9-VOLT VELVET – Nude Beaches

Texan rockers 9-Volt Velvet serve up a superb selection of riffs on their first full length release ‘Nude Beaches’. It’s a record that values directness, with each of the tracks feature some really taut riffs, but unlike some garage rock oriented bands, 9VV’s best tunes aren’t just in the Band of Skulls mode. The best bits of this album draw from a broader musical palette, and sometimes do so within a single song.

The opening number ‘Tropicalia’ sets up a fairly typical garage rock base via some hard edged guitars, but injects a couple of surf tones and a swathe of goth-like attitude along the way, creating something very distinctive. The surf influence makes itself very clear on an abrasive intro riff that’s also used to bridge the verses, and a vaguely punk ‘n’ roll inflected mood lurks beneath the chorus. Granted, you’ll hear moments where a love of The Jesus & Mary Chain creep through the cracks, but the number’s effortlessly buoyant qualities and fuzzy, retro melodies also has its own identity. This is something that’s really helped by a vocal that shares a distinctively lax quality that wouldn’t normally be associated with a tune in this style. That voice rarely rises beyond a haunting whisper, making its contrast with the overdriven guitar sounds all the more striking. In an almost immediate change of mood, ‘Brainwaves’ introduces itself with a fuzz bass which quickly forms the core of a musical groove that’s part 90s indie, part shoegaze, and part danceable goth. The way the music grooves and swirls occasionally feels vaguely reminiscent of the noisier output from The Veldt, but as before, the musical layering here combined with a hissing, almost ominous vocal makes it very obvious that 9-VV’s guiding hand is at work. Although this seems more concerned with the music than the vocals or lyrics, it’s a track that sounds great with the volume cranked, and has an unexpectedly nostalgic bent that’ll take some listeners back to the alternative clubs of the 90s.

More accessible due to a much cleaner sound, the core of ‘Riptide’ sounds like a spirited throwback to the 90s, but the way 9-Volt Velvet deliver those riffs still has a relevance at time of release in 2024. The punky approach applied to a shoegaze-ish mood is instantly impressive – and likeable – but the arrangement also comes loaded with an abrasive, almost bell like percussive sound that punctuates the noise throughout. It’s a simple touch, but one that lifts the dirty melody, whilst the featured vocal – which comes half buried – is happy to latch onto a more traditional musical trope, often flaunting a love for classic Jesus & Mary Chain and A Place To Bury Strangers. In and out in under three minutes, this is a track that doesn’t hang around and has no time for padding, but it really doesn’t need to do much more. This is top tier shoegaze/garage punk that catches the ear in an instant.

Adding an unsettling atmosphere to the album, the short ‘Blue Odyssey’ shares a Hawaiian melody via a chorale vocal, played back as if heard through a detuned radio. Although this is little more than an interlude, it plays an important role in distracting the listener just long enough to make the opening bass riffs of ‘Blood Sugar Rush’ sound even more ominous. The chugging bottom end drives a hefty rhythm, over which a chiming guitar and gothy vocal latch onto a stomping melody that feels as if it has a vague link with old glam rock – an unexpected influence considering 9-Volt Velvet’s core sound. Once they’ve pulled in the listener, this track actually becomes an exercise in succinctness, since it stops dead after the second verse. It could’ve blossomed into a much more melodic and potentially interesting number, but the band clearly feel it makes its point with such a short and sharp attack.

‘Hey Candy’ takes another relentless approach to a riff where the distortion is present and correct and the fuzzy vocal, again, settles into something worthy of the finest garage based noise. The album’s best track, it makes good on the previous hint of glam by stoking up the 70s vibes and really delivering in terms of massive swagger. Some listeners might hear traces of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; others, a faint love for the earlier Black Pistol Fire, but whichever way you approach the song, it shares a strong DNA with other 9-Volt Velvet tunes that have surfaced, giving potential fans more of a reason to love this still emerging band.

For those looking for something more “traditional”, the buzzing and repetitive riff that drives ‘Hurricane Brain’ occasionally sounds like a jam between the Reid brothers with Zodiac Mindwarp and Powerman 5000’s Spider One in tow, but the howling guitars and incessant rhythm are very much in keeping with this album’s other strong offerings. The arrangement here feels a little more basic, in the best possible way, which gives first time listeners a better chance at getting acquainted with 9-VV’s core sound. However, with a brief sojourn into something quite different during the middle eight, it still conveys the band’s usual love of unexpected twists. This instrumental moment is fleeting, but it holds for just long enough to hinting at something epic – and an unexpected, possibly unintentional nod to ‘October’ era U2…

Elsewhere, you’ll encounter a pleasing mix of distorted bass and tambourine serving up a bubblegum melody on ‘Floating Away’, with 9-Volt creating a hybrid sound that really suits them. With half of the guitars buried beneath the distortion and grumbling groove, it’s such a thrill to hear a set of 70s and 80s influences used in such a quirky way, whilst ‘Storm’ aims for an entirely different emotional pull by working acoustic guitars in a very 60s fashion, weaving a melody that sounds as if it were written with the overrated ukulele in mind, and had this been within ten feet of a recording studio back in 2009, would’ve likely been recorded that way. ‘Doldrums’ closes everything with another distorted radio blast where acoustic guitars hint at a beach scene. In the hands of other bands, it might seem like filler, but here, and with ‘Blue Odyssey’ still lurking in the listeners’ memories, it actually makes ‘Nude Beaches’ feel more like a conceptual piece.

A superb follow through from the promise of their earlier singles and a pair of excellent EPs, on this album, 9-Volt Velvet hammer their way through eleven tracks in a little over twenty three minutes, giving several punk bands a run for their money. There are times where the music swamps the vocal, and times where grooves and moods feel more important than actual songs, but for those who love garage rock, goth and 90s alternative sounds, this album is guaranteed to be a blast.

April 2024