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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Paper
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Victorian Halls makes mayhem out of pop songs

Like many bands these days, Victorian Halls isn't really into labels, unless you're talking about the tags on the sweater vests its members found at the thrift shop last week. However, the Chicago four-piece, appearing at the High Noon Saloon Sunday night, gets described as all sorts of things, from garage-pop to post-grunge to a simple, startled "WTF?!" texted from one concertgoer to another.

When you get down to it, the group makes pop music - not Taylor Swift or even New Order-style pop, but the kind of pop that suits a fight scene in a highly stylized gangster movie or a death-defying jump in a parkour video. It's a sound that channels the ethos of a Victorian mansion - or perhaps an Edward Gorey cartoon - and infuses it with the campy sass of glam rock and the aggressive physical energy of punk.

In other words, as Sean Lenart, the group's guitarist and vocalist, puts it, pop doesn't have to be for wusses: "[Victorian Halls' sound] is pop, but there's no reason it can't be aggressive or noisy, and maybe a little chaotic," he says. "Straitjacket pop."

While the group's trying to stick it to pop purists just a bit with its sweaty, noisy interpretation of the genre, its catalog of influences is diverse enough to impress many breeds of music fans - and musicians themselves. Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction went so far as to describe Victorian Halls as "the sounds of Saturday night: punchy and tight." Meanwhile, the band counts Death From Above 1979, Queen and even B-rate horror flicks as its creative influences.

The band to which Victorian Halls draws the most comparison, though - at least in fans' eyes - is the Seattle post-hardcore band the Blood Brothers. Though some musicians take offense at such comparisons to their contemporaries, Victorian Halls doesn't quibble.

"We don't mind it," says Lenart. "People pick the closest thing they can relate us to. I think the vocals draw them to it, but there are no dueling screaming vocals or odd time signatures."

And while screamy vocals plus crashing, over-the top pianos are Victorian Halls' trademark, the band's got a softer side, too. A Jack Johnson sort of softer side: The last time the group performed in Madison, it started a sing-along - acoustic guitar and all - with a bunch of unsuspecting UW students.

"I don't remember the details of the show, but I do remember that we ended up sleeping in some guy's dorm after the show," he recalls. "In the morning we had to kill time, [but] all we had were sleeping bags and an acoustic guitar. After the monotony of this set in, we filled the halls with hipster sing-alongs. Outside of those who'd stopped to join in, we really irritated a lot of people."

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