Chapel Hill quintet Violet Vector & the Lovely Lovelies tiptoe the line between charming and cloying, but barely: The band's biography asserts it's the laboratory offspring of LSD producer Dr. Albert Hoffman, and onstage they dress in dapper, floral dresses, pastel headbands and sharp suits. Backup singers sway and smile and play bells and organs, and frequent guitar solos from flipped-bob frontwoman Amanda Brooks are, at best, rudimentary. There are lyrics about candylands, a sunbeam sugarplum sound and a hook in which we're asked if we can dig it and told—in peppy antiphony—that, in fact, "Yes, we can." Stomach hurt yet?
Consider the five songs on the band's debut, EP I, the nostrum or the counterweight: By and large, Brooks' smart, suggestive verses and one-spin-and-hooked choruses outweigh her band's self-designed cute. Sung over a wood-block-and-snare skip and an organ swivel, it's impossible to say no to that "Can You Dig It?" refrain, and that "Candyland" chorus is, well, really sweet. These aren't empty calories, though: "Double Axe" suggests breaking knives and growing poppies, while "Serva Ad Manum" explores the relationship between a secretary and her boss. Much like Ivy League alumni Vampire Weekend do with American aristocracy, the song lifts the veil on a very finite viewpoint to a mostly limitless audience through polished, precise pop. Brooks' voice indicates subservience, but her too-cheery performance and a chorus that proclaims the secretary as the office caretaker betray the implied wink. That is, she plays the boss-knows-best role only to his face. She's the heroine.
EP I proclaims one thing that suggests another: Violet Vector is more than its lovely lovelies or sartorial gentlepeople. The songs pass muster, and the performances—an appropriate blend of simple melodies and Spector sound—are admirable. The suggestion is one of greatness, though the potential here comes stymied by a lack of variety and slightly indulgent repetition. Still, consider this sugarplum sound promise delivered, almost in full.
VV&LL releases EP I with a free show at Local 506 Saturday, March 29, with Un Deux Trois and Curtains of Night. Showtime is 9:30 p.m.