Friday, 25 September 2009

Everything Goes Wrong - Vivian Girls

Comprised of a trio of female Brooklynites, Vivian Girls' eponymous debut was over in twenty one minutes, a heady reconfiguration of girl group harmonies, garage rock and 80s era bands on the Sub Pop/SST rosters forged into an identifiable whole. It sold out on their own label Mauled By Tigers in less than ten days, leading to a re-issue by California based label In The Red. On their sophomore release they promise a longer and darker listen, and to a certain extent this is realised. At thirty six minutes it isn't a stretch, even by modern attention spans and it is only marginally more introverted than its predecessor.

A hazy chord doused in reverb announces the album opener 'Walking Alone At Night'. So far so C86 you may think. What stops it sounding like some form of cultural artefact is its overarching energy and dynamism. Each song contains a cacophony of melody that hits you from every side and points you towards a new primitivism. There is something thrilling about that classic 'rock' lineup, especially in the right hands, and this record proves that such limitations are easily surmountable. From the four drum clicks that announce the song proper I'm hooked. By the time the second track 'I Have No Fun' breezes past barely three minutes have elapsed. The old one-two. Cassie Ramone's vocals trip out of her mouth, hardly legible – but that's not the point. The words create a sensation, a feeling, rather than containing some didactic message or truths. Vivian Girls possess the ability to make me realise that the gap between my current self and my teen self is ever widening, and that remembrance of those times is receding at a furious rate.

Everything Goes Wrong contains various songs that are, for want of a better phrase, torch songs. 'Tension' is the most obvious Spector-esque tune on display, albeit a homespun, lo-fi version; those pounding, rhythmic toms are offset by echo laden vocals, stretched to breaking point and minor key guitars. 'The End' features the most sultry harmonies on offer over an exhilarating, opiate rush that more than echoes Hüsker Dü at their best. Ramone's vocal is especially beguiling, while the ramshackle guitar break could have been lifted from any early Meat Puppets recording (see also that four, maybe five at a push, note guitar break on the jangly 'Can't Get Over You'). The chord progression, awkward vocal phrasing and slow beat of album closer 'Before I Start To Cry' will have you scratching your head while picking up a copy of Weezer's debut and thinking; “What the fuck happened to these guys, why can't they write songs this good any more?”

While listening to the album many different influences clamour for your attention but it never becomes derivative. Music that obviously channels past influences creates a doubled image – inside the reception of the music lie false memories, attempts to commute with the past and recover what is lost. This will always be the case with acts that have revivalist tendencies (that isn't the backhanded compliment that it sounds like), but while others may convey an elegiac relationship with the past Everything Goes Wrong is alive. Despite the properties you can attribute to it, the album is nostalgic without being reverential. Recent releases by Deerhunter, Crystal Stilts and others point to the fact that the locus of 60s girl groups is still hugely influential (especially in the States) and this is evidenced in the teen melodramas of Vivian Girls' songs. But it is testament to the songwriting that you no longer just think of the Shangri La's filtered through Nuggets-esque garage rock when you hear them, but think instead of Vivian Girls.

The thirteen songs on display may be variations on a theme, but they are an expansion of their excellent debut. By their second album Vivian Girls have carved a sonic niche for themselves which may be limiting and the frames of reference borrowed but it is one that remains evergreen. Questions linger on whether they are authentic/inauthentic, but when music is this good you forget everything else and just wish you were watching them in some salubrious Brooklyn joint.
This article was originally produced for To view the album review of Everything Goes Wrong by Vivian Girls on the site please click on the article title.

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