After several years paying her dues in various Toronto bands, Robyn Phillips was visited by a vision. Adopting the name of Isabella Rossellini’s character from Blue Velvet, Phillips began writing songs informed by this persona, eventually gathering other musicians to complete a full band. Vallens’ first album Consent is out today and it reveals that Phillips’ commitment paid off: it’s a stunning debut.
Utilizing the bold trick of opening with an instrumental (“While You Wait”), Consent wraps its tendrils around you right away. There’s a shoegazey quality to the songs that evokes smoke-filled barrooms, broken hearts, and dark alleyways. The music feels like it was birthed from an old soul, which is ironic, given Phillips’ tender age.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Vallens is just another band struggling to wear the ill-fitting moniker of “dreampop,” though. Consent subtly shifts gears throughout, hinting at PJ Harvey in “Drag,” nodding towards early Siouxsie and Garlands-era Cocteau Twins in “Rosemary,” evoking the sounds of Opal (the pre-Hope Sandoval version of Mazzy Star) in “Devour.” Through it all, however, Phillips’ honeyed, whiskey-tinged voice and assured guitar playing holds more sway than anything else. There is a lot of reverb, but there are also a lot of minimalist melodies that are striking in their simplicity as well as their ability to keep your attention.
The title track is riveting; where else are you going to hear such brave, bold, truthful proclamations about feminine agency alongside such a swoonworthy bridge? It’s a remarkable accomplishment, but the album only improves from there.
“Dark Tunnel” is gorgeous, both hooky and heavy, containing an impressive synthesis of Vallens’ influences as well as their distinctive flair for originality, both of which point to an exceedingly bright future for this band. The same can be said for “Sin So Vain.” Despite its seven-minute-plus length, it contains an addictive guitar melody and some powerful vocal work from Phillips.
Consent isn’t perfect – the keyboards in the otherwise wonderful “Tennessee Haze” threaten to drown the song’s otherwise stellar melodies – but it’s damn close to it. I expect even more amazing music from Vallens in the future.
Consent was released by Hand Drawn Dracula on June 24.