Even in this new golden age of indie-rock, in which there are almost as many indie labels as the bands they represent, there are some acts that either don’t make the cut, fizzle out, or implode rather than `explode,’ which seems to be the ultimate goal. So what’s the tipping point for bands to `make it.’ For some, it’s a not-so cleverly placed song in an episode of The O.C., while for others, popularity is a mystery. I sometimes lie awake at night disturbed by the fact that Jack Johnson has a career in music. I’ve seen far too many quality bands plagued not by inner strife, turmoil or infighting (after all, not everyone can be the Pixies or the Beatles), but instead by real life. Having to make ends meet, wanting to spend time with the family, and other various obligations tend to supercede the, for most, pipedream of being a rock star. This is essentially what `almost’ happened to already-established act Venus Hum, before their triumphant return with The Colors in the Wheel.
Venus Hum, a band that mixed incredible female vocals with electro-pop, and named after member Tony Miracle’s heart condition called a `venous hum’ in which he can constantly hear his own heartbeat in his ears, seemed destined for stardom with their major label debut, Big Beautiful Sky. An opening slot for the Blue Man Group and a prominently placed song in teaser commercials for J.J. Abrams’ show, Alias, also seemed to be arrows pointing the way for success. But pained vocal nodes nearly sidelined singer Annette Strean for good, while Kip Kubin stretched his wings as a filmmaker and Miracle continued to play solo music, making The Colors in the Wheel the `album that nearly wasn’t.’ After rehabilitation and the communal draw of a band that was too good to give up, the album finally came together, and it’s arguably more than just a `comeback record.’ The Colors in the Wheel is the kind of record that the remix albums of Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and Fiona Apple wish they could be.
“Turn Me Around” and “Go To Sleep” act as camouflaging bookends, quieter numbers that showcase the wonders of Strean’s healed vocal chords. But all of that changes with the third track, after a short instrumental interlude, “Yes and No.” The song is like a hidden track found on Depeche Mode’s Violator, darkly intense and driving electro-pop. Strean also puts on her best `Gahan as a girl’ impression. “Birds and Fishes” finds Strean in more McLachlan-esque territory, with the song proving the point that this style of singing can be considered `hip’ without the overbearing Evanescence-style guitars. Tori Amos’ music, circa Choirgirl Hotel springs to mind with the song from whence comes the album’s title, “Genevieve’s Wheel.” Kubin and Miracle’s music is the perfect foil for Strean’s feminine wiles, with all of its hiccups, stutters and flourishes picture framing her gift. The second half tends to lag as opposed to the more dramatic opening tracks, but it’s hard to deny the seduction of any of the electro-pop confections created by Venus Hum, especially the Björk like sinister feel of “72 Degrees” and the previously mentioned closer, “Go To Sleep.”
I guess you just can’t keep a good band down. Venus Hum has not only had to face the trials of everyday life, but also those found only in the lives of rock stars, such as major label mergers and rampant hype. Luckily, for us, Venus Hum has come out seemingly unscathed with a fantastic album to show for all their troubles. We should all be so lucky. In fact, things could have been much worse. They could have gone the way of their former collaborator, J.J. Abrams, and been forced to work with Tom Cruise. Hmmm, there are fates worse than death!
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