Boy in Static: Violet

Boy In Static (Boston-based Alexander Chen) follows his solid 2005 album debut Newborn (Alien Transistor) with the equally solid follow-up Violet. The album embeds Chen's crooning, often multi-tracked whisper within shoegaze-styled, dream-pop backings built from a palette of more than fifteen instruments (guitars, strings, drums, piano, melodica, bass), all of them played by the Boston-based singer/songwriter. The tracks themselves are emotive ‘bedroom-styled' settings that, despite the presence of dense electronic textures, hew to a classic vocal-based, song form structure (the harpsichord and shuddering vocals in the beautiful ballad “Without Grace” even vaguely call to mind “Crimson and Clover,” strangely enough).

“First Love” opens the album splendidly. In this lush ballad, sleigh bells jingle and electric guitars peal while Chen's breathy voice whispers emotively about heartbreak alongside a melodica's sad cry. The theme re-emerges in “Where It Ends” (“Here's where it starts /Same place, same breaking hearts”) where the vocals are almost overwhelmed by the heavier guitar-based mass. In general, the material is pitched at an epic, wall-of-sound level, so that even a somber ballad like “Immortal” feels like an ultra-dramatic epic (especially during its glorious guitar-fueled climax), as does the churchy instrumental interlude “Shivered In The Sunlight.” “Catching Death” offers affecting melancholy respite before “Leave You Blind” closes the album in predictably lush manner. One is occasionally reminded of other artists—New Order and My Bloody Valentine, to name two—but there's no shame in that; like most artists, Chen's been influenced by others, but Violet ultimately impresses as a fully-realized Boy In Static collection.

July 2007