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Rockin' Our Turntable: Veruca Salt 'Ghost Notes'

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 9, 2015 5:50PM

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Veruca Salt, photo by Alison Dyer

Music reunions can go a number of different ways. Often the bands either strike out in a whole new direction to escape their pasts, or they try and recreate their “classic” sound. The problem with the former approach is it often ignores all the things that made the band good in the first place, and the latter tends to lack the heart and fire that made the work that drew fans in the first place.

Veruca Salt has taken a slightly different approach by returning to their roots and resurrecting all the things that made them so popular in the first place, and then manages to improve upon those elements to create something with a life and confidence the band simply didn’t have when their debut album American Thighs came out 21 (!) years ago.

When the band broke up it was a famously poisonous fracture, and we never thought we’d see another album from the core quartet of Nina Gordon, Louise Post, Jim Shapiro and Steve Lack again. Thank god we did, because if Ghost Notes is the sound of those four people getting along and being happy with each other, it’s truly a tragedy they ever fought!

2015_07_ghost_notes.jpg Ghost Notes also brings Brad Wood, the producer of American Thighs, so in some ways Ghost Notes is the sound of a band coming full circle and finally delivering on the potential in that first album. Back then the band hds flashes of brilliance but the sound was still a little unsure. Now Gordon and Post are filled with self-confidence, both individually and in how they function as a team, so the songs feel fluid and build upward from a single point. There are no longer “Louise” or “Nina” songs; there are just Veruca Salt songs. And the rhythm section of Shapiro and Lack are locked in together, knowing when to push ahead and when to pull back and when to make a racket to fold into Post and Gordon’s guitars and twirling vocals.

From the opening measures of “The Gospel According To Saint Me” it’s obvious we’re dealing with a reinvigorated band. The sonic dynamics are all there, but they’ve now grafted the subtlety of American Thighs with the confident swagger of the only other album the original band recorded, Eight Arms To Hold You. Those two LPs were at opposite ends of the spectrum—one indie and the other arena rock—and it always felt like the band had a hard time reconciling those two approaches. That is no longer true. “Eyes On You” finds the band adding a heavy groove to a light pop bounce to great effect. And “Triage” takes a haunting ballad and meshes it with a back-and-forth conversation and an onrush of guitars and banshee wails.

Lyrically, Post and Gordon are still primarily exploring the terrain that lies behind relationships and the tangling of human emotions as people try to draw each other closer or shove one another away. Both writers still have a knack for writing from a point of specificity that can be translated universally. It’s as if they’ve fulfilled that fantasy of returning to their younger selves with what they’re current selves know now.

On a recent episode of the Dig Me Out podcast Post said that when they went in to the studio they were going to just record a couple songs, and 16 songs later they found themselves with an album. And we’re glad they did it, because Ghost Notes doesn’t hit single misstep. In fact, there’s a strong argument for this being the best album of Veruca Salt’s career. Actually, there’s no argument there, it’s a simple fact.

Veruca Salt has two upcoming Chicago dates. The band plays Beat Kitchen on July 25 and tickets are on sale July 10 at 10 a.m. (good luck getting in to that one). The band also headlines Wicker Park Fest on July 26 at 8:30 p.m.