black alternative bands of the 90’s, and the likes of Cocteau Twins and Echo and the Bunnymen, all of which spearheaded, at some stage or another, England’s pioneering alternative, post-punk and shoegaze genres and sub-genres. With influences such as these, it would easy to expect The Veldt not to be able to live up to such standards, but they most certainly do.

Whether it’s in the clean brand of vocals imposed on the listener by Daniel Chavis, or the psychedelic nature of the bands melodies, The Veldt ooze just as much class and talent as any of their influences. Although the band do adopt certain techniques from the aforementioned, they do impose their own on their style, particularly through the soulful passages, spearheaded by the vocals. Areas of the music, like the drums, can resemble that of other bands, like Cocteau Twins, during songs like the melodious “Daisy Chain” and some of the upbeat passages remind me of the infectious A.R. Kane style, which also incorporates some of the more interesting influences in the shoegaze movement, from dream pop, to trip-hop and funkier alternative dance. Unlike most bands, The Veldt also have a really crisp production to their songs, meaning that all elements are audible and aren’t buried under the glorious fuzz of the guitars, which still exists on this album. Ray Shulman, who worked closely with A.R. Kane helped out in that regard, offering his expertise to the project.

Unlike those two bands however, The Veldt are more aggressive, particularly in relation to their drumming. The bass drum, for example, is very prominent throughout the album and there is a raw quality to the drums which contrasts well with the beautiful vocals and sweet melodies of songs like “Dusty Blood”, a song which really hammers home the aggressive feel to the album in contrast to those from the likes of A.R. Kane and the like. Aside from the astounding amount of catchy songs, including “Soul in a Jar”, The Veldt’s main quality is certainly the vocals. Daniel has a great range, a really affecting, emotive voice. He’s able to easily capture the essence of the catchier songs, as well as embody the pained soul of songs like “Heather”, a really romantic song and a homage to A.R. Kane, apparently. This song also features a really unexpected introduction to the saxophone, which adds a really suave and sophistication feel to the atmosphere of the song, giving it a bluesy touch amidst the harsh environment of the guitar effects pedal produced shoegaze. Both blissful and calmingly soulful, “Afrodisiac” is one of shoegaze’s finest forgotten gems.

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