What is it about the sound of the band Veronica Falls? What makes them so hard to pin down? We all struggle with this, we reviewers and fans, when talking about this band. Two records, “Veronica Falls” (Slumberland Records, 2011) and “Waiting for Something to Happen” (Slumberland Records, 2013), a sound both new and timeless. We all start out trying to talk about what we hear, trying to describe the band’s sound, because their sound grabs you from the very first track and seems not to fit with 2013. It’s a sound adrift, not complicated or groundbreaking, just solid and a little bit romantic.
In the end, we mostly wind up talking about what we don’t hear, as if talking about the absence of something might help us stumble on something concrete. I keep thinking about The Cranberries, vintage Cranberries, remember that sound from the late 1990s. Veronica Falls, on some tracks, weave their voices into a boy/girl retro duet sound, but it’s Roxanne Clifford that you stay with, an ethereal soft vocal, like you do with Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries. The music is there to float these unworldly voices. It’s a sound that’s both a comfort and a little bit of a veil. Even the serious songs always feel just a little out of reach. Just a little carefree.
Ultimately, I fall solidly in the “retro” camp with my labeling. Theirs is like a sound from the 1960s even. If you didn’t know when the band’s two records were released, I bet you’d miss, too. Both records are fun. Energetic, stylish, and lyrically smart. The songwriting is tight and brisk. There’s even a bit of humor, I think, amid the moodiness. Songs like “Found Love in a Graveyard,” with its mock-goth stage props of ghosts and funeral homes, or “Misery,” with it’s danceable depressive atmospherics, or the hidden secrets of “Veronica Falls,” songs from their first record, all are musically hypnotic and engaging, and heartfelt.
There’s nothing too serious hiding in the song lyrics on either record, nothing to worry about under the surface, even amid the themes of loss and (almost) regret. In some ways the songs function best when taken imagistically rather than when taken literally. They set aside clear literal meaning in favor of gently repeating coded personal messages known only to the band. Murky, yet bouncy. And it works. This approach seems to free up their songs emotionally, to make room for dancing, or thrashing, or chord-change tracking, or bridge spotting, or whatever you’re into. This is another band that sits perfectly in the Slumberland aesthetic. Not punk (on the LPs anyway), but very much a kind of power pop.
While I don’t think the brand new “Waiting for Something to Happen” LP extends too far from what the band was doing on their earlier “Veronica Falls,” this new record sits nicely alongside it. It feels almost like this new record was partially captured at the same time back in 2011. “Tell Me,” “Teenage,” and “Daniel” have a bittersweetness of first loves rendered into song, with falling-into-love sweetness at their centers. Heartache you can dance to. But this is not a band of teenagers. Theirs is a more mature reflection on modern life.
My only criticism, which is a small one, is they need to put their lyrics into their LP packages. Maybe add a little more details about the making of their records. This is the age of the music artifact. I want to know more about this band from their own words. Next time, with their next release, I’d like to have it nailed down about what’s so hard to nail down about this band. But maybe they like it this way, leaving everyone guessing. And probably looking silly in the process.