All Is Illusory

The Velvet Teen

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All Is Illusory Review

by Mark Deming

Say what you will about the Velvet Teen, but they clearly aren't afraid to think big. In the nine years since 2006's Cum Laude, they seem to have carefully filed away every idea that struck their fancy, and they've poured all of them into 2015's All Is Illusory, an album that fairly bursts with grand-scale indie energy, as tunes like "Eclipses" and "Pecos" pop like a string of fireworks with percolating rhythms and spunky washes of keyboards. But the Velvet Teen aren't hesitant about making use of dynamics, setting the propulsive, upbeat numbers against pieces like the spare, quiet guitar feature "Taken Over," or the mournful title track. All Is Illusory is a vast parade of different sounds and emotions, held in place by the busy but thoughtful drumming of Casey Dietz, who pushes the fast numbers forward with a muscular elan and punctuates the more measured pieces with small but precise rhythmic flourishes. From the swaggering charge of "GTRA" to the graceful romanticism of "Veil Between," All Is Illusory has enough thematic detours and offhand observations to resemble a Russian novel, and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Judah Nagler certainly seems up to the challenge of interpreting the many characters and moods conjured up in these songs (even using a Vocoder to bring added textures on "The Manifest"). But while Nagler, Dietz, and bassist/vocalist Josh Staples have clearly put a lot of thought and hard work into All Is Illusory, the album works more as a selection of striking individual pieces than a coherent whole; there are moments of brilliance here, but they're inconsistent, and the album has more than its share of false endings that muddle the pacing. The Velvet Teen have created an album that's certainly worth a listen, but after the first few spins, you're likely to find yourself skipping through the tracks, like an editor trying to find the story in a smart, ambitious, but overblown epic.

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