Hidden Gems: Sweet Trip’s ‘velocity:design:comfort.’

With Hidden Gems, we look back at great albums that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve.

Throughout the history of music, fusion as a means of innovation has been a repeating pattern. Whether it be the art rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s who were bold enough to infuse classical, jazz and musique concrete into their rock and roll, or more modern acts combination rap with the styles of emo, industrial, and country, genres and subgenres can often be boiled down to combinations of different musical ideas.

And in an age of music that values these surprisingly successful combinations (see the success of “Old Town Road”), Sweet Trip’s velocity:design:comfort. manages to remain an singular feat of creativity; a baffling yet beautiful unlikely joining of shoegaze, IDM, noise and glitch-pop.

While bands like Radiohead had fused electronic and alt rock before, the San Francisco experimental outfit’s 2003 album continues to offer a unique perspective on an age old idea. Whereas most of the indietronica bands of the ’90s and 2000s approached electronic music as a rock band, Sweet Trip—the brainchild of producer Roberto Burgos—approached rock music as an electronic band (though on their next album, arguably, they would reverse this approach). Though (relatively) straightforward shoegaze pop up on tracks like “Dsco” and “Chocolate Matter,” the majority of the album is far more intricate than warm, fuzzy power-chord jams. 

The tracks on V:D:C often linger around the 7-minute mark. But a moment is never wasted, as bursts of glitching, abstract noise give way to satisfying peaks that never break the relaxing melancholy atmospheres. These peaks often fall into two categories: a shoegaze break, or a glitch pop break. The opening track, “Tekka,” is evidence of this. A faint but steady FM synth line rhythmically stutters in the background, as fast-paced, distorted IDM drums crash and bang over it.

However, some time into the track, something changes: the synth line is now a simple chord progressions, and it’s much louder in the mix. The drums are still chaotic, but less so. The moment of melodic relief is a welcome surprise, but by the time “Tekka” takes you back into the noise, you realize you’ve been missing it all along.

Though “Tekka” is a stellar example of the lack of inhibitions V:D:C holds, it doesn’t show the half of it. The best moments on this album often come from the longer buildups, like on “International,” which starts off with two minutes of ambient noise, before transitioning into an effects-laden guitar jam. Before you know it, this shifts into an orgasmic breakdown, a grooving glitch-pop paradise filled with Valarie Reyes’ soothing yet passionate vocals.

The album’s pacing is excellent, but with so many different ideas at play, it’s hard to get tired of any of them. Each segment stays for as long as it must; the dreamier parts hanging around long enough to immerse the listener, and the wilder parts coming and going to keep you on your toes. Not to mention the short but sweet intros, outros and transition bits that give every new phase of song an extra bit of significance, especially the ones that introduce and repeat musical motifs (like the intro to “Chocolate Matter,” a chord progression that springs up many times elsewhere). Somehow, an album that lasts around an hour and fifteen minutes manages to feel fresh and exciting on every listen.

Burgos’s skill behind the boards is a crucial part of this album; creating tambres ranging from ear-ripping blasts of noise to soothing, melancholic synths that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ambient album. His ability to combine these textures with the shoegaze elements, coming from the guitars and vocals, is truly inspiring. “To All The Dancers of the World, A Round Form of Fantasy” is a perfect example, where a soft, bittersweet drone keeps the melody, while timid vocals combine with rowdy digital drums that zip around like the electrons on the world’s saddest atom. It’s a match made so perfectly that you wouldn’t notice how absolutely unfathomable it is until you step back and look at it.

velocity:design:comfort. remains an album that can only be described as mind-boggling. It’s mind-boggling that humans could even conceive this music; it’s mind boggling they conceived it in 2003; it’s mind boggling that it’s been as overlooked as it has. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece; the kind of album the world will only get once, and never again.