Maturity can be cool. The years etch us with wisdom lines, and if we’re lucky carve us into a more refined, smarter, stronger, more honest human being. This is the arc of Chris Velan’s catalog, music of slowly mounting maturity and hard won life lessons, especially in matters of the heart. With an even-hand and open eyes, Velan peels back the layers on the good and bad in how people connect (or disconnect). What’s revealed is tenderizing, moving, and a catalyst for loving others and ourselves.
“All your life you waited for the right wind to blow you/ You can’t decide/ So you lay down with the stars to show you/ If I’m wrong, I’m wrong/ If I’m right I will never say that I told you/ If I lose, I lose/ And if I win I will blow all my winnings on great new beginnings.”
Velan’s sixth studio effort, Glow, is what I wish greeted me every time I switched on the radio, a melodically and lyrically sharp sound that’s simpatico with the compelling craftsmanship of Neil Finn, Paul Simon, and Nick Lowe. This is stylistically varied pop-rock that moves so seemingly effortlessly that it’s easy to miss just how tied together everything is, one of those albums one can throw on anytime they need good songs gracefully delivered in a voice that could charm birds off a tree.
Glow weaves Velan’s rock with colorful strands of reggae, chugging blues, Dylan-like balladry and hopping power-pop. Each has surfaced on earlier releases but Glow offers the most organic synthesis thus far and it does so in service of tunes filled with lovers holding up what’s really going on between them to the light and speaking truthfully about what’s revealed. A few songs stretch this personal dynamic to larger issues, which feels particularly prescient given the steady shit show of 2016. Velan delves into the general zeitgeist of our times gently, his own contemplation sending out beams to others experiencing a similar need to connect somehow, someway.
“I made a million friends so I’ll never be alone/ I had my mouth turned into a microphone/ Now I share every thought ‘cause I guess I’m not unafraid to be unknown/ And I wish I could connect but I’m not hearing you/ The feeling is correct but something’s not getting through/ I’m too busy to wait/ I’m already late/ I’ve got too much I need to do.”
After the Elliott Smith worthy emotional bloodletting of Velan’s previous album, The Long Goodbye, it’s encouraging to find him opening up and seizing possibilities, even down to an appetite for some bad behavior, which is essential to a fully formed life. Because Velan doesn’t pull his punches, sometimes even stabbing the “beast” in the belly in self-defense, the moments when the sun comes out after the rain inside feel genuine, earned, true. Verisimilitude in pop isn’t common but we know it when it’s there, and it’s this music that can truly inform and inspire our own long journeys searching for companionship, fulfillment, and a few kicks. Chris Velan makes this kind of music, and anyone seeking a spot of maturity in an increasingly infantile era one would do well to acquaint themselves with Glow and the chapters that lead up to it.