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April 19, 2011

Share the Joy reinvigorates the distorted pop sound of Vivian Girls

Vivian Girls’ sound is best described as “dream like.” The female trio, composed of Cassie Ramone, Katy Goodman and most recently Fiona Campbell, has established a successful reputation as a dream-pop band. Their 2008 single, “Wild Eyes,” was an overnight hit, and past albums Vivian Girls and Everything Goes Wrong have garnered rave reviews.

That said, listeners’ tastes and attention spans are fickle, and expiration dates for many bands come quickly. Add to this the fact that the group’s drummer, Ali Koehler, left to join the surf-pop sensation Best Coast. Two years after Vivian Girls’s last album, rumors circulated that the group was past its prime, stoking fears that their latest album Share the Joy would be subpar or, even worse, outdated. Those fears are safely put to rest as the latest album shows us a new, revitalized version of the group that we know and love.

What is brilliant about Vivian Girls is that they can effectively capture the musical stylistics of the ’60s girl groups from which they draw inspiration while still staying true to their own unique sound. Share the Joy is no exception: The album is sometimes comical, sometimes melancholic, but all done with a tinge of light-heartedness and nostalgia. “Dance (If You Wanna)” has a quick drum beat and background chorus vocals that have the smooth pulsing of surf-rock. “Sixteen Ways” begins with intense bass that builds up to vocalist Ramone’s entrance and quickly develops into a duple beat.

Vivian Girls have kept their vocals minimal. Most of their vocals consist of repeating a standard phrase, usually the title, over the course of the song with chorus vocalizations as fillers. That’s not to say the music is any less interesting. “Lake House” takes this to the extreme with a long, purely instrumental section. What vocals it has are distorted until they are so fuzzy that the whole piece takes on a psychedelic texture. The lyrics are fittingly surreal: “I’m awake out on the lake/ At 3 a.m. I sleep again.”

“Take It As It Comes” is an exception to this generic template, and the Girls make the most of it. Sung as a first-person musical commentary, it has a short bridge of dialogue that is fittingly done with a whiny tone: “‘What if he ends up on a date with another girl?’ ‘Well, let me tell you, to find true love, you gotta first look like yourself.’” It is a comical take on a cliché scenario—a girl giving relationship advice to her friend—imbued with all the elements of a classic Grease song number. This showcases the Girls’ complicated relationship with the girl groups that have dramatically influenced them: they can aspire to the musical mastery of groups like the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes and still put a less-than-sincere spin on their naive and simple lyrics.

Yet the best part of the Share the Joy is the lyrics. My favorite is “I Heard You Say,” a lover’s sad song with both simple and poignant lyrics: “See the roads/They go for miles/But you will never see the light again in his smile.” The lyrics become complex and enigmatic, and when fore-grounded by the fuzzy, surreal instrumentals, you know just how long the road seems.

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