The Veils - Nux Vomica
Back in June of this year, I wrote a review praising indie band Blackbud's debut release. What struck me most about this band was the lead singer's astonishing similarity, vocal-wise, to the late great Jeff Buckley. Now you can accuse me of being a lazy music critic with a limited reference pallette but, by golly, it seems the ghost of Buckley resides even more so in Veils frontman Finn Andrews. His voice is stunning, heart-wrenchingly mournful one moment and then consumed with a bitter rage the next. In fact, although Buckley is probably the closest reference point, this is a lazy comparison because Andrews is definitely his own man. You get the sense that this is a charismatic once-in-a-blue-moon frontman waiting to happen, a unique character in a world of faceless by-the-numbers rock bands.
Yep, although Andrews is the chief songwriter and the bold statement of the album cover confirms he's running the show, The Veils are a band. This is a relief really, as it would be disconcerting if Andrews alone could create a near-flawless masterpiece like Nux Vomica all by himself. At ten tracks long, it never outstays its welcome and it's really refreshing to see a band put their combined energy into creating ten brilliant songs rather than padding out a fifteen-track long-player. Although the majority of tracks share a bleak worldview that The Smiths would consider extreme, the tone is ever-shifting between tracks meaning you don't want to kill yourself come the denouement.
Opener Not Yet is a blues-stomper straight out of the Old West that builds, falls away, and then builds some more. Listening to this, it's easy to see why Andrews and his band accompanied Howling Bells on their UK tour in the spring - their moody and cinematic songs certainly compliment each other, and Andrews could easily be the jaded and world-weary older brother to the Bells' Juanita Stein. Calliope! and Advice for Young Mothers to Be are more straightforward 'pop' songs that still manage to be both unsettling and gorgeous, the latter even echoing Phil Spector's glorified production with the obligatory 'ba ba ba oooh's from the female backing vocalists. Inevitably, bearing the title it does, Jesus for the Jugular is a different beast altogether with Andrews spitting (and, during the song's climax, near-screaming) lyrics like 'There's a bulls-blood fountain in the pit of a moan' over a gloomy face-off between squalling guitars and insistent drums. Meanwhile, Pan's meaty verses are built around a looped piano line but the song reverses the soft verse/loud chorus dynamic, the instrumentation falling away for a lovely refrain where Andrew implores 'Will it come back to me?'.
A Birthday Present brings us past the halfway mark, its shimmering avant-garde pop sound masking the bitterness of the lyric 'Indelible stains on the human race/You hideous fakes and murderers’. The dark edge is even present in what could be the album's breakaway hit, the achingly sad Under the Folding Branches; frankly, it's what a David Gray piano ballad would be if it were sung by someone harbouring suicidal tendencies. The album's title track blows away the cobwebs, proving to be the CD's centrepiece. It is an epic straddling the six-minute mark, and where the band really come together as a well-oiled juggernaut. A brooding organ intro segues into what is the most menacing thing on offer here, sharp stabs of guitar accentuating the disaffected lyrics while strings and choiral backing crop up and then fall away in the background. The distinctly 80's-esque One Night On Earth may be considered the calm after the storm but it's as good as anything here - and the fact that the guitar riff is reminiscent to the guitar in Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart can't hurt. Finally, we have the nostalgic stripped-down ode House Where We All Live where poetic lyrics conjure up imagery of the titular house.
So it is with a plodding quiet moment that we say goodbye to Nux Vomica, and it is a fitting way to bow out. After what has come before it, you need time to take stock and realise what you've just listened to. This is an album that is needed, and one you will gladly listen to in ten years, twenty years, and so on and so on. A bold statement to make that may be but this is timeless music and timeless songwriting. Finn Andrews is without a doubt one of the most enticing frontmen to emerge in this century so far, and for that reason alone The Veils need to be nurtured. Album number three may be even better. I can't wait to see what things they do in the future - until then, I'm going to listen to this effort a good couple of hundred times. I advise you do too.