Up-and-coming indie rock act Violent Psalms comes to us from the minds of three musicians that set out to create a formula using the indie rock mould that’s all their own. Violent Psalms touts their sound as being more comparable to indie rock veterans like Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. than just being a retread of what’s popular in the indie scene nowadays. The group effectively avoids popular trends set by some of the most popular bands in their genre – including the loftily-ambitious artsy ostentation of Arcade Fire and the innocuous garage rock of the latest from the Arctic Monkeys – instead opting for a moody, acerbic dynamic that’s half The National and half Built to Spill, all the while lacking either’s strong points or even their memorable points.
Set to release on May 15th, Slow to Speak is the first album put forth by this Portland trio, and for what it’s worth, it starts out great. “Enemy” opens up the album beautifully, with layers of emotion and good instrumentation. Over the course of five minutes, the song goes seamlessly from being stylistically limp and mopey to slow, but complacent, and finally to bombastically emotional in the last third. It’s by and large the best song on the album, but this proves detrimental as all of the songs that come after it just feel dull in comparison.
From there, the rest of the album just can’t seem to catch up. True to its title, Slow to Speak is just sluggish and comatose, but it seldom does anything with it. Whereas artists like The National, Damon Albarn, or most bands in the post-rock genre will use a slow, dreary atmosphere to engross the listener and build other musical ideas on top of its tone, Violent Psalms just kind of wallow in their bland slowness track in and track out.
That’s not to say that every song past the opener is boring, though. “Ships” is an entertaining indie psych-rock track that conveys a feeling of unease rather well. “Suburbs” sounds straight out of 1997, and it has some pretty clever wordplay in its lyrics. “Broken Pieces” nervously flirts with Metz-esque noise rock towards the end of it, which is one of the best points on the whole album, and it makes me wish that Violent Psalms would’ve done more with this noise rock fusion, because it does sound nice, and most important of all, it sounds interesting.
Slow to Speak strikes me as an album by a band too nervous to try and find their calling. Very few risks are taken on this album, and any that are taken (the aforesaid noise rock elements, for instance) are dropped far too quickly for them to be considered anything more than petty. Violent Psalms’ debut album is a competent exercise in throwback, but rarely amounts to anything more than that. If you ignore its ambitions to be a modern day Pavement or The Dismemberment Plan and just look at the album for what it is, Slow to Speak is only okay. It has a couple standout tracks (“Enemy” and “Suburbs”), and it never does anything particularly “wrong” or “bad”, there’s just nothing here that I think will change your life.
Slow to Speak will be available on Violent Psalms’ Bandcamp page when it drops on May 15th. If what you’ve read has made you want to try out the album for yourself, I’d recommend you start with “Enemy”, and if you like that one, try out “Suburbs”, and then give the other songs a try. I don’t think I’ll be giving this one another spin, but your mileage may vary.