It Came from the West
A review of The Velveteen Band's off-the-wall debut album.
Steampunk music's undefinable sound keeps the door wide open for artists who take a hammer to so-called genre boundaries. There's no better example of this musical eccentricity than The Velveteen Band and its brilliant self-titled debut album.
At just the first glimpse, you know you're in for something special. After all, this is a band fronted by a stable of puppets and a giant guitar-and-trumpet playing rabbit. It may seem like a gimmick, and you'd be dead wrong. Baron von Velveteen (Guitar, Trumpet, Backing Vocals), Fum the Puppet (Vocals, voiced by Daniel Flores), Foe the Destroyer (Vocals, voiced by Jason Amelio), Professor Z (Synths and Melodica), Christopher Coyle (Drums), and Buster Matthews (Bass Guitar) don't just deliver on the stage presence. There's real depth here, in both musicianship and songwriting.
So how does this California band actually sound? Take bites of carnival, funk, punk, prog rock, ska, waltzes, and alt-rock, bake it all together, frost it with delicious synths, and you might get somewhere in the viciniity. It's eclectic, yet it still sticks in your head.
The musical adventures begin with "In the West is a Robot...", its vocoded vocals painting the tale of a dusty bounty-hunting automaton looking for love to fill his "dusty heart". Are your day job and life as a whole wearing you down? Join Foe the Destroyer on a "Stroll" as he turns his back on an empty, mundane existence. If you're taking that walkabout, hopefully you'll heed the warning of "Fear the Rider" and steer well clear of The Headless Horseman--unlike hapless Ichabod Crane.
Many of these songs are odes to empowerment. "Fire Away" speaks of tolerance and clarity, channeling the negative into the positive. "Fire away! / Sticks and stones won't break my heart. / Fire away! / All my pain becomes my art." It's quickly followed by the catchy call to action, "Up, Up, and Away". "While you delay. / While you're debating / I'll save the day. / I'm tired of waiting."
The album waltzes into darkness again with "An Old Knives' Tale", its protagonist and his crew coming face to face with a twisted witch with an ultimatum. The subsequent track "Whisper" does anything but, its distorted, repeating vocals and gritty instrumentation capturing the madness of an asylum patient.
The second-to-last track "Glory" kicks its protagonist in the ass, urging him to stop whining and blaming others for his problems, take charge, and be the success story he wants to be. "Stop taking inventory / Just be the hero of your story / Stand up in all your glory / You are the hero of your story." This song, along with "Stroll", "Fire Away", and "Up, Up, and Away" seem to carry a theme through the album: no one can fix your situation except you.
We close out with the tragically fun sing-along "Whiskey". which draws us into a sad-sack's bottle as he laments his life choices. It's a classic pub song, the hook grabbing on to your ears and refusing to relent. By the end of the first chorus I was already singing along with it.
This band has been blowing up like crazy, playing show after show, and it's easy to see why. Of course, they deliver a unique stage presence with their costumes and puppets. Keep going down the rabbit hole, though, and you'll find they're far more than just theatrics. The Velveteen Band's music is empowering, hard rocking, and highly entertaining.
For fans of: Doctor Steel