Velvet Crush

Soft Sounds

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The Velvet Crush's fifth studio album starts off not with the usual chiming rush of loud electric guitars but with a rolling piano line and a gently plucked bass. The duo behind the band, Paul Chastain and Ric Menck, have drastically revamped their trademark power pop style and stripped back the teenage wall of guitars to reveal a softer, more adult heart. There is still the occasional chiming guitar, like on the most Velvet Crush-sounding track, "Don't Take Me Down," but most of the songs are based around piano or acoustic guitar. The vocals are also a lot less excited than usual as Paul Chastain seems to have relaxed a bit and has never sounded better. The band also seems to have spent more time thinking about arrangements and sounds on this record than usual. The keening feedback on "Some Kind of Light," the sweet keyboards on "In Your Time," the shuffling drums on "Forever, for Now," the muted horns and velvety vibraphone on "She Goes On," the lack of any strumming of guitars on the epic and broken-hearted album closer, "Late in the Day," all reveal a newfound subtlety to the Velvet Crush's sound that is quite appealing. Producer and jack of all trades (guitar, bass, organ, and vocal harmonies) Matthew Sweet should get a lot of credit here. His vocal harmonies pop up on almost every track and are uniformly breathtaking. The songs the group choose to cover say plenty about their musical inspiration for the album: one of the Box Tops' mellower moments ("Rolling in My Sleep"), "Save Me a Place" by Lindsey Buckingham, and "Duchess" by Scott Walker. The Box Tops and Buckingham songs are exquisitely done; the Walker song is a little less successful as it is a bit too much of a stretch vocally. Perhaps they should have done a Seals & Crofts tune instead. Or maybe America. Heck, some of the group's originals sound as if they were Seals & Crofts or America tunes anyway. "She Goes On" would sound great in a dentist's office, "Vanishing Point" is pure 1970s confessional, "Party Line (Samba)" sounds like it was lifted directly from an Astrud Gilberto album, "Forever, for Now" you can imagine playing over a scene from James at 15. Soft Sounds is wonderful, rich music from beginning to end, laid-back, cool-headed, yet very emotional at its core. Fans of soft sounds that pack a punch will find this record to be a real gem.

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