Saturday, March 5, 2011

review- vivian girls- 'share the joy'

Vivian Girls- ‘Share the Joy’

Another pre-ordered album that came early in digital form. The third Vivian Girls album arrived in my world almost out of nowhere. I wasn’t even aware that they had been recording a new album until I found the pre-ordering info via twitter. I figured that Cassie Ramone and Katy Goodman were busy with their other projects- the Babies and La Sera respectively. I’d even begun to think that we wouldn’t be hearing anything new from the band in quite a while as their presence had been so all-consuming and impossible to ignore for the better part of two years.

‘Share the Joy’ would fall into the category of their cleanest-sounding record. While ‘Everything Goes Wrong’ was their first recorded in a ‘proper’ studio, it retained that gritty, sloppy charm that was their hallmark at that particular point in time. They were doing so much so quickly that they always opted for leaving in mistakes and off-key vocals. Since Ali Koehler has left the band in favor of Best Coast’s endless touring schedule it seems that Ramone and Goodman made a concerted effort to get the songs sounding tighter, the singing more focused and in-key and the results sound very refreshing indeed. I’m not sure if I can compare it to their other two records as, to me, the first will probably always be untouchable, but the second is a great record that will never get a fair shake- for instance it’s probably the only record I’ve ever heard of that has been referred to as ‘overlong’ while still clocking in at under 45 minutes. ‘Share the Joy’ glistens and shines, the production is pristine but for the occasional buzz of a tube amp during the fadeouts. It’s surprising how clean it is considering the fact that it was done at Rear House, the home studio of Jeremy Earl, the genius behind perpetually lo-fi (well, at least until last year) Woods. While the vocals are more in-key than they were before, they are also defiantly and obviously free of auto-tune. I find it difficult to believe that naysayers are still so quick to call ‘foul’ on their famously lax singing styles- perfectly on-key-at-all times vocals have never been what the Vivian Girls have been going for. The fact that they aren’t perfect musicians or singers but are still able to craft such vibrant songs and play them in their own, distinctive way without relying on the modern-day cheats that are now so often part and parcel for digital radio-ready recordings is now officially remarkable. Even if the harmonies aren’t always perfect or Ramone can be heard struggling to grab the guitar melodies she's reaching for the emotion is always there and the effect is always achieved. It’s similar to the way that Neil Young worked and it’s encouraging to hear a new and very hyped about band bravely put themselves up for such scrutiny so readily. There's a purity to this method that can yield inspiring results.

The most intriguing feature of this record are the complexity of the songs- they would be unbearably pretentious epics in less capable hands. The closing track is six minutes- an eternity compared to anything on the first record- and it never feels overblown or self-indulgent. The melodic break in opener ‘The Other Girls’ meanders and moves somewhat awkwardly at times- wavering but never falling down and it keeps going and going, ascending and ascending clear into the angelic ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ of the bridge. It’s incredibly intriguing to hear the band push their sound into new territory in this way and it never gets old or feels forced in the slightest. Even songs that sound like they are going to be missteps upon first listen take ideas that shouldn’t work and bend them to the bands' will in these incredibly creatively dense songs. ‘Dance (If you Wanna)’ sounds like a tossed-off attempt at a shameless pop song for about thirty seconds and then kicks itself into overdrive and takes you in at least three different directions that you weren’t expecting at all and builds upon itself in the simplest, subtlest ways. Even a song like ‘Take it As it Comes’ should not work at all- it’s such an obvious attempt at an old-style girl group conversational song and yet they somehow manage to pull it off with an effortless skill that is severely lacking in most fawned-over bands these days. The chorus of that song is irresistible no matter how hackneyed the premise seems at first.

The record also features two previously released tracks- ‘Lake House,’ which has been present in their live set for at least two years and on the ‘The World’s Lousy With Ideas Vol. 8’ compilation and ‘Death,’ which was the B-side to the excellent ‘Moped Girls’ 7” but here appears in a more vocally toned-down form. Both versions of ‘Death’ serve as a good litmus test for the evolution present on this album- the differences are deceptively subtle. It’d be fairly easy for them to slip by unnoticed, it just means that you have to listen a little closer.

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