The Vels: Private World – US – 12″ 
- Private World 4:36
- Private World [Dub] 4:36
- Hieroglyphics 6:06
- Hieroglyphics [Dub] 6:06
Well, I had written about collecting The Vels while never having heard the band…just on the principle of it, some time ago. Let’s crack open a single and see what we have! As I stated up front on the earlier post, Steven Stanley produced their first album at Compass Point Studios with Benjamin Armbrister assisting so that it shared a similar breezy minimal quality as Tom Tom Club is not put of line. “Private World” was the A-side and it seemed to have been the straight album version, but I have yet to digitize the album for listening. So my mileage may vary.
First off, all the three members play keys but their main gig here was bass, vocals and percussion. I have to state right off the top that I love Alice DeSoto’s vibrant vocals without a single suggestion of vibrato. I’m not a fan of excessive vibrato, and where there’s none at all, I roll over like a puppy in pleasure and submission. I also liked how Ms. DeSoto wrote a lively song about the most prosaic of topics. I enjoyed how it celebrated the her internal existence in a positive, upbeat manner.
The expansive, airy vibe was like that of Tom Tom Club. I’m guessing that they didn’t pick Stanley for nothing, but the way this smaller, tighter ensemble gels is all on its own here. Charles’ Hanson’s bass playing is supple and surprisingly sensual. His smooth runs and playing bring to mind Tinker Barfield’s great turn on M+M’s “Black Stations/White Stations.” The funky but mellow vibe goes a long way in giving pleasure. I loved the “snake charmer” middle eight that came out of nowhere to delight my ears. The synthetic roto-toms of Chris Larkin were only a hair’s breadth away from functioning as cowbell here, which would have been more obvious.
The dub mix gave huge spotlight to the roto-toms and the dubbed out bass of Hanson before settling in the dry drum machine groove and the unaltered bass guitar. Then the horn-like synths got a few sweeps across the horizon. The last half of the dub mix got more aggressive in its manipulation but because the mix was kept to the same time as the vocal mix, one was left wanting more.
The label stated that the AA-Side, “Hieroglyphics,” was 6;06, but my wave editor does not lie. This track was about 5:15 [my rips are raw and untrimmed @ 5:26], and probably the exact same as the 5:10 LP mix. So I’m guessing that the dub mixes were the only thing different on the 12″ single from the album. The perky dance-pop of “Private World” was sidestepped here for an airy, Fairlight-driven R+B vibe. Even thought the Fairlight predominated here, Mr. Hanson still made sure the ground the feather light track with sufficient bass groove to give it a foundation of realness.
I’m not scientific
It’s all hieroglyphics to me
Like the speed of light…Hieroglyphics
The dub mix of this track went into deep space with what sounded like deeply dubbed out Theremin with congas and xylophone. I’ve got to love the prominence that Mr. Stanley gave the bass guitar in these mixes. And while I’m at it, the fact that the bass was a guitar instead of a synth was also a definite plus. This could have all gone so wrong. It was 1984. They had plenty of digital synths. Why not use even more? But they still had some live guitar and rhythm section here. Wisely.
This was a delightful and intriguing first taste of The Vels for me and I look forward to moving through the rest of their oeuvre as we move slowly forward through the backlog in Ye Olde Record Cell®. I liked their clarity and charm and the songs were very straight forward mergings of dance pop with a little 80s R+B. There were only two Vels albums [which I have] but an examination of Alice DeSoto’s career shows a vast body of work; both musical and visual. Most of it under the name of Alice Cohen.
Her Bandcamp page has lots of album projects to sample and a pleasing reliance of physical products and even good olde fashioned compact discs®. Her Discogs page lists eight different band names over the last 40 years, and her most recent one, Alice Cohen and the Channel 14 Weather Team, just has to be the best band name ever! The cover to their “Artificial Fairytales” album [on CD and LP as well as DL!] all but demands that I order one of these glass mastered [right on!] CDs just for the cover art alone. Now that I have had my first taste of Alice Cohen, I’m about to get sucked down into the rabbit hole of an artist with a vast and peripatetic career that gives intrigue all day long! Wish me luck.
Nice to see a Vels fan! 😁 I like the second album even more. The bass player and founder Charles Hanson posted some live performances including unrecorded songs on his YouTube channel many years ago (14 years!) here: https://youtube.com/user/astrochuck11
this is their standout track (to me). ha(d)ve it on laserdisk
schwenko – There’s a LD with The Vels on it…and I don’t already own it??!! What’s wrong with this picture!?
Ooh, love this post. The Vels Velocity album is a total lost new wave gem, having never been issued on CD and seemingly forgotten as soon as it was released. Happily a friend digitized the vinyl so I’ve been enjoying it again the past few years. I’ve never heard a lick of the second album, except for lead single Girl Most Likely To (which i like enough, but fades from the memory in comparison to pretty much everything on Velocity).
Taffy – We have every Vels record in house and are awaiting only the time to make fully packed REVO discs of album #1 and album #2, so we’ll review our findings hopefully before the year is out!