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Tag: Women

Album Review: Viet Cong – Viet Cong [Jagjaguwar / Flemish Eye]

vietcong
92Heat WaveDon’t listen to Viet Cong when you’re in a good mood. Happiness has no place within this band’s world. There’s plenty of existentialism, darkness, depression and punishment to go around though, if you’re interested. But that’s pretty much what you’ll get from any artists affixed with the genre label of post-punk. Just look at Joy Division, the go-to post-punk reference, who made it their mission to tell everyone that love will tear us apart. Actually Viet Cong and Joy Division share more than just some sonic similarities to one another. Their names both reference controversial armies/regiments from past wars responsible for plenty of death and destruction. That’s even resulted in at least one Viet Cong show being cancelled specifically because of their name. But they continue to soldier on, because what else are they going to do? What really matters in the end is the music itself, and at the very least in that aspect Viet Cong’s self-titled debut album is a real killer.

What makes Viet Cong such a great and worthwhile record can really be whittled down to a single word: passion. It’s a quality that echoes through every single track, as the band plays with such urgency and hunger that you can’t help but be sucked into their vortex. The creative and unique twist they put on the post-punk label is equally exciting, particularly since so many other artists are simply content to do their best modern interpretation of The Jesus & Mary Chain or Sonic Youth. You can hear Viet Cong hit those touchstones with dashes of bands like Guided By Voices (“Continental Shelf”) and Wolf Parade (“Silhouettes”) as well, but then quickly swerve in obtuse and unexpected directions to keep you on your toes. While such experimental shifts can effectively alienate most listeners who thrive on the safe and familiar, the songs do their part to actively engage rather than shut anyone out. It’s how they can turn an 11-minute song called “Death” into one of the heaviest and most white-knuckle rides of 2015 so far.

Actually, calling the entire album a ride is another great way to describe it. Though the lyrics tend to be less than upbeat and the melodies won’t make you recall a bright, sunny day, this is a really fun and darkly humorous (on occasion) collection of songs. In the middle of “March of Progress” for example, vocalist Matt Flegel brings a serious amount of veiled sarcasm and dry wit to lines like, “Your reputation is preceding you/ We’re all sufficiently impressed/ And this incessant march of progress/ Can guarantee our sure success.” It’s a sly eye roll, scoffing at the idea that artists need to go out of their way to kowtow to critics and crowds in order to get ahead. Such matters aren’t of concern to Viet Cong, and their refusal to compromise or adjust their art for the sake of acclaim and popularity seems to have yielded them healthy portions of both.

As breathlessly exhilarating as the seven tracks of Viet Cong can be, it’s also important to note they’re equally fraught with conflict and a severe lack of any real human emotion. Flegel sings in a commanding monotone best compared to Interpol’s Paul Banks, and when combined with the highly distorted guitars as well as Mike Wallace’s overtly mechanical yet punishing drumming, it can register as very cold and clinical in its approach. Of course such a glassy-eyed approach has roots in post-punk and industrial music in the first place, so it makes sense for Viet Cong to fall in line there. They also avoid any hot button topics such as love or politics in their songs, favoring obtuse and wordy metaphors over clarity and relatability. These are the prices paid to thrive on experimentation and unpredictability. The band places form and function above all else, and such tinkering pays off with perhaps the first truly original record this year.

MP3: “Continental Shelf
MP3: “Silhouettes

Buy Viet Cong from Jagjaguwar

The Class of 2015: 10 Artists to Watch

classof2015
It seems like I say this every year, but there’s absolutely no way that the Class of 2015 will be able to top the Class of 2014 in terms of overall success. If you’re looking at statistics and equations, it’s pretty much a mathematical impossibility. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to select artists for this year’s class who will probably not catapult to the top of the charts and get nominated for copious amounts of Grammys. It’s never been a popularity contest, even if some of the artists have become massively popular anyways. The goal of the “Class of…” project is to shine a light onto bands and musicians who are deserving and likely to receive strong raises in their profiles over the course of any given calendar year. The expectation is that they have the talent and promise to do great things, of course whether or not they actually accomplish them is another matter entirely, as a few have turned out to be duds or late bloomers. Either way, all of the 10 artists named are kept under careful watch by yours truly, and you’ll be able to find out about their latest and greatest happenings for the next 12 months right here on the site with periodic updates as to their progress.

