I’m a little embarrassed on this one; a solid month after seeing them live with the Black Lips and buying their latest, Share the Joy, I was actually back and forth on this one. I had no real idea how to feel about it. And to be honest, I still don’t. But after listening to it for so many times, it’s time to get to writing. A month has gone by, and I think it’s time to discuss this album.
Share the Joy, as the third album of a band composed of members who get more press for being parts of other bands more than they are this one, is not necessarily the kind of blended response that other ‘super groups’ may get. It’s not like pointing out why certain parts of the Dead Weather sound like the other bands that a given member is in, and why those parts contributing to the whole make it better. No, not the case here.
Instead, Vivian Girls have had a mixed reception since their impressive 2008 self-titled debut, and have had plenty of time in three short years to grow their sound. Instead, the only real change from the dream/noise-pop that their new drummer, Fiona Campbell plays with restraint that their previous two drummers disregarded. So ambient feed back and warm jangly guitars and vocals that have the intention of being meek and quiet in light of all that noise are the order of the day around here.
The full Joy Sharing Happens after the jump.
When you listen to the CD version of a record, as it continuously plays along, you still have that sense of where the songs turn from the A-side strong material, and the interesting B-side that has less appealing music but still worth listening to. What’s so strange about Share the Joy is that the emotional/tonal A-side/B-side flip happens after the third track. Even long after the first listen, it still has this uneven feel to it that can’t be shaken, and demands allegiance to one side or the other.
And even then! Individual songs waffle, somehow, depending upon mood. There will be days where “Take it As It Comes,” a take on the traditional girl-group R&B song complete with advice-spewing commentary, will be either the album’s best song, or the must infuriating to listen to. Partly because the band’s lo-fi style, which really does shine better live, lends itself to either laziness or an intention to sound that way when it’s likely these girls are better than that — especially when it comes to guitars and vocals.
On that note: Cassie Ramone’s voice, which is fine in concert, sings with the kind of quiet restraint that recalls amateur singer-songwriters working out cover songs for the very first time. It’s nervous, it’s meek, and it doesn’t strive to even bother hitting the notes that you know she can hit. Even in epics like “The Other Girls,” Cassie will deliver a line that drips with psychedelic-style slide and shift, before other lines where it she sounds like she’s stepping out of her comfort zone for the first time in her life. But it’s even worse when she has backup from Kickball Katy, the bassist, performing with the same mindset. It’s what makes it so hard to really enjoy the lead off single, “I Heard You Say.”
And it really is hard to not like the song, with the dramatic turns that flip alongside the smooth but simple surf guitar and backbeat. But if you’re going to try singing along, don’t bother.
But, like I said, the second half is the better half, where the band almost seems to drop the whole mock-ironic Emily Dickenson/Ibsen’s “Doll’s House” act, and just make noise that is a perfect pitch for their live stuff. “Sixteen Ways” has a different take on surf-style snarl as “I Heard You Say,” but plays more aggressive for the better. “Vanishing of Time,” plays closer to the angrier half of shoegaze, but it also deserves a mention for being a track that, for a moment, lets some space between the band and makes way for one of Cassie’s best solos, and some of Katy’s finest lines. And “Death,” a track that gives partial songwriting credit to former drummer Ali Koehler, is perhaps the strongest, most clearly-thought out song in the set.
Grade: C-. These days, lo-fi shoegaze, riot grrl, noise-pop girl group bands who take influence from the Ronettes/Shangri-Las school of songwriting are a dime a dozen. Nearly all of them do it, but the Vivian Girls were among the first to do it and do it successfully. Maybe it’s unfair to judge a record based on how successful they are live or the fact that the sound is reaching a point of overkill thanks to the prevalence of other bands. Whether or not I’m biased, it cannot be denied that Share the Joy is an uneven record that does have it’s moments. But they’re too far and few in between to say the parts are better than the whole, much like the band members themselves and how they fare in their other bands. I still believe that there is a place for the Vivian Girls, but this leaves me hoping not that there’s more, but something different, in the future.