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TBTS Reviews: Violens, Amoral

April 9, 2011

Primarily because of the relative softness of Violens singer/guitarist Jorge Elbrecht’s voice, a relevant analogue to the compositional fearlessness his band displays on Amoral may not get the attention I think it warrants.

A quick scan of some reviews/features written since Violens released Amoral in late 2010 reveals a few common touch points: 60s baroque pop, the 80s Paisley Underground pop revival, and especially the post-punk and New Romantic movements that dominated British rock from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s.

Taken together, those are fine descriptors for what Violens does on Amoral, which, by the way, is a fantastic, truly compelling record — I wish I’d been more mindful of it when it came out a few months ago. Many parts of Amoral do bring to mind some of those storied threads of Anglo-American music history. I’m especially comfortable comparing Violens to bands such as Prefab Sprout and the Comsat Angels (and in later years, Kitchens of Distinction and the House of Love) who, in many ways, successfully synthesized two or more of the aesthetic groupings mentioned above.

But I hear something else going on in the very best parts of Amoral — a willingness to juxtapose elements that ordinarily have no business being near each other. A willingness to be “post-punk” (dark and histrionic) and “New Romantic” (smooth and jaunty) simultaneously, or at least in the same song, and then follow that up with two minutes of pristine 60s pop candy. A willingness, in short, to follow a unique pop muse and settle wherever she next alights, only to fly off in yet another direction moments later. When first listening to several songs on Amoral, I felt a sensation that’s increasingly rare for me when hearing new music these days—I had no idea what Violens were going to do next, or where they were going to go during the course of the song.

That’s kind of like how I felt when I first heard the Chameleons, who released three absolutely titanic albums in the early to mid-1980s (Script of the Bridge, What Does Anything Mean, Basically?, and Strange Times). Back to my opening point—I can’t emphasize enough that Violens doesn’t sound a whole lot like the Chameleons in the immediate sense, primarily because no singer will ever quite match the bulldozer bellicosity of the Chameleons’ singer, Mark Burgess. But digging below that surface-level difference, Violens achieves a reasonable parallel of the Chameleons’ absolutely fearless songwriting, within the same overall context of post-punk, New Romanticism, and other primarily “80s sounds.”

For just one point to support the comparison I’m making, check out “It Couldn’t Be Perceived” on Amoral and (the immortal) “Soul in Isolation” on Strange Times. Both of these songs, just within themselves, have numerous threads that constantly threaten to pull loose but are somehow kept woven together. Both are epic centerpieces for their respective albums. And on either side of them we hear songs such as “Tears” and “Swamp Thing” on Strange Times, “Are You Still in the Illusion?” and “Until It’s Unlit” on Amoral, all fabulous in their own right, that sound precisely nothing like the other tracks in question. In other words, a remarkable level of variety that represents both a high level of confidence and the compositional chops to back up that confidence.

I’ve wondered in the past if any “80s-sounding” band would ever come close to this ineffable quality that only the Chameleons seemed to possess. To that question, in this instance, Violens is the answer.

Amoral is available right now for $3.99 via Amazon MP3. Or go buy the album on Record Store Day. It’s well worth it.

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