Sub Pop, the ultrasuccessful indie label from Seattle, took a radical risk by signing Velocity Girl to a five-album contract--the longest ever offered by the company. Unlike most of the thick-and-droney-sounding bands the label has promoted in the past, Velocity Girl (the moniker was copped from a Primal Scream song) represents all that Sub Pop otherwise is not. The band's music is shiny, happy pop made by five clean and well-scrubbed kids: vocalist Sarah Shannon, guitarists Archie Moore and Brian Nelson, bassist Kelly Riles and drummer Jim Spellman. There's not a goatee in the bunch.
Shannon says the Maryland-based act went with the Sub Pop deal for two reasons. First, Sub Pop's proposal equaled those made by other imprints. Moreover, the band's members trusted the people there and recognized that they would be a priority, rather than just another group lost in the shuffle of a corporate roster. But why Sub Pop picked Velocity Girl raises more questions. "I think they were sick of being a springboard label where bands just do one album in hopes of getting signed to a major," Shannon speculates. "They wanted to work for the long term." This hypothesis makes good economic sense: Velocity Girl's first album, Copacetic, has sold more copies than any other record in Sub Pop's catalogue, Nirvana's Bleach notwithstanding.
The band also has been heralded by the representatives of the music press, whose reviews of the brash and fuzzy Copacetic tagged Velocity Girl as an American version of the British noisemakers in My Bloody Valentine. According to Shannon, this reference has always befuddled the band. "We never understood those comparisons," she says. "We always thought we sounded like those classic Eighties new-wave bands like New Order, the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen--the bands we grew up listening to in high school. Or maybe the Pretenders or Blondie. But never My Bloody Valentine. Maybe that was just a catchphrase."
The new album, ÁSimpatico! (Spanish for "nice"), should tie off any future shoegazer comparisons. Unlike Copacetic, on which a muddy wall of feedback-drenched melodies obscured Shannon's singing, the new album jangles and the vocals leap out front.
The recording's sound is partly due to production values imposed by John Porter, who was chosen because of his work with the Smiths and Roxy Music. But while Shannon concedes that Porter's influence was monumental, she believes that Velocity Girl's newly slick style had more to do with money and time than with their producer. Whereas Copacetic was recorded in ten days during a period when the players all had day jobs, ÁSimpatico! took months of full-time rehearsal and writing sessions. Shannon says the resources Sub Pop allotted made an enormous difference. "It was a lot easier to concentrate on the songs," she notes. "I mean, when we were recording the first album, I was still working at Sears."
The band's efforts paid off: ÁSimpatico! has more hooks than a meat factory. The musicians make no bones about their love for straightforward pop--a hundred or so catchy melodies pervade the album--but they layer the mix admirably. This time around, they nail the harmonies derived from the juxtaposition of Shannon's classically trained phonation and Moore's deep vocals, successfully spicing the work's textures without spoiling the soup.
As for the lyrics--well, they probably should have simmered a little longer. On "Drug Girls," the chorus ("Open it wider/See what it's really all about/Drug girls don't tell the truth") seems as affected as a lovestruck teenage girl just breaking adolescence. Even more problematic are the lyrics in "I Can't Stop Smiling," which simply don't make sense: "When you started playing love/It fit me like a boxing glove/I can't stop smiling long enough to say.../I can't stop smiling long enough to pretend to sympathize."
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By way of explanation, Shannon says the band is unpretentious about its words. "We don't concentrate on lyrics," she admits. "They're pretty much just consonants and vowels to get a note across." Tres New Order.
This attitude and Velocity Girl's other attributes have landed the group on the covers of Alternative Press and the influential trade magazine CMJ and have led to a number of favorable reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone and Sassy, which lauded the band in its famed "Cute Band Alert" feature. All this ranting and raving is sure to deliver more ears for Velocity Girl's sugary bubblegrunge.
Does the band want the attention and bigger crowds? "'Course," Shannon chirps. "I'd like to buy a car to replace the death trap that I'm driving now. We'd also like to stop living hand-to-mouth. We're getting by now, but I'd like to do better."
We can assume Sub Pop wants that, too.
Velocity Girl, with St. Andre. 9 p.m. Wednesday, December 14, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $5.25, 290-TIXS or 447-0095.