herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

Review: Viet Cong make a noise that sounds like they intend to cheat death

Viet Cong
Viet Cong

Many years ago, when I attempted to effect the release of John Lydon from Mountjoy Prison (a long story, but he'd rented the top of our mutual friend Sal's house with Keith Levene for Public Image Limited experiments and I was urged to intervene when Jock and The 4 Be 2's abandoned him in chokey and went to Cork...), it seemed unlikely that Johnny would cause a second sonic revolution. But he did.

For evidence, here's the debut major release from a Canadian band who are determined to cheat death.

"We play the life secure..." sing Viet Cong on March of Progress. Is this an attempt to fool themselves or us?

Formed just over two years ago, this quartet from Calgary aren't new to the game. Two of them were in Women, an indie noise band that disbanded when guitarist Christopher Reimer was found dead in bed.

The Women rhythm section, Matt Flegel (bass) and Mike Wallace (drums), is the substantial foundation on which these seven new sonic explorations are constructed.

The thunderous drums that introduce the opening track Newspaper Spoons sound like empty oil barrels being rattled through a morgue. Its industrial edge is softened by a rhythmic pattern that is primitive garage band. And there, in one neat bite, is the essence of Viet Cong's growing appeal.

The band are adept at rearranging the furniture. And exult in being able to switch from a whisper to a scream, or more accurately, from an out-sized pneumatic drill to a psychedelic choir, at the flick of a fire-alarm switch.

They offer variety too, with a range of distinguishing sonic motifs as diverse as the Fabs (March of Progress), The Cure (Silhouettes) and PiL (Bunker Buster).

Guitars have an icy quality than can both dazzle and cut. But it's the torch singer in Matt Flegel that makes such melodies as Continental Shelf ("Check your anxiety. No need to suffer silently") and Pointless Experience ("If we're lucky we'll get old and die...") potential cabaret circuit favourites in some endless Lounge limbo.

Far from being a Frankenstein-style exercise in creating a new post-punk pop-industrial cyber-Situationist ensemble, Viet Cong appear to be simply confirming that they are a viable living organism.

Those melodies are the giveaway. Somebody hasn't outgrown their early Jefferson Airplane albums.

The chiming guitars that open the 11-minute sprawl Death build to a maelstrom that hints Viet Cong may yet become the Grateful Dead of the indie noise scene."

It looks like we'll have Viet Cong around for some time yet. Maybe even longer that the Psychedelic Furs. Rating: HHHHI

Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)

Rating ****

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