One thing that distiguishes Keys and Vices from typical indie rock bands is the quality of the singing. Most indie groups tend to substitute creativity and artful authenticity for whatever they may be lacking in technical ability. It’s a tradeoff a certain type of listener accepts. However, in the case of Sacramento based outfit, Keys and Vice, Jennifer Valdez (the group’s frontperson,) has a better voice and is more talented than most millionaire pop stars, many of whom are known only for the their vocals (and sometimes looks.) In fact, I would go out on a limb and say that the vocals on Keys and Vices’ new album Chronic Nostalgia are among best of any I’ve ever reviewed in any genre.
One might find it surprising that Jennifer (measuring in at a height of 5’0) is inspired by the “Rocky” movies. I would have guessed that for today’s young people, the Rocky franchise might be deemed too “problematic” and socially dated to appreciate. These kids are all right I guess. Like Rocky, Jennifer perceives herself as an underdog, and her performance in Chronic Nostalgia demonstrates that, if not the ‘eye of the tiger,’ she has the heart of a champion.
Lending to the band’s vaguely 60’s, moddish aesthetic (at least in the cover art,) part of me assumed the first track Out of My Head would be a cover of the classic Little Anthony & The Imperials’ classic, Going Out Of My Head. But no, I was wrong. This is a completely original song, yet with equally moving, dynamic “energy.” The retro-styled, innocently charming backing music on this track is my favorite on this entire album. It immediately fashions a context for the listener to immerse him or herself in the nostalgic ambiance of these recordings. This song also introduces us to Jennifer’s voice, at which point we’ve offialy made up the mind the album is good. Talk about a first impression! I should also give credit to to bass player Kevin McCarty and Kris Ayala on drums, both of whom solidly wield their skills to roundoff the sound.
There’s plenty of musical variety in Chronic Nostalgia. The instrumental backing music is distinct in every track (piano driven, guitar driven, synth driven etc.) Some tracks are danceably upbeat and groovin’ while others like Box of Keys and Ghost Love are touchingly haunting. All are consistently and passionately performed though, in a manner which convincingly conveys the genuine emotions behind the words.
In a way, listening to an album this good is kind of depressing, knowing that the artist may never receive the recognition that is afforded to so many less-deserving artists so easily. Nevertheless, even if they never manage to get a shot at the title, Keys and Vices have proven themselves worthy with this flawless, indie mini-masterpiece.
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