The Vliets (Pronounced Vleets) describe themselves as 'experimental rock' , which seems an accurate enough description if you're a fan of understatement. If their name offers any indication, it's an homage to Don Van Vliet, the experimental musician better known as Captain Beefheart, a longtime collaborator of Frank Zappa's.
Lead singer Ty Bohrnstedt's lyrics are soft and deliberately indecipherable, the melodies wavering and psychedelic, creating both a throwback and ultra modern sound, at times sunny and reminiscent of the Velvet Underground, and at times as climactic as Arcade Fire. Unlike all other groups who have beat the trend of post-modern rock to death, The Vliets use synthesizers, impressive pre-recorded electronic beats and focused and reliable, perhaps even monotonous, drums.
The Vliets are an undoubtedly indie band, yet they've amassed a comfortably sized cult-like following. On Friday, they played at the Double Wide to a distracted, hipster crowd. Except for the required Julian Casablancas-type haircut that their shy singer hides behind, the band has an unaffected, nerdy college-student look, and one of the members appears to still be wearing his backpack as he steps onto the stage. They used to have a spaceship as part of their stage design, but it is sadly not present for this show. Instead, there are old black-and white movie scenes projected onto the background, among what looks like old karate-instruction videos and random Dada-esque references, immediately setting the tone for a very artful experience.
The first three songs are mellow and gorgeously emotive, with singer Bohrnstedt seamlessly alternating between keyboards and guitar. By the fourth song the mood of the songs changes into a Californian, '60s flower-child vibe with a display of near virtuosity as Bohrnstedt plays a spirited guitar solo and bassist Adham El-Effendi switches his bass for a tambourine. The contrast between the amateurish appearance of the band and the sound of innovative and seasoned musicians is almost transcendent.
Although it feels impossible to stand still, the perhaps tragically paralyzed crowd remains nearly immobile except for one gentleman in suspenders spastically twerking at the front and another attempting to do the robot. Nearly everyone responds to the music by keeping their eyes closed.
Bohrnstedt takes the time after the show to chat and answer a few questions. He lists Baby O, Beck, Air, The Books, and guitarist John Frusciante as some of their influences. Had you been at the show you'd accept that answer as perfectly natural. Bohrnstedt clears up some of the confusion as to why they are sometimes listed as being either an Austin or Dallas band, and states that their home base is simply the Internet. Yes, seemingly every band is on the Internet nowadays, but as he explains, this is the only dimension in which the band exists. He lives near Dallas, drummer Max Anderson is in Austin and is unable or unwilling to come to Dallas, so he is replaced on drums for this show by bassist/keyboardist Daniel Gonzalez, who lives in Chicago. He explains that the Internet is virtually (no pun intended) the only way for the band to stay together, which should work for them, as he states they have a 'strictly Internet following'. Their unusual songwriting process consists solely of phone calls and email exchanges.
When Bohrnstedt is asked why he sings in a way that suggests the lyrics had been scribbled ineligibly, he admits it's quite intentional, as he prefers the words to be vague so they 'don't mean anything specific to anyone else'.
He has been playing with Max Anderson in Austin, and they have collaborated with Indie Rock band Analog Rebellion. The Vliets had two California tours this year, where they played to a crowd of 150-200, south of San Jose. The band prefers enclosed venues, and The Double Wide is their usual venue of choice in Dallas.
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He adds that they played three new songs at this show, and they have just finished recording four or five songs. Clearly, these will be coming soon to a website near you. Their two previous albums The Vliets EP (2011) and God's Drug EP (2012) are available on Spotify and Bandcamp, on a 'name your own price' basis.
Their music is completely addictive, just so you know before you spend your next two hours pressing repeat on Soundcloud. And then concluding that you should just buy the damn songs already. The Vliets will be playing again in Dallas sometime later this year. Until then, as long as you have Internet, they will be playing every day in your city.