Fuzzy sound and lack of rhythmic imagination are generally signs of amateurism and youth, and while they can be infectuous live in the right setting, they are generally dead ends for recording artists. There are exceptions. Scrawl counts as my favorite band that managed to maintain such an apparently amateur sound over a decade and seven records. They did so by relentlessly pursuing the musical implications of a particular, depressive proto-feminist subjectivity, their conviction driven by complicated (but out of tune) harmonies, direct melodies, lyrics driven by smart, meaningful hooks (I think I’m turning into a slut, there is nothing to walk away from, go ahead — take a swing) and a mostly slow, pounding rhythm. Their great punk cover of Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted Snake” is the place to start getting it if you’ve never tried. Without Scrawl, the sound of Sealter-Kinney — an infinitely more varied and virtuosic band — couldn’t have emerged.
Vivian Girls is an arty decendent of this approach. As repetitive to the rock and roll ear as the Saharan music I’ve heard on Festival In the Desert and Group Inerane’s album, but with an up-top harmonic approach straight out of 1966 (think Moby Grape, or early Jefferson Airplane), these are post-Riot Grrrls who sound like they can’t play their instruments as a concept rather then because, well, they can’t play their instruments. (I have no idea whether in fact they can or not.) They also sound like they recorded these songs on 1966 recording equipment. In doing this they come up with a strangely compelling concept, a soundscape that draws you into their world whether or not you “believe in nothing,” as they hook their last track.
I don’t love the record. This is the kind of debut that could go somewhere, or not. Unless you’re 20 and haven’t worked through lots of low fi debut albums before, this one won’t change your life. But it is distinct and original enough to make this fan of Scrawl and Sleater-Kinney think they could have better in them, that something really interesting could come of it.
Filed under: Scrawl, Vivian Girls | 2 Comments