Issue #99: Bad Veins by Bad Veins
January 29, 2018
Released On July 21, 2009
Released By Dangerbird Records
April 29, 2010. After a sabbatical, I re-entered the world of concerts and began adding “going to shows” back to my regular itinerary with a visit to see Frightened Rabbit at Black Cat in Washington D.C. As expected, they put on a fantastic show mostly full of songs from their 2008 record The Midnight Organ Fight and its follow-up, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, which had just been released the previous month. I was pumped to reenter the concert world with a show like that, and Scott Hutchison and company did little to disappoint throughout their set, offering a great night of great music for me.
But looking back almost eight years later, it’s not Frightened Rabbit that provides the best memories of that night. It was one of the openers, one I had no knowledge of at all, that really made my concert re-acclimation so spectacular.
I had glanced over the two openers for that show, Maps & Atlases and Bad Veins, before the night like any dutiful music lover. I thought I recognized the former from blog posts or elbo.ws or whatever, but Bad Veins… they were completely new to me so I went in with low expectations highlighted by the type of curiosity anyone has when checking out an unknown opener. Instantly as they took the stage, I noticed something was going to be different here as the dichotomy of the band became crystal clear. A duo at the time, the drummer (who has since left) sat down at his set ready to go, while the non-drummer instantly started fiddling with a reel-to-reel tape that I would later find out contained all the orchestral sounds in their music. Some people might groan when they start to realize they’re getting prerecorded music with a set, specifically an opener, but I was fascinated. I hadn’t seen a set-up like that before and it seemed pretty revolutionary to me, not just in sound but also in design. Its value to the show was much more than the music here, and really helped propel their music from casual indie rock to something elaborate and paramount.
The music itself — it was excellent. I’m sure I’ve bought plenty of albums from bands who were openers at concerts, and I’m sure I played many of them that night on the way back home. But few were quite like that night. I just remember cranking their album on the way home, perfectly bringing an unforgettable night of great music to a close.
Memories aside, there are a lot of things that I think hold up for this record. The passionate vocals, the boxed orchestra sound, the driving and danceable drum beat. (I mean, no DJ is going to play this record at your local discotheque, but you can kind of rhythmically wiggle to it, which is often what I wanted to do anyway.) They all work off one another too, a fact that can be surprising too considering how they often conflict with each other at their fundamental core. Most of this really comes off on “Crosseyed,” a song that I always circle around to as my favorite, if only because I have put that song on more mixes than I can count.
As much as I love it, Bad Veins is not an album I play a lot. But when I do get the urge, from memory or just innate yearning, I find myself enjoying every song just as much as I did that fateful April night when I decided I needed more live music in my life… and Bad Veins were there to reassure me that it was a wise decision.
James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts
Benjamin Davis and Sebastien Schultz: each showing off the split-minded approach to Bad Veins.
Look up Bad Veins for where the band is now and it seems founding member Benjamin Davis is the only one left standing (Brendon Urie can relate). During the time of the Cincinnati, Ohio group’s 2009 eponymous album however, Jake Bonta was still in the picture and the duo made up for a lack of literal largeness with the power of overdubbing and a love for many instruments. This doesn’t sound like the result of a two piece band and Bad Veins feels strongest in that regard. There’s a liveliness and whimsical imagination to the arrangements of the 10 tracks on this record that moves far and away from the conventional indie rock options, even if Bad Veins is often referred to as an indie rock outfit. Right at the outset, “Found” tosses a somewhat melodically unpredictable set of horns near the front of the instrumental parts no fancy layering or reverb to gloss them up. Instead, their presence feels more akin to the kind of straightforward and quirky horns found on Beirut records like No No No and Gulag Orkestar. “Afraid” includes some well performed but somewhat unfortunately hidden string pizzicato and a set of grandiose choir backing vocals and that track’s immediate follower, “The Lie,” starts conversely rather sonically constrained, with a ticking clock and some subdued higher octave organ tones supporting an otherwise bare and mildly distorted vocal — at least until more flourishing strings, drums, and more prominently mixed pizzicato drops in just under 90 seconds later. The potpourri of sounds and the mixing of their qualities makes the tracks of Bad Veins seem like “make it work” hodgepodge, but that’s the most charming thing about the album. The mix of the careful, poised, and, orchestral, with the loud, jagged, and artificial, does work. There’s a weirdly insistent expectation for things to fall apart or become unbalanced but that never happens — even with so much going on. The general amount of distortion on the primary vocal and the character of Davis’s voice overall can be intense on the ears at times but the effects applied fits with the aesthetic of the project altogether and in that way, Bad Veins is a consistent and cohesive piece of work. Though, to me, not the central highlight, Davis’s voice does emanate a slight spark and oddity like that of Rivers Cuomo and his direction with earlier Weezer music, as well as the raggedy, scrappy quality of Matt Shultz from early Cage The Elephant, both of which makes Bad Veins sound so easy to latch onto soon after starting track one.
Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier
Albums classified as indie rock always trip me up. It’s probably the genre I listen to most often, but it’s also the one I can’t seem to ever really describe to other people, probably because it can be such a mix of so many other fantastic sounds. Listening to Bad Veins this week, I had two thoughts, the first being what the fuck was I doing in 2009 that made me miss this album’s release and the second being now I’ve got it. In what I’m going to call one of the best indie albums I’ve heard lately, Bad Veins touches on pop, punk, emo, and noise with a kind of polished, unhinged attitude that is seductively depressing. Emotive vocals crackling through guitar that soars at times, fuzz that pops here and is understated there, pulls together in an album that I want to sink down into. For once, I didn’t play this through our house as my husband and I made dinner or folded clothes because that melancholy undertone forces a kind of introspection that I wasn’t ready to share yet. Taken together, this is an album like that shower where you turn on the hot water and sit down in the fog; this is the blanket you wrap around your shoulders in a dark room lit by a stream of movies. This is the show where everyone there dances en masse and alone, eyes closed.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
I went on a journey with Bad Veins’ self-titled album. Anxiety… self-doubt… mania… all because of Benjamin Davis’s voice. Right away, it felt uncannily familiar. My limbic system first reached for Julian Casablancas, both because of Bad Veins’ use of The Strokes’ signature bullet mic effect and because of the ease with which Davis dips into the low register that Casablancas employed to blur the line between talking and singing. (“You Kill” might be my favorite example.) As apt as the comparison seemed, it didn’t fully scratch the familiarity itch. Was I thinking of Zach Condon of Beirut, or were the trumpet and militaristic drumming in opening track “Found” red herrings? Was it Brandon Flowers of the Killers, who shares Davis’ knack for bending notes up to build big moments, like in “Falling Tide?” Close, but not doppelgänger close. Not Andrew Bird… not David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors… At this point I was getting all stressed out, and I decided to take drastic measures. I’d do the unthinkable: Scroll slowly through my entire iTunes library, staring intently at the artist column. I might as well have been flipping through a card catalog. But it worked! I reached the O’s, saw the files for Okkervil River’s The Stage Names, and realized that Benjamin Davis’s singing shares some of my favorite characteristics of Will Sheff’s. There’s a similar shape: a shared depth, like Davis and Sheff sing from deeper in their souls — from the precise emotional location where the lyrics originated. And there’s a slight waver, revealing a vulnerability that adds to that feeling of honesty. Speaking of vulnerability, it’s simultaneously freaky and rewarding to be presented with a problem of recall that Google can’t solve. I’d like to think it goes to show how profoundly human a voice is — even one that shares exceptional qualities with another.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
The duo’s meticulous production helps propel their familiar indie rock sound to glorious & memorable heights.
