The Veils - Sun Gangs
Record Label: Rough Trade
Release Date: April 6, 2009
Albums with variety rarely fail. That is to say, if a band can adeptly mix up the tempo and throw in a hearty number of ballads and rockers, there's little reason to dismiss the disc. While it may end up being disappointing, at face value there's enough to be inspired to at least give it a few spins. Obviously those albums with first-rate vocalists, first-rate musicians and a definitive vision are the ones that cast an indelible impression That being said, what the Australian/British rockers The Veils do on their third album Sun Gangs is another thing entirely. Segueing between gritty rockers and plaintive ballads with the greatest of ease, the disc finds the quartet at their peak and redefining heartache in a way that's invigorating, refreshing and wholly candid. Without hesitation, Sun Gangs is their finest work to date.
From the very first strains of "Sit Down by the Fire," vocalist Finn Andrews' voice grabs the attention and for the next three minutes it's nearly impossible to turn away. That infectious charisma is brought to life on the stark, piano-based title track, which is celestial and airy and hearkens back to the heyday of Leonard Cohen. While it's bizarre placement as a two-track is a bit puzzling, it's earnest plea of "Where I'm going, you can't save me," is undeniable. The sonic ante is kicked up on "The Letter, " a terrific rock song with a killer drum beat, inspired guitars and Andrews' impassioned vocals. At points the guitars aren't unlike Coldplay's "Talk," and its nice to see the band show off their riffage. Fourth song "Killed By the Boom," is halting and jerky, and serves as more of a siren and wake-up call and while it's a bit forced, it does well to play up the angle of rage and urgency. Only four songs in and it's clear that there is an artistic vision at work here that is uncompromisingly intelligent and fully realized. As the album pushes on, it takes a turn towards the immortal.
"It Hits Deep," is a painfully defeatist dirge on loneliness and failure that's staggering and somber and finds Andrews at his most vulnerable moments. My God, has loneliness ever sounded this gorgeous? Anyone that's ever been crushed by a love will find a kinship and resonance with this song. "Three Sisters" is a rousing rocker with dizzying guitars and chanting vocals that's exultant, sanguine and embossed by a swirling rhythm section. The sprite pop of "The House She Lived In," is an elegaic meditation on a broken relationship that's probably as good a song that's come across my desk this year. Do not underestimate this song, it is a definite staple for a mix CD. The album's penultimate offering is "Larkspur," a haunting and wrecked opus in which Andrews sounds once again damaged and tortured. Clocking in at eight minutes it takes a couple minutes to get warmed up but once it does, it's a treat to listen to.
The album ends with the heartbreaking piano of "Begin Again," and the hollowed vocals of Andrews. There's not much convention at work here and it's a standard piano ballad that's sung with a straitjacket honesty and conviction that's hard to deny. Plenty of albums can end with piano and leave the listener underwhelmed, but that is not the case here. By the Sun Gangs' finish, Finn Andrews has spent himself of just about every emotion possible.
With two lauded albums under their belt, one would expect The Veils to throw in a clunker. Instead, the quartet pushed on even further and managed to craft what is at present their finest work to date. Though the Sun Gangs' sentiment rests heavily on a broken romance, Andrews manages to sing each song in a way that's panged and desperate and never tiring. The son of XTC's Barry Andrews has a penchant for stealing the spotlight from the rest of his bandmates, but that magnetism and vocal power are hard to dismiss. For those that are paying attention, this British/Australian band has fancied themselves a career that has seen nothing but the highest of praise. As long as the band continues to release albums like this, there's little reason to think that praise will ever stop.