The Veldt, “Illuminated 1989”
By John Morrison · November 27, 2023 Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

The dustbin of history is brimming with the hopes and dreams of would-be Black rock stars. Despite the genre itself being the direct product of Black innovation, joy, and struggle, it has never been easy for Black musicians to get their due for  playing guitar-centered music. Even the careers of Black trailblazers like Hendrix, Tina Turner, Bad Brains, etc. were successful in spite of the obstructions presented by racism in the music business. Being Black and making it in music while wielding a loud, distorted guitar is a damn near impossible feat—if you’re even allowed to break into the industry in the first place.

For the duo of Daniel and Danny Chavis and their band The Veldt, their career almost stalled before it got off the ground. Upon signing to Capitol Records in 1989, the band was paired with producer/kindred spirit Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. Guthrie seemed like the logical choice to help The Veldt realize the lush, dreamy sound that the Chavis brothers envisioned. But Capitol rejected the album and sent the band back to the lab to take another swing at creating something commercially viable. The Veldt would not re-emerge until 1993 with their shoegaze-soul epic, Afrodisiac which was released on Mercury.

The album that The Veldt recorded with Guthrie has remained “lost”—until now. Illuminated 1989 is The Veldt’s would-be debut album, and it offers listeners a glimpse at how far ahead of the curve the band would’ve been had they not been tripped up by label politics. The album opens with “Aurora Borealis” featuring guest vocals from Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins. A flowery, hip-hop-inspired love song, The Veldt mimic the pounding Oberheim DMX drum groove Larry Smith created for Run DMC’s “Sucker MCs” and pair it with a delicious Cure-style lead guitar and chorus effect combo. Songs like “C.C.C.P.” and “Shallow by Shallow” highlight the band’s ability to push the volume and tempo to deliver high energy rockers. Listening through Illuminated 1989, it’s hard to imagine that a label exec heard these catchy, soulful rock songs and couldn’t see a place for them amongst the legions of college radio charters that were itching for this kinda stuff in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Forward-thinking, yet steeped in ‘80s romanticism, Illuminated 1989 feels like an aesthetic link between R&B, pop-rock, and shoegaze. Although The Veldt are still actively making innovative music, it’s a bit tragic that their debut never quite got the fair shake that it deserved. This reissue offers a chance to change that.

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