I love telling people about the best thing I ever ordered from the BMG CD club, which was a three-pack of “New York Rock” containing debut albums from The Strokes, The Walkmen, and French Kicks. It was 2001 and that may have been the best $10.99 I spent all year! After a few listens of the debut album from Bad Veins, I’m wondering if Benjamin Davis (or his parents) also bought that trilogy of distorted and epic goodness because the telephone-effect on his voice and the way he has of slightly over-emoting reminds me both of Julian Casablancas and Hamilton Leithauser, especially on those early albums. Nothing wrong with some judicious borrowing and Davis absorbed the lessons well, pushing his voice through elaborate clouds of sound driven by the splashy drumming of Sebastien Schultz. And that’s it. Just the two of them, using the miracle of multi-tracking to conjure orchestras, marching bands, or just a tough-but-epic indie rock band. Back in the day, Davis and Schultz used to perform with a reel-to-reel that played the backing tracks, but on the record all you hear is the big, enveloping sound and Davis’s tales of inter-personal affairs, mostly woeful ones. But in the resulting music he is always triumphant. And that’s the source of my only real complaint. During the first few songs, I was pumping my fist and rooting for Davis, but by the middle of the album, I began to experience what might be called grandeur fatigue. When the choirs are singing on “Afraid” and Davis is shrieking “I don’t want to be alone again!” I started thinking, maybe if you toned it down a little you might have more friends, or whatever. There’s also something that seems particularly “2000’s” about Bad Veins, where it can’t quite transcend its era the way Is This It and Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone do. But that makes me think a song or two would really nail it on a “New Millennium” mix tape, a nice surprise between the more familiar, even overplayed, songs. I would probably pick Gold And Warm, which should be on anyone’s radar when they want to understand the Oughts!
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
In the two years I have been writing for OYR, I have thought a lot about what makes an album or artist buzzy enough to sell multiple copies and show up on year-end lists. Some of the characteristics I’ve come up with include a positive Pitchfork review, one single blowing up, a fascinating backstory, a PR team that works really hard for them, and a quirk that sets the artist apart from others. I don’t think “release what is objectively a great album” is always on that list — there are just too many fantastic records that come out each year and some always have to fall, um, off one’s radar. Bad Veins’ self-titled album from 2009 is full of well-written, dynamic songs and wonderful orchestration. There are bits and pieces of other artists here (Ben Davis’ voice is Julian Casablancas-y) and the album seemed to get some national press (their Wikipedia page, along with several reviews, mention the inclusion of “Gold And Warm” on a Good Morning America segment). I’m not sure why this album didn’t break, but thank goodness it ended up in our hands.
Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ
I made a resolution this year to get into the habit of diving headfirst into new albums, whether for Off Your Radar or for my own listening pleasure, without even the slightest research on the performing artist. I’ve found that knowing anything about the album I’m about to listen to, be it the lead songwriter’s past, or the initial critical reception to the body of work, can easily influence the way that I listen to it by setting up some kind of expectation for it, and I want to get back to approaching music with a clean slate. Or at the very least, a slightly cleaner slate. This week, I broke that resolution by entering Bad Veins into my search engine before hitting play, and immediately noticed that their Wikipedia page reads almost like an amateur press release in some areas. I realize that’s not the band’s fault because I’m sure Benjamin Davis didn’t compile the page himself but either way my gut-reaction was to roll my eyes. Before I ramble on for any longer, let me just get to the point: I’ve listened to Bad Veins at least four times now and as it turns out it’s easier for me to shake off my initial impression than I thought. I still don’t think it’s notable to mention the band’s “considerable praise in the blog scene,” but as someone who spent many nights listening to Is This It? and Room On Fire at the turn of the century, I thought to myself that I needed to let go of this preconceived notion that only a handful of sentences had built up. I don’t say this about albums often, but it was the middle section of Bad Veins, that had me keep the album on repeat. “Afraid” and “The Lie” paint the perfect picture of indie rock loneliness — scared to be alone and the willingness to believe anything to feel otherwise. And I still haven’t quite caught the lyrics to “Falling Tide” but it has enough of both Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes embedded in its DNA that I can’t help but sway along. Maybe I don’t personally like Bad Veins as much as the person who wrote the band’s Wikipedia page, but I can still why they (and other people) like it.
Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie
Never content in one space, Bad Veins is just as likely to drop a trumpet solo on you as they are to offer a full electronic breakdown.
