September 8, 2009
Vivian Girls | Everything Goes Wrong
Everything Goes Wrong
2009 | In the Red
You know that Christopher Walken sketch? from SNL? The one that spawned a thousand t-shirts and drunken frat-boy recitations, where he proclaims loudly, with his trademark accentuation, that he has a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell? Hilarious.
The reason I mention this is that I have a feeling Christopher-Walken-as-Bruce-Dickinson produced Everything Goes Wrong. Only he wasn’t asking for more cowbell. He was asking for more fuzz. “I gotta have more distortion!”
I mean, he’s a man who puts his pants on one leg at a time. Only he also makes gold records, so we should trust him, right?
The Vivian Girls: Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy, and Ali Koehler, have been receiving a lot of hype lately. The Brooklyn trio are getting exponential amounts of press, and have been touring all over to promote Everything Goes Wrong, their sophomore effort, following their 2008 self-titled debut. They’re indie darlings who will probably be the Next Big Thing. But is it entirely warranted?
To return to an earlier theme, although Walken/Dickinson loved it, the cowbell was distracting. If you take SNL sketches as gospel truth like I do, it almost broke up Blue Oyster Cult. But this distortion? It’s just boring.
If you’ve heard one Vivian Girls song, you’ve pretty much heard them all.
That statement is far from a kiss of death, and often it’s not really even a bad thing. Bands figure out a sound, and they work with it. The Strokes, for example, are masters of this. If you own Is This It? then you know that yes, that’s pretty much it.
If you enjoy the Vivian Girls lo-fi style, you’re probably going to like this album. If you don’t like the Vivian Girls, you’re not. At the very least, they’re not pretending to be anything they aren’t. They’re being true to themselves and their sound. Coated in an inescapable layer of fuzz, the Vivian Girls work their jaded girl power, channeling hints of riot grrrl in the way they tackle their instruments with gusto (and inexperience). Steady drums, layered female vocals, and repetitive guitar work are the blueprint of every Vivian Girls song.
But it is when they break from the theme that it gets interesting. The opening of “Tension,” for example, channels an oldies “boom boomboom cha, boom boomboom cha” that sounds like they’re gearing up for a Ronettes cover. Instead, however, they move back to their old tricks. I know they say that they feel the tension, but that didn’t really come across in their too-cool-for-school delivery. Just a pinch of emotion (they don’t need to go all out “Maps”-style Karen O) could really have turned this into a standout track. What starts with promise just gets washed out.
“Survival,” the following track, is fast paced and catchy. I can easily see this being a crowd favorite, especially if they chose to really rock out during the breakdown. The drums start out fast paced and refuse to slow down, pushing the song towards a triumphantly noisy end. “Survival” is a great example of the Vivian Girls actually working to make their music transcendent, rather than forgettable. Easily a key track.
“You’re My Guy” reminds me of a punked-out All Girl Summer Fun Band song. Mostly upbeat, this ode to hipster-love truly reveals the old school girl band roots of Vivian Girls. Underneath their tattoos and messy hair (and all that distortion), they could be a crooning pop trio.
As a whole, however, the album fades into the background, albeit a noisy background. Nothing is really groundbreaking or new. Instead, the Vivian Girls retread the comfortable path they’ve laid out for themselves. It’s all fine and dandy, but I was hoping for a bit more depth.
And maybe a little cowbell.
Stream “When I’m Gone,” off Everything Goes Wrong here.
by allison levin