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Vee Dee - Public Mental Health System

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Artist: Vee Dee

Album: Public Mental Health System

Label: Criminal IQ

Review date: Apr. 15, 2009

Vee Dee is a good, if unassuming band that operates at its own pace (the kind that allows them to take five years in between the super-sized Public Mental Health System and 2004’s more svelte debut, Furthur). But they’re not a garage band, even though they seem to play with them, and are on an associated label; they’re just one in a long line of underheard rockers that hang somewhere within the awareness of punk and garage, but are really into their own thing, bordering on classic rock and early metal, bar blues and blacklight posters.

Just by looking at these guys and how they represent themselves across this gatefold sleeve, flanking a rotting front porch on the back cover, and hand-done layouts of mimeographed lyrics dotted with syringes, comic book panels, scattered study hall desk carvings and recommended designs for aspiring blotter acid artists, you get the notion that this was a thing that had to come out for personal reasons. I’ll bet these guys get pretty pissed off when some blowhard they have to deal with, like a co-worker who doesn’t get it or their great aunt they see once a year starts asking about their band and what they sound like. “We’re called Vee Dee.” What? “Vee Dee. You know, like the clap?”

Those who make it their business to understand rock music have seen bands like Vee Dee all sorts of different ways, from the righteous basement trip of ‘80s and ‘90s bands like the Original Sins, Gravel, and forgotten travelers the Mortals, and we’ve seen it go the way of heinous, begging-for-profit bullshit like the Mooney Suzuki. But in Vee Dee, the strength lies in it all being one man’s game, more or less, and that’s guitarist/vocalist Nick D’Vyne. Playing in a lineage of D’Boon, E’Bloom, and R’Asheton, D’Vyne doesn’t seem at all like a corny dude, and the way he goes about picking up the threads from a stranger time – definitely the strangest time I’ve lived through, this decade – shoots down any reasoning for how his style developed, other than out of survival. He might have a big comic book collection, or maybe bassist Dan Lang or drummer Ryan Murphy does, or did at some point. You hear it in lyrics like “Phaedra, speak with your mind” or “there is no Earth anymore / we have destroyed it.” You hear guys with imagination tied to their fears, softening the blows of the impending apocalypse through obsolete coping tools like musty game rooms and horror movies on UHF channels. They play out the cool older brother vibe really well, only said sibling is paranoid of his own responsibilities, and unable to find anyone to reassure him that it will be alright.

And, after Side 1 opener, the Hawkwind-esque “Glimpses of Another World” (released in late 2007 as a single), the record’s unsteady logic shoves it in your gut. This is a lot of music to get through – 13 loud songs across 67 minutes – and requires a bit of navigational strategy so as not to feel worn out. My advice is to appreciate the opening cut on its own, then start in on Side 2 – the record stays great and just gets better from there on out, flashbacked and strobing with survivor’s guilt and evenings of tequila-fueled mayhem and windowpane lucidity.

Some real dark nights of the soul can happen in this environment, which is all part of the risk; that sort of 5 a.m. panic attack you give yourself sometimes is captured here in uncanny detail (“Teens O.D.” being a prime example). Overall, once the dust clears around a real nice lift of the central riff from Hard Stuff’s “Monster in Paradise” on closer “Dog’s Breath,” you realize just how impressive it is that this single-minded set comes together so well, and what a great performer D’Vyne is, throwing a coin in Iggy’s fountain and screaming with hometown Chicago’s blues legacy in his being. This is a good record, and at times an exceptional record, absolutely nothing less than a rock band going for broke, a state of mind that seems to be too much to ask of most bands these days.

By Doug Mosurock

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