Ever since the Vivian Girls got their big break (relatively speaking) in 2008, they have been extremely busy. They have gone through two drummers, Frankie Rose (now with the Dum Dum Girls) and Ali Koehler (who subsequently joined Best Coast). They cut their vastly underrated second LP Everything Goes Wrong. They have also formed a record label (Wild World Records) and engaged in numerous side-projects. Cassie Ramone has recorded and toured as The Babies along with Woods bassist Kevin Morby. Kickball Katy Goodman has been especially active, releasing an EP and a 7" (including last year's most delicious shoegaze moment in "It'll Come Around") with Gregg Foreman as All Saints Day as well as a full-length, eponymous LP as La Sera, featuring two of the coolest videos made in the last eight months (check out the grim yet free-spirited clips for "Never Come Around" and "Devils Heart Grows Cold"). Oh, and it should also be noted that they have toured constantly in the meantime. So how did the Girls find the time to write songs and record their latest album Share the Joy? And is it any good?
Share the Joy is the Vivian Girls' third studio LP, their first for Polyvinyl Records. On it, they retain their jangly approach to pop and hardcore punk which is, as always, loaded with tasty girl-group harmonies. There are a few noteworthy developments here, though. Cassie Ramone's songwriting skills continue to improve. The group's harmonies are as lush as ever. Lastly, Cassie Ramone's guitar leads are more assured, more adventurous, often confidently straying away basic melody. It also boasts the best fidelity of their three albums thus far. While for most listeners this would appear to be a good thing, Share the Joy does lack the zestful naivete of their generally over-hyped debut (Vivian Girls) as well as the crisp immediacy and fury of Everything Goes Wrong. Lastly, new drummer Fiona Campbell lacks the precision of the recently departed Ali Koehler, but is still a vast improvement over Frankie Rose.
The album opens with the stunning "The Other Girls," the Girls' longest track to date (clocking in at six-and-a-half minutes). Cassie Ramone's simulated twelve-string jangle, along with Kickball Katy's insistent, thumping James Jamerson-inspired bassline, carry the listener on a journey that includes Ramone's most impressive guitar solo thus far. The album's first single, "Heard You Say," finds them in minor-chord pop terrain, highlighted by their hallmark vocal harmonies, especially during the chorus, and a guitar solo that sounds like it was played on a twelve-stringer. Songs like"Lake House" and "Trying to Pretend" retain the angst of the previous album with cleaner production. Share the Joy's most overt nod to 1960s girl groups comes by way of "Take It as It Comes," which has a spoken-word dialogue between Cassie Ramone and Kickball Katy that recalls the opening of The Shangri-Las' 1965 masterpiece "Leader of the Pack," albeit far more lighthearted, as its focus is on "boy problems" rather than, say, a fatal motorcycle crash. As a result, it is the most fun cut on the album. They don't stray away from the topic of mortality, though. They re-record "Death," which previously appeared on their limited edition 2009 7" for the song "Moped Girls." The album closes with another six minute track in "Light in Your Eyes," which essentially re-delivers the single "Heard You Say" with far more seriousness and scope. Share the Joy benefits from having the most variety of a Vivian Girls album to date. There is plenty to like here for fans and neophytes alike. While it lacks the sizzle of their previous album, Share the Joy reveals a group that is continually growing and redefining their aesthetic.
--Share the Joy will be released on CD and vinyl courtesy of Polyvinyl Records on April 12. It is currently available for MP3 downloading at Polyvinyl Records' website.