So epic it should be a soundtrack
I Won't Be Civilised - Velatine (Spooky Records)
Melbourne duo Velatine is now a constant in my life, in the same way that (say) disco was a constant in some people's lives every Friday and Saturday night, or punk was, or AFL every season, or cricket... you know?
I'm not alone, it seems - this week my local independent radio station, 3D in Adelaide, made it LP of the week. And it's not out till Friday.
However, I must be frank here. Velatine ain't for everyone. It ain't yer commercial radio fodder for sparkies and housewives. The independent radio stations should love "I Won't Be Civilised", but of course, you know. They have zero taste after being told for so long what's hip and cool by ... paint salesmen. Sorry, I mean “record executives”.
And paint salesmen - sorry, “record executives” - always know what to listen to, right, kids? Remember The Scientists? The Saints? The Laughing Clowns? Radio Birdman. Now revered. Remember when they were totally outside the charts? They sounded so “different”.
Makes you kinda wonder sometimes how some outfits got any attention at all. And why so very many more did it and kept going. How the fuck did Nirvana happen (especially when there were dozens of better - and similar - bands all around the world). Nirvana weren't so unique. For example, The Melvins were always better, even back then.
Yeah, music culture. Different. You get that.
Then, after the bands have worked their arses off against a head-wind, everyone loves them (if they haven't broken up from all the bollocks involved). Kudos to the likes of Fear and Loathing and Laibach (who have never broken up, though I gather it's been a near thing a few times) who've lasted over 40 years you know ... lifers.
Speaking of lifers, head honcho behind Spooky Records, Loki Lockwood, has released two teasing, powerful singles from this LP.
Of the single "Comic"/ "No God", I wrote: "pure, powerful Euro-class ... with the kind of darkly angelic singer that spotty teenage boys top themselves over". It seems I ended the review of "Whisper Park"/ "One and Only" with: "You need this kind of greasy, sweet corruption in your life".
Did the singles whet the appetite? For me, yes. For you?
I don't know. I don't know you from a bag of chops by the Hume Highway on a 42C day. I'd like to think you have an enquiring mind, of sorts. A thirst for fine music, music which grabs your neck, spins you round and chucks you into a helplessly thrilled emotional state.
Well, maybe that's just me. So.
As they are now, with singer-songwriter Maggie Alley up front, Velatine have been a thing since late 2021. In under a bare year, Loki and Maggie have created this massive juggernaut with the kind of delicate, scathing sensibilities that people are misreading all over the shop.
But let's ignore all that stuff. Let's listen and sink into our chairs together, occasionally leaping up to jig about in a distinctly undignified way. Hell, a few of these songs recall waltzes, even marches, but by god they're dark and ... lushly aromatic. They're my new rabbit-hole.
Okay, now, I've had this record on repeat quite a bit over the last couple of weeks and, as I write, it ain't out yet. Do I feel special?
Not as special as you're gonna feel when your needle hits the vinyl, let me tell you.
This is my “day off”, and for once I'm going to treat myself.
"No God" opens proceedings in a huge, crushing wave. So much going on here. A great, darkly savage pop song. Glorious twinkles. Fairy dust and orchestral abattoir machines. Deeply romantic. Should open a Ridley Scott film. And close a Quentin Tarantino film.
And I'll pause here to add that there is not a single Velatine track that I've heard that doesn't cry out for a cinematic release.
Now, I have been told exactly where the inspiration for "No God" came from. And no, I'm not going to share it. Because all of the songs have a spark, all of them. But the lyrics are just sufficiently not clear to allow us to hitch our empathy to them, but with sufficient familiarity and mystery that we recognise ourselves, our experience in them. "No God" - well, we're not in rabid social media anti-god territory, but in a state of helpless mortality; here's the last two lines:
My god, my god
your promise falls
That state of vulnerable mortality is one of the LP's themes, by the by, not least expressed by Maggie Alley's extraordinary voice, tinged as it is with a laconic Australian accent, simply makes you peer at the speakers, wondering if you're hearing the words right. You are, of course, and the songs just draw you in like a john on the end of a whip.
Reading between the lines of the second song, "All I Want", romance gone wrong. Badly wrong.
