Built to Spill — one of indie rock’s bloodiest hearts and one-time Viva Voce tourmates — once declared that there’s nothing wrong with love. Viva Voce certainly wouldn’t argue with that.
For nearly a decade, the duo of Kevin and Anita Robinson has been crafting swoon-inducing pop music with a lover’s touch. The band’s first two albums, Lovers, Lead the Way! (2003) and The Heat Can Melt Your Brain (2004), teem with the kind of meticulous production and lush arrangements that only a labor of love could yield.
Granted, that passion is, above all, reserved for pop music itself. These two make songs like they’re trying to rekindle that over-the-rainbow feeling they got when they crushed on their first favorite band. Spacious drums tumble and crash. Vintage synthesizers bubble and fizz. And all the while, the Robinsons clap their hands and yawn their lilting melodies. Reissued as a single double-disc set, these albums are the understated preamble to the band’s more cinematic third album, Get Yr Blood Sucked Out (2006). But these two collections of lavishly decorated pop songs will likely still snare even the most jaded indie-rock fans.
Like Yo La Tengo, Viva Voce’s inclusive stylistic mix gives equal weight to both concise pop structuring and sprawling compositions. Frill-less and direct, “Wrecking Ball” and “Lesson No. 1” both breathe new life into well-worn guitar progressions with irrepressible sing-song melody. Lovers’ opener, “Fashionably Lonely,” on the other hand, rides out an ebullient synthesizer detour before settling into an otherwise straightforward song.
Likewise, the six-minute instrumental “Yr Epic Heart” never quite materializes into the song we would expect. Instead, it gathers tension before spilling its guts — in the form of sleigh bells and some wicked electric-guitar stabs — in one climactic gush. And though these two modes might seem at odds, the Robinsons capably perform at both ends of the spectrum. As pop writers, they never lapse into trite and predictable territory. When they play the experimental card, they don’t lose sight of most pop listeners’ thresholds for self-indulgence.
As if the first two albums weren’t enough of an introduction, the reissue includes eight bonus tracks, including live radio sessions, a remix courtesy of Tunng, and a trio of demos. Although most demos serve as sketches, Viva Voce’s rough home recordings are charming lo-fi studies that hardly need a studio veneer to shine. All handclaps and tambourine, the demo version of “Lesson No. 1” captures a certain energy compromised in the album version.
Yes, these inclusions will likely remain extraneous for new listeners, but they’re fascinating glimpses into both the band’s creative process and its live act. Either way, Lovers, Lead the Way! and The Heat Can Melt Your Brain are made of the stuff of classic indie pop. And in age when bands struggle to differentiate themselves with flavor-of-the-month gimmickry, that’s music to my ears.