Secret Decoder Records
If you're an avid consumer of the indie/punk press, say, or even just a closet Tribbie, you might already know Justin Vellucci's name. In addition to writing for the online zine Delusions of Adequacy and regularly reviewing records for the recently defunct Punk Planet, Vellucci moved to Pittsburgh last year to write news full time for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. On top of it all, he wrote and recorded his third solo album, Terminal Harbor, chock full of Pittsburgh references and feelings.
The album's eight tracks of introspective lo-fi pop overlay an acoustic base with electronics and drum machines; Vellucci does all the work himself. It is, as some have come to say, the new singer-songwriter setup: As folkies 40 years ago traveled with only a guitar, home recording and advances in synth technology have made the solo artist who sounds like a full band commonplace. In this case, the setup serves a precisely neutral role, acting as a vehicle for Vellucci's songwriting without distracting from it.
As someone whose day job is writing, Vellucci surely thinks a lot about clichés. And that informs his songwriting, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect. He doesn’t often fall victim to poetic cliché in a direct and traditional sense, but it seems his writing is often wrapped up in efforts to confront cliché head-on and work it over, making it his own. That’s a tall order, and sometimes the songs end up repetitive, or seemingly over-thought; they often exist in a zone somewhere between poetic simplicity and intense literary imagery, and consequently fall short.
The disc has garnered comparisons to Smog, and there’s even a tinge of Elliot Smith lurking in a few of the tracks; with a bit of lyrical tightening-up, perhaps Vellucci can closer live up to those reference points.