Violens Album ‘Amoral’ out next Monday, 4th October
aaamusic | On 30, Sep 2010
Ever wondered what would happen if you channelled the mindsets of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Lindsay Anderson into a young, confrontational art-rock musician from Miami with a musical background that merged INXS, Sonic Youth, 60s harmony psyche-pop, thrash metal and Miami Freestyle? Wonder no more: he’d be Jorge Elbrecht, and what would happen is Violens.
Because for Jorge – like Lynch, Kubrick and Anderson – his creativity pulls from the tangled imagery of the unconscious mind, whereas his production aesthetic is all about scouring the mainstream’s polish.
“I personally am not that motivated by a polished pop production,” says Jorge, by way of illustration. “A lot of today’s pop producers just brighten everything and make it really loud and that’s what comes across as impressive, but for me it’s more about there being something hard to pin down. There has to be something mysterious about it to hold my attention, some kind of ghost in the machines. The music should lead you down a path and then turn it slightly. Then, once you’re comfortable there, turn it again.”
Violens are a band brimming with twists. They utilise the synth pop sounds of 80s acts such as early Simple Minds, The Pale Fountains and ‘Tin Tin’-era Stephen Duffy but bend, stretch and distort them into psychedelic sonic collages. They start songs all slap bass and glossy twinkles and end them in apocalyptic thrashes of sheet metal noise. A track begins with references to natural disasters or warfare might morph into a mournful romance via an amorphous film of nightmare imagery.
How all of these extremes managed to wind up in the same swirling psyche is a story that inevitably begins with isolation in the sunshine. Born in Costa Rica, Jorge moved to Miami with his family aged 18 months and grew up as a punk, and 60s rock fan whose favourite bands (Pixies, Fugazi, Unrest, Pavement, The Swirlies) rarely ventured that far down America’s wang. His access to music was via magazines and one video rental store (“I’d go into the video store and say ‘what’s the heaviest music you have here?’ and they’d hand me a Billy Idol cassette”) or MTV.
“I’d watch all these pop hits and hair metal bands come on,” he remembers. “I’m always curious about the manipulative qualities of a lot of that music and the way that “feeling” is conveyed via synthesized means, in the same way movies play with your emotions. But back then the thrash or skate-punk intensity is what I was looking for, and what eventually satisfied me.”
Jorge also enjoyed aspects of the darker side of mainstream 80s pop: Tears for Fears, Thompson Twins and Eurythmics. Compiling cassette after cassette of musical ideas on his own 4-track in his mid-teens, Jorge’s attempts to form bands in Miami regularly fell apart after a gig or two. When it came time to decide on where to go to college and what for, visual art seemed to make more sense than recording engineering. “New York was the only place I could imagine myself going.”
At about the time he was finishing graduate school Jorge and three other ex-Miami creatives launched Lansing-Dreiden – a multi-media company with strict guidelines but endless scope. Their work centered around fictional stories via the mediums of music, visual art, video, poetry, sculpture and the in house newspaper Death Notice.
“We have had quite a few visual art shows that we create music for,” Jorge explains, “our newspapers are stacked up for free and drawings or photos or collages on the wall. Sometimes a video. It was a black and white company, so no colour in any of our work. It was anonymous and it was more about creating and unravelling the story for the company/brand at it’s own pace.”
Finding himself writing more songs than L-D could release at the time – Jorge formed Violens in 2007 with a group of friends to play and record them. Iddo Arad, a friend he’d met long ago in Miami, and Myles Matheny are now at the core of the group. Arad and Matheny are also songwriters and the three have begun writing a few new Violens demos together.
After three years of honing their recording and production skills, releasing that self-titled EP in October 2008 and touring Europe and the US with the likes of MGMT, Grizzly Bear, White Lies and Handsome Furs, ‘Amoral’ is Violens’ debut album. Self-released, self-recorded, self-produced and self-mixed, it’s a masterpiece of the DIY aesthetic; a collision of comfort and violence, of cushion and crunch, of attack and embrace like you’ve never heard before.
As a band who have included tracks by Dead Can Dance, Felt, Chapterhouse, Bethlehem and Killing Joke on their 2010 summer mixtape, they’re an expansive, esoteric experience. From the sumptuous seduction-synth of their earliest track ‘Trance-Like Turn’ – a multi-harmony glisten pulsing through with ‘Loveless’ sound-aches – ‘Amoral’ takes in Pale Saints-like dream-pop meanders with crescendos of desert metal fuzz (‘Are You Still In The Illusion?’) and epic washes of lush looping melody (‘Generational Loss’), all inspired by the vocal and production atmospheres of Roxy Music’s ‘Avalon’. Which isn’t to say there aren’t pop hits here too – the abrasive clatter’n’swoop of ‘Violent Sensation Descends’ (about “a death pact”) became a blogosphere buzz tune after it appeared on the 2008 EP, while gothtronic first single ‘Acid Reign’ is what Depeche Mode would have sounded like if Nick Heyward had been singing.
The whole album revels in such shifts and swerves. It opens with the impossibly jaunty and optimistic ‘The Dawn Of Your Happiness Is Rising’ (which feels like watching The Breakfast Club in an abattoir) yet somehow weaves its way to the nightmare spoken-word mood piece of the title track with its sonorous bells, demonic croaks and talk of “bloodshed and gore” – one of the tracks here inspired by the witchy synthetics of cavernous black metal band Summoning or perhaps some Death In June recordings.
“A forceful dream can have such a strong effect on you.” Jorge says. “Stronger than what most of us feel in our day-to-day lives. Like when you wake up and you can’t speak because you’re so shocked, but realize you’ve also just experienced something extremely unique, layered and amazing. ‘Amoral’ is looking towards having something be impactful like that, like a terrifying dream.”
If Violens achieve anything, it’s impact. This is unforgettable music with boundless possibility and unfathomable depth. These rock Lynches just made their own Blue Velvet.