Album Review: Viet Cong - Viet Cong

Album Reviews
01/25/2015
Gerrit Feenstra

When's the last time you listened to a record and thought to yourself, "Wow, that's a sound you don't hear every day". Calgary based post-punk quartet Viet Cong (featuring members of now-defunct Calgary act Women) drop their self-titled first LP this week on Jagjaguwar, and it's one of those records. I'm not saying that they came up with the sounds and landscapes in here out of thin air - there's some Joy Division, some Bauhaus, some Jesus & Mary Chain, and a number of other pale skinny British bands buried in there too. But what Viet Cong choose to take and recycle is jarring, confrontational, and unpredictable. But ultimately, more than any of these, it is brutally refreshing. Carrying the torch of the new post-punk wave alongside bands like Weekend, Viet Cong brave the deeper classic goth territory to make a record that sounds all unto its own in the modern day. Viet Cong is thirty-seven minutes of guts and glory, and it won't waste a minute of your time.

Everywhere you look on the Internet, you'll see people raving about the drums on this record. All of the acclaim is merited - Mike Wallace provides a blur of percussive impressionism from beginning to end on this record. "Newspaper Spoons" opens with decimated bomb-drop drums before Matt Flagel's haunted, alien drones come in over top. "March of Progress" has Mike's toms echoing to infinity for the first three minutes of the seven minute odyssey. "Continental Shelf" uses a mixture of reverb and non-reverb to make the guy sound like a one-man army underneath the crushing layers of bass and guitar. But all the more jaw-dropping are the moments when Wallace has all the layers stripped and really just gets to throw down without mercy. The second half of "March of Progress" is the best break on the record, a fact which is not lost on Wallace, who is an impossible blur on the hi hat and snare here. Then on the epic closer "Death", he embodies the darkness on the horizon in brutal and foreboding ways.

Technical mastery isn't restricted to Wallace, though. Flagel's bass chops are in full display here, ripping all over the place high and low in pretty textbook post-punk form. But things get really freaky with the guitar work on Viet Cong. Tracks like "March of Progress" and "Death" put sounds through amps that you didn't know you wanted to hear. "Continental Shelf" pulls out the Jesus & Mary Chain vibes for a half-tempo dance number that is going to be a blast to shout along to live. The cryptic, freezing cold Bauhaus textures of it all are captured for a hot-blooded modern audience really well here, especially on the album's second single offering "Silhouettes". A singular vocal and guitar verse a la Interpol is counteracted entirely by a noisy, jarring bridge that spirals into darker but more vibrant territory.

Lyrically, Viet Cong is classic post-punk and takes a lot of hints from one Ian Curtis. Tracks like "Pointless Experience" and "March of Progress" touch on similar tones as Ideal for Living tracks "Failures" and "Leaders of Men" - gazing upon the modern man in his cold, post-war environment with no line on the horizon. On "Silhouettes", he takes his turn on "Transmission", boiling the drone nature of modern communication down to "Relay, reply, react, and reset". It's interesting seeing this perspective echoed not in late 70s factory-town Manchester, but almost forty years later in the Canadian oil hub city of Calgary. Flagel's lyrics seem to alternate between a cosmic scope of vision and a focused, individual one. Sometimes the problem is just getting out of the cyclical hometown life laid out ahead of you - sometimes it's the magnetic energy of society that holds the old tricks together. But Flagel does it all tactfully, learning from the masters but making it all his own.

Viet Cong have made a blistering and brilliant debut LP in this eponymous release. Grab it and turn your speakers up to 11 when you get to "Death" because it deserves to be heard in no other way. Viet Cong is out now on Jagjaguwar. Viet Cong will be LIVE on KEXP on March 3 at 11AM. Shortly after that, they begin a tour that will bring them back to Seattle for an appearance at Barboza on March 27. Grab tickets here.

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