Dark, brooding, thoughtful … and catchy? Perhaps they don’t seem like an immediate fit, but all of the above apply to “Nux Vomica.”
“Nux Vomica,” the second album from The Veils, came out in Europe last fall, but wasn’t released stateside until April 24.
The Veils are primarily the work of Finn Andrews, the band’s singer and songwriter. Andrews — a pale, preternaturally intense boy wonder — wrote the songs on his debut record as a teenager and recorded them just a few years later. Though born in London and currently based there, Andrews’ real roots lie in New Zealand, where he was raised and first began to pursue his musical interests. Andrews’ early start in music can be credited in part to the influence of his father, former XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews. And while the younger Andrews’ music may not have much in common with his father’s, it still bears the skillful dexterity of someone raised to see making music as an natural part of living.
But despite that artistic facility, “Nux Vomica” came into being with more than its fair share of difficulty. After contract disputes led to a split from Blanco Y Negro records, the band’s original lineup dissolved. So, while this is ostensibly The Veils’ second album, the only carryover from 2004’s “Runaway Found” is Andrews himself. His new bandmates are two high-school friends from New Zealand, Liam Gerard and Sophia Burn. Given that The Veils’ previous incarnation had been somewhat haphazardly assembled upon Andrews’ arrival in London, this cozy familiarity has given the group a new sense of cohesion.
“No matter how many people we’re playing in front of,” Andrews has said, “it still kind of feels like a school assembly or something.”
In the same interview with the New Zealand Herald, Andrews characterized “Nux Vomica” as “slightly violent and more hungry” than his previous work. The description suits. “Nux Vomica” features lots of raucous piano, and lots of Andrews’ distinctive contorted vocals. But, at the same time, it begs the question — how can something so apparently pained just make you want to dance?
“Nux Vomica” features crisp, clear arrangements used to punchy effect. Guitar and piano anchor the album, but accents of other instruments provide welcome variety. And Andrews’ style is marvelously theatrical — he slides in and out of styles and personas, cultivating a sense of drama that has earned him comparisons to Jeff Buckley and Nick Cave.
The album is at times portentously dark (the angst-ridden howls of “Jesus For The Jugular”); at others, surprisingly bouncy despite bleak lyrics (as in the ska bop of “Advice For Young Mothers To Be” and “Night Thoughts Of A Tired Surgeon”). Occasionally Andrews’ dramatic tendencies descend into the overwrought — the alternating crashes and whispers of “Pan” come to mind — but, on the whole, the effect succeeds.
Some records instantly suggest a mood, a place, a situation in which to listen to them. “Nux Vomica” refuses to do that. But, in the end, that stubborn unpredictability is one of its strengths — it forces you to listen closely, to pay attention.