Vivian Girls Everything Goes Wrong(In The Red) Buy it from Insound
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 rest, it seems, have jumped on a bandwagon formerly occupied by Beat Happening, Guided by Voices and Eric's Trip to name but a handful. For indie musicians, using lo-fidelity recording techniques has long been a consciously contentious method of subversion: the antithesis of the glossy, chart-ready perfection of pop music. One might go as far to say this attitude is a rejection of the spurious and capitalistic nature of the music industry.
However there is no denying that this method of production possess a warmth that is difficult to achieve otherwise - alongside a sense of penetrating communion; intimate and humble. It is a home-produced aesthetic, an appreciation of imperfection, a belief of humanism in music, a love of reflexivity.
Pavement, The Microphones and Women are three examples of bands who have used this aesthetic to the full extent of their possibilities, and they have achieved this with tasteful discernment. Pavement took groundwork laid by The Fall and added a good dose of humour; The Microphones took the ethics of K Records and magnified those aspirations in the scope of their recordings; Women are a recent example of a band who have manipulated recording techniques on boomboxes that are fitting with their lofi dischordant sound.
Yet there is something missing from the new-wave of lofi bands across the globe - not just lacking in talent, the aesthetic has been hijacked; the bandwagon has been jumped upon to the point of collapse.
Vivian Girls are hard to place within this movement, as they clearly draw retrospective influences, more so than second generation copycats such as Nodzz, Lovvers and Wavves (I'm not sure I can even tell these three apart), Woods, Times New Viking and Ponytail, but to name a few. Have these acts lost the point of the DIY aesthetic and do they presumably hold no desire to push their sound? Will they not explore possibility for fear of leaving the fashionable shoddy quality of their recordings and performances? Certainly, genuineness seems to be lacking from these sorts of outfits - it is often difficult to feel something from them, except irritation.
Vivian Girls own the surf jangle of Beat Happening, with the sensibility of the Shangri-Las and Phil Spector-produced pop. The eponymous debut album from last year was enjoyable for its immediacy. This record, however, is more of a slow-burner, and takes more than one listen to ingest the subtleties of the songs. At their best, they resemble the sound of Tiger Trap, (who were underrated for their time, and dissimilarly had a more polished sound) particularly in subject matter (simplistic songs about love, life, heartbreak).
However, the central problem with their sound is that they usually forget that their voices and melody are much more affecting than they have realized. Their best songs from last year were the unashamed pop songs that probably did not need the layers of reverbed distortion that cloaked the songwriting: Where do you run to?, Lake House and Moped Girls were among the best. Instead, their vocal harmonies were unrestrained and prominent. Perhaps tellingly, the lyrical content of Everything Goes Wrong is often difficult to make out beneath distortion and reverb. However, the harmonizing between Cassie Ramone and Katy Goodman is so effective at times this loses importance; when the trio are most confident of their abilities they are at their best. What initially sounds like tuneless singing at times from Ramone is actually part of the appeal - imperfect yet affecting.
The first two songs launch the record in a combined three minute discharge, before the first great pop song Can't Get Over You. Ramone has honed her guitar sound, with cleaner, more distinct melodies that compliment the vocals; around this is built the warm swathes of fuzz their music has become known for.
The Desert, surely a contender for the best song here, is mellifluous and addictive. It forms part of four great songs in the centre of the record, including Tension, Survival, and The End. The most prominent aspect of these songs is that they are so infectious, despite their simplicity of construction - these are songs that are the sum of their parts.
Tension, another high point, is brooding and bass driven, with angelic harmonies. If you ever thought the band would suit a Spector-esque sound, this is the closest they have got. What perhaps lets the album down a little is that the closing few songs are not as strong as the first eight or so.
This is fun music that is all at once euphonic, brash, unsophisticated in its simplicity - but powerful for that same reason. The songs have been more carefully written, the melodies catchier and more prominent. There is no guarantee that the Vivian Girls could persevere developing their sound much further than they have, though let's hope they continue to write songs as captivating as these.28 September, 2009 - 19:32 — Neil Insh