The Brooklyn-based trio, Vivian Girls, grow into their skin on their third album, Share the Joy, mastering a unique mix of driving garage rock and sugary-sweet pop.
While the Vivian Girl's initial fame seemed to hinge on the gimmick of their unique sound, by their third album they are proving that their style is no cheap trick. On Share the Joy, the trio matures their sound into a more poignant and complex soundscape, delivering on the promise of their simpler early works.
Share the Joy takes the template of the jangly, bittersweet love songs of the 60s and infuses them with the driving rhythm and lo-fi aesthetics of modern garage punk. The result taps the tragic-romantic mythos of figures like Deidre or Juliet. Named after a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song from right before the songwriting duo split up, Share the Joy has an undercurrent of impending tragedy running through its sugary-sweet body.
The beginning and end of the album are noteworthy, while the middle tends to sag. Leading off is “The Other Girls,” a feminist anthem with enough frankness and dorky charm that it feels like it should be the theme song for Daria. Cassie Ramone’s voice takes on a quality like Velma from Scooby Doo, but somehow it finds a beautiful tension with the thumping music behind it.
The second track “I Heard You Say” is the best on the album; the track and official music video (which features http://www.cantaloupe.tv video production and editing suggestions from label big wig Jarvis Taveniere) are the perfect blend of punk rock guitar riffs and 60s flower pop harmony.
Joy loses its edge for a while starting with the third track, the repetitive “Dance (If You Wanna).” For a poppy dance tune, its six-minute length feels grudgingly monolithic. From there the album skates through a few gloomy tunes reminiscent of Mazzy Star, with the next ear-perker not coming until track seven: “Take it as it Comes.” This song employs 50s-style songwriting for a wry parody of the love songs of that era. Rather than being comical, the song is a surprisingly raw commentary on outmoded ideas with gender and courting rituals.
Closing up the album are two morbid tracks that anchor Joy strongly. “Death” contrasts the tragedy of seeing a person die with finding the desire to live. The straightforward chorus goes: "I wanna wanna wanna wanna Stay Alive.” “Light In Your Eyes” takes the album to another level, kicking the tempo up an unexpected notch and bringing in some of the album’s more interesting melodies... plus a little organ for good measure. The song is driven by an infections, ping-y bass groove.
Altogether, the work is a big improvement over the band’s self-titled debut and 2009's Everything Goes Wrong. With Joy, Vivian Girls have become more introspective and substantial with better instrumentation (especially on guitar), while losing little of its garage-punk energy. This album might cement the trio as a band with more to say than other poppy female-fronted punk bands like The Joy Formidable or The Donnas.