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Hazy synth-pop trios may be a dime a dozen, but there's something really special when an album like Violens' True finds its way into the world. From the very first note of the Brooklyn-based band's sophomore LP, it's clear that the album isn't messing around. Through carefree crescendos and poignant harmonies, the album stays true to its roots, but in a more constructed manner, most notably in the opener "Totally True" and the distorted "Every Melting Degree."

Drawing comparisons to Phoenix and a heavier Antlers would be easy, but there is a certain dynamic that pushes Violens towards a more garage-based sound than the new wave, dreampop bands that have piled up high in 2012. The band isn't afraid to step back from what has worked for it in the past. "Lavender Forces" is a dark, cinematic score that would fit in a Christopher Nolan film and would make Hans Zimmer proud. It won't find its way onto any radio station or mixtape, but it shows how much space the band is able to cover.

The album doesn't let up on the latter half of the tracklisting with the pedal to the floor "All Night Low" and the prog-inspired "Watch the Streams." Songs like "Der Microarc" and the sinister "Lucent Caries" that have subtle nods to horrific undertones are also wrinkles that make True that much more special. Violens is able to float between atmospheric and in-your-face, giving the album a swirling feeling instead of putting power hits up front and letting the album slide into the background as the songs pass.

- Adam Vitcavage

Under The Radar

At first listen, a Violens tune can be hard to grab onto. Bat away layers and layers of silky atmosphere, burrow down to some primordial pop nugget, and it spirals off in an unexpected direction, not taking the frictionless path. It's heady, with dense production and disparate reference points/intentions that coexist somewhat precariously; they form a house of cards blueprinted by explosive and atmospheric '90s shoegaze, chorus-soaked '80s pop, and reverbed-out '60s psych.

Historically, both with Violens and Jorge Elbrecht's previous band/art company Lansing-Dreiden, reviewers have seemed reluctant to dig through that mess, quickly assigning the group to some overarching '80s revival or barking about that whole "art company" thing. This prevented them from giving the records sufficient spins: Elbrecht and crew were crafting some truly adventurous, scene-ignoring pop. True, then, may mark that point when the group has stripped away enough of the artifice to concentrate on the tunes, and the zeitgeist has caught up. It also marks the point where Lansing-Dreiden favorers can give Violens their due. They've found their stride—really completed the vision—here.

The almost-title track "Totally True" is a knockout, marching along with chorused guitar and a monster hook. "When to Let Go" has sneaky mini-hooks that infiltrate the brain, then a simple turn of phrase and skip up to falsetto before the chorus hits, with an unexpected resolve (Elbrecht's a wonderful melody writer). "Sariza Spring" is perfect downtempo '60s pop, slinking along on minor melodies, a wash of guitars, and long sing-songy phrases-a walk in the park (commencing with bird chirps, no less). "Lavender Forces," a foreboding drone, marks the midway point, after which the distortion pedals are kicked on and you get some heavier fare: "Unfolding Black Wings" is a not-so-subtle shout-out to Daydream Nation, with its Steve Shelley beat and discordant guitars.

One could really call out any of the 12 tracks presented here, just passing on the news as each of them reveals itself. True, it can take a solid three listens to access, but the payoff's golden. Do the work.

- J. Pace

The Owl

Violens are New York’s preeminent pop classicists. You might be tempted to shrug them off as yet another eighties revival gang (which at this point verges slightly on the uncool), but the Duran Duran echoes of their second proper LP are only the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath is incorrigible devotion to formal beauty of pop songsmanship: the group’s principal songwriter, Jorge Elbrecht, has an uncanny touch for melody, harmony and counterpoint, making Violens’ songs recall times when structural innovation and catchiness went hand in hand.

The album’s opening track, "Totally True," outlines their sound in a nutshell: jangly guitars hold up angelic, multi-vocal hooks that recall the sophisti-pop standard-bearers Prefab Sprout. In the songs that follow we can hear subtle nods to shoegaze ("All Night Low"), The La‘s (in one of the album’s standouts, "When To Let Go"), and even Disco Inferno‘s "The Last Dance" (in the penultimate track). And while the LP’s eclecticism and immaculate production are impressive, it is the outstanding songwriting that ties it all together, in what is certainly one of the strongest full-length efforts released this year so far.

