The Sound of Beautiful Alienation VEiiLA's Sentimental Craving for Beauty, Echoes September CD of the Month.
Some musicians just seem to live in a world of alienation, loss and depression. The best of them, Lana Del Rey, The Cure, Joy Division and Billie Eilish, bring those emotions to us, affirming thoughts and feelings that many often have but don’t speak. They affirm while also showing defiance. VEiiLA is a duo that brings an added layer to those expressions. They are Russian émigrés who fled their country in protest of the authoritarian regime and the invasion of Ukraine. Seeking some kind of solace, they wound up in Armenia.
Vif Nüte and Bes Eirid began crafting their music in 2015 in St. Petersburg, using Eirid’s bargain synthesizers and the voice and guitar of Vif Nüte. Their debut album, Nation of One, came out in 2020, but they made some quantum strides during the pandemic and their subsequent journey, and it all comes together on the album, Sentimental Craving for Beauty.
The band has called their sound “music for introverts,” but it could just as well be music for the depressed, the forlorn and the oppressed. Nüte sings in a voice that can be fragile, sultry, domineering, sarcastic and heartbreaking. Sometimes she sounds like a broken woman herself, possibly insane. That’s the sound of “Another Day,” a song of deceit and self-loathing, where the voice moves from wistfulness to knowing sarcasm. It’s a voice with a wide range, as you can tell when she leaps high on “Made of Air”
“Can’t forgive myself” is a powerful opening to the album as Nüte sings of hypocrisy. Could this be a song of failed love or is it a political commentary? It’s delivered with an imperious voice over a syncopated drum track, growling bass bottom and chirping synths.
Their sound design is one of the most original I’ve heard. It’s Depeche Mode doing Twin Peaks but with a much more interesting rhythmic approach. Relatively spare, the songs mix 50’s reverb guitar, percolating and ping-ponging synths and rhythm tracks that aren’t simple loops. They’re syncopated and exploded across stereo fractures. Nüte’s guitar is an unusual touch in this electronic grove-scape. Although she uses an Ibanez, it sounds like a Telecaster sent through spring reverb with a modern digital. When she plays the downward slides on “Another Day” you can hear echoes of the Twin Peaks score and late 50s rock. Strip away the vocals, put on headphones and you could get joyously lost in just the instrumental side of this music.
Then there is the distinctive voice of Vif Nüte. She’s not one of those ethereal electronica girls. She has power and authority. There is an accent in her voice, but it sounds less Russian and more affected much like Lana Del Rey, which she sounds a lot like on “Broken Toy.” Another song of alienation, “Broken Toy” is not about her living in a foreign land but “not fitting in with my tribe with my kind.” Written in 2020 prior to the war and emigration, it’s easy to read her disaffection with the Russian autocracy.
Nüte is working out a lot of deep, and possibly traumatic emotions here. Songs like “Do You Hear Me” are clearly pleas for recognition and acknowledgement, which she doesn’t believe is forthcoming. Alienation is again, at the root of her psyche when it spills out on “My Blues,” a song of luxurious desolation.
There’s a goth influence in this music. It rises up from the tomb on songs like “Cool” where Nüte sings in a gruff, dragging voice, intoning “I see right through you. You’ve got no clue,” before releasing a popish chorus.
The intro of “Push the Pedal” reminded me of the intro to Spooky Tooth’s “Lost in My Dream” with its low rumble, backwards effects, and staccato strings. It all slips into an eight-note wordless vocal loop, as synths swirl in and Nüte begins intoning her need to “get away.” I’d normally interpret this as a break-up song, but in VEiiLA’s case, it seems much more political.
To say that VEiiLA is melancholic would be an understatement. But rarely is alienation rendered so beautifully and in such an original, compelling fashion. Bes Eirid and Vif Nüte have taken us inside their heads, inside the internal conversations you don’t say out loud, but they do, in a perfectly articulated sonic landscape. There is no sentimentality in Sentimental Craving for Beauty, but they are yearning for beauty and they attain it.