Good ol' brevity. -- the soul of wit and arguably the
Vivian Girls' greatest asset on their 2008 debut LP. That record honored
some obvious predecessors-- C86, Slumberland, and K Records to name a few-- but
just as importantly, it realized that those scenes had a thing for collector's
items and myth-making. Starting off with a 22-minute-long LP that was
originally limited to 500 copies, Vivian
Girlsseemed like the kind of band that would nail it the first time,
flame out, and then disappear forever. Except they didn't. Everything
Goes Wrong wasn't a huge drop-off, but the reception to it was
muted, suggesting that they may have started to outstay their welcome. Lo-fi
was quickly becoming cliché (again) and with their seemingly endless array of
guest spots, side projects, and offshoots, Vivian Girls were adding to the glut
of bands doing something very similar.
I'd say they're acknowledging this situation onShare the Joy’sby trading
brevity for novelty: Oopener"The Other Girls" clocks in at six and a half minutes,
over two of which are filled up with guitar soloing. It's certainly an
audacious move for a band that had previously constructed a song with just one
word ("No") and drew battle lines about whether technical
competency-- let alone proficiency-- mattered in indie rock. But is it a good
song? Not really. It never really builds toward much of anything, and Cassie
Ramone isn't even noodling-- her fretboard runs are flat and stiff as dry
spaghetti. But it's a fitting introduction to Share the Joy, an
album that's more admirable for its willingness to stretch than its execution.and it's stunning.
It's a record saddled with contradictions-- though it's their most uneven in terms of songwriting, the diversity oddly gives it more potential replay value than their prior records. Recorded at the home studio of Woods' Jarvis Taveniere, Share the Joyborrows that band's ambling tempos, rustic instrumentation, and frazzled guitar lines. But the breathing room often puts Vivian Girls in an unflattering mid-fi space, one neither slick enough to polish their imperfect pitch or buzzy enough to hide it.
Occasionally, Vivian Girls make discussions about songwriting and instrumental ability beside the point. Placing the chippy sock-hop sing-along "Dance (If You Wanna)" back-to-back with the brooding and sinister "Lake House" makes a good case for the band's range, while "Trying to Pretend" melds the Woodsist psychedelia and galloping punk attempted on Share the Joy's epics in half the time. And whether or not "Take It as It Comes" is the best song here, it's certainly a high point. that sheds light on how they probably don't take themselves. as seriously as their deadpan pose might indicate. Taking the piss out of the tattered girl-group pop. mode they helped re-popularize, they pull out all the stops-- they fawn over a boy named Johnny, throw in ridiculous intra-band commentary ("Cassie-- you're always right"), and offer clichéd hooks so time-honored, they make Best Coast look obtuse by comparison. I don't know if they've got beef with ex-drummer Ali Koehler's gig with Best Coast, but "Take It as It Comes" could be seen as a winking parody by upping their boy-needy desperation to hyperbolic absurdity.
So Share the Joy is an uneven third LP,
and uneven third LPs usually come from bands at the crossroads. I'm not sure
that much is at stake here: Vivian Girls have managed to infiltrate a hive of
likeminded and supportive artistic peers, which gives them some momentum and
also what looks to an outsider like an understandable whiff of back-patting
scenestership. But whether it's old band members like Koehler and Frankie Rose
and the Outs or more stylized successors like Dum Dum Girls, there are an
increasing number of bands beating Vivian Girls at their own game. It's is easy to
see Share the Joy's place in the Vivian Girls’ discography, but their place in indie rock as a
whole is becoming less clear.
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