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The Veils - Sun Gangs

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Artist: The Veils

Album: Sun Gangs

Label: Rough Trade

Review date: Apr. 10, 2009

Certain male voices have a pleading quality to them. When these singers open up, a nasal buzz comes through, a yodel gone flat. Those born with that quaver in their voice didn’t sing much before the advent of post-punk. There’s maybe a bit of it to Roy Orbison, or when Robert Plant tried to channel muezzin. But in the wake of Robert Smith and Bono, it’s now a standard approach. Before them, it probably sounded less like pleading, more like whining. To contemporary ears, it conveys earnestness. A soul bared. When Jeff Buckley deployed it over the cold and broken eroticism of Leonard Cohen, the song “Hallelujah” the song became a standard, free of irony, a test strip for calibrating a singers’ emotionalism.

Finn Andrews, the principle presence in the Veils, is a pleader. His voice slips more than most, but his high notes don’t crack with passion. In fact, they sound kind of oily. On the surface, the Kiwi’s songs should fit nicely alongside other arty and tasteful British bands, the ones that fill arenas. The songs on Sun Gangs are lovely for long stretches, full of tightly arranged strumming and cinematic flourishes. But like his voice, they sometimes slip around, and turn nasty. This puts him in an odd position as an artist. Listeners looking for anthems can detect that this is not a particularly nice young man. But the music might not be avant enough to attract those who enjoy unwinking irony. He’s straight-faced, but not sincere.

Andrew’s models would seem to be Morrissey and Nick Cave, guys who make it very hard to tell the heartfelt from the feigned. Like them, his songs don’t tinker with verse-chorus-bridge, and his lyrics put clichés (“say you don’t love me any more”) next to arresting lines like “my father’s singing in the falling leaves about the complicated beauty of a river run dry”. The sound on Sun Gangs even has a pronounced late-’80s quality with enough treated and echoing guitars that it’s as sympathetically gothic as Morrissey and Cave, if not exactly a goth record.

Most importantly, there’s a lot that could go wrong with this approach on Sun Gangs – but nothing does. For all the arch drama, the big rock songs on here are frenzied, and the small indie pop songs are lean and melodic. This band has a way with crescendos – “Larkspur” follows a driving picked riff through swells of noise, returning to calm several times before building to a final eruption. They try out some garage raunch on “Killed by the Boom.” His ballads are solemn, but that untrustworthy tremble in his voice prevents them from becoming maudlin – it’s just too hard to tell if he’s confessing or taking the piss with mock self-pity.

The previous Veils album, Nux Vomica, was a grower. Andrews’ approach is so mannered, songs like “Jesus for the Jugular” hit me first as entertaining, superficial blasphemy. The pretty songs were so pretty I wasn’t sure there was any depth to them. Was he was more than the sum of his parts – parts assembled mostly from black-clad artists of decades past? But the best material on Nux Vomica feels even stronger given a few years to steep. As Sun Gangs sinks in, his skills are thrown into relief. He assembles a Brill Building melody for “The House She Lived In,” and the sweetly nostalgic mood doesn’t break when lines like “you’re lawn ablaze and your razor blade drawn” roll by. Andrews is subtle and sufficiently smug, enough of a showman to stage grand gestures, and enough of an imp to keep us guessing as to what they could possibly mean.

By Ben Donnelly

Other Reviews of The Veils

Nux Vomica

Troubles of the Brain

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Find out more about Rough Trade

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