The Velvet Teen

Cum Laude

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For some bands, any stylistic change -- even slight -- can be equated with trying to follow current trends, to increase the fan base. But in the case of the Velvet Teen's Cum Laude, there are no signs of selling out; it's more for reasons of musicianship and experimentation, for wanting to push themselves further, that their third full-length record incorporates elements of electronica and math rock (sonically) and jazz (structurally). Perhaps it's the fact that former drummer Logan Whitehurst has been replaced with a much more aggressive and talented Casey Deitz, who favors intricate, nearly hard bop rhythms over the standard rock beats that Whitehurst supplied. This addition changes the Velvet Teen's sound quite drastically, giving them -- as fuzzy guitar riffs and keyboards move steadily over the driving bass -- an expansiveness within their songs strangely reminiscent of Joshua Tree. But Cum Laude is, with its grittiness and fractured chords, more Dismemberment Plan than U2. Drums bang frenetically along while Judah Nagler -- the distortion on his voice often rendering the lyrics unintelligible -- yelps and sings through verses about love and sadness. It's exciting, occasionally fractured, interesting music that isn't afraid to have instrumental solos and breakdowns or to play on a riff without ever losing its accessibility. Nagler's melodies are simple and catchy (in that sweeping, Muse-like way), and while the guitar and bass occasionally try to deconstruct what they had previously laid out, it never gets too complex or hard to understand. The Velvet Teen manage to keep that nice pop sensibility that made them great in the first place while still continuing to develop their sound and their musical vision, something that often stumps other bands. Cum Laude is fun and emotional without being trite, challenging and intelligent without being difficult, progressive without being abstract. With one foot firmly in structure and one in experimentation, the band has found a way to advance itself and its music without having to drastically change, creating an example that demands to be applauded and emulated, and an album that needs to be listened to.

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