Son of the Velvet Rat

The slow burn noir-folk of this Austrian group feels like reading a great short story

By Rev. Adam McKinney on October 11, 2018

In radio pop, there's frequently an atmosphere of worshipping the young and pristine, and eschewing the unique and experienced. Talent shows like American Idol and The Voice rendered this subtext overt, sacrificing cherubic, would-be stars week after week, before arriving at one performer to be fed into the music industry's churning machine. While more recent years have found the industry grappling with an ever-changing time, it's still a wonder to cast your mind back to when people like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, or Bruce Springsteen could be considered some of the biggest and most relevant stars in the world, cracks and weather and all.

Son of the Velvet Rat -- an Austrian music project from husband-and-wife duo Georg Altziebler and Heike Binder -- stokes the lurking passion that I have for voices with almost superhuman amounts of character. Altziebler's voice takes lead, sounding like a cross between Dylan, Tom Waits, and a dry lakebed. His voice is like an old mesquite tree, hardened by many years spent in the desert, its flavorful smoke waiting in the wings to present itself as its last offering. This is a voice that takes on the cadence and the patient proselytizing of folks like Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Lambchop, Townes Van Zandt, Waits, and even Joni Mitchell, at times (as on "Blood Red Shoes").

While Son of the Velvet Rat may have found their origins in Austria, their travels landed them far away in Joshua Tree. Their 2017 LP Dorado, indeed, feels like a document of two artists who feed off the arid sun and unforgivingly cold nights of the Mojave Desert. It may be difficult to divorce yourself from the knowledge of the wide open spaces of their home, Son of the Velvet Rat finds an equal amount of inspiration in noir storytelling: morally conflicted characters, pops of color amongst the shadows, and a feeling of dread (with glimpses of hope) populate their songs. Many of the tracks on Dorado are slow burns, seductively lulling you into a contemplative revery before arriving at genuinely thrilling crescendos. In these moments, Altziebler's voice rises above the gravel, intwined with Binder's honeyed tones, and you feel as though you've arrived at the heart-rending climax of a great short story.

Mood may be Son of the Velvet Rat's greatest and most forthright gift, but their ability to construct indelible melodies and slyly catchy hooks is arguably their secret weapon. Unlike other albums that lean toward the slow and meditative, Dorado never falters under the weight of self-seriousness or misplaced pretension. To listen to this album is, yes, to be taken to a darker place, but once it's all said and done -- and, in fact, song after song -- I find myself uplifted and energized by the care, integrity, and lived-in worlds these artists have created. Perhaps the best illustration of their balancing of light and dark is "Love's the Devil's Foe," which acknowledges the loneliness and fear inherent in life, but overwhelmingly embraces a way through the messiness of it all. Love, come to think of it, is woven into the fabric of much of Son of the Velvet Rat's music. Anything to get through those dark nights.

SON OF THE VELVET RAT, w/ Robbie Walden Band, Country Lips, 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12, Alma Mater, 1322 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $12-$15,


Not into the whole darkness thing? The lightly trippy pop of the Whags should do you just right. The Seattle outfit recalls Beatles-esque sounds as filtered through the over-excited psych-pop of early Of Montreal. Playful harmonies and abrupt shifts in styles are defining characteristics of a band who, not for nothing, tag their music as both "Bezos-boogie" and "sunshine rock." I think you've got a pretty good idea of what kind of night to expect, and possibly how best to pre-funk.

THE WHAGS, w/ Cedar Sap, Pigtails, 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13, Mahayana Studio, 1613 Groves Ave. NW, Olympia, cover TBA,