Album Review: Veronica Falls – Waiting For Something To Happen

[Bella Union; 2013]

I’ll confess my expectations weren’t too high for this, the second LP from London quartet Veronica Falls. Not that I was anticipating anything bad, mind you–the band’s self-titled debut from last year was a fun if ultimately forgettable affair–but this is “indie pop,” a buzz term which as far as I can tell applies to everyone from St. Vincent to Of Montreal, and with a few notable exceptions (including the two artists I just mentioned) it’s primarily characterized by safety. Typically, the melodies get the job done; the instrumentation is simple and unobtrusive; the lyrics concern love and relationships or a lack thereof; it’s all very nice and rehearsed and relatable and generally makes for pleasant driving music.

But every so often, something clicks, and what could have been an unremarkable album becomes something special. Such is the case with Waiting For Something To Happen, which for all its “indie pop”ness is at its heart an immensely enjoyable rock record. I mean, this is a band with two guitarists–are rock songs not allowed to be catchy too?

This album is greater than the sum of its parts, incorporating influences from all across the rock spectrum without sounding beholden to any of them in particular. “Teenage,” for instance, combines sunny beach pop harmonies with a bit of Yuck’s nostalgic, vaguely grunge overtures. “I let you listen to the music you like,” singer Roxanne Clifford mentions, and we can believe that this is a meaningful, generous gesture. “Broken Toy,” meanwhile, dips its toes into both Vivian Girls-esque garage rock and Real Estate’s suburban-basement guitar licks, though it eschews the purposely lo-fi atmosphere of either of those bands. And “Shooting Star” opens with a verse that sounds recorded straight from early-90s alt rock radio before opening up into an unexpectedly cheery chorus that matches Clifford’s lyrical optimism: “You could pull me out / You could lead the way,” she sings to a potential lover. Her offer is so sweet that I can’t imagine any lady-loving man or woman not accepting it.

By the time we get to the jangly R.E.M.-indebted title track, we’re hooked. “Are you waiting for something to happen?” the band asks in unison during a deliciously harmonized outro. Respectfully, no, we’re not; it’s already happening. “If You Still Want Me” is an album highlight, inventive with its catchiness and surf rock guitar licks; lest we get too comfortable, however, it gives way to the crunchy, feedback-assisted “My Heart Beats,” which is just a tad too sweet to register as noise pop but could nonetheless be ably covered by the likes of No Age. “Everybody’s Changing” is as lyrically vulnerable (“Everybody’s changing / I remain the same … You say, ‘act your age.'”) and smartly retro as the first Girls album. And when Clifford says that “I want to get sick / I want to catch everything you’ve ever caught” on “Buried Alive,” she reminds me of both Debbie Harry’s piquant girlishness and Morrissey’s timelessly morbid romanticism (as he daydreams of getting hit with his lover by a double-decker bus, etc.) and combines these influences marvelously.

So yes, I’ve essentially just listed a bunch of contemporary reference points for Veronica Falls’ traditional (but not boring) “indie pop.” Thing is, when I listen to this album, I’m not thinking of what it sounds like. Instead, I’m reveling in the effortless hooks, joyous harmonies, and just-edgy-enough guitar lines. Even in its most woe-is-me moments, Waiting For Something To Happen is palpably enjoyable, as much an ode to tidied rock tropes as it is to adolescent wanderings of the heart. And maybe that’s why it works so well; you don’t have to be falling in or out of love to find something to latch onto here. I get the feeling that this one might fly under a lot of people’s radars, much like Frankie Rose and the Outs’ 2010 self-titled mini-masterwork. Both that album and this one are short, sweet, and undeniably charming rock records that hold up on repeat listens more than you might expect. You should listen to both of them. They’ll call them “indie pop,” but hopefully you’ll be too busy dancing to pay such inelegant nomenclature any mind.