Photo by Matt Dayak
With all the alternative rock bands out there, it can be hard to discern when a particularly good one emerges, with a fresh record worth your attention. But local band The Velcro Shoes (consisting of Eric Emerson on lead vocals and bass, Mike Slobodian on guitar and keys, Bill Krowinski on guitar, and Garrett Bogden on drums) has done just that with their (relatively) new album, All That You Are.
I heard them for the first time when attending the album’s vinyl release show at Brillobox, three weeks ago. I came for Balloon Ride Fantasy, who opened, but The Velcro Shoes’ blend of catchy riffs, creative twists, and driving beats captured my attention. Listening to the studio version later on, my suspicions were confirmed: these guys have something special. All That You Are is both comforting and surprising, in its odes to familiar emotions and their smart, captivating packaging. If you’re a fan of The Strokes, The Shins, or Interpol, this is a record you won’t want to sleep on.
A few key factors elevate TVS above your typical four-piece rock band. Their rhythm section is highlighted and used to its full creative potential, making their songs more immersive and impactful. I always appreciate a prominent, well-used bassline, and Emerson delivers, adding pleasant undertones to peppier songs like “Backyard,” as well as power and slight menace to harder-hitting tracks, like “In the Frame” and “Times Are Different.” Bogden’s drums also consistently impressed me. They’re skillful, dynamic, and nuanced, ranging from atmospheric cymbal tapping to full-out percussive badassery, sometimes in the course of a single song (such as the title track.) The variety of vibes these two components are able to convey, despite the album not containing a single “slow” number, shows a deft hand. There’s no resting or relying on them as mere framework; they’re active participants, and you can tell the difference.
The strategic use of electronic elements also takes these songs up a level. Whether it’s the subtle wavering keys adding dimension to “Backyard’s” summery verses, or the intoxicating, synth-laden introduction to “Someone Stop Me” (one of my favorite moments of the entire record), wherever they appear, they provide vibrancy and depth that guitar parts alone couldn’t achieve. Not to dismiss the guitar work of Slobodian and Krowinski—it’s impressive too. It runs the gamut from grungy to dreamy, climbing riffs to straightforward, in-your-face rock, and it’s never boring. The final piece of the sonic puzzle is Emerson’s voice, which is what would come out if you put the vocals from Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World), James Mercer (The Shins), and John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) in a blender. And I can’t not mention the record’s fantastic mixing and production, balancing all of these elements for a smooth finish. It works, and it works damn well.
Both the album as a whole and the individual songs show a sharp ear for structure. The order of the tracks is a back-and-forth of anguish and “fuck this,” two of the most potent songwriting inspirations, with an occasional hint of happiness to remind us (and themselves) why we keep pushing through the shitty times. And the lyrics are, by and large, an effective combination of raw, contemplative, and rhythmically satisfying. An especially strong example can be found in the title track, which is about being in an unsatisfying place in a relationship, unsure whether to continue it or not: “Wake up to get ready/to do the same as before/Today I hope is special/Today I hope there’s a door/Patterns that are broken/Patterns have an allure.” Repetition is also used well throughout, and only when it enhances the song’s message, such as in the absolutely killer closer, “Times Are Different.” Its chorus of call-and-response, steadily-climbing vocal lines (“Now we’re giving/Times are different/No one’s listening/Times are different…”) evokes a never-ending staircase, M.C. Escher-style. And its closing moments feature a repeated, ragged shout from Emerson over a huge wall of grungy/distorted guitar: “I heard it all before.” It’s an emotionally powerful line that works on multiple levels, one that demonstrates the true musicianship The Velcro Shoes are capable of.
But please, don’t just take my word for it. If your playlists are in need of some new skillful, catchy alternative rock, All That You Are is a record that is absolutely worth your time. It dropped digitally in June, and I’m mad at myself for having missed it for this long.
The album is available for streaming and download on the band’s Bandcamp page. The Velcro Shoes will be opening up for Rusted Root on Sunday, September 3rd, at the Allegheny County Music Festival at the Hartwood Acres Amphitheater in Allison Park. They kick things off at 5 PM, and will also be joined by The Buckle Downs and Andre Costello and the Cool Minors. A $20 per car donation is requested; find more information on that here. Follow the band on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss their next show.
All That You Are was produced by Jake Hanner of Donora, in his home studio in Gibsonia, PA.