Vivian Girls struck a chord on their first album by engaging with their influences but subtly and effectively removing themselves from them. They produced a sense of déjà vu that was heady and ingratiating, that mapped out repetition slipping into difference and newness. Songs like “Tell the World” and “Where Do You Run To?” were appealing both for their brief song structures—stripped back and pulsing with charming naiveté—and the adventures in texture created via overdoses of reverb. By all accounts, their aesthetic is simplistic, but it makes for some nostalgic (but for what?) and joyful moments that are difficult to explain away.
On their second record, Everything Goes Wrong, they don’t stray too far from the template that they established with their self-titled debut. But while lacking in knockout singles, this batch of songs does include some new flourishes (guitar solos!) and shows the bands ability to take things a little deeper, not relying on surface charms as much as writing and composing songs with staying power. The best of the songs on Everything Goes Wrong are akin to hauntings, implanting thoughts and moods and memories (of other songs and one’s own experiences) in the listener. While they may not subdue on impact, they have a way of endearing themselves with each repetition.
The record begins with a pair of thrashing, punky tracks (“Walking Alone at Night” and “I Have No Fun”) before getting to “Can’t Get Over You,” a blushing poppy rocker that echoes the Ramones echoing girl groups and surf rock love ballads. The tracks melancholy plays well against the gleeful, light-hearted backing vocals. “The Desert” opens with twinkling guitars before stepping up the beat and running high on a shredding Wipers-style riff, which washes over (and out) the laconic vocals. One of the album’s best songs is “Tension,” a descendent of The Raincoats’ classic, “The Void.” It is slower and moodier than most of the Vivian’s tracks to date, swirling guitars and sweet but slightly disengaged vocals pooling together in a haze of paranoia and anxiety.
Everything Goes Wrong, taken as a whole and in its individual components, plays a funny little game. It is overwhelmingly melancholic, but the songs seem to teeter on the brink between exorcism and willful recollection, visceral purges of experience and desperate attempts to capture and keep accessible moments and events with irrational, magnetic appeal. Ambivalence is Vivian Girls forte, without doubt. Well, that and the trafficking in lo-fi, retro styles that works best when they hit a happy medium between noise and dirt, and demure beauty.
“When I’m Gone” is the best example on this count. As they sing musingly, “When everything goes wrong / Will you sit around and miss me when I’m gone” (a representative sentiment for the band’s music), guitars and drums slowly wail and thrash, building to the final crescendo, a steamrolling, vocal-free barrage that smothers the song’s dreamy contemplations. It is moments like these that leave me with the impression that Vivian Girls have more tricks up their sleeves, and reassure me that I am glad that there is space for this band (though I am definitely not hoping for copycats any time soon) to make lovely noise as the decade draws to a close.
The Wipers – Is This Real?
Black Tambourine – Complete Recordings
Crystal Stilts – Alight of Night
MP3: “When I’m Gone”