I’ve always been a fan of extended play records; EPs. I love the idea of short albums. To me, an artist releases an EP when they’ve written a few songs that they really like and decide that, instead of writing filler songs to put out a full-length, they’ll instead just release the songs as they are. EPs are more concise and easier to get through; they’re a smaller time commitment. Instead of an artist throwing every little musical idea they have at the listener, they’re forced to pick and choose the best stuff they have and make a nicely focused record. I love being able to sit down with a record and be done with it 20 minutes later. If it’s good, I’ll frequently put the record on again. It’s much more difficult to do that with LP albums.
…And that brings me to the subject of this review, the Sex & Sound EP by The Violet Lights. The 5-track record clocks in at 16 minutes and 14 seconds, making it the very definition of concise and to-the-point. The Violet Lights are technically a two-person band who have lots of help in the studio. The band proper consists of Joel Nass (guitar, vocals, production) and Amber Garvey (keyboards, vocals). According to the press release accompanying the album, the duo are from Green Bay, Wisconsin and up and moved to Los Angeles, with no plans except a desire to make music. Whether or not that’s the whole truth, I can’t say, but I want to believe that it’s true, because it’s unbelievably awesome. Sex & Sound is the first release by the band; they formed in early 2011.
The record begins with the lead single, “Your Love/Not Enough.” The song is simple, short (indeed, no song on the album is over 4 minutes long), and unbelievably catchy. Nass’ vocal work takes center stage here. He croons the lyrics like Jake Snider of Minus The Bear fame, while the backing band turns out some scratchy, tasteful post-punk guitars that would sound right at home on Bloc Party’s debut album. A lot of people will probably be reminded of the new Kings Of Leon album, if the album had actually been good. The drumming on the track, especially the intro, is subtle yet very well-executed. I hear the song as a relic of early 2000s indie rock; I don’t think many people would disagree. Indeed, that observation probably applies to the whole album.
Sex & Sound is permeated by a sense of whimsy and fun. In my mind, I imagine the album as the soundtrack to a night out at some cool bars and clubs in New York City. This mood is exemplified in the subtle, dramatic bass riff that dominates the verses of the second track, “Ready Or Not.” It screams cool and is accompanied with a powerful, steady drum beat that moves the track along effortlessly. The band slow it down for “Sex & Sound,” the title track. They toss in some keyboards in the verses that remind me of the way Bright Eyes uses the instrument in the song “Lover I Don’t Have To Love.” It definitely works well in the context of the song, but I’m not sure that I like it overall. It’s the only time keyboards are prominent on the whole record and it feels a little forced. When I first listened through the record, I picked this track out as the weakest on the album, but after repeated listens, it grew on me.
“Substitute” is the most interesting track and, in my opinion, the best, on the album. They borrow equal parts Jack White bluesy, grungy garage rock riffs and a hi-hat shredding Franz Ferdinand dance-punk chorus. It’s an odd juxtaposition but they pull it off nicely; it feels natural. Particularly notable is the first verse, which utilizes the empty space very well to create an interesting atmosphere; less is more in that case. I’m still not quite sure what to say about “It’d Be Fine,” the closing track on the album. It has the feel of a ballad with some light electric guitar flourishes. The track is dominated by the dual vocals of Nass and Amber Garvey; her voice is more prominent here than on any other track. She still doesn’t sing lead, but her harmonies are supportive and very pretty.
In the course of writing this review, I listened to the record through two times. As both the EP and the review come to an end, I find myself unable to not press play again. In that sense, Sex & Sound is a resounding success. The songs are surprisingly deep and become more and more interesting with repeated listens. If there’s a weak track on the album, it’s the final song, but in reality, the whole record works nicely. The Violet Lights work with a broad sonic palate, drawing influence from a nice variety of modern indie bands, which is both the record’s strongest positive quality and its largest drawback. The record is eclectic and never boring; however, I think The Violet Lights have plenty of growing to do. They seem almost overwhelmed by their influences and, in attempting to pay homage to the great music that inspires them, they forget that to create a great record, the artist needs to amalgamate their raw material into something that is uniquely theirs. In that sense, Sex & Sound is lacking. Yet at I type this, the record is still spinning in the background. I’ve listened to it four or five times today. As I discussed above, I think the fact that this is a short record is a positive. These songs are simple on the surface, but show surprising depth on repeated listens. I’m officially on The Violet Lights’ bandwagon. Here’s to the hope that they continue to make music and improve with time.