Nathan Gower, Staff Writer
After an emphatic percussive opening, Vivian Girls’ lead singer Cassie Ramone dully sings, “I don’t wanna be like the other girls.” In their infancy, attempting this understated opening would have likely proved disastrous and potentially pretentious, but after years of extensive touring and a handful of releases, the band’s latest album opens in a subtly cool way only the experienced trio could pull off. In their third release, Share The Joy, the band comes off as just that: experienced.
After the introduction on the opening track, The Other Girls, Ramone slowly and steadily picks the guitar in a fashion reminiscent of the 1960s surf-rock scene, a style the band is beginning to lean more heavily toward after dichotomously applying to both the surf and lo-fi revivals of recent years.
The Other Girls is followed by another excellently executed monotone performance in the album’s first single, I Heard You Say. Thereafter, the group dives into an energetic three-song trio in which long-time live staple Lake House is finally given a proper album release. Tenured fans will notice the track’s cleaner recording compared to its original demo and seven-inch releases respectively. This trend is noticeable throughout the duration of Share The Joy.
That is not to say the group’s punkier songs have been dismissed entirely, but they certainly have a noticeable reduction compared to the Vivian Girls first two releases. Sixteen Ways seems to carry this old trend more successfully than any other track on the album and is undoubtedly a standout on the ten-song long-player.
It is in the final four songs following Sixteen Ways where problems arise. The songs are solid in their own right, but when heard consecutively, they break up the flow of the first half. The album loses its collective identity and the energy created in the earlier tracks proves irremediably lost. Perhaps I’ve simply been spoiled by the band’s excellent debut, in which ten songs span just over twenty minutes, but Share The Joy very noticeably lasts fifteen minutes longer with an equal number of tracks.
Without seeming overly critical, it must be stated that the album is an undoubtedly solid release. In analyzing the album in sports terminology, however, Share The Joy seems to be a “rebuilding year” for the group. Seeing their third drummer in as many albums, and with Katy Goodman and Cassie Ramone’s success in side projects La Sera and The Babies respectively, the Girls certainly seem to have suffered ever so slightly.
This is not to imply Share The Joy is bad, but rather it serves as the first steps in a new creative direction rather than a culmination of the group’s earlier full-length efforts, both of which were excellent in their own right.
Sharper melodies, more prominent vocals, and a militaristically emphatic drumming style all shape a very distinct turn from the grungier lo-fi sound of the band’s first two albums. Fans of the group’s first two albums will certainly enjoy their Polyvinyl debut, and if the band can maintain drumming stability and explore the creative tension underlying Share The Joy in their respective side projects, the group should develop in an exciting new direction. For the time being, we’re left to wonder what could have been had the group maintained the direction of their earlier releases, while pondering what’s to come with the admirable and solid effort that is Share The Joy.
Brooklyn-based trio, the Vivian Girls bring their surf punk sound to Warren Wilson College’s Sage Café April 5 before embarking on a four-month nonstop tour promoting the band’s third full length release Share The Joy. The Echo was fortunate enough to interview primary songwriter Cassie Ramone on the new record and their Asheville visit:
How do the three of you manage your side projects (Babies, La Sera, Coasting) in addition to the extensive touring the Vivian Girls undertake annually?
It’s pretty simple. We don’t do much else besides playing music. It’s not good for our systems to go through long unproductive periods. Vivian Girls tour a lot less now than we used to.
What are your impressions of Asheville in the times you (and your side projects) have played here?
I like Asheville. The Babies have never played there, but Vivian Girls have once. It’s very beautiful. We went to a party after the show and these two girls were taking a bath in the only bathroom in the house, it was a wild scene.
Generally college shows prove much more raucous than their venue-counterparts. Do you prefer the more intimate college/basement/house shows to clubs and festivals?
It depends on the vibe. I like playing at clubs because you can usually rely on decent sound, but if you’re playing a really fun house show and everyone is having a great time, good sound doesn’t matter. Those are the best shows. The worst is when you play an intimate space with terrible sound and it seems like no one is having a good time.
The new album seems to have smoothed the rougher edges of the two albums prior. That said, the band still retains the surf-punk/lo-fi sound that you’ve been affiliated with. Was this the intention when going into the studio?
Yes. I firmly believe that all of our albums sound exactly how they were meant to sound, but where we’re at now as a band is what you hear on Share The Joy.
Following on the last question, what were the goals going into recording, and do you think the band achieved those goals?
We wanted to try to escape our minimalist approach a little bit. Whenever we’ve recorded before, we’ve been conscious to only record what we could replicate live, and with this record we’ve expanded and added a lot of little sonic flourishes that we couldn’t replicate live but probably make for a better recording.
How has Fiona Campbell fit in with the recording and touring process? Each album seems to have its own distinct drumming style.
Fiona’s been really incredible to work with. Katy and I have both been fans of her drumming for years; it was a match made in heaven.
How has it been working with Polyvinyl Records? What is the relationship between Polyvinyl and your own label, Wild World Records?
It’s been amazing working with Polyvinyl so far! We are taking a little bit of a hiatus from Wild World.
Finally, a bit of a fun question, we at Warren Wilson College are required to work fifteen hours on a designated work crew for what is essentially a work-study scholarship. If each of you were students and could choose a crew, which would you pick?
I would do 3D Studio. I used to work at a wood shop, so it would be a comforting and familiar environment to me. Katy would do Computing Services, because she is really good with computers and used to work at a tech desk. Fiona would do Wellness Activities because she is a trained massage therapist.