Saturday, September 5, 2009

September 5: Vivian Girls, "Vivian Girls"

Artist: Vivian Girls
Album: Vivian Girls
Year: 2008
Label: Mauled By Tigers/In The Red

As has been proven by scores of mediocre bands, playing lo-fi, high tempo rock music is a rather difficult task to do well. A majority of bands who attempt this style end up being cliché to the point of being boring, or they are simply not musically up to snuff. Furthermore, these bands can rarely make a complete record of the sound, and there are usually a handful of tracks on their albums that are strangely out of place. Brilliantly bucking this trend and churning out one of the most amazingly enjoyable records in years, power trio, Vivian Girls blend together the pace and urgency of punk with harmonies and moods of mid-60's rock. Their music is lightning fast and unrelenting, yet the musicianship is fantastic, and this is clearly a band that has no interest in conforming to any of the modern day genres. A wonderful mixture of noise rock with the minimalist approach of early punk bands, the groups' sound is a true pleasure to experience. Having already released a 7" a few months earlier in the year, the group took to the studio to record their first full length album, and the results, 2008's Vivian Girls, stand as one of the most captivating, original, and enjoyable albums to be released in years.

The amazing and immediate impact of the music of Vivian Girls can be summed up by the way I actually found the band. In March of 2009, whilst vacationing in Stockholm, Sweden, I found myself in Pet Sounds Records (one of the best record stores on Earth), and this album happened to be playing in the store. After hearing a few songs, I immediately fell in love with the album, and I purchased it on the spot. The band takes their name from the notorious 15,000+ page manuscript of Henry Darger, and much like Darger, the band represent everything that is great about "outsider art." With the ten songs on Vivian Girls clocking in at just under twenty two minutes, there is no time or space wasted anywhere on the record, and the songs are so amazing that the original pressing of the record (500 copies were pressed by Mauled By Tigers Records) sold out in just over a week (and led to the band moving to the larger In The Red label). The production found on Vivian Girls is truly perfect, with the extremely lo-fi approach working in fantastic fashion, as the echoey, open space at the front of the mix becomes one of the most distinctive aspects of the album. There are moments on Vivian Girls when the trio exemplifies the finest features of punk, yet there are an equal number of times where they would have fit in perfectly with the mid-60's girl groups. Truth be told, with their amazing energy, original sounds, and excellent musicianship, Vivian Girls are far and away one of the most exciting bands in the current music scene.

The music of Vivian Girls is as fast, powerful, and high octane as has ever been recorded, and the overall sense of urgency in the music is nothing short of stunning. From the onset of the album, the band charges ahead full steam, and they never relent at any point. Guitarist Cassie Ramone performs brilliantly, weather with crushing chords or quick, yet equally fantastic solos. The tone of her short solos, like the one buried on "Wild Eyes" is truly fantastic and perfectly accentuates the songs. Careening through each song, bassist Kickball Katy brings a strong sound that borders at times on an almost menacing mood. Rarely pushing too far forward or too loud in the mix, Katy's playing is highlighted with a low, lulling performance on "Tell The World" that gives the song a mood like no other. Though she would leave the band after recording Vivian Girls, drummer Frankie Rose plays with such power and intensity that the few times she lags behind the rest of the band become almost irrelevant. It is the speed and ferocity with which the band members play that makes the songs so amazing, and in the true spirit of punk rock, not a single second is wasted anywhere on any song.

The vocals found on Vivian Girls fit perfectly with the rapid, forceful musical deployment over which they are placed. While all three members contribute vocals throughout the album, a majority of the lead vocals are handled by guitarist Cassie Ramone. With a voice that lands somewhere between Patti Smith and Tanya Donelly, her voice is simply perfect for the music, and the almost detached manner in which she sings makes the vocals absolutely mesmerizing. While there are a few moments where the singing is somewhat off key, it somehow manages to work brilliantly, and it only adds more emotion and authenticity to the songs. The group vocals are just as fantastic, and they are highlighted on the song, "Tell The World," where all three members sing a majority of the song in splendid harmony. The harmonies are also the key behind one of the most beautiful songs on the album, the slightly slower, "Where Do You Run To," on which the band creates one of the most amazing musical moods ever. One thing Vivian Girls have in common with a majority of bands lies within their lyrical content. With songs of heartache, longing, and a good dose of angst, the familiar themes are one of the characteristics that makes their songs so captivating. In what is easily one of the best blends between the mood of punk and a the "I'm gonna get that boy" ideal, "Going Insane" is nothing short of musical genius.

When it comes to making original, honest, and exciting music, few artists in the modern music scene can compare to Brooklyn, New York's Vivian Girls. Having released a number of 7" and EP's, along with a pair of full length albums, it is quite clear that this group has endless creativity and truly love paying their distinctive brand of rock music. Every song is just as amazing as the one before, and the bands' creativity is only equaled by the energy with which they approach their playing. Perfectly balancing the sound of the three instruments, the group seems to favor the "less is more" approach, and this fits perfectly with the lo-fi production throughout their music. Always leaving a gap between the listener and the music itself, the songs retain a wonderful "indie" feel, while the normal arrogance that goes with that classification is happily missing. In the case of Vivian Girls' sensational debut, the album is almost over before it begins, yet the songs are so fantastic that they demand to be listened to over and over. With solid music and lyrics that beg to be song along with, Vivian Girls are truly a bright spot amidst a bleak and bland musical landscape. While there most recent release is a solid follow-up, there are few records that have been released that equal the combination of energy and musicianship found on Vivian Girls extraordinary 2008 self titled album.

Standout tracks: "All The Time," "Where Do You Run To," and "Never See Me Again."

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