As the Brexit-beating, London/Berlin-based three piece VENN are operating on the periphery of the post punk scene, one can be forgiven for not knowing of them already. But you certainly should.
While the top end of European post punk is inhabited by mainstream, doom by numbers acts such as Editors or White Lies, bands such as VENN are given the space to go down a more creative route. In Runes, they’ve produced a thrilling debut which shapeshifts throughout. Over nine tracks, they use early 80s moody modernism as a template, but veer into other areas; at times they act much like a techno artist would, using monotony and layers of sound to paint the picture. As well as relying on the power of electronics, there’s also the expected amount of bluster and tension which will resonate immediately with fans of the genre.
Opening track "Legacy Project" uses the approach that makes "Dead Souls" by Joy Division arguably their best song. The thick, densely motorik beats and slow introduction of other instrumentation shows a masterful touch in terms of a gradual build, which here explodes into a glorious piece of mid 80s pop, and what more could you possibly want from an album than for it to open with the lyrics “I fake my own death / I lie to my friends / I want you to feel what it’s like to lose another”? This spite-filled bile continues with a chorus of “I wanna look into your eyes / see right through your tears / I wanna make you hate yourself”, the kind of lyrical shade which manages to be both uncomfortable and enticing.
"Real Blood" is equally as effective. It’s cold and lethargic, but breaks into rage executed with expert musicianship. When the Faith era Cure basslines step aside for the introduction of scything guitar slashes which are then followed by an almost synth pop key break, the closing two minutes introduce Johnny Marr influenced guitar twangs, and two minutes of wordless harmonising. This is premium post punk on the same kind of level as “PDA” by Interpol, or The Walkmen’s “The Rat”.
The bass heavy "Slowly Sinking" has the band delving further into electronics. We’re not talking the ‘hey, we did an electronic album, as it’s on trend’ here, as this could sit happily on the claustro-doom of Mezzanine by Massive Attack, while nodding to early electronic/indie fusers such as Flying Saucer Attack or Disco Inferno.
“Esalen 64”, another track that shows how adept they are in slowly building, starts minimal and ends in melodious cacophony. A cheesy synth loop and skeletal applications of bass and guitars are applied as if they were loops, and the tentative build gradually breaks into bedlam, an aural onslaught, the introduction of heavily distorted saxophones adding to the euphoric delirium as each instrument is slowly, coldly attacked.
Elsewhere, "A Smaller Part" takes its cue from old Boards Of Canada material to provide the album with a moment of soundtrackism, "Supernature” is jittery and full of bluster but with a pop heart beating throughout while "Bigger Fiction" is one weird dad dance away from Future Islands’ Singles. These latter two tracks show how, despite operating very comfortably within a cloak of darkness, they can do great indie pop you can dance to, albeit feeling a little sad while doing so.
Post punk of course is a genre totally played out, but VENN’s approach is a new perspective on the genre. Runes is fresh, wildly innovative, and utterly essential.