The self-titled debut album of this Brooklyn-based band does something that is immediately accessible as it is exceptional: You just don’t hear the combination of aggressive guitar noise and weirded-out girl-group harmonies that often. But even after the immediate novelty of this combination wears away and you start thinking of your particular genealogy for this band -- jangly C86 bands, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Spector’s girl groups, the Beach Boys, or, even, in the Girls’ own words, the Wipers and Nirvana -- you are still left with the thing itself: the incredibly catchy, exciting and enjoyable music.
When weighed down by this much history, it’s all in the execution, and the Vivians execute perfectly. It’s not the fact of pastiche so much as the joy in recombination that is interesting here. Though the inevitable distance of irony always remain available to any listener -- after all, the songs cover classic girl-group fair, in particular love and relationships -- the women of the band seem to spontaneously combust in joy. The bass and drums, especially on the singles “Wild Eyes” and “Tell the World,” rollick playfully and combatively, as raw power always should. The guitar plows ahead in full reverberating noise-saturation mode. And, most important, the voices sing out harmoniously inside of thick layers of reverb.
It is the singing that really separates this band from its noisy, jangly forebears. From the high arching harmonies of “Wild Eyes” or the many repeated, sometimes throaty and purposefully numb “nos” of “No” (which is, when you know the back story, a kind of updated “It’s My Party”), I can’t help but want to sing along. There is something innately inviting when you hear people singing together, whether it’s Handel’s “Messiah,” Nirvana’s “Lithium,” the Carter Family, or African-American prison songs. As banal as it sounds, singing draws us in, and the Vivian Girls use that power without abusing it.
It’s not all sickly sweet group vocals, but there are just enough spontaneous, reverberating harmonizations to break through the fuzz, to make you dive into the noise even more. As such, the vocal pleasures are intimately tied up with distortion and fuzz. Of course, this makes sense: Vicissitudes of love are also intimately tied up with violence and hate. (The B-side to the “Wild Eyes” single, “My Baby Wants Me Dead” -- sadly not on the album -- perfectly, openly, darkly works out this connection.)
We could go on about interpersonal relationships, politics, violence, community and other ideas that these songs seem to embody, but it’s enough to know that these songs do something that is very difficult to do. They reproduce, even with simple materials and simple words, complex emotions and ideas. And at the same time, they just make you want to sing, freak-out, and play beach-blanket bingo in a basement.