Review Summary: Kicking off 2015 with a century of influences and a fair bit of death.
'Guitar music is dead'. Or at least it should be. To be quite honest no one really knows how the hell it is still going. The recent death of the UK's oldest person highlights the fact the guitar-genre set, from Blues onwards, is as old as she was. That means a lifetime of music for any bored kid on YouTube to discover: allowing them to grow up to play watered-down versions of 90's indie that was itself a throw-back to the late 60's/early 70's, and even most of that is probably reducible to a few bars on an early Beatles b-side etc. etc. etc.
Alternatively, you could take the same route as Viet Cong and dip your hand into the genre bag, see what you get and hope the combination sounds like something no one has done before. Post-punk, as 'in' now as it was 30 years ago, makes up the bulk of their sound. It is joined by the kind of art punk made famous by The Talking Heads, along with a sizeable weight of noise. The eternal coolness of which is one of this life's few universal truths, as anyone who owns an amp with a dial marked 'gain 3' will testify.
What follows Viet Cong
's first distorted drum beat is as self-aware and energetic as you'd expect from a band who burst from the ashes of the legendary Women. It's chaotic: throwing together enough influences to make it impossible to pin any of them down and pushing the boundaries of each while they're at it. To take a stab at it, guitar drones meet jangle pop to a kick-drum which must be in need of constant replacement. Lead single 'Continental Shelf' schizophrenically cuts between a riff-lead, foot-stomping call to arms and noise-less epiphanies, which for my money represents the small moments of serenity dotted throughout the process of smashing up a recording studio.
Elsewhere, the abstract, claustrophobic layers of 'Pointless Existence' slowly build up to 'if we're lucky we'll get old and die', 'March of Progress' sounds like The Dodos on a bad trip and the over 11 minute, sweat-soaked jam that is album-closer 'Death' promises to send most of a live audience berserk. In fewer words, it is fantastic.
The presence of death should already be obvious from these few choice cuts, and it is difficult not to draw a link between the album's shadowy subject matter and the untimely death of Women's guitarist Chris Reimer just three years ago. It gives us a source for the album's bristling yet moody energy and lets us hear catharsis in the place of rage. 'Death' reflects the attitude of an entire genre: carry on despite the inevitability; close your eyes; play harder.
Despite the gloomy subtext, Viet Cong have beaten the odds to make something we haven't really heard before. The fact this album could have been released before its members were born is neither here nor there, and it is testament to just how good the album is that it looks set to dominate the first part of 2015. Or, if not quite that, at least give fans of guitar music something to talk about in the increasingly long pauses between good albums.