Friday, 13 February 2009

The Van Pelt - Sultans of Sentiment (1997)

Something about this one typifies 1990s indie-rock for me perfectly. The title of the album kind of hints at its prevailing mood: The Van Pelt are one of those bands that, a lot of the time, ooze that lovely kind of bittersweet sentimentality that seems to be practically unique to '90s American indie-rock bands; bridging the slow, tempered grooves and spoken word approach of Slint with the nostalgic beauty of American Football, sometimes cutting their teeth in a bit of off-kilter distorted riffing. The guitar playing on this album is great, mostly revolving around intertwining clean guitar lines that never show off more than they need to but always complement the rhythm section perfectly. Frontman Chris Leo makes this band pretty special: most of the time he employs a spoken word delivery, going from cool and collected to very impassioned at the climaxes of songs. His wordy and literate lyrics are sometimes ponderous and whimsical, sometimes political, and sometimes, well, downright sentimental, but always great. The album finishes on a really high point with 'Do the Lovers Still Meet at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial?', a brooding ballad that, over the same three chords, conjures up beautifully bittersweet images: ghost towns of lost youth, empty bottles and empty dancefloors, and the times that we wish we could take back. Sure, its melancholy brand of romanticism might be almost cloying to some, but it's the kind of stuff that I eat up every time. Sultans of Sentiment, though destined to always remain on the margins, is an indie-rock gem that should not be overlooked.

let's make a list so we can feel like we're accomplishing something, so we can feel like we're working together. let's sit in a circle adding to the list as we move around the room one by one, as you make a suggestion begin sternly - you take no shit - to give credence to your semi-constructive argument. tomorrow we'll wonder where this generation gets their priorities from. tomorrow my heart will skip a beat as it does every morning nine months of the year. it has to do with this list. before the bells even ring. before the hair is even combed. will the approach ever change or will it begin as i've said and end with a lighthearted twist to prove we're all adults? it has to do with this list, which we'll put in our pockets to throw away at a later date. it has to do with this list, which makes me feel more uncomfortable than i've ever felt, more apple pie than i've ever been. we are not housewives, executives, or entrepreneurs. we are teachers by trade, complainers by role.
-The Van Pelt; 'Let's Make a List'

The Van Pelt - Sultans of Sentiment

No comments: