The very best type of pop music is the kind that mixes sweetness and light with dissonance and darkness, the sort which injects a perfectly addictive harmony with something sadder, stranger. Think of the gloomy melodrama of “Tell Laura I Love Her”, which kickstarted the “teenage tragedy song” craze in the 60’s, the bleak farewell of “Seasons In the Sun” in the 70’s, even The Smiths’ “Girlfriend in a Coma” in the 80’s – all meltingly beautiful melodies with something considerably darker lurking at its heart; the black cloud on a summer’s day; the bruise on a perfect face. It is a long and storied lineage, and one which London four-piece Veronica Falls are quite happy fitting into. “We love bands like Beat Happening, Velvet Underground, Galaxie 500 and Felt, but we also love over-emotionalism”, says drummer Patrick Doyle. “We all originally bonded over the sinister sides to love songs from the 50’s and 60’s”.
Welcome to the slanted and enchanted world of Veronica Falls, where serendipity, subversion, providence, and a shared love for Roky Erickson’s worldview all have a crucial part to play. Initially forming two years ago when Doyle and Roxanne Clifford (guitars, vocals) moved to London from Glasgow and met James Hoare (also on guitars and vocals) through mutual friends, the band ended up in a friend’s studio in Hoxton, where free downtime enabled them to develop songs at their leisure. From then on, the band have undoubtedly had a charmed existence. How else to explain how they ended up playing their first ever show with critically lauded indie rockers Pains of Being Pure at Heart, or, indeed, how they recruited bassist Marion Herbain, who was a friend from Glasgow who only learnt to play the bass when she was asked to join the band?
It is this lucky streak which also saw them being snapped up by Mike Sniper, the head of revered New York label Captured Tracks, a scant 10 minutes after they put their MySpace page up. “He got in touch with us so we thought why not”, Hoare recalls. “We liked a few bands on his label so that helped too”. Doyle agrees: “It felt like a natural home for our first single”. The single in question, “Found Love In a Graveyard”, is a singalong slice of deliciously morbid pop, the breezy harmonies and chant-along choruses slyly belying the off-kilter undercurrent of falling in love with a ghost, and neatly set the tone for what was to follow – instantly addictive pop songs streaked with shades of grey. Subsequent singles on tastemaking labels such as No Pain in Pop and Trouble Records cemented their arrival on the music scene, winning plaudits from the likes of Clash, NME, Stool Pigeon and Loud and Quiet, among others.
A series of live shows through Europe and the US, including a fondly remembered SXSW stint this year (“We played one show outside a family run bike shop in the car park in the blazing sun which was a definite highlight”, Hoare says) have punctuated the recording of their debut album, which originally began as a “doomed residency at a studio in Yorkshire” where they locked themselves away for two weeks in deepest, darkest winter with little contact with the outside world, before the band scrapped the sessions entirely to re-record the songs in 3 days in London. “The previous session ultimately sounded overproduced”, Hoare explains. “We ended up recording live, and it was this old fashioned method which captured the sound and feel of the band more accurately”.
The resultant record is one which nails the band’s quietly dissident colours firmly and vividly to the mast. Fans may already be familiar with the likes of “Graveyard” and the galloping Dick Dale meets Nico surf rocker “Beachy Head” (an ode, naturally, to the infamous suicide hotspot), but also present and correct is an expanded sound and emotional palette only hinted at in the past – albeit one which is always grounded in the shadows . “Right Side Of My Brain” is a snarling and vicious beast, all sharp hooks and barbed wire, while “The Fountain” is more gloriously morose yet achingly beautiful pop, with these duelling contrasts reaching its gorgeous epitome on the astonishing “Misery”, as Clifford sings, “Misery/ It’s got a hold of me/ misery/ my old friend” while, all around her, melting harmonies and chiming guitars ring out, before ending abruptly in an eerie verse sung entirely acapella. Elsewhere, the brightly scrubbed “Stephen” may be one of the most touching declarations of friendship ever, while “The Box” is a bona fide indie anthem in the making. Finally, “Come On Over” makes for a poignant album closer, with its simple yet affecting refrain of “Hey, it’s getting colder/ come on over/ until the summer/ until we’re older”.
With their debut album, Veronica Falls have crafted a brilliantly concise, superbly concentrated hit of spiky, marvellously contagious indie pop with a twist – these are songs which will lodge themselves in your head as well as your heart, with style and attitude to burn. Not that the band are content to rest on their laurels – they’re already starting work on a second album, which they say has them more excited than anything else right now. If it is anything like this album, we have a lot of reason to get excited as well.
NME 'The sexiest damn lo-fi pop group to have stalked these shores in quite some time'.
Veronica Falls 'Beachy Head' video premiere via Gorilla Vs. Bear:
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