Camelia Brennan

The Velvet Teen: Elysium

For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of a website I frequented in high school in the early 2000s, from a shared family computer in my mothers office. You could enter a band name, and it built out recommendations in a bubble map. As an adolescent girl, in addition to having a crush on every boy, I was also fixated with the entire Virginia post-hardcore scene. It almost goes without saying, but I was REALLY into Engine Down. This ultimately led to the recommendation of The Velvet Teen from the aforementioned website that I’ll never figure out the name of.

As a freshman in college, I had very few friends. Most of my friends attended a school I knew I could not get into, near where we grew up, but I applied to Appalachian State University in Western North Carolina. I was disinterested in school in general, but attending a university never felt up for debate. After my application to ASU was accepted, I was pleased to not have to worry about applications anymore. However, I was still reluctant to be leaving my friends and a music scene that I didn’t realize I had taken for granted.

I was deeply saddened by the lack of music in the area where I went to college. Not to say it didn’t exist, but I wasn’t quite sure where to look, and I wasn’t brave enough to explore alone. At the time I attended school, it still felt like a commuter college. I often found myself driving 2–3 hours for shows in Asheville and Chapel Hill. Once I drove to Greensboro alone to see Circle Takes The Square only to find out the show had been canceled after I arrived there. Whoopsies! After growing up near Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh, the Boone music scene left me feeling really lonely and I struggled to make friends without a common bond of music.

Fortunately, there was a record store in walking distance of my dorm. I knew The Velvet Teen had just come out with a new album in the summer of 2004 on Slowdance Records (R.I.P.), and I requested they order the CD. I had no idea what to expect with Elysium, I didn’t even know it was going to be completely void of guitars. The album consists of keyboard, piano, strings, and horns arranged beautifully. At the time, Judah Nagler’s vocals and lyrics struck me as romantic and empathetic, but cloaked with longing. “We Were Bound (To Bend the Rules)” without fail, makes my heart feel like it is breaking every time I hear it. Like most of the songs on the album, it’s so gorgeous that it almost takes your breath away. “Chimera Obscurant” has been my long time favorite track on the album, it’s a 12 minutes 50 second long masterpiece that spirals into an epic climax as Nagler’s tremendous piano playing and vocals continually build before they’re overtaken by strings and horns.

I don’t think I was mature enough to understand any of these songs when I first heard them at 18, and I still am skeptical of people who claim to understand lyrics not written by themself. But darn, this entire album feels like you’re in a fever dream soundscape about beauty and regret. Maybe the entire album is just about meth though, who knows! Either way, it’s a truly stunning and timeless piece of music that I highly recommend.