Hands up, mea culpa – I have taken way, way too long to talk about Californian synth-pop duo vverevvolf.
This is inexcusable. Kelsey LaRae and Dylan Gallagher released their debut EP Electric Blue back in February 2018, with lead single “Cruel Games” appearing towards the end of 2017. That I’m only getting to them now is particularly egregious for someone who (desperately) wants to believe they’re on the bleeding edge of electronic music.
Now is the time. So in order to set things right; let’s talk briefly about an entirely different duo who released their last record, Ultralife, months before “Cruel Games.”
Oh Wonder are a London based act with a similar set-up to vverevvolf. Male and female vocalists singing in unison, drawing vivid imagery and emotions on a canvas of confident and inventive production.
However, what truly distinguishes vverevvolf from Oh Wonder is the overall tone of their output. In their review of Ultralife, Stereoboard described Oh Wonder as ‘poptimistic’. Following this weird example, should I describe vverevvolf as ‘popessimistic?’
No. To merely characterise Gallagher and LaRae as Oh Wonder’s dark mirror does them a disservice.
In the past, vverevvolf have stated that as artists they’re inclined to ‘…celebrate imperfections rather than smoothing them out.’ This description goes some ways in capturing the essence of their sound and the themes of Electric Blue.
Failure, longing, dissatisfaction, innocence lost and barely repressed rage are crucial ideas. ‘Lemonade’ really sets out this stall because – as Gallagher himself has noted – “Lemonade” ‘…is about anger and the validity of that feeling.’ He relates this more specifically to his experiences as a queer person; especially when it comes to people who are vocal in telling you how to respond to injustices, yet have little to no insight into them.
As a piece of music, “Lemonade” draws you in with its glorious keys and leaves you at the mercy of the duo’s brooding yet somehow exhilarating harmonies. I’ve happily left this track on repeat many, many times.
LaRae and Gallagher express so many discontents on this record, but it isn’t a downer, because musically there’s so much texture and many fascinating layers even on a pitcher-black track like “Braindead”. This is a collaboration with VANDAL MOON – a duo whose sound is very much rooted in gothic 80s post-punk. The guitars are reminiscent of Sisters of Mercy’s “Never Land”, but vverevvolf’s identity is still front and centre. Here there’s a focus on wasted youth, the weight of adulthood and the intimidating creep of age – something which is neatly summed up in the lines ‘let’s build a time machine and we’ll drive it home again/we’ll do it so much better than we did back then.’
So “Lemonade” handles anger and “Braindead” handles age and regret. “Cruel Games” is carried on a pulsating rhythm, and features expansive keys. For me this one inspires feelings of emerging from a long night of conflict; but you’re still moving, despite the weight you’re carrying.
“Murder” is probably my favourite track. It has more swing to it and sonically it’s closer to the kind of synthwave that I’m really feeling these days. It has this steely synth line with rising keys. It frames love as an act of violence in a really penetrating way. The force of unrequited feelings, of emotions, is described as akin to an aching wound. But this isn’t some overly trite emo. In fact another…unusual image came into my mind the first time I heard it. You know that trope of someone dancing around their room, singing into a hairbrush? “Murder” almost feels like that to me, though rather than a hairbrush, you’re singing into whatever blunt instrument you’ve just used on the person who’s mere existence makes you feel this way.
Electric Blue ends with “Start Again.” It has a racing tempo and a wondrous sense of atmosphere. It’s the most optimistic track, as its title suggests; and is a very shrewd choice of closer. It suggests that, yeah, we’ve been exposed to a lot of complicated and conflicting and unsettling ideas over the last 15 minutes; but we’re only just beginning.
The world is opening up to us and while the trail ahead isn’t going to be all rainbows and sunflowers, it’s paved with something real and meaningful. And we’re so lucky that an act as fascinating and dynamic and entertaining as vverevvolf have picked up the scent.
You can find vverevvolf in these places: