4 out of 5 stars
Guitar, two drummers, and… no bass player? Bring it on says Colorado-based The Velveteers.
It’s little surprise that Black Keys frontman and Easy Eye studio/label owner Dan Auerbach gravitated to the hard-wired trio. After all, the Keys began their career with just drums and guitar, which, while it didn’t last, provided their initial brush with fame. While The Velveteer’s murky, occasionally abrasive attack is a far cry from most of Auerbach’s other projects like soul diva Yola, deep bluesman Robert Finley and the retro pop of Shannon & the Clams, the heartfelt intensity in these dozen tunes clicked with him.
It has been a long road for singer/guitarist Demi Demitro and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Baby Pottersmith. Formed in 2014 when only in their mid-teens, it took six years hammering away at an approach and songs until they felt comfortable enough to lay them down for posterity in a recording studio. Along the way the twosome expanded to a trio adding second drummer/multi-instrumentalist Jonny Fig to fill out the sound. A surprise call from Auerbach who wanted to record them after seeing some live clips and videos was the payback for that long gestation period.
While a few acoustic interludes peppers this generally harder-edged debut, in particular on the early single “Brightest Light” that kicks off acoustic and gradually grows into a darker and louder close, the majority of selections find The Velveteers’ plowing territory somewhere between the more pop-oriented strains of The Pixies, Sonic Youth and Siouxsie & the Banshees.
Bring thumping glam in the snotty “Choking” where Demitro spits out Two-faced, head case/Blowing my mind/You cut your tongue off with a razor/At the scene of the crime with the baby-doll venom of The Divinyls’ Christina Amphlett, a bit of blues in the riff rocking “Charmer and the Snake” (You think you’re the charmer/you’re really the snake), the punk attack of “Beauty Queens” and some serious metal licks in the opening “Dark Horse” for a diverse, potent and consistently engaging set.
The years of woodshedding resulted in a swagger and confidence, aided by Auerbach’s sure production hand, that explodes out of the speakers. The vibe is tough and raw, made meatier with synth bass (OK, so there is some bass), subtle keyboards and even, yikes!, strings (but only on closing ballad “Limboland”).
As singer and primary guitarist Demitro is naturally the focal point. Her alternately powerful and passionate vocals exude personality, and the songs with acoustic and electric approaches are varied enough to never fall into predictability. It all coalesces into one of the more impressive, duskier (Am I living in a nightmare daydream? she asks in the mid-tempo title track) guitar-driven albums of the year.
Photo by Ivey Peacock