The Vivian Girls’ self-titled debut ricocheted like a winning pinball shot into the ears and hearts of tattooed indie boys and discerning punk girls everywhere with a 22-minute burst of frenetic surf-shoegaze noise. And it seems that Brooklyn-based trio are still scoring high, as is obvious from their crush-worthy second album, Everything Goes Wrong. Coming almost a year after current label In The Red’s reputation-cementing reissue of the debut, Everything Goes Wrong manages a luxuriously longer playtime than its predecessor, and took twice as long to record. But only the Vivian Girls could make 14 extra minutes sound comparatively epic, and the studio time still only amounted to a mere six days. Presumably they rested on the Sabbath, because even lo-fi punk goddesses need a break.
With their long fringes, washed out t-shirts and bubblegum-bright tattoos, the Vivian Girls manage to exude a kind of youthful wholesomeness that’s simultaneously at ease with a brasher, unselfconscious riot grrl edge, capturing that duality with pop-style aliases that have just a touch of girl-gang glamour to them. Everything Goes Wrong finds founder members Cassie Ramone and Kickball Katy joined by new(ish) drummer Ali Koehler, replacing Frankie Rose who left the band to take up with minimalist punk act Crystal Stilts. And while Rose is undoubtedly missed by dedicated Vivians fans, the band’s sound has adapted to the line-up shuffle with undetectable fuss. The songwriting on display here has a maturing quality, improving on previous material in terms of skill and benefitting from from a broadening of musical technique. Ramone’s guitar solos are more frequent and make use of less orthodox chords, while longer instrumental moments intensify the shoegaze crescendos and nymph-like, ethereal harmonies. But with many songs recorded in single takes, they retain their jangling, slingshot DIY impact.
As the title suggests, Everything Goes Wrong turns the Vivians’ trademark sound a shade darker. Confusion, anger and heartbreak abound painfully throughout the album, dealt with cathartically through dual moments of reflection and outburst. On the lighter side, garage surf takes a doo-wop edge on the cooing chorus of ‘Can’t Get Over You’, while wholesome ’60s girl-group sounds reverberate through the Ronettes-like drum signature of ‘Tension’. Elsewhere, punk-rock gusto balances out the more slow-tempo moments, particularly on the frenetic, fatalistic ‘Survival’ and the catchy fuck-you thrill of ‘I Have No Fun’. It’s a treasure from start to finish, all told, but standout tunes include the delirious, almost prog-punk sounds of ‘The Desert’ and the gorgeously hazy, harmony-rich ‘When I’m Gone’, while album closer ‘Before I Start To Cry’ punctuates its melancholy lament with a bomb-like explosion of sound that could be a kick drum fed through reversed, fuzzy reverb, or Ramone’s beleaguered heart imploding with grief.
Impossibly cool and disarmingly charged, Everything Goes Wrong combines the Vivian Girls’ teenage-like exuberance with a blooming musical aptitude, affirming the momentum and potential from their debut as genuine indie greatness rather then just beginners’ luck, and riding it a wave or two further.
Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 21/09/09; www.myspace.com/viviangirls
FREE MP3: Vivian Girls, ‘When I’m Gone’ [via RCRDLBL]
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