First off, I have a confession. I’m American. I have very American tastes – I like my tea sweet, I wear hoodies and blue jeans whenever I can, and I’ll pick bacon & eggs over Beans & Bangers 100 times out of 100. The two areas I might be able to claim some degree of credibility with the Brits is my love for true football and a pure love for British pop/rock.
Out of London comes the band Various Cruelties, proving that sensible, melodic, fun rock hasn’t yet gone the way of the buffalo. Frankly, the day it does, I don’t want to live on this planet anymore (take that, Mayans!). In fact, the VC’s self-titled album not only captures gorgeous instrumental interludes, brilliantly lilting vocals and classic blues/ballad feel, but pushes these areas beyond what I’ve ever heard and adds a modern spin to the sound.
A fantastic example of what I’m talking about is the magnificent “Capsize” – a flowing, open piece over delicate guitar and gentle electronic rhythms that allow the vocals to anchor and guide the song along.
Conversely, coming right out of Capsize is the super groove-packed tune “Thrill Is Gone” that blends the “white English dude singing charmingly soulful” feel that won over the world and Gwyneth Paltrow with the rhythmic fury of a Nick Waterhouse record. For a band that labels itself as a “mod/goth/pop incarnation” me thinks they may a bit humble in their self-description.
I mean, seriously, guys? We get it – you’re a bunch of dudes who ooze charm and a casual sophistication like I drip sweat walking a steep hill… But do you think we can drop it a couple clicks on the smooth-o-meter so the rest of us dudes don’t look like uncultured baboons in comparison? Damn…
All kidding aside – this is a legit blend of styles. “If It Wasn’t For You” sounds like the best song on your favorite record that never really got enough airplay. Quality songwriting, brilliant dynamic shifts and a very raw feel to the recording style lends itself to a genuine song that should be on every heart-broken mix tape I’ve ever made for a girl. Combine that with the ear-grabbing “Chemicals” and these two songs could easily place VERY high in the top songs of the year across any combination of demographics you want to try to put them in.
OK, if you’re looking for face-melting guitar solos and testosterone-fueled drums – it ain’t here. However, if you’re looking for solid melodic rock with thought-provoking lyrics, brilliant vocals and songwriting on a wonderfully produced album – this is about as good as you’re gonna get anywhere, period. Bottom line is – Various Cruelties is a music lover’s band.
One more word on my favorite stand out track, “Cold As You” – this will make you move your ass, and dance in your socks in the kitchen while you make your PB & J. A great you-done-me-wrong-but-I’m-better-off-leaving-you-in-the-past kind of tune, its peppy bass lines, high energy percussion and raw guitars make this the song that ensures I’ll be keeping this record on the short rotation for quite some time to come.
Look, I don’t need to convince you of a thing, dear reader. Give them a listen, and if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But, trust me- I’m not wrong; and if you think I am, you probably love dub-step and are a silly person in general.
I really don’t know what to say about Various Cruelties’ self-titled album. I don’t think I can just sit down and talk out how quickly I’m reminded of my childhood albums, the semi-alternative singles I collected as a teen, and the music my mom always played in the car. Now I must admit I’d heard “If It Wasn’t For You” on a Zales Christmas-themed commercial before I got my keyboard-callused fingers on the rest of the album, but I didn’t honestly think all of it would be as good as it is.
It’s an album that grabs you right from the beginning, plays through so fast and so happily that it’s over before you have chance to grasp quite exactly how it makes you feel. I’ve had more than my fair share of time with it, and rather than being at the forefront of my mind just long enough for me to work up some feelings and review it, it’s slipped into my favorites playlists and my shower performances.
Various Cruelties is a collection of cute, confessional love songs. Not too cheesy and not too awkwardly deep and not too rooted in sex. “Great Unknown” and “Beautiful Delirium” are that couple skating outside of Rockefeller Center with red noses as their breath steams up in little clouds in front of them while they awkwardly slide around the rink. “If It Wasn’t for You” is the 70-year-old couple that still holds hands as they wait for the bus in the springtime. “She Is the One” is what you catch your parents dancing to when you’re little. “Chemicals” and “Neon Truth” are the college kids sneaking into their favorite band’s concert together after watching the sunset on the beach.
I have very, very few criticisms for any bit of this album, and I’m not even sure if I’m being fair because I just like the whole damn thing- so much so that those criticisms are either related to the songs and the album being too short or the supreme lack of Facebook fans they’ve attracted.
Various Cruelties isn’t some new band you’ve never heard of that’s going to be in the top 40 for six months like Fun or Foster the People, nope. Various Cruelties is the band you grew up with that slips in and out of the pop radio like Maroon 5 or No Doubt, with a considerably more romantic-oriented feel.
You should probably either jump onto the VC bandwagon while they’re still underground, or get out of the way because they are coming, and they’re going to stay. These guys are the most promising band you’ve never heard. Expect them.