Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Weird Summer: A Word Or Two About This New Velvet Crush Compilation On Omnivore Recordings

One of those records that seems to have instantly garnered a cult following, 1994's Teenage Symphonies to God by Velvet Crush was a blast of energy in the early years of Britpop. Touring with Oasis in the States in 1995 -- I saw the bands together at what is now the (new) 9:30 Club in D.C. in 1995 -- Velvet Crush offered up power pop inspired by both The Byrds and Big Star. The record was nearly perfect and it only left a listener wanting more. Well, now there's more: Pre-Teen Symphonies, out Friday via Omnivore Recordings, is a set of demos and live cuts from the era that, taken together, solidify this band's place as one of the best acts of this sort in the last few decades of pop.

Ric Menck, Jeffrey Underhill, and Paul Chastain made up Velvet Crush but there are appearances here by Tommy Keene who toured with them that year, as well as producer Mitch Easter. Pre-Teen Symphonies offers up some of the best work these players have ever done and the split here -- half demos, half live cuts -- showcases both this band's place as power pop legends and their status as a formidable live act. "Weird Summer" chimes, for instance, like both The Byrds and The Beatles, while "This Life Is Killing Me" rocks even harder in its demo form, an amplified echo of acts like Teenage Fanclub and even Husker Du. The early version of "Time Wraps Around You" foreshadows the sort of thing that bands like Wilco and The Jayhawks would do later, while "Not Standing Down" shines, even in its demo form, as a roaring bit of business that's a distant cousin to late-period Replacements jams and, oddly, sort of similar to the faster cuts on the first Oasis long-player.

As for the live half of Pre-Teen Symphonies, highlights include a Faces-like romp through "My Blank Pages" and a fab stroll through "Hold Me Up", all power chord crunch turned up to 11. A rocketing live cover of "Remember The Lightning" by pioneers 20/20 further solidifies this band's power pop credentials. The band here is, to use a cliche, on fire and the live tracks blaze past with the sort of alt-rock fury that few bands these days seem to muster. Both a reminder of how great indie was and the fickleness of a public that should have made this band even more successful, Pre-Teen Symphonies is an absolutely necessary addition to the Velvet Crush canon.

Pre-Teen Symphonies by Velvet Crush is out Friday via Omnivore Recordings.