- Patryk Mrozek


After a year of releasing a song a month on their website, N.Y.C. quartet Violens could be excused for having nothing left when it came time for their second album. Luckily for fans of the hazy, hooky style of retro-gaze noise pop, they have plenty left in the tank on 2012's True. The album is full of songs that take up residence in your head, reaching far beyond the surface and digging in deep. Their previous album almost had the same effect, but it was more on a song-by-song basis. True works as a whole and creates an unbroken mood and feel that is both nocturnal and strangely uplifting. Credit this to a sonic formula that splits the difference between the epic grandeur of shoegaze bands like Ride and introspective neo-psych bands like the Rain Parade, while adding just enough noise and frenzy to keep anyone from drifting off entirely. The interplay between the guitars and voices is reminiscent of the Church, and so is the amount of reverb that bathes everything in a warm and comforting blanket. It's an incredibly inviting sound that's built from familiar sources but is injected with enough energy and subdued ferocity to make it feel very new and exciting. Along with the impressive sound, the group came up with a very strong batch of songs that fit together like links in a chain but also stand alone. Though a couple songs feel like radio-ready singles with choruses that make the little hairs on your neck stand up ("Totally True," "When to Let Go") and a couple have tempos that would tax a heavy metal drummer (especially the raging "All Night Low"), mostly the album deals in subtler shades of spooky melancholy and wistful emotion. Jorge Elbrecht's vocals are tailor-made for conveying these feelings and the well-crafted and note-perfect arrangements really help the songs stick. That being said, maybe the best song on the album is the last track, "So Hard to See," which takes the shoegaze-psych formula and attaches it to a midtempo, very danceable groove that calls to mind early-'90s Cure and shows just how good Violens can be when they expand their approach just a tiny bit and let some light into the murky gloom. It's a perfect capper to a very impressive album filled with evocative songs and sounds.

- Tim Sendra

Get Bent!

Listening to Violens' latest album, True, is like taking a step into a broken time machine that accidentally captures moments of every era, smashes them up and blends them together, creating something that is new and exciting. While the word ‘dreamy' is often used to describe Violens and much of the Slumberland crowd, any dreams had while listening to True are sure to be wild rides, since the mood changes drastically from start to finish. This album is meant to be listened to in its exact order, as each song is strategically placed so that your feelings follow the music.

The first half of the album takes cues from 1980s bands like Cleaners from Venus and the Wake, but also blends 1960s harmonies in songs like "When to Let Go." All of this is done while washing the songs over with a 1990s Cocteau Twins-style haze that darkens every song just a bit. The very first track, "Totally True", makes it feel like everything is going to be all right, but soon enough "Lavender Forces" comes on and changes the tone. Suddenly, things get darker and it feels like you're in a rainy industrial city where thunder takes over the already grey sky. Thrashing Sonic Youth style guitars fill "Unfolding Black Wings" in a frenzy. The rest of the album seems rushed and urgent, as if Violens are running away from something but can't escape it, leaving the listener feeling unsettled but inspired by the last track.

- Mukta Mohan


Violens return with a new album on Slumberland Records ("Keeping it foolish since 1989"), following their promising 2010 debut Amoral. The trio's escapades since that album, including internet-released collages and remixes for Black Tambourine amongst others, have clearly etched a danceable groove that little bit further into their minds. And True is all the better for it.

Every Melting Degree and the raving All Night Low show that they can get muscular as well as striking a perfect pose, adding rude guitars to the shimmer to good effect. When to Let Go is the best attempt yet to melt The Smiths with the Haçienda crowd, a deceptively sweet and simple song that perfectly replicates the blissed-out loneliness of the all-night dancer.

Lavender Forces, with its fuzzed opening of almost operatic heaviness and sense of approaching trouble, proves that Violens have lost none of their knack with impressionistic sound collages, even while turning in memory-baiting three minute pop songs.

Violens are busy creating their own musical space, somewhere interesting, where the gentle "aah, aah, aah" of their sunnier moments can become threatening and chantlike, seemingly at the flick of a switch. That probably sounds like what people try to mean when they prefix music styles with 'psych-'. Only here the effect is so quickly engrained and addictive, it could stand for 'psychically astute.'

It's almost too much at times – so much harmony, so much light with so much shade as well – that it can be slightly disorientating. But Violens never leave you floundering, always offer just enough of a map to get into the next delightful puzzle of a song. And who can ask for more than that from an album?

- Jim Milne