A stuttering beat kick-starts Translating the Veil, the new EP by Shadow of the Titan. The local pop-rock act is the new project of Stephen Mortensen. The lead track, “Seraph,” a breathless sprint, combines staccato strings and hyper percussion with cool waves of melody and lyrics that sounds summery while calling someone out — a friend? a romantic interest? — for misplaced values (“You pushed me out, said you could do this, do this on your own”). The rapid-fire delivery funnels into a succinct pause three-quarters of the way through, and then opens into a kind of orchestrated jam where guitars swirl around cymbal crashes. That song is the first single; “Month-to-month until October, Shadow will release a new track available at most major digital retailers worldwide and on this website,” says the band.
“Nocturne,” equally brisk, revolves around the darkness that its title suggests. It begins as an of extension of “Seraph” but veers into a heavier, more deliberate beat. Here, Mortensen’s vocal is huskier and doubled in places. He’s able to open his voice into the atmospheric production of the EP, then turn on a dime to offer an up-close, intimate delivery. The song, cinematic and suggestive of vampires or Gotham villains, is ready-made for a soundtrack.
“Brushfire” maintains the power-pop momentum but underscores the flurry of guitars and percussion with classical flourishes. There are, at turns, hints of Steely Dan, Snow Patrol and Matthew Sweet. The guitar in the intro serves as another voice and Mortensen’s delivery is a balanced conveyance of urgency and ache. “If I could let this rest, I wouldn’t let this get the best of me,” he sings as the drums pick up in response to the song’s emotional barometer.
“Assemblance” begins quietly with a rain-on-tin roof tempo. Its deftly layered melodies, tones and rhythms nod to worldbeat and avant-garde influences, but the result is crisper and more modern. The instrumental track, which devolves nearly to silence in its last half-minute, is almost a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the composition process for the rest of the album.
The last seconds of “Assemblance” neatly match up with the intro of “The Architect.” That final song, though, returns to the pop savvy and flutter-hearted propulsion of “Seraph.” Here, all of the EP’s most potent ingredients — the warm immediacy of the vocal, the energy of the drums, the sweeping range of the guitars — come together for a song at once impelling and languid. Mental images rise of dusky shades, ionized breezes, long drives, wide-open landscapes, the fleetingness of everything and the electrical charge of moments that expand infinitly. The skipping pulses of the song’s instrumental break only serve to further slingshot its visceral reach. Mortensen’s lyrics rise and fall tantalizingly through the waves of melody, with only a few key phrases fully revealed: “Please hold your breath, it’ll be what saves me,” he sings. But it’s a song that doesn’t need to be completely transcribed to be understood.