(Broken Stag Records)
It may come as a surprise, but there’s a reason that I elected to review Ace Of Wands’ newest LP and Ages by Volores back-to-back: the albums feel like the work of two bands who could easily share a stage or a tour together. Both bands’ sounds feature a bit of goth and alt-rock in their artistic/creative DNA but, where Ace Of Wands clearly features some classic rock in their makeup to function as a counter-balance, Volores balances alt-rock and goth in a spirit and manner closer to that of The Cure. It’s actually remarkable how clearly linked the bands seem to be – in spite of their approaches differing so much.
Now, does the contention above mean the music that Flogging Molly bassist Nathan Maxwell has composed to support his wife in Volores on Ages is second rate, inferior or otherwise forgettable? Certainly not – it’s just that, as one listens to Ages, it’s clear that the voice in this project dictates the angles and directions that the songs take – and that certainly informs the impressions which are left by each song.
As “All That We Could Need” warms up to open Ages‘ A-side, everything – the minor key in which the song is composed, the mid-tempo pacing and the generally clean, tight and tidy song construction – immediately calls to mind The Cure but the real gem in the song (and, honestly, what sets Volores apart from all the other bands in their perceived peer group) is the performance with which singer-songwriter Shelby Maxwell crowns the proceedings. Tru;y – yes, the music is good and deserved attention, but the fire and delicacy with which Maxwell delivers lines like, “See the smoke before the fire/ Pacing like a gun for hire/ Know the end but fail to change/ Pieces fit when rearranged” forces those listening to stop whatever they’re doing and take notice. Very literally, listeners won’t be able to not stop and listen to every damned microtone and syllable; they’ll be perfectly engaged and unable to tear themselves away.
After “All That We Could Need” releases listeners and lets them continue with the album, “Carrion Cry” follows with a decidedly subdued tone (the “not my time” refrain in the song is artful, but also feels unnecessarily dire) before the album’s title track changes the album’s tone in a manner which could only be called :complete.” There, while the tone remains dour, Volores picks up some songwriting cues comparable to those which provided the soundtrack on the first Lillith Fair (like the sounds and style of Sarah McLachlan, Holly McNarland and Joan Osborne), and that shift really changes the vibe of the album. While there is still some sadness in the sound, it feels more multi-dimensional in that singer Shelby Maxwell expands her performance to include sounds which feel a little more hopeful. The running gets even lighter still with “Nothing New (In The Unknown)” and, while “Genevieve” dips back down hard into the darkness of the side’s early running, “The Meadow and The Moon” dares to recover beautifully with a dreamy vocal that Jane Siberry to close the side.
It’s easy to be hooked by the angle on which “The Meadow and The Moon” trails off. The combination of the rolling snare drum and the breathless, longing tone in the vocals is a perfect salve a tortured soul and mind, and the exact same guitar tone opens “A Perfect Icarus” at the top of the B-side but, contrary to the sighing at the end of the A-side, when Shelby Maxwell appears bemoaning how she fucked up again (without telling listeners why or how she fucked up yet), interest and energ is instantly renewed. The energy and volume don’t increase as much as listeners might expect they should through the song, but the restraint that the band exercises can cause listeners of the correct mind to rush toward the band – and they’ll be rewarded when they find the “danceable in a Rough Trade kind of way” vibe which fuels “Feed The Fraud.” There, Volores doesn’t completely give in to the rhythm of the song and doesn’t exactly allow listeners to give themselves over to it either; as a result, everyone remains in a precarious holding pattern throughout the song (which might look funny when the band plays it live”, but it finally gets paid off in “Vindicated Kid”when the guitar tone turns up in the cut’s chorus. The same kind of dynamic reoccurs again in “I.I.O.E.E.” and “Sulfer and Stone,” which implies that Volores have attained a comfortable working arrangement through the side – and that the band shifts gears one more time for “Glass,” just feels like the right way to walk away as the album closes. There, with light street sounds falling into a minor chord progression and Shelby Maxwell cooing gently through her lyric sheet, listeners will find a sublime way to exit the album. Granted, there are a couple of moments when the singer does her voice into a higher register for dramatic effect, but at no point does either Maxwell let listeners forget that the story they’re telling is a sad one – so when the song does end on one more minor chord, there won’t be a surprise left in any listener’s mind that the next event in the album’s running will be a turntable’s stylus lifting one final time.
Taking the album as a whole, there’s no doubt that Ages is capable of capturing the imaginations of listeners, and certainly winning some to ensure that they’ll return when it is announced that the band will be returning with a follow-up. Those who hear Ages will understand that whatever comes next will not be what they expect, because they weren’t really sure what to expect from this album either (a dark and dramatic examination of uncertainty and conern created by a well-established punk and his wife? Even after you’ve heard the album, that description feels unlikely), but they’ll still be ready and excited for it. [Bill Adams]
Volores’ Ages LP is out now. Buy it here directly from the band’s website.