It’s only fitting that Viva Voce once titled an album The Heat Can Melt Your Brain—the married, guitar-slinging duo of Anita and Kevin Robinson really cook. On their 2006 album Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, Viva Voce emphasized the ROCK in their indie rock, all caps, underlined, italicized, exclamation point. Drum skins crashed, guitars wailed, and all the while the duo maintained the kind of seductive cool that disciples of Stephen Malkmus or Jeff Mangum just couldn’t pull off successfully. To paraphrase the band’s own words, they do not fuck around.
On fifth album Rose City, Viva Voce maintain their swagger and continue to flex their six-stringed muscle. That the image on the album’s front cover is a Gibson Les Paul pretty much says it all. This is a guitar album. Loud guitars. Distorted guitars. Noisy guitars. Pretty guitars. Guitars with lots of reverb. And quite frankly, it’s a beautiful thing. Not as immediately explosive as Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, Rose City is a mature step forward for the group, but one that sacrifices nothing in the way of balls.
Leadoff track “Devotion” is evidence enough that Viva Voce’s still in the business of kicking asses. Over a powerful bassline and a beat fit for driving toward the ends of the earth, Mad Max-style, slide guitar wails and weeps. It’s bluesy and it’s gritty, but it also has a hell of a punch. “Die A Little,” meanwhile, is a bit shorter and more straightforward, with Anita eerily but sweetly cooing the song’s title over the track’s sinister hooks. “Octavio” isn’t quite as loud, opting for a slower, twangier sound, but its beats remain solid enough to remind the listener that the group hasn’t exactly gone soft. “Red Letter Day” is somewhere between Spoon, Santo & Johnny and Ennio Morricone, and as you can imagine, it’s awesome. By the second half of the album, the Robinsons turn the volume back up again on the slow-chugging, Tom Petty-like “Good As Gold,” and the title track, a paean to the group’s hometown of Portland, which finds them singing “I want to go back to where it’s grey and green/ and the protest songs havetambourines.”
Rose City is essentially more of the Viva Voce magic that the group has spread across their decade-long career, just a bit more refined. They still rock, but with a touch more nuance. They write impeccable tunes, but the arrangements have gotten a bit more elaborate, and find them injecting a bit more space into the otherwise hard-hitting instrumentation. Not that anyone were to believe otherwise, but Viva Voce still don’t fuck around.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.