For simplicity’s sake, The Vells are an indie supergroup. It’s the band Jeremiah Green concentrated on during his brief hiatus from Modest Mouse. And while it doesn’t stop there (the band’s members have also been associated with Red Stars Theory, Blessed Light and Stagger Lee), such an affiliation is enough to win the band more than its share of attention.
Supergroup or not, The Vells create music that is different from its members’ other and former bands. Their take on late-’60s and early ’70s psych pop is, by default, nothing new, but would make a great addition to your group of CDs that are “parent-approved.” In other words, instead of going straight to your local or XM oldies station when your parents are visiting, you can put in The Vells along with The Shins, Crosby Stills and Nash, The New Pornographers, The Beatles and Belle and Sebastian; hit random and nary a complaint will be heard.
The vocals are the most striking aspect of The Vells’ sound. Tristan Marcum sounds like a man that sounds like a woman (there are even misguided reviews out there that refer to her as a guy) and her folky crooning, androgynous swagger and the subtle harmonizing really define the sound of the band. The distorted vocals bring out only the highs and mids, and highlights her every inhalation to a point that borders on annoying, but gives the band's sound that classic feel.
Sticking strictly to the basics, save for one instance of electronic beats, The Vells’ muddy sound whispers “vintage equipment” and “old-school recording techniques.” Delicate, acoustic guitar and deep, thudding bass meld well with the dusty organ and whispy drums. While not overly straightforward, everything is revealed on the first listen. Subsequent spins might reveal a few notes of the organ that you didn’t hear the first time around, but that’s about it. Each song’s allure and attraction, however, becomes more apparent with each additional listen and things become more coherent and ultimately likable.
Speaking of drawing power, Modest Mouse fans beware: The best thing Green contributed to this album is the artwork – a beautiful digi-pack that will even satisfy vinyl connoisseurs with its rough sketches made classy with embossed, gold-leaf inlays and a separate typewritten style lyric book. This isn’t to say his drumming is mundane, it’s just kept simple, which, within the context of The Vells, works very well.
- Michael LeRay