Bad Veins is the sort of name that at least sounds like it’ll bring with it something heavy, with a real intensity to the delivery. To be honest, I was hoping for a hardcore band. Instead, I got a mostly-solo project that, according to Wikipedia, is “known for sporting vintage military clothing, using a telephone to sing into while performing, and utilizing an old reel-to-reel named Irene for backing tracks.” Oh jeez. Can I handle this? Well… it’s not bad, by any means. These songs are generally midtempo, featuring pounding drums and rumbling bass that add a small undercurrent of heaviness. But overtop of that, we get thickly layered keyboards, along with the occasional completely unexpected instrument, like an accordion or something (unless those are more keyboards with really sophisticated presets). And we get a whole lot of Bad Veins leader Benjamin Davis’s melodic, melodramatic vocals. The man has a gift for melody, and some of these songs feature very catchy choruses, but the same sort of hipster bait that exists in the wiki description of Bad Veins’ stage shows comes through intensely in Davis’s vocals. What I’m saying is, this is music that seems to want attention drawn to itself. It draws that attention through portentous arrangements topped by overwrought vocalizations that put forth an air of passionate emotion but at the same time seem a little too studied to seem sincere. This is an album and a band that seems to be substituting bold gestures and a glittery surface appearance for true depth. This becomes clear when you notice that all of the songs have very similar structures and melodies, that all of them sort of blend together. What might be intense in one song just becomes numbing when it’s the same on every other song. In that way, Bad Veins, the album, is a very teenaged work — one that won’t let the fact that it hasn’t quite figured out what it really wants to be or do stop it from demanding that everyone within earshot notice how different it is and how important its feelings are. And if for no other reason than that, it’s a worthwhile album to listen to. Will you want to keep it around? That probably depends on who you are — and just may depend on how old you are. Personally, I feel about a million years old having written this.
Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground
I feel like sometimes, the album artwork of an album gives me some indication of how much I am going to enjoy an album and in that vein, I knew this one was going to be a good one upon my first glance of the artwork which screamed indie rock to me, something I was very pleased to be right about as I listened. I find the songs on Bad Veins to be very cinematic in a way, especially the first track “Found.” I loved how it started off slower and quietly kept building and building until the orchestra of instruments just takes over, which only makes it perfect for dancing around the room). The third track, “Crosseyed,” also has that quality. His voice sounds a bit different — in a good way that fits — and there is this awesome electronic break in the middle of song before you’re hit over the head — bam! — with the orchestra that gives a feeling of bliss like you’re about to run off into the sunset without any other cares in the world. The songs are all very well written and have some very powerful lyrics, and the production choices only amplify this all like the use of the choir in the track “Afraid” which was just amazing! Like those reading I’m sure, I love discovering new music, but usually it’s just a track or two, here or there. When you come across an entire record like this though — one you know will most likely be on repeat for the next week — it’s a great feeling, and one I think everyone should share by checking this out.
Chelsea Kostrey (@chelseakostrey)
Retrophile & Festival Enthusiast
I can’t help but be charmed by this music. Each listen, I try to come at it objectively, but by the end of “Found,” I’ve already found myself bypassing its faults and latching onto what it does well and what it offers a music fan who’s also just looking to be charmed. I’ll start by looking past the Julian Casablancas’ influence, trying to grab onto the other less prominent influences that are way less apparent, but equally as defining and affecting. A microcosm of 2000s indie music this truly is, even if the focus is on songs that feel like the not-so missing link between Is This It? and Phrazes For The Young. The lyrics take my attention next, bringing me up and then down and then up and then way down and then up and then even downer, making me wonder if any of these resolutions were real to begin with, or fabricated for a moment’s reprise just to get a sense of what triumph feels like while surrounded in despair. Luckily, I don’t spend too long in that whirlwind because in comes the music, one that can tick off anyone’s wish-list of 2000s music. Cathartic electric guitar moments. Check. Delicate instrumentation. Check. Electronic eruptions. Check. Dancing beats. Check. Music that swells around each song lifting it to heights that could and should only exist within recordings. Check check. Before I know it, the record has told me to go home, and here I am, scrambling to hit repeat, so I can re-live it all again and find new words to describe this feeling of joyous adventure that Bad Veins has constructed… with the help of all your favorite 2000s artists of course.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Pony Express Record by Shudder To Think
Chosen By Guest Contributor Damian Kulash (of OK Go)