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coverpic flag US - Rhode Island - Full Moon 245 - 08/18/16

Velvet Crush
Pre-Teen Symphonies
Omnivore Recordings

From the vaults of the garage power-poppers Velvet Crush comes a collection of 16 demos and live tracks documenting the time around the release of their second album, Teenage Symphonies To God (1994) - which was a nod to, or an ode to Brian Wilson's description of the music intended for the Beach Boys' legendary (lost) SMiLe, the follow up to Pet Sounds. Singer/bass player Paul Chastain and drummer/singer Ric Menck formed the band in 1989 after working together with band projects Choo Train (they put out some singles, plus a compilation album), Bag-O-Shells (singles only), and The Springfields (singles only). In Velvet Crush, they both wrote songs and sang, and started releasing a few singles. They put out a cover version of Teenage Fanclub's "Everything Flows", which lead the band to be signed by Alan McGee's indie-rock label Creation Records (UK - at the time home of Teenage Fanclub, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, The Boo Radleys, Swervedriver and others). The band made their debut with In The Presence Of Greatness (1991), an album produced by fellow power pop artist Matthew Sweet [who launched his classic Girlfriend album the same year]. I guess they've all [Matthew Sweet as well] heard a lot of Gene Clark's and Big Star's (and Badfinger's) music when they were young (same goes for Teenage Fanclub). In the early and mid-1990s, powerful, catchy and poppy guitar rock was popular. Nirvana rocketed sky-high with their Nevermind, while in England, a few years later (ca. 1995-96) Oasis (another Creation Records band) became superstars. Anyway, Velvet Crush (or Matthew Sweet for that matter) didn't reach stardom, but they were noticed and acclaimed in their time. Teenage Symphonies To God was their breakthrough, but they ended up as a cult band, sort of. Chastain and Menck were the core of and the driving force in the band, flanked by guitarist Jeffrey Borchardt, who was credited as co-writer (as all the songs from their first two albums were credited by all three).

Enter their second album, Teenage Symphonies To God, which was produced by the legendary Mitch Easter, formerly of Let's Active but especially known as the producer for R.E.M. in their early years. Around the time the album came (or a couple of years earlier), I got hold of a smashing 7" 4-song EP by Velvet Crush called The Post-Greatness E.P. (1992). This platter held "Window To The World" off their first album (hence the EP's title), the fabulous, lovely and energetic "Atmosphere", which was later included on Teenage Symphonies..., plus two more tracks: "The Gentle Breeze" (later to reappear on the band's fourth album, Free Expression, in 1999) and the obscure "Butterfly Position" (later included on the fine compilation A Single Odessey, 2001). Pre-Teen Symphonies is a two part compilation, presenting eight demo tracks tied to the sessions in prior to Teenage Symphonies.... The other eight tracks included were recorded live in Chicago, at Cabaret Metro, the year Teenage Symphonies... was released (the band added another guitarist, Tommy Keene to the line-up when they hit the road promoting the album). The demos include six of the tracks from their second album plus two other songs: "Not Standing Down" and "Turn Down", which are probably outtakes that never made the finished album (but I don't understand the reason why not, as they don't stand back compared to the others - especially "Not Standing Down"). The demo part opens with the same two songs as opens the original album, "Hold Me Up" and "My Blank Pages", and the rawness of the demos is a fine document of the band's charm and their ability two write rough, powerful and catchy rock songs. The same goes for the live recordings, which caught Velvet Crush in their prime: power, punch, style, charm and good pop songs, especially the aforementioned "Window to the World" and the wonderful "Atmosphere". The live recording holds five songs off Teenage Symphonies..., two songs from their debut album ("Window to the World" and "Ash and Earth"), before the record closes with a cover version of "Remember The Lightning" which is a song by another long lost American power pop unit, 20/20.

Velvet Crush broke up in 1996 (probably due to lack of interest from the big public) but the band (or: Chastain and Menck) re-formed in 1998 launching a third album, Heavy Changes (1998, for Action Musik, again with Mitch Easter as producer - with guitarist Jeffrey Underhill replacing Borchardt). The band have continued to record albums (Free Expression, Bobsled, 1999; Soft Sounds, 2002; and Stereo Blues, 2004 - the last two released on Action Musik) but they've remained a cult band. As Omnivore Records describes the band's music: '...[Velvet Crush] proved the past was the future by taking elements from classic '60s melodies, '70s power pop, and '80s reinvention, Pre-Teen Symphonies is a unique look into the development of a classic, and the live power that drove it.' You'd better revisit and check out Velvet Crush to find some power pop gems from the not so far past.

'It's probably no exaggeration to make the claim that Teenage Symphonies To God was the pinnacle of our illustrious career as a band. It's certainly the album by Velvet Crush that most people know. Pre-Teen Symphonies collects all the loose ends, and hopefully, helps to usher in a new chapter for the little band that could from Providence, Rhode Island.' (Ric Menck, from the liner notes of Pre-Teen Symphonies).

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