All I want
is another cigarette
I know I told you - I quit
Read a book
Or lie that you have
Of course you can daydream
We’re good like that
These words, do they say what they seem to? And then there's Alley's magnificent voice. Her phrasing, control, decisions on where to put which notes - people take decades to learn this stuff. She makes these songs not just sound easy, but deceptively powerful. You can just about hear her soul cracking beneath the facade of her cynic's cynic delivery. It's soooo Gen Z it ain't funny.
And that's a good thing, by the way. Is there humour, on that note? Well, yeah, but it's ... that kind of wry, twisted humour that you don't realise immediately is a knowing nod. When you get it, you get it ... it can be like a ten cent piece dropping.
The music, this time?
Pfffft, call it synth-noir, if you must. Except there are guitars. And other instruments. Electronica? Yeah, well, if you must. But most rock bands use electric guitars and an array of electronic pedals. I'm reluctant to make too many comparisons - because there aren't a lot to be made. Which, when you reflect for a moment, is pretty extraordinary for an 'electronica' band.
Wait, did I say, seriously, "electronica"? What am I on?
Ah, but wait. The Velatine YouTube channel describes them as “modern goth/electronica”.
Mmmmpfh. I suppose that's true. Sort of. I mean, "Contact" is the only song which only remotely resembles the Great Kraut Gods, Kraftwerk - and that's quite tenuous, let me tell you. See, Loki has a vast palette of sounds and engineering knowledge at his disposal, so he creates textures and moods which... most of the time, don't sound especially electronic.
Velatine's songs are born for cinema or TV or streaming, or playing loud while you bang up a highway on a mission from god. Or, from the police.
The third song is "Morveren". Maybe Robert Smith's little band should cover this. Why?
First, the music: Grim 1960s cruise liner heading into a war zone. Cocktails at dawn, followed by a duel. Hovering, tense, pretty sounds over internalised chaos.
Then, the song: a man is called by a mermaid, and after "months of longing ... he could bear it no longer/ Followed her to Pendour Cove/ And disappeared into the sea".
I gather Robert Smith's little band have written hit singles with far less credible storylines.
Fancy hearing a vast drama beneath the orange neon sky? “Today I’m feeling lost/ It’s not going that well/ What was the trigger/ I wanna call it a lie/ I wanna walk quicker/ I wish I could fly”. ("Whisper Park")
Surely we've all felt at one horrifying time or another, that dreadful sense of entrapment when all around are oblivious... then there's the music, more like a soundtrack ...
"Comic" is another perfect example of being able to identify with the character in the song. Is Anne Boleyn the metaphor? Or the comic? or both? Either way, she loses her head in the end.
Robert Smith, eat your heart out. And Maggie has a more compelling, more human voice anyway. (Yeah, I know, I'll get letters)
Loki's wall of sound channels Morricone's ghost (who seems to have elbowed his way into the mix). There's so much magic here. There are a few times when, all in one breath, Maggie goes from her controlled howl of despair to a wispy crack, “feeling like my heart is broken' ... utterly extraordinary... 'But I’m sure feeling old/ Now I’m awake/ I didn’t see the awful truth/ It’s like a dreadful mistake/ I tasted forbidden fruit” ("Overload")
Opening Side B, the title track, "I Won't Be Civilised" is a statement of intent as old as parents and children, and as modern as tomorrow. It's probably this song which is the axle of the LP - the petulant, furious jet of self-determination, kicking against the strictures of ordinariness ...
I’m gonna party on the street
I’m going party in the laneways
I’ll be outta control
I’ll be like Mr Hyde
... oh, yes, I remember the days, and so would my great-grandads!
Of course, in reality we all ultimately find ourselves as much trapped by ordinariness as everyone else. How often have we heard the essence of "Bad For Each Other"? A love song, but sifted through Velatine's noir-soul it's a cheek to tragic cheek slow-waltz. Think "Bonnie and Clyde"-scale epic, but damnation in a cheap share-flat.
So when Velatine close the LP not with a dancefloor banger, but "The Age of Contempt", a carefully chosen bit of prophecy, we rejoice, even as we finish the bottle and reach for another as we flip the record over onto Side A. Again.
Keep this up and I'll have to go to the bottleshop again.
Play any Velatine song in any cathedral worthy of the name and I swear ... demons would slowdance with angels. And the priests would be out of a job. Tut.
Four-and-a-half-bottles out of five? At least. It's so hard to turn "I Won't Be Civilised" off. Repeat! Repeat! Again! Again! GO ON, gimme 5!
Tags: loki lockwood, velatine
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