The All Music Guide lists two entries for a band named Valet — a minimal listing for a band that released an EP in 1999 and a more thorough and descriptive entry for a band responsible for an album titled The Glamour Is Contagious. Yet neither one of them is credited with releasing Life on the Installment Plan, a new record, also by a band named Valet. Through a little research, however, I concluded that the first Valet, the second Valet and the one I recently discovered are all the same band. Exactly what all of this means, I don’t know, but I do know that Valet have been around a pretty long time, though I’m just now hearing them for the first time.
Valet (all three of them) hails from Minneapolis, power-pop hub of North America and home to greats like Husker Du, The Replacements, The Minutemen, Prince, Semisonic and newly discovered punk rock pranksters and labelmates The Plastic Constellations. The reason I bring up all of the famed city’s musical offspring is not so much that Valet sounds like all of them, but that they carry on the tradition of making finely crafted and enjoyable indie pop. They don’t share Husker Du’s aggression, The Replacements’ chaotic tendencies, Prince’s funkiness or The Minutemen’s penchant for brevity. Nonetheless, they can have their own notch next to all of these bands in the Mpls Hall of Fame, merely for being among the best bands to come out of the Midwestern locale.
Life on the Installment Plan is a gorgeous, shimmery collection of dream-pop that could easily find admirers in Ben Gibbard and Dean Wareham. And, as you might have expected, Valet shares a lot in common with both Death Cab for Cutie and Luna. Like the former, Valet’s music is melancholy and tight, as heard on the catchy opener “Habana” and the dense, but outstanding “Journalists.” However, Valet also wraps their music in a playful dreaminess, which lend a more upbeat side to “Manifesto” and “Bring Back the Firing Squad.” Lead singer Robin Kyle’s voice, a cross between Lou Barlow and Jeff Tweedy, lazily leads the songs through each dreamy segue with the faintest hint of emotion and regret, though Valet’s music somehow leaves the listener in a feelgood mood. At times, the band even sounds a bit alt-country, though keyboardist Paul Fugelsted manages to overcome these hints of twang with his heavenly textures.
It would be wrong to call Valet a new band because, well, they’ve been around a pretty long time. But it looks as if they’ll finally be introduced to a larger audience, thanks to a proper label release. It’s about time. Valet deserves to be heard.
Death Cab for Cutie – The Photo Album
Luna – Penthouse
Matt Pond PA – Emblems
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.