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The Veldt - Illuminated 1989 (Little Cloud/5BC)

15 December 2023

A mere thirty-four years late, the Veldt’s debut album finally arrives. The pioneering North Carolina band recorded Illuminated 1989 with band hero Robin Guthrie for Capitol Records, but the latter declined to release it, perhaps unclear what the appeal of shoegaze (a genre in its infancy, and mainly in England) would be, especially as practiced by African-Americans at a time when the various ethnicities were supposed to stay in their lanes. (It took a while for the industry to catch up to Prince, apparently.) The band ended up on Mercury instead, releasing an EP and LP that recycled a few Illuminated songs, before living an off- and on-again existence over the next three decades.

Happily, the Veldt’s current status is on, with an ever-increasing series of recordings (check out last year’s excellent Entropy is the Mainline to God) and performances, leading up to the rescue of Illuminated from obscurity. Sonically, of course, the album sounds familiar, especially to readers of this website – jangly, shimmering, and propulsive in a way soon to now common in alternative rock, but would have been fresh and new in 1989. Add to that frontman Daniel Chavis’s unabashedly soul/gospel singing, and it might have been the birth of a new sound. Thankfully, even thirty-plus years on, it still vibes amazing. The tunes already well-known by Veldt fans – the waltzing “Willow Tree,” “Daisy Chain,” the blazing “C.C.C.P.” – haven’t lost anything for having been in the band’s repertoire all these years, and the new-to-us tunes like the dreamy “Aurora Borealis” and “Angel Heart,’ the rocking “Shallow By Shallow” and “Pleasure Toy,” the funk-rocking “Git Up,” and the anthemic “Everlasting Gobstopper” – prove how fecund the band’s songwriting womb was from the very beginning. Put more plainly, Illuminated 1989 is a great record, of interest to far more than just Veldt fans.