The Veils – Sun Gangs (2009)
The expectations placed upon the son or daughter of a musician can be influential, if not detrimental, toward their own perception of the art in general. When a parent has achieved their success through music, it seems only natural and hereditarily compatible for the child to pursue something of a similar nature. The worst thing, however, is when their material achieves recognition based on the fame of their predecessor alone. As the son of Barry Andrews, a keyboardist who has collaborated with everyone from XTC to David Bowie, Finn Andrews grew up with music all around him. Although his father exposed him to the inner-workings of music production at a young age, Finn himself was never enamored by music until his late teens, instead viewing painting or filmmaking as his profession of choice. By the time he decided to leave his school in New Zealand at the age of 16 to pursue music full-time in London, he was fully engrossed in music. The art had grown on him over time. Now, considering that his father is quite prominent and likely has many connections with the industry, many would assume that Finn’s breakthrough was easy as cake, especially since he scored a record deal with Rough Trade only one month after moving to the UK. But as The Veils’ next several releases would prove, Andrews would have achieved recognition whether he was the son of a prominent musician or not. To simply put it, his songwriting was just too good to go by unnoticed.
While his last name may have helped him a bit in getting signed to Rough Trade, getting signed to a label is not necessarily a guarantee for the spotlight. For The Veils, their struggles began after being signed. It took five years, several lineup changes, and shifts in genres for them to release The Runaway Found, but its release was treated warmly and it ended up being one of my favorite albums from 2004. At this point, Andrews had found his comfort zone with an engrossing fusion of key-led indie-rock and folk. Nux Vomica was released in 2006, earning honors on this site as the third best album of the year for being an even better representation of The Veils’ style. Although Andrews had achieved success at this point, the struggles that he endured in the past were still prominent in his music. The lyrical focus of both albums often pertained to the importance of commitment to a passionate cause, whether it was love or angst. As listeners learned, brutal honesty was one of Andrews’ most prominent strengths. He has the ability to draw analysis from personal experience, a skill that many contemporary artists lack. In addition to his astoundingly impressive songwriting, this genuine presentation is an aspect that made each Veils release some of the most criminally overlooked material of their respective years.
While Andrews’ personally genuine lyrical sentiments and dazzling songwriting are certainly beneficial, many fans tend to most easily identify him by his very distinctive voice. What is interesting about his delivery is that he maintains a cohesive tone, all while exhibiting an array of fervent yelps, mumblings, and natural vibrato. The array of emotions that his vocals convey have always been impressive, whether it is the heartfelt optimism on “Advice for Young Mothers to Be”, romanticized angst on “Vicious Traditions”, or the delicately anecdotal “Talk Down the Girl”. On The Veils’ third album, Sun Gangs, Andrews offers the audience his most diverse vocal showing to date. He tackles everything from piano-led balladry to heavily distorted alternative-rock, doing so in an effectively cohesive manner that proves reflective of the group’s contrasting array of moods. This should be nothing entirely new for listeners though, as both preceding albums were impressively eclectic in their own right. The excellent placement of “Sit Down By the Fire” as the opening tack of Sun Gangs has rewarding intentions, greeting listeners with an effort that shows most of The Veils’ strengths in four minutes. With its fluttering acoustics, driving keys, delightful melody, and strongly poetic lyrics, it serves as a nice introduction for new listeners and a refresher for the many fans that have been waiting patiently since the release of Nux Vomica.
“Sit Down By the Fire” proves to be a very satisfying opener in finding middle ground between The Veils’ ballads and rock-oriented efforts, paving the way for the abrupt transition toward the group’s tonal diversity throughout the album. The self-titled track follows as a tender piano ballad, featuring Andrews somberly proclaiming, “Where I am going you can’t save me,” over little more than the high-pitched notes of a piano and occasional bass. “Sun Gangs” finds itself placed between two tracks that seem to be at least moderately intricate in instrumentation, providing a breather between “Sit Down By the Fire” and the brilliantly consuming “The Letter”. Andrews has placed tracks accordingly in order to manage the variety of moods cohesively on all of The Veils’ past releases, but the structural organization throughout Sun Gangs is his best work in this department yet. As far as “The Letter” goes, it is one of Andrews’ finest efforts to date and should make as a hugely successful single. Like “Advice for Young Mothers to Be” and “One Night on Earth”, Andrews’ alt-rock leanings are present, although one could say that this is arguably the most definitive representation of it. Guitars are most prominent here, especially after the chorus where several guitar progressions clash to produce a sound somewhat reminiscent of The Arcade Fire. Andrews’ voice and lyrics, though, make this entirely his own. The hook that the chorus delivers with its infectious guitar line is utterly irresistible, perhaps setting up for The Veils’ long-awaited breakthrough. Either way, “The Letter” is an effort that should captivate listeners after the first listen and through many more after that.
After “The Letter”, Sun Gangs undergoes an interesting twist with the fascinating “Killed by the Boom”. The percussion is uncharacteristically heavy for The Veils, as is the prominent use of guitar and bass. Andrews emits a series of snarls over a dark orchestration of booming guitars and droning bass, establishing a feel of heavy ‘90s alternative and punk that appears surprisingly reminiscent of Placebo or some Smashing Pumpkins. Again though, his voice makes it sound very contemporary, leaving no room for entirely accurate comparisons. The result is a success though, primarily attributed to the cohesive layering between Andrews’ vocals and the heavily involved instrumentation surrounding it. This kicks off a period on the album where ambition is at the forefront. The enjoyable “Three Sisters” has a Celtic undertone to it with its rapid usage of acoustics, while “It Hits Deep” is an evolutionary epic that eventually goes from a repetitive vocal melody with sole percussive backing to an anthemic bliss of sorts with active guitars and rhythm. The unweaving of the different melodic elements within “It Hits Deep” is very satisfying.
“The House She Lives In” returns the album to somewhat more conventional territory, offering a nostalgic mixture of keys and guitars to craft a verse that is depictive of ‘60s pop. The slick chorus and accompaniment of strings is classic Veils though, and it results in being one of the best songs on the album because of it. Although the last three songs lack in the focus of other songs on the album, the moody “Larkspur” and soft-spoken “Scarecrow” and “Begin Again” are still too memorable to be classified as filler. Stacked up against The Veils’ other albums, Sun Gangs is simply another step in the right direction. Andrews and co. seem to be improving upon the flexibility of their sounds with each album, and the success of this album should excite all those with even a slight interest. 8.5/10