“Voyager” REVIEWED by MPCavalier
February 6, 2014 by MPCavalier
When Music Notes last spoke to Veseria’s Patrick Roberts, he was tracking his vocals for the band’s then in-the-works second album. Usually at that point in the recording process, bands have already rehearsed their self-aggrandizing bullshit. They say things like “this is the best album we’ve ever made”, “everything we’ve ever done has built up to this” and “it’s one for the fans”. Anything to get people excited about a project they already know ain’t that spectacular, and that they are most likely already bored with.
“We can’t wait for people to hear this record.” That’s what Patrick Roberts said when I asked him about the band’s approaching collective sigh over completing the album. It was about as sincere a statement as one could hear. They’d spent most of 2013 writing and recording VOYAGER, workshopping the songs live, giving people small appetizers of what was to come. They released a single last fall called “Reach A Little Further”, a pleasing and hummable rock-folk number of instant likeability that was leaps and bounds from what they had done before. But based on that song, nobody could have predicted what they were about to do.
VOYAGER is a towering achievement. It is a mature and confident record of well-crafted and near-perfectly executed songs. It shows a band in full bloom and with a keen self-awareness. Ten minutes into it and you know why they couldn’t wait for you to hear it. It’s a magnificent and very complete album of monumental beauty. There are moments of teetering emotional depth that would tear your heart out if they weren’t leveled by the band’s penchant for subtle whimsy. Musically, VOYAGER is a two-act play split between Veseria’s love for punked-up folk and its mastery of plaintive road songs. “It’s a marriage of the two”, says Patrick now. Indeed, as the album progresses, it becomes impossible to divorce the band’s two personalities from each other. And as they start to meld at the middle of the album, Veseria’s rockier stomp and its “more sensitive side” reveal more than just another young band in touch with itself. It’s not a masterpiece, although you can be sure that’s coming. VOYAGER is an important signpost. The point at which the band found its voice, opened up its mouth, and roared.
For all of its youthful exuberance, VOYAGER is not a celebratory record. It is, at its heart, a treatise on Veseria’s generation. A generation who’s mainstream spokespersons have earned accolades for social media whining about their sense of entitlement and their dismay with a socio-economic system they only think they understand. Patrick Roberts, who wrote ten of VOYAGER’s thirteen songs, chooses to examine and expose his sometimes misunderstood generation, laying it’s foibles bare so that us oldsters can finally understand them. VOYAGER’s first proper track “Children of Houdini” wastes no time putting down some hard truths about Veseria’s “brothers and sisters”:
“For we are lost and we are frightened/Yet we claim to be enlightened alone in unending space”
With its pounding relentless rhythm, “Houdini” is also a call to arms, and to witness the dark magic we have created in which people burst into the light in an instant and fade to black just as swiftly:
“So light up the stages, come all ages
We’re going to show you something you haven’t seen before/And won’t ever see again”
It is a perfect opener, for both the album and Veseria’s upcoming gigs. This song could light up the biggest arenas, with it’s exploding choruses thrust forward by drummer David Bailey’s snare drum flams, and lead singer Jen Roberts’ bewitching vocals – the song invites you in, embraces you, and then fires you out of a cannon into the rest of the album.
On “The Dastardly”, Jen Roberts gives Patrick’s (yes they are husband and wife) lyrics an after-hours torch song recitation. Jen Roberts doesn’t make a habit of purring or cooing. She is in an elite and unique class of twenty-something female lead singers in that she sings like a woman, not a girl. In her hands, lines like “my blood is made of whiskey and my bones were built to shake” and “by the end of this song you’re gonna know my name” are slithery tendrils crawling through your skin. And as “The Dastardly” evolves into a foot-stomping Sunday gospel breakdown (handled expertly by pianist Jake Strakis and bassist Corey Lusk) its main theme “I think we’re being lied to” becomes a sermon very few will have trouble relating to.
