12 July 2011

She Wants Revenge: "Valleyheart"

So I took a trip out to Reading, Pennsylvania, and garnered the attention of a few people as I pulled up to park my car while blasting music. A conversation ensued with a small group (mainly in their early twenties) that revolved around music (they even gave me a list of bands I “had” to check out). Now these were music lovers, who were really informed about what they were talking about and took the time read reviews and commentaries. Throughout our conversation there was one recurring motif; every time a band they did not like came up, the accusation was, “Yeah, well they are derivative of such-and-such from the past.” And I realized two things on the spot, which I told them and pointed out in detail. First, whenever a critic does not like a band the easiest thing to do is call it “rehash” (I am guilty of this!). Second, whenever a critic does like a band, they do everything they can to prevent people from knowing that it is revivalist. The reality is that all “modern” music depends on what has come before it, and there are only so many combinations of notes, chords, and rhythm patterns in existence. But when you are not familiar with the bulk of the work of artists like Vincent Clarke (La Roux), Madonna (Lady Gaga), or Queen (Muse), it becomes very difficult to see how derivate newer artists are. So the question should never be was the band influenced by the past, even if it is to the point where they wear their influences on your sleeve? Instead the question should be, “Do they have something new to add?” That is where She Wants Revenge’s third album, “Valleyheart” (24 May 2011), comes in.

I grew up on a steady (over)dose of post-punk, not to mention dark wave – and what She Wants Revenge has really done with their latest album, “Valleyheart,” is bring these traditions of music to a new generation of listeners by putting a nice spin into their music. Something they have not forgotten about post-punk is that it brought in the “dreaded” disco to counterbalance the harshness of punk, and they remember that dark wave (and it’s French counterpart cold wave) incorporated the pop sensibility of new wave. What She Wants Revenge has to offer is essentially pop music that is both infectious and disarming. Hook after hook, rift after rift, you are drawn into the band, while you realize at the same time that this is not your run-of-the-mill song, especially when you hear, “You say, 'It’s not so easy.' She says, 'It’s not too bad.' You give a little love and it comes back like the best you’ve had. She whispers, 'Are you lonely, 'cause I’m lonely too.' But I know you’ll never be right for me, I know you’ll never be right for me, still wanna kiss you.” (“Kiss Me”) Poppy feel good music matched with darker introspection than one might expect.

What are missing are the dated electro-sounds and the stereotypical “tinny” guitar sounds. Embracing a contemporary feel and sound, She Wants Revenge keeps true to the heart (the ideology) of the genres they love, while producing music that is unarguablely not 80s, but, well, 10s. Take “Little Stars,” which has all the underpinnings of classic 80s new wave pop (the very slow build that goes from minimalist to full fledge soundscape in one second when the beat drops), despite the use of ambient keys, She Wants Revenge did not create an oppressive undertow that traditional post-punk bands would have done. Instead, musically, it has much of the same effect as late 80s, early 90s industrial – sort of that mysterious feel you want to dance to. At the same time, the lyrics, again, leave you a lot to ponder: “But kicking is hard when you need a fix, and then you’ll try and replace me. Dress him up and you can lay pretend, ‘cause it will point out the things you really miss.”

The big kicker is “Not Just a Girl.” A grandiose pop song, with big keys, has all the makings of a love song you think will have you “alone above a ranging sea that stole the only girl I loved” (“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure). Instead, the song, for all its grandiose dreariness, sung à la David Bowie, is one of unfettered hope, odd in this genre of music: “You’re not just a girl, you’re more like the air and sea. I want you so desperately and nothing’s gonna keep us apart.” The lead single, “Must Be the One,” sees She Wants Revenge doing something a bit different: a more straightforward, less ambient track. This is the kind of bare-bones song that could easily fall apart as “filler” on any album; instead here it just adds a new dimension to the band’s musical portfolio.

Usually, when listening to anything that approaches revival, I want to run back and listen to the original. This was not the case with She Wants Revenge’s “Valleyheart.” And as I listened to it again yesterday, I thought about my conversation out in Reading. Is She Wants Revenge derivative of the past? No more than any other band. Does the band have something new to add to the mix? Absolutely. I can accept someone saying that they do not like post-punk or dark wave (though I may look at them funny), but I cannot accept anyone dismissing any band because they have chosen to pay homage to the past, because all bands do. But as I stated, this is more than just homage, this is adding something new, something distinct, to a large canon of music. If you are a fan of post-punk and/or dark wave, or slightly curious, check this band out.

Track Listing:
1. Take The World
2. Kiss Me
3. Up In Flames
4. Must Be The One
5. Not Just A Girl
6. Reasons
7. Little Stars
8. Suck It Up
9. Holiday Song
10. Maybe She’s Right

Keep up with She Wants Revenge at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Must Be The One” from the SheWantsRevengeVEVO YouTube Channel.

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