Text Azzief Khaliq
WARMTH AND ROMANTICISM IN THE UGLY
The self-titled debut album from Viet Cong – featuring two former members of Women – is often ugly, sometimes oppressively so, and is littered with rough, noisy edges that other bands would have smoothed off. But in spite of this, and in spite of the band name itself, there’s a noticeable warmth and romanticism – and surprisingly, sheer catchiness – that’s ever-present throughout the 37-minute running time.
Opener ‘Newspaper Spoons’ is a good example: It opens with a distorted, militaristic drum beat and a dispassionate – yet oddly jaunty – vocal, soon joined by a glitchy, fuzzy guitar. All well and good, but instead of the expected build up into a full-on noisy rager, an elegiac synth melody begins to fade in and quickly takes over the entire track. It’s a simple track, but delivered with a confidence that makes the transition in moods feel like the most logical thing in the world.
The album’s third track, ‘March of Progress’, is where the band really shows off what they can do. The six-and-a-half-minute song is divided into three parts; a three-minute intro consisting solely of a distorted, repetitive drumbeat and a droning synth gives way to a jangly, tinny, psychedelic guitar figure and almost saccharine vocals (bringing to mind Barrett-era Pink Floyd, actually) before switching gears again into wiry – and Wire-esque – post-punk for the last minute and a half or so. Great track, and probably the best example of Viet Cong’s style and approach to combining genres and moods.
‘Continental Shelf’ is another remarkable track, second only to ‘Mark of Progress’. The track marries an incredible, instantly unforgettable guitar hook to pounding drums and slashing, thick fuzz guitar, creating a remarkable sense of tension that very few bands manage to pull off with such aplomb. And, behind all the noise and tension, ‘Continental Shelf’ radiates a sense of romantic grandeur that’s just as unforgettable as the guitar hook.
Things come to a head with the album’s closer, ‘Death’. The frankly quite epic song begins with both feet planted firmly in post-punk territory, all strident, chiming guitar and tom-heavy drum patterns, but things quickly build up into a noisy, punishing instrumental workout. And, just when the drum hits start getting more and more drawn out and you’re thinking that they’d just let the guitars feedback into nothingness, the band kicks back into gear and bring the song full circle, closing the album off with one final blast of urgent, infectiously nervous post-punk.
The album isn’t just these three tracks, of course. ‘Pointless Existence’ is a strangely funky workout, complete with a triumphant chorus marked by one of the album’s signature lines in “If we’re lucky, we’ll get old and die,” while ‘Silhouettes’ is dominated by a propulsive rhythm and a sweeping string synth that just builds and builds, ice-cold yet frenetic and passionate (and also one of our favourite tracks). The band even finds time for a jagged waltz-time romp in ‘Bunker Buster’, complete with stabbing guitar shards that Andy Gill would be proud of.
The range displayed by the band is remarkable; nothing feels out of place despite the variety of moods and styles. In lesser hands, this album would be disjointed and scattershot, but Viet Cong made it work, partly through smart songwriting, but also due to the sheer energy on display throughout.
Quite a remarkable debut, and definitely a band to keep an eye on. Highly recommended.