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Vitesse



There's something unique about sad synth-pop that really makes it an ideal accompaniment to watching a gloomy day through a rain-streaked window and feeling a corresponding damp gloominess welling up inside. Classics like New Order's Power, Corruption, and Lies and The Cure's Boy's Don't Cry work well for this activity, but more recent groups like The Magnetic Fields who fuse synth-pop to the singer-songwriter tradition, can sometimes work even better. Chicago duo Vitesse falls into this latter category, using a clean combination of guitars, keyboards, and straightforward pop songwriting, to bring a lump to your throat. The continuous synth rhythms create a dreamily crystalline atmosphere of pregnant melancholy, through which vocalist Hewson Chen's lazy and tender vocals gently drift. His voice is often quite reminiscent of Stephen Merritt's wry baritone, but his lyrics for the most part lack the glib irony and caustic self-effacement of Merritt's songs; the sadness here is quite sincere.

The duo of vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Chen and keyboardist/bassist Joshua Klein (formerly of the band Toulouse and a writer at The Onion) first teamed up at the University of Chicago in 1997. The following year the duo recorded their first album, A Certain Hostility in a day and a half, releasing it on the small Hidden Agenda label the next spring. Chelsea 27099 followed in 2000. The duo's third full-length electronic paean to pop heartbreak, What Can Not Be, But Is... found Vitesse continuing to map the same lachrymal nostalgia with mechanized rhythms, tinny keyboards, shimmering synth fills, and warm resigned vocals. The album features covers of OMD's "2nd Thought" and The Boss's "Unsatisfied Heart," in case you had any doubt about which musical decade these boys like best.

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