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At what point does a band emerge from a Hidden Gem to an indie-rock star? It takes a lot of good fortune to have people listen to one’s work, but it also takes a great album to catch people’s attention. In 2014, VIOLENT MAE, the Hartford, Connecticut-based duo, released their fabulous, self-titled debut album, which was re-released earlier this year. It was an introduction into the cathartic and brooding indie-rock of Becky Kessler and Floyd Kellogg. Ten days ago, the follow up to Violent Mae was released, as the appropriately titled KID was revealed to the music world.
The newest album builds on the debut, yet there are stylistic differences. For starters, KID lacks the smokey, awe-inducing, mid-tempo burners found on Violent Mae, such as “Right Here”. With KID, Kessler and Kellogg have opted to play outside the middle ground and instead create indie-rock music that, for the most part, lies at one of its two extremes. At its peaks, KID is more anthemic and cathartic, even on the edgier, brooding tracks, while its quieter moments are rawer and even more tender.
The album kicks off with back-to-back burners. “In The Sun” exemplifies the brilliance of VIOLENT MAE – the ability to combine a warm melody and a great guitar riff into a terrifically-paced rocker that is filled out by Kessler’s rich and smokey voice. “In My Ring”, likewise, thunders with the best indie-rock tracks of the year. With a heart-pounding pace, the song astounds with its immersive sound. Yet beneath the wailing of the guitars and the deep bass lines, Kessler tells the story of an abusive person and where only in her dreams she can escape. The same theme is repeated on the awesome “IOU1”. Kessler’s voice takes on a sultry tone to explain the protagonist as a “bad actress” hiding her feelings. The story is complement by a dark, haunting, yet immensely engrossing brooding approach. It’s a mind-blowing track.
Highlighting the slower, more meticulous side of VIOLENT MAE are “Flame”, “Away”, and the finale “Birthday”. The songs are stripped down, putting the band at its most vulnerable and rawest state – musically and lyrically. There are no extended guitar solos nor heavy bass lines. The music, instead, is simplified while Kessler’s voice takes on a slight tone that is calming yet chilling, complementing the stories of solitude, loneliness, and broken relationships. Likewise, “Rob Me Blind” showcases a band that is able to captivate by transforming a melodic track into a gritty burner at its conclusion, yet the song’s internal message of vulnerability remains.
This teeter-totter approach – cathartic tracks mixed with slower, endearing ballads – throughout the album keeps the listener engaged despite its complexity. The songs are wide-ranging and the stories are deeply personal or address difficult and complex issues. You cannot help but be swayed in multiple directions, riding a roller coaster of emotions by the time the album finishes. This complexity and diversity results in KID being one of the best albums of the year, and one that should result in VIOLENT MAE being recognized as one of the best “new” bands in 2016.
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