What Can Not Be, But Is…
By: Eric Greenwood
This New York city duo takes a magnifying glass to those bleak melodic bits in songs by bands like New Order and The Magnetic Fields – you know the ones that make you press repeat over and over again " well, Vitesse makes entire albums out of them. Once you get over the fact that Vitesse is crossing well-trodden terrain, then you can begin to appreciate the subtle nuances and fleeting moments of genius inherent to every sad, electronic lullaby this band produces.
There is no bright light at the end of the tunnel for Hewson Chen and Joshua Klein, as every song is a light, melancholic journey into the synthetic pop of England"s brooding legends (Joy Division, The Cure, The Jesus And Mary Chain). Klein"s vocals dip into Ian Curtis" playbook of baritone angst, while teetering on the brink of Stephin Merritt"s self-effacing and troubling cadence. The music is exquisitely catchy, although, equally desolate and downhearted.
Tinny keyboards circle in small repetitive and concurrent melodies while warm synthetics run beneath Klein"s comforting voice. The familiarity is disconcerting at first. You"ll swear you"ve heard these songs before (I pulled out my copy of The Magnetic Fields" Get Lost just to compare). Stephin Merritt may very well be filing a lawsuit as I type, but Klein"s delivery soon carves a new spot for itself in the dejected part of your heart that longs for a perpetual state of disconsolation.
Minimal to the point of being fashionably trendy, What Can Not Be, But Is" never for one moment trades on its seriousness. That is to say these guys aren"t joking. There"s not a trace of irony or cynicism (even in its cover of Bruce Springsteen"s "Unsatisfied Heart"), which, of course, cannot be said of Mr. Merritt. Vitesse genuinely thrives on the gothic pop of the early 1980"s. This isn"t the new wave strain that all the other retro-synthetic pop bands seem to cling to these days; this is the slightly more obscure brand that can be heard on albums like Japanese Whispers by The Cure and Movement by New Order.
One trick that Vitesse should probably learn from Stephin Merritt is how to leave the listener wanting. If there"s a complaint to be lodged, it"s that Vitesse"s songs tend to peak and then outstay their welcome. Repetition is an essential tool for this kind of pop, I fully understand, but many of these songs could be edited down by handfuls of seconds if not whole minutes. However, I could listen to the sweet, sad refrain of "Starlight" all day long. The same goes for the duo"s ethereal cover of OMD"s "Late Morning" because of Ruth Welte"s lovely guest vocals.
Introspective techno-pop is a tired genre, and, at first, Vitesse sounds like just another gray stone among the many, but closer inspection reveals a carefully crafted string of exquisite melodies. Borrowed or not, these melodies sink in, give you goose bumps, and demand repeat listens. Vitesse has, on its third album, achieved a consistency that speaks highly of its future. Do seek this out.