Maryland-born quintet Velocity Girl created a bit of a buzz in the early to mid-’90s by marrying a blend of shoegazer guitar sludge with the pixie-pop vocal melodies of singer Sarah Shannon, snagging a minor MTV alterna-hit in the process. Then â€” pfft! â€” gone. So, why should you like Velocity Girl? The evidence, please:
“Bubblegrunge”: Shannon’s thin, almost uncharacteristic vocals, combined with all that guitar distortion, led the band’s detractors to coin a label for their sound: “bubblegrunge.” While that was meant to be a slam, it actually describes the group perfectly, especially if you remove all the indie-based shame and scorn behind it. Being signed to Sub Pop in the early ’90s meant grinding, angst-ridden wailing, and Velocity Girl’s melancholy Catherine Wheel-meets-the-Smiths meditations like “Crazy Town” (download) didn’t exactly fit that demo, no matter how hard the muddy production on their first album, Copacetic, tried to bury the pop in the mix.
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Porter Brings the Pop: That Smiths-like quality must have hit someone’s ears, because Smiths producer John Porter was brought in to helm the band’s second album, Â¡Simpatico! Porter traded the distortion for jangle, put Shannon’s vocals front and center, and tightened up the songwriting to three-minute bubblegum blasts. “I Can’t Stop Smiling” (download) features fun vocal interplay between Shannon and guitarist Archie Moore, plus a Spike Jonze-directed video:
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Luckily, Porter didn’t polish away all the grit â€” “Labrador” (download) wisely pits Shannon’s tendency to sing flatly across the music rather than with it against aggressively dueling guitar licks. The result is engrossing push-and-pull, with some tasty hook frosting on top. Nummy. Â¡Simpatico! is filled to the brim with similar two-and-a-half- to three-minute miracles. Just a stellar record, top to bottom.
Power-Pop Gloss: With Â¡Simpatico! a strong seller, the band went in a bigger and bolder direction for 1996’s Gilded Stars and Zealous Hearts. The guitars get turned back up and the production gets even glossier, and while it works great on some tracks like the single, “Nothing” (download), in other places it threatens to drown Shannon completely.
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While not as strong as their previous effort, Gilded Stars doesn’t deserve the critical drubbing it often gets. While there’s a bit too much Archie on the vocals (seriously, guys, if you hire a frontwoman to sing the songs, let her!), there are still some pop gems to be found, particularly “Just Like That” and the album’s best track, “Formula 1 Throwaway,” a zippy track that’s anything but its title.
Their Crowning Moment: To make the obvious choice, it’d have to be the band’s biggest hit, “Sorry Again” (download), a tune that got plenty of MTV love in those heady, mid-’90s days of Alternative Nation and 120 Minutes. It’s the obvious choice â€” and the band’s biggest hit â€” because it distills everything about Velocity Girl into one cute song: college-romance angst, jangly guitars, and an irresistible hook. Even Archie’s vocals are welcome!
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For Fans Of: the Darling Buds, the Primitives, the Breeders
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