Release Date: Sep 8, 2009
Record label: In The Red
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Afemale trio from Brooklyn, Vivian Girls make music that mixes perennially fashionable influences - Ramones, Spector, the Jesus and Mary Chain - with a rudimentary grasp of guitar, bass and drums, resulting in precisely the lo-fi clatter you'd expect. That doesn't mean it's not a barrel of fun, though. The three harmonise like a classic girl group, but sound that bit more delinquent - "impudent" springs to mind - and have a laudable economy with words, with lyrics sometimes consisting of the song title repeated for two minutes.
There's almost no gray area when it comes to Vivian Girls-- people either love or hate this band. For all of us who fell for their 2008 debut, there were just as many others who cried foul. Boy, did they cry. "The singing is flat!" "I heard this in the 80s when it was better!" And, of course, that most classic of put-downs: "They can't even play their instruments!" Such criticisms miss the point.
What if Beach House was a Stooges tribute band? How to be a Vivian Girl in four simple steps:walloping. Rock diehards might scorn the weak solos, but Vivian Girls compensate with rock-solid rhythm and roughshod passion. And most importantly, they’re hinting at new directions here: “Tension” is a standout track, with ragged harmonies (think Wire on “Reuters”) bubbling up from a dusky post-punk morass.
The phrase “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” doesn’t really tend to apply too much to music. There’s the perennial issue of artists “challenging themselves” and “continuing to grow” with those who seem to reject change and progression broadsided by harsh words, in many cases entirely fairly. With the harmonious hardcore that made up Vivian Girls’ eponymous LP there never was that feeling.
If I hear another new lo-fi band, I'm going to crack....or "glo-fi"...or "shitgaze" which, incidentally, should just drop the 'gaze' suffix. Assumedly, the recent spate of low-quality recordings emerging from the Occident is a reaction against modern music culture - a fast-paced, mercurial world that has degenerated to the point where no one quite comprehends the value of their product. Some have resorted to retrogressive mediums (vinyl, handmade cds and tapes), some have let the consumer gauge value (Radiohead).
The Vivian Girls, beloved by hipsters across the country, take their name from the writings of an eccentric, possibly mad Chicago janitor in the mid-1900s. That is easily the most interesting fact about the Vivian Girls, a group who have done very little to deserve their sudden celebrity status, save making some pretty good pop songs. The question is, for album number two, is that enough? Much of their acclaim stems from their updated treatment of My Bloody Valentine-style fuzz and feedback, filtered through a girl-group sensibility.
The members of Vivian Girls don’t like to waste any time. Cutting its sophomore album in less than a week, the all-female troupe (which includes Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy and Ali Koehler) chugs through some infectious pop melodies and boisterous beats, hidden behind a mask of sludgy reverb. But for better or for worse, the songs on the disc often sound as rushed as the band’s recording process.
To point out the worst offender, "Can't Get Over You" is a catchy love song with a really sweet melody that ultimately gets ruined by overly pitchy vocals and guitar playing that's rudimentary to the point of embarrassing. There are quite a few others, too, which leads to the idea that maybe the Girls' insistence on recording quickly may have gotten the better of them. Would it really compromise the immediacy and rawness of the songs to do a couple more takes in order to sort out the vocals and maybe get a stronger guitar break? Some of the songs do sound like there was more care put into the writing and production, and these are the ones that remind you of why the band was so promising in the beginning.