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Lips like sugar

Jennie Vee finds that '80s pop sophistication

Jennie Vee makes New Wave-inspired music with a blissful pop sheen. Photo credit: Amanda Hatfield

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I think it's safe to say that the majority of the films of John Hughes found their success and their long-lasting nostalgic value through their impeccable usage of music. Movies like Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club are passably surface-examining studies of teenage life, more comfortable dealing in broad strokes and pastiche than with actually exploring what it's like to be a teenager - with all of the heartache, anger, and tentative joy that comes with it. But these movies are indelible classics, and the soundtracks did a ton of heavy lifting to ensure that these movies would touch hearts and minds far more evocatively than the scripts would.

These were soundtracks dominated by ‘80s hits, but were very careful to avoid the cheesy, overplayed radio standards that older Hollywood types tended to assume every teenager loved. No, these movies were packed with the likes of New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, INXS, the Smiths, and a cavalcade of other bands that spoke directly to the heart of the alienated teen in a way that more mainstream artists couldn't. It's no wonder that bands keep coming around to pay homage to the sounds of these bands, building on them and adding in their own flourishes.

It takes a lot of talent to making music that sounds as big and sweeping as those bands, while still coming off as someone making something personal. Jennie Vee does a masterful job of this on her debut LP, Spying. The opening title track is a massive statement of purpose, kicking into gear with reverb-soaked guitars and driving drums, before Jennie Vee's wistful vocals come in. The listener is immediately transported to that John Hughes world.

Jennie Vee had, previous to this album, released a remarkably faithful cover of Echo and the Bunnymen's classic "Lips Like Sugar," so it's easy to see where her head is. Much of Spying reflects that melancholy, romantic quality that the Bunnymen had with that song, and with production as crisp and on-point as this, you might be forgiven that Jennie Vee might actually have been a contemporary of those ‘80s legends. This polished album that doesn't ever turn its back on its humanity, with poignant lines like the chorus of "Toys," which features her wondering why you "break everything you touch."

Spying is clearly the work of someone who's been fascinated by music for a very long time, and a brief look at Jennie Vee's background reveals a whirlwind career that found her playing bass for Courtney Love while on tour with Lana Del Rey, opening up for Brit-rock legends Manic Street Preachers, and opening for fellow ‘80s devotees the Darkness. On record, Jennie Vee pitches herself somewhere between The Cure and Cyndi Lauper, with honeyed vocals and bleary guitars and enormous amounts of pop sophistication.

It isn't all sighing and pining on Spying, though, as proven by the bratty crunch of "Delicious," which functions as both a come-on and a tell-off, and the swaggering "Kiss the Dust." Without giving up entirely on the production sheen, some of the darker tones of post-punk are explored on "Real Eyes," which feels like the perfect song for listening to on headphones while lying on your bed and staring at some awesome posters while imagining the perfect f--- you lines to deliver to that certain someone.

Jennie Vee nails an era in music without coming across as insincere. Spying finds her inserting herself into one of those iconic photos you see with, say, Debbie Harry, Robert Smith, and David Gahan hanging out and wonder, "Why couldn't I have been there, instead of here?"

LE VOYEUR, w/ VOWWS, Monday, Dec. 7, 10 p.m., cover TBA, 404 E. 4th Ave, Olympia, 360.943.5710

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