Viet Cong

Viet Cong

Viet Cong count two members of Calgary-based ex-band Women among their number. Band in "emerging from other band’s ashes" shocker, etc. Of course, this is not a piece of information that should direct any anticipation towards receipt of Viet Cong’s debut album, and nor would they likely appreciate a fairly detailed examination of why it’s a Very Exciting Thing that this album exists, but here we are. Women were a very fine band that didn’t work for two main reasons: one was a notorious, slappy mid-show bust-up between brothers Matt and Pat Flegel which signaled the personal demise of the band; the other was the death of guitarist Christopher Reimer in 2012, which signaled the ultimate demise. Both of the albums that Women succeeded in making before those circumstances overtook them, especially 2010’s Public Strain, were perfectly diseased gems of invention, works of surf-pop breeze tuned down and flawlessly emaciated, leaving only the barest shards of loveable pop for a listener to dangle from. 

Women were like the indie version of what everyone says about Fawlty Towers and The Office, something that was rendered even more special by dint of its dearth. And we might’ve craved a third album, or one more European tour, but the irreversible circumstances mentioned above meant there was never any chance of getting the band back together. In the end, bassist/vocalist Matt Flegel and guitarist Mike Wallace were the ones that made it through to start Viet Cong along with a fellow member of Chad VanGaalen’s touring line-up and the alumnus of a Black Sabbath covers band. Viet Cong arrive, then, with no little back-story, no matter how much they might wish listeners ignored it so that we focus solely on the present. 

The heartening, splendid news is that this first album, a self-titled, seven-track whirlwind, is full-on brilliant all the way through. What’s survived from Women has been boiled on Viet Cong. That band’s plaintive, distant rasp has been heightened and streamlined. Matt Flegel can be heard to scream like an offended Spencer Krug at certain points. Though guitars are important, they’re no longer absolutely everything. The drums sound like timpani being thrown into an echo chamber. Keyboards are now the element that supply the most tonality. All these super tweaks and the way they’re deployed are ornate little factors that make each song its own man. Each chiseled musical element is evidence that every angle of the wintry outlook has been carefully surveyed before pressing ‘record’. 

What sounds loudest, though, is Viet Cong’s desperation to create. On ‘Pointless Experience’ Flegel sings, "If we’re lucky we’ll get old and die," which is impossible not to connect with the early death of Christopher Reimer. The mortal pressure to be productive was something that Women never suffered from and, as Flegel made plain in an interview with Pitchfork last year, well, events like the death of a friend make you pace around the room and worry about the future. The sound is measured and controlled for the most part, only speeding off into an Oneida-esque extended instrumental workout on the final epic ‘Death’, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a wild desire on display here, a primal efficiency and condensation of intent. Opener ‘Newspaper Spoons’, for example, has those clattering timpani-like drums, about 12 individual words and some nice organ at the end, barely a thing more than that, but it sounds so tautly executed and full of vitality. 

That surging vitality, brevity, an insatiable and itchy creative hunger, are all perfect ingredients for a debut record. And while backstory will no-doubt factor in how Viet Cong is received, it’s important to remember that this is still just that: a debut record. Hopefully, Viet Cong will be luckier than Women were and delight us with further records as strong as this one. The last thing we need from these guys is another reason to create myths and wonder what might’ve happened if they could’ve given it a few more years. No, for the time being, it’s enough to enjoy this on its own. This will do very nicely for now. 

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