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Review: Veruca Salt Erupt Anew on ‘Ghost Notes’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: July 07, 2015
Label: El Camino

A ghost note only sort of gets played. Instead of a clear bell-like emission or shimmering glissando, the beat is choked out to the point that it’s percussive rather than pitched — it’s there, just not exactly what you’re expecting. At least in terms of Veruca Salt’s history then, Ghost Notes works as a cutely analogous title for their first album with their original lineup since 1997. Songwriter Louise Post and a rotating cast of collaborators managed to Weekend-at-Bernie’s a few releases under the Veruca Salt banner, but after the departure of singer-guitarist Nina Gordon, everything was just a little more muted than what came before.

Gordon’s been back in the fold since 2013 though, along with original drummer Jim Shapiro and bassist Steve Lack, and as a result, Ghost Notes seethes with the dust-storm grit of their early-’90s material. With nary a characteristic wink or gnashing of teeth, opener “The Gospel According to Me” grins out of the gate as if the band’s been preparing this surprisingly summery record since Gordon first left. Tracks like “Eyes on You” provide a caffeinated thrust to Post and Gordon’s jump-roping harmonies and vocal interplay. And with slow-burners like “Empty Bottle” and “Prince of Wales,” it’s clear that all of the band’s original ingredients — meaty drum work, Post’s shredded and sweet vocals, razor-thin riffs that rip like canines — are finally all back in the right place.

Not since Dinosaur Jr.’s Beyond has a reunion record provided such an adrenaline shot. Where their replacements settled for a minimal bang and clatter, Lack and Shapiro thunder along like blind bovines sprinting down china-lined corridors, lurching with the awkward locomotion that gave the band’s best material — OK, “Seether” — its frantic flightiness and ruffled feathers. Post’s contributions still take the forefront (see the smirking lyrical deluge on “Laughing in the Sugar Bowl”), but her band has proven over the years to require a specific alchemical process. Without her original bandmates, Post is left holding lead instead of Salt.

The quartet’s strange, fluttering singles would occasionally wilt in comparison to the macho grime of the greasy-haired acolytes that ruled rock radio during their initial run. But after spending nearly two decades in the desert, Post and Co. return to find such like-minded outfits as Bully, Krill, and Speedy Ortiz banging out the same bent grunge-pop that once got them burned at the stake. This crop of totally trashed younger bands in the same lane only pushes them further toward hard-won respect they should’ve garnered in the first place. No longer ghosts, with this strong, same-as-it-ever-was album, Veruca Salt are now full-on zombies, the riffing dead. They don’t wanna go.


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