VITESSE: YOU WIN AGAIN, GRAVITY
· HIDDEN AGENDA RECORDS
Vitesse, YOU WIN AGAIN, GRAVITY
I blame Bryan Ferry. For the past three decades, he and his disco-era
art-rock outfit, Roxy Music, have consistently turned out stylized music
that somehow manages to achieve an aesthetic known only hitherto in the
sphere of fashion.
It's hardly a surprise that his signature crooning for style's sake has
become the soundtrack for many a designer runway. The progression is pure
engineering: set mood, get dressed, and prance-or lounge languidly, as
the case might be.
Ideally, can you imagine listening to Boys and Girls wearing
anything other than Bianca-esque satin? Perhaps the sense in this also
has to do with the recent cross-pollination of fashion, music, and gallery.
Art reviews in Vogue and the buying of CDs at hyper-style
marts (such as Colette in Paris) are now tolerated by flaneurs and indie-snobs
alike. It's all New Media, claim both the shop assistants and critics.
With that in mind, it was with errant glee that I discovered Vitesse,
the Chicago-based duo of Joshua Klein and Hewson Chen. Their stylized
synth grooves immediately hooked me, stopping me dead while listening
to a college radio station. I was convinced I was hearing some great,
unknown track by an 80s synth-art band such as OMD or New Order.
Hearing the twinkling, jubiliant bleeps and lyrical immediacy of the song
Such Emotion for the first time was comparable only to my
initial exposures to The Smiths' aesthetic diary or to Felix Gonzalez-Torres'
pixie-light installations. Vitesse's insistent emphasis on style owes
more to Stephin Merritt's Magnetic Fields than to Roxy Music, but there
is a common ground.
Chen's deep, velvety voice hovers in and out of shimmering, twinkling
synth programming. Rather than the slick, overly produced electro-dance
beats of what usually constitutes Style Music (read: anything from the
recent trance or electroclash genre), Vitesse maintains a decidedly lo-fi
approach. Certain clichés are downright unavoidable in any mention
of this sound: dreamy, bedroom-indie, meandering and ephemeral
are all spot-on.
The latest Vitesse release, You Win Again, Gravity, proves that mechanically
programmed drumming and guitar can produce intimacy, if not a deeply captivating
sense of emotion. Emo-synth, dare I suggest?
The lyrics, which have gone from nearly indecipherable on their first
album, A Strange Hostility, to almost Magnetic Fields-like on this, their
fourth full release, offer an insightful counterpoint to the droning rhythm.
In What's Forgotten, Chen resigns himself belatedly to the
notion that you can't outrun the past, but there's no reason not
to try and hide from what's forgotten.
It-like another track, Unsolvable-seems to offer a perfect
acoustic expression for the Gerhard Richter-weaned generation. One gets
the impression that Vitesse has deliberately created at least part of
a soundtrack for the scenes of contemporary life in which detachment plays
an equal role with feeling. The only little problem: what to wear?