Vivian Girls – Share the Joy

Love it or hate it, Vivian Girls’ debut album was an event. Tight yet chaotic, catchy yet raw, it was the explosive first album that can’t and shouldn’t be repeated. The follow up, 2009’s darker, rangier Everything Goes Wrong, generated less attention but revealed the band’s potential for growth. It was the kind of album that made you very curious about the next one.

When I interviewed frontwoman Cassie Ramone for Stomp and Stammer last year, she said to expect something far stranger and much more ambitious from their third album, now titled Share the Joy. But as a fan, I have to admit I was holding my breath about this decisive release. Line-up changes notwithstanding, bassist Katy Goodman and Cassie Ramone have been playing together for a few years now. That’s a lot of practice. Unfortunately, this can result in a sad and inevitable decline for bands that start off with a burst of unselfconscious punk rock inspiration. But I needn’t have worried. The time spent together and, no doubt, their various side projects only seem to have sharpened them up and prepared them to fully realize their latest outing.

When Vivian Girls’ noise-shrouded garage pop first appeared, it spawned a small army of fuzzy followers – many of them quite good. The trio developed that sound further on Everything Goes Wrong. But under the circumstances, the Vivs have wisely scaled back on the sonic dry ice this time around.

Maybe they just wanted to show off the fine songwriting on songs like “The Other Girls.” It’s late ’60s/early ’70s psych-pop complete with an extended guitar interlude in the middle and layers of soft vocal harmonies slowly drawing the curtain as the song approaches the six-minute line. Next, the uncannily poignant single, “I Heard You Say,” retains the darkly hooky quality of Everything Goes Wrong but brings it into a refined new world. I would have been happy with eight more songs just like those two, but Vivian Girls had several more ideas than that. Many of those ideas have to do with combining ’60s-influenced ’80s post-punk along the lines of the Stone Roses with those bands’ psych and girl group influences, and grungy latter-day pop punk. The percentages of each vary widely from song to song and the results range from the brilliant to the frankly bizarre but they never lose the signature qualities of a Vivian Girls song.

Cassie Ramone’s distinctive voice and some new and interesting lyrical content are foregrounded on this album. (Finally.) It helps make “Lake House” delightfully, and subtly doomy. Later, “Sixteen Ways” is a garage/blues track about devastating loss and violence. Much of Share the Joy‘s subject matter is surreal and harsh, but there’s also the sassy proto-feminism of songs like “Take It As It Comes.” “Light in Your Eyes,” is the grand six-minute conclusion, a regally bummed-out jam and the perfect bookend to “The Other Girls.”

Yep, they outdid themselves. The first wave of followers the Vivian Girls spawned seems to have crested. Share the Joy could start a second one.

Vivian Girls
Share the Joy