It’s fucking cold outside. This statement applies to basically everyone in the Northern Hemisphere right now, so unless you’re reading this from Australia or like, Indonesia or something, you understand what I’m talking about. It’s a deep, preternatural cold, the type you feel in your marrow mere minutes after stepping outside. It haunts your house. It’s an inescapable cold that bites and kills. So let’s give a huge round of applause for Viet Cong. Either they’re some sort of weather shamans who saw this frigid Hell coming, or the release of their self-titled debut is eerily timed. Regardless, Viet Cong have served us the perfect soundtrack for trying not to freeze to death.
Maybe it’s not elemental sorcery or coincidence that lead to the extremely timely release of this album; maybe sub-zero is just a part of who they are. Looking at the band’s background, this explanation seems to make the most sense. Viet Cong hails from Calgary, a city notorious for its extreme climate. As a fellow Canadian, I can tell you with unfortunate certainty that dealing with temperatures that casually plummet to -35°C winter after winter fucks with you. And the shivering synth lines and icy guitar licks of Viet Cong sound as cold as the hands that played them, and if you listen closely you can almost see singer Matt Flegel’s breath as he barks into the mic on “Continental Shelf”. Basically, this is an album bred from an inherent frost, so if these guys come off as a bit cold, don’t blame them, alright? They can’t really help it.
Viet Cong was formed in the wake of the almost absurd and tragic end of cult indie band Women, so it should come to no surprise that Viet Cong is as dark as it is. Women’s last ever gig ended with an on stage fight between the band members, and the band’s gone-too-soon fate was sealed when guitarist/vocalist Christopher Reimer passed away in his sleep in early 2012. Viet Cong doesn’t sound much like Women, but Reimer’s ghost haunts the album, whether it be the Public Strain-esque arpeggios descending through “March of Progress” or the spectral doowop break in “Continental Shelf.” Flegel’s lyrics fixate on death and decay, and if you haven’t picked up on those morose themes by the time the last song rolls around, the band drives the point home with an 11 minute post-punk epic called “Death.” Pretty morbid stuff for a bunch of guys who insist they aren’t goths.
Though this is Viet Cong’s first official release, it’s actually preceded by a tour only cassette that they released in 2013 and re-released last year. The progression from Cassette, a release the band more or less regards as demos, is interesting because it shows the progression from a band that so steeped in its own backstory that it wanted to be anything but Women, to a band comfortable in its own skin and confident in its sound. You can probably chalk that up to the relentless two years of touring Viet Cong have been on. Indeed, Viet Cong sound more like Bauhaus than Women at this point, armed with a steady sense of propulsion and Matt Flegel’s muscular vocals. Women were an important band to a lot of people, myself included, and the shadow of that band will rest over Viet Cong for a while yet. But Viet Cong is an assured debut, one that acknowledges that shadow and channels from it instead of pretending it isn’t there. A new generation of listeners will come along and Viet Cong will be just as important to them as Women was to us five years ago. And with this debut, they’ve earned it. Something tells me that if Chris Reimer could hear this record, he’d be proud.
Ridiculous Made Up Genre of the Day: coldwave post-punk