I’m tremendously excited to reveal the Class of 2015 below. While the goal is to offer up a diverse array of talents across many different genres, I couldn’t help but notice a small theme with a majority of this year’s class. Should projections prove true, 2015 will be a big year for 70’s style folk singer-songwriters. If David Bowie’s glam rock era helped define 2014’s main sound, the intimate and personal songs of Nick Drake and Harry Nilsson may be where we’re headed next. I mean, if Sufjan Stevens can pop his head up from wherever he’s been hiding to announce a new album that’s a “return to his folk roots,” then like the groundhog it must be a signal of things to come. Rest assured though that everything below is not exclusively for bedroom headphone listening. So without further ado, let’s jump right in and meet the Class of 2015!

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Album Review: Women – Public Strain [Jagjaguwar]

Finding information about the band Women on the internet is tremendously difficult thanks to their name. Do a simple search and you’re more likely to find pornography than these guys. And that’s the other irony – with a band named Women, every member is male. But if you’ve been following the band since their 2008 self-titled debut album, these are things you probably already knew. What you may not have known, given the surprisingly high number of album releases from prolific artists in the past couple weeks, is that Women have quietly released their sophmore record “Public Strain”. It is yet another lo-fi psych-rock affair from the boys produced by their friend Chad VanGaalen, but there are a few changes made this time around that take the band into more fascinating territory than they’ve ever been in before.

On their debut, Women tried to balance dark, psychedelic instrumentals with lo-fi lyrical guitar pop, and they managed it surprisingly well. Their ability to push everything into a distorted fuzz no matter the approach was in part what helped it succeed. On “Public Strain”, the band’s two halves blend far more easily and effortlessly, and it makes for even more positive strides in the right direction. While none of the record is exactly easy on the ears, there are more thrills and more chills than ever before. Speaking specifically to the “chill” part of that, many of the songs on this album are slower than on the last one, and the overall mood is not just cold but frozen. The band recorded this album over a lengthy period of time, but most notably during an especially harsh Canadian winter. The album cover seems to echo that sentiment, with what looks like a massive amount of snow falling from the sky with just a light dusting on the ground. Of course instead of snow it could just be an old photograph that is massively distorted due to wear and tear. But the wintry tone speaks well to the material, as does the idea of fuzzed-out distortion. It may be tough to warm up to a record such as this, but what it lacks in warmth it more than makes up for in creative approaches to the material. There are less lyrical chorus-bound hooks here (though there are some), but more immediately compelling guitar work that sticks in your head just as well. The instrumentals have all but gone away, but in their place are a couple songs that barely any lyrics. The way they approach each track appears to be angular, starting from what feels like comfortable and familiar territory and then diverting from that in a hurry. It’s a very smart move, because not only are the songs unpredictable, but they’re also damn good.

“Public Strain” progresses in such a way that lends it well to repeat listens. “Can’t You See” starts the record almost completely adrift with nothing holding it together, but by the time “Eyesore” punches in for the final 6 minutes of the album everything feels like its in the right place. The quicker, more pop-driven songs are front-loaded to establish dominance early, but somewhere in “China Steps” there’s a spiral into dark and disturbing territory. Not that the first half of the album is light and cheery, but there are moments in later tracks like “Drag Open” and “Venice Lockjaw” that prove to be more difficult and creepy than much of what came before it. Put it this way – it’s like the difference between going to a funeral and entering a haunted house – one is sad and depressing while the other is excessively morbid to the point of scaring you. Yes, Women go for the jugular, but they’re all the better for it. Between the intensely addictive guitar work and the vocal harmonies that are gorgeously asymmetrical, there’s something about “Public Strain” that defies comparison. The best words to describe it might be to call it a “lo-fi 60’s psych-pop record that wasn’t released until today”. This might not quite reach the heights of “Album of the Year” status, nor is it as smartly crafted as similar band Deerhunter’s latest “Halcyon Digest”, but it strongly proves that Women are a force to be reckoned with. As the weather gets colder and terrible snowstorms begin to head in our direction, this record makes for a great mood-setting soundtrack. While it may very well match frozen tundra conditions outdoors, underneath its threatening and harsh exterior is an album that rewards careful and studied listens with unexpected warmth and comfort. There’s shelter and hot cocoa all set out for you, the challenge is hammering through the thick layers of ice to get it.

Women – Eyesore
Women – Narrow With the Hall

Buy “Public Strain” from Amazon

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