Hand Drawn Dracula, 2016

REVIEW BY: Ludwik Wodka


Inspired by the mysterious and troubled chanteuse of David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet, Vallens is the vehicle for Canadian artist Robyn Phillips. With that name came a series of association in my mind and thus expectations from the music. In the movie, Dorothy Vallens (played by Isabella Rossellini) is a sultry nightclub singer whose husband and child have been kidnapped by Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper, in a career-defining performance). Given the torment Dorothy’s character endures, I was not sure whether to expect a kind of strange jazzy lounge music or if it would be something darker and more ambiguous. Fortunately, what I discovered was the latter, although the album’s title Consent becomes somewhat complex and darkly suggestive in this context.

Based in Toronto, Robyn Phillips has spent several years playing guitar in several indie bands, but has gone on to collaborate with Jeff Berner (formerly of Psychic TV). In the process, she developed a distinctive sound of her own, with strong affinities to contemporary acts such as Dead Leaf Echo and Static Daydream as well as veterans like Rowland S. Howard and My Bloody Valentine. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The spacey, amelodic opening instrumental feels somewhat ominous yet slight, only hinting at the sturm und drang that characterizes the rest of the tracks. The following track “Drag” sounds almost goth, with heavy plodding riffs that subsume the vocals under the reverb and roar of the guitar. “Rosemary” feels the same, with its metal riff thunder reminiscent of the slow grind of The Melvins.

The title track “Consent” continues with its dynamic bassline paired with chiming chords and Phillips’ voice in the mists of all of the dissonant smog of the track. The interplay between the guitar and bass is interesting on most of the songs as they seems to almost play against one another, with different rhythmic patterns, one playing a static figure while the other plays chord changes (e.g. “Karen,” “Consent”).

The closing track, “Still Need Dreams,” is perhaps the lightest track on this album, albeit very short and strange. It ends the album perfectly – open-ended and mysterious, yet suggestive.

Highlights from the album include the single “Tennessee Haze” with its wall of sound and warped MBV-style guitar riffs, the ebb-and-flow of “Devour,” and the brutal “Rosemary.” The album succeeds in creating an atmosphere of mystery and darkness, while the drenched-in-effects guitar often produces a highly textured but dense sound. If there is any fault to be found with this album, it is how the vocals can be frustratingly swamped in the mix at times, suggesting that Phillips is a guitarist first and a singer second. For those whose palette cannot abide turbid and noisy guitar squalls, beware.

Overall, though, the album works as a coherent whole, stylistically consistent and with strong songwriting that generates interest through its sonic texture rather than complex composition or technical wizardry. While it succeeds in evoking the dark magic and mysterious atmosphere, it leaves us with little else. Yet somehow, that is enough.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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