Just as devoted to swirling guitars as writing great pop songs, Velocity Girl — formed at the University of Maryland in the late ’80s (originally with future Unrest bassist Bridget Cross as its unrecorded singer) and named after a Primal Scream song — effectively mixed melodies into churning noise. Though the band occasionally came off as lightweight when delving into pop’s sugary side, even its less interesting musical moments were catchy enough to be appealing.
Following the standard course for indie-label noise-poppers, Velocity Girl — singer Sarah Shannon, guitarist/bassist/singer Archie Moore, guitarist Brian Nelson, guitarist/bassist Kelly Riles and drummer Jim Spellman (ex-High Back Chairs) — released a slew of singles and compilation tracks before recording an album. Six of those early tunes are compiled on the Velocity Girl EP. “Always” and “I Don’t Care If You Go” are great pop songs with intriguingly textured guitars; a jazzy acoustic version of the latter provides a nice change of pace. But the record’s strongest song — and the most significant in terms of the band’s first-album tenor — is “Forgotten Favorite,” a pop gem enveloped in sheets of white noise.
Copacetic‘s cover photo is out of focus, and the album’s music is equally abstract. On “Pretty Sister” and the title track, Shannon’s voice has to fight to be heard over the sonic wash, yet there’s no mistaking the material’s catchiness. Despite being taken as shoegazers, Velocity Girl makes its songs here jump up and down rather than simply stare at the floor. “Pop Loser” is especially irresistible, thanks to its slightly sharper guitar sound and “la-la-la-la-la” (“I’ll play my la-la shit for you any time”) chorus.
Velocity Girl concentrated more on songwriting and less on pure sound for the uneven ¡Simpatico!, which has some great tunes but less of the atmosphere that makes the first album so riveting. Shannon’s increased vocal confidence (and deepening range) lets her rise above the guitars instead of getting caught among them, and the melodies — see “Sorry Again” and “Drug Girls” — jump right out instead of simply inviting listeners in. But that trend leaves a few songs (most notably “I Can’t Stop Smiling”) too sweet for their own good. The Sorry Again EP — the titular song plus three unimpressive non-album tracks — is recommended for completists only.
The band loses even more of its experimental edge on Gilded Stars and Zealous Hearts, an uninspired album of relatively straight-ahead mainstreamed pop. Though the album is perfectly presentable and has its catchy moments (“Nothing,” “One Word”), Velocity Girl sounds far less distinctive without much noise in its noise-pop, and unbearably smooth production (by Clif Norrell) only worsens matters. The shift away from swirl would be far easier to accept if it were accompanied by stronger songwriting (as it was on the band’s previous album), but Gilded Stars is big on endlessly repeated choruses and includes more filler than standouts.
In addition to Velocity Girl (which disbanded in 1996), Moore plays in the Heartworms, a side project that also includes his younger brother Kevin, Trish Roy of Belmondo, Chip Porter of Sabine and Chris Norborg of Chisel. The band’s aptly named debut album is spacier than anything Velocity Girl has ever recorded, but its mix of pop and noise is somewhat similar in thinking. Unfortunately, the material is weak, and only the trance-inducing title track really stands out here. Spellman has also played in a band called Piper Cub with Andrew Webster of Tsunami, John Dugan of Chisel and Steve Raskin of Edsel.