Jen Roberts takes some serious chances on “F=MA (All Your Forces)”, a dizzying and chaotic rush powered by “bottles of confidence“. She barely has time to breathe on this song, with it’s frantic pace and machine-gun vocals, it’s like a modern day “Shattered” in a Bret Easton Ellis novel – one of those blurred and wobbly memories of parties past. The band rocks at its hardest on “F=MA”. Bailey is breaking sticks, Patrick Roberts is going for fretboard noise, and the song has the kind of big hard rock ending that you wish would go on for a few more minutes…or hours.
On her self-penned songs, Jen Roberts plays it even less safe than she does on her husband’s songs. “I just can’t enough of you/My heart aches for your touch”, she sings on “Under The Influence”. Her ability to take a remarkably simple sentiment and make it sound like she was the first to think of it is at the heart of her ability as a singer. She twists lines like that around you throughout the record in swirls of blue smoke and chipped nails.
As the record reaches into it’s second, rootsier half, Patrick Robert’s again opens up his generations veins, but with lyrics that are at once universal and deeply insular. “Seminary Song II”, “Seminary Song III” and “Hendricks County” form a suite of personal contemplations that are instantly relatable, backed by versions of Americana that too have sewn their way into our musical bloodstream. On “Hendricks County”, “people send me letters as if I’m on the run/Sometimes I think I am.” These songs build from the earthen baselines of the psyche and ask questions about what we have built on top. Are we accepting untruths because they have become societal mantras? Are the honest and righteous forever banished to the wastelands? Can we at least agree that our experiences with love, heartbreak, joy and suffering can bind us? It’s heady stuff for a little indie band from the Midwest. I remember similar muso head-scratching about other “little bands” from Athens and Montreal.
As VOYAGER veers towards closure, the band hits the barroom stage with a mighty wallop in Jake Strakis’ “In The End” – a joyous Jerry Lee piano romp complete with tinkling glasses and closing time raucousness – because even a band that is questioning the stability of the human condition needs to let off some steam once in a while. And if there is a better way to close an album of VOYAGER’s ambition than “Maybe I’m Deaf Maybe I’m Blind” please clue me in. For the first time, a VOYAGER protagonist seems conciously distant – reluctant even to participate in the game of human interaction. Jen Roberts is back at the piano bar, its late, and the cigarettes and the whiskey have taken their toll. She uses that. She practically chokes forcing it to work for her. By the end, as the band erupts around her, she has knocked all the raw emotion of this song to the ground and she is throttling it, banging its head against the hardwood in an attempt to extricate herself from it. But it’s futile because emotion is an inescapable part of being human. She’s part of it. Veseria is part of it. And VOYAGER makes us all part of it.
VOYAGER will be different things to a lot of people. It will be an album people turn to in hours of need and times of joy. It will be quoted by lovers in boozy late-night texts. It will be a source of anthems at gatherings for the disenfranchised. It will also be an album people gleefully share with their friends, at first chastising them for having not heard it, and then in hushed tones telling them “I can’t wait for you to hear this record.”
VOYAGER is released on March 1. Check Veseria’s Facebook book page for info on the albums official unveiling.
Luckily, VOYAGER is an early entry in a busy musical springtime for Indianapolis. I got a chance to hear the split-collaborative single from Minute Details and Square Social Circle and as impossible as its seems, that combination actually works. These two very different bands have recorded three songs, one of which is a big favorite of mine (MD’s live staple “I Am A Monster”). SSC’s contribution “Blood and Treasure” is a serious piece of country-rock. It’s a fun collaboration, and its no throw-away. The single sees its official release on March 28. There is so much more music coming down the road. In the studio right now readying spring/summer releases, Phunkbot, Coup D’etat, Audiodacity, Smoke Ring, Bizarre Noir, Verdant Vera, Minute Details, Dead Birds Adore Us, James Kramer (with Ryan Koch), Dead Ringers. Remember to “like” your favorite bands on Facebook, and that will lead you to all the bands they like, and that will lead you to treasures of which you could not possibly imagine.
MPCavalier is co-host of The DoitIndy Radio Hour on RFI.FM, Mondays at 8PM eastern.
Rest in peace, Daniel Jaffke.
Rest in peace, Paul Ash.