CD Review: Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles, “Heat”

Local five-piece Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles get hot on their fourth and most mature album.

Sarah Harper

 

Artist: Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles

Album: “Heat”

Label: Redeye Label

Producer: Matt Boyton (MGMT, Beirut)

Release date: May 29

 

Ukulele player, pianist, singer and whistler Lucy Michelle wrote the songs on her band’s new album “Heat” during the winter of 2010.

It was a particularly soul-sucking winter, with the record-setting Snowpocalypse hitting the Twin Cities in December and collapsing the roof of our Metrodome.

But “Heat,” Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles’ fourth and most mature release yet, spouts warmth.

One of the steamiest songs on the album is “Summer Beach,” during which Michelle sings, “Summer beach and the empty streets / We run naked down the dark in the moonlight / So hot, you could cut the air with a knife.” 

If the dichotomy between the warmth of the album and the frigid environment from which it sprung feels like a bit of a gimmick, rest assured that the coziness is offset by a sobering sadness.

Throughout “Heat,” images of balmy nights in the city and sunny days in the wild are spliced with chilling hints at unsatisfying long distance love and dissatisfied longing.

The result is the musical equivalent of a hot and cold compress, simultaneously exciting and calming the listener.

“I want to do what makes me feel good,” Michelle sings on what’s meant to be one of the album’s radio hits, “Just A Kid.” Rife with references to warmth and fire, the song not only characterizes “Heat” thematically: It also exemplifies how Michelle has matured sonically over the course of her four releases.

Michelle’s voice, which has usually been something of a babbling brook, is approaching the strength and clarity of a coursing river on “Heat.” She’s got something to say and she’s not saying it timidly, as folksy musicians tend to do.

If you need more proof that this musician has matured, look to the toned-down whistling on “Heat.” Michelle has always been so adept at whistling that she often comes across as a bird, tweeting and chirping her way through live sets and recordings. But on “Heat,” she keeps the old-timey tricks down to an artful minimum. During the song “Million Things,” Michelle whistles with style, blowing out a few slow, curving notes to accentuate the reflective attitude of the song. 

There’s no shortage of bands in the Twin Cities that could be categorized as indie, folk or indie-folk. We seem to be doing just fine in the earthy and acoustic department — so fine that the Cities occasionally feel overrun by string-strumming troubadours.

Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles, the 2008 winners of City Pages’ Picked to Click award, aren’t your average indie-as-folk  Joe Schmoes.

The songs on “Heat” are proof of this: The album is memorable, cohesive and confident.

 

3 1/2 out of 4 stars