Canadian post-punks Viet Cong take their music very seriously, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that there isn’t anything to enjoy in their 37-minute, self-titled debut LP.
Beginning with “Newspaper Spoons,” Viet Cong sets the playing field immediately. Nearly 60 seconds into their album the only sounds you hear are a heavily distorted drum line and lead singer Matt Flegel’s chilly, deadpan vocals before the ripping snarl of a guitar.
This is certainly not easy like Sunday morning music. Viet Cong is deliberate, intensively meticulous and has an incredible attention to detail. Throughout their album, they recall and master the sonic palette of post-punk so they can tear it all down, emerging from beneath the rubble of it all.
“Deliberately made to disintegrate,” sings Flegel on opener “Newspaper Spoons,” which essentially becomes the thesis for the album.
Although the distortion may lead you to believe otherwise, this album does not feel lo-fi in any way whatsoever. Everything feels intentional, as if every tight drum fill or icy bassline was placed there to serve a distinct and separate purpose.
The oppressive distortion on the instruments creates a bleak and almost cacophonous soundscape, but Viet Cong always finds a way to subvert themselves. The haunting drumline and screeching guitar of “Newspaper Spoons” dissolves into a celestial synth melody before the song closes.
The album’s midpoint, “March of Progress,” follows a militaristic drumline for nearly the first half of the song, until it switches without warning into delicate guitar and what might be Flegel’s most subdued vocals on the whole album.
However, the song transitions once more into an almost danceable New Order-esque synth breakdown before finally ending. Viet Cong’s grim and austere tones can lull you into a wintry mood, but they never leave you there, always surprising with an unexpected transition or with a moment of surprising delicacy.
After the very public dissolution of post-punk band Women in 2010 and the death of the band’s guitarist Christopher Reimer in 2012, Viet Cong was formed from their ashes. Viet Cong is made up of two ex-Women band members, bassist and vocalist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace.
Considering the band’s rocky history, it comes as no surprise that their lyrics are a reflection of their past.
Matt Flegel’s vocal delivery is deadpan and emotionless at times, but at other points he yells desperately into their distorted void or, as in “March of Progress,” Flegel sings with a broken and yet still stunning falsetto.
Lyrically, the album is obsessed with deconstruction, much like their music. Lyrics like “If we’re lucky we’ll get old and die,” from “Pointless Experience” reveal a lot about themselves.
Regret, existential pointlessness and the sense of everything falling apart are the key themes repeated throughout the album, yet it never feels overly dramatic. It is the few moments of beautiful clarity that are interspersed between the pounding distortion that help ground Viet Cong and stop it from being too fussy or overbearing.
Viet Cong also includes a rerecorded version of an old song, “Bunker Buster,” which contains one of the most memorable guitar riffs in a while. How often is it that a riff gets stuck in your head in 2015? That alone deserves an award.
“Bunker Buster” is the type of song that makes you want to pick up a guitar and pretend you know what you’re doing.
Album closer “Death” is an 11-minute song that culminates to a 4-minute wash of sound in which no instrument is recognizable on its own until the band slowly deconstructs it all, and then transitions into something almost entirely unrecognizable from before.
Viet Cong is an album best listened to all at once from beginning to end. It’s an ode to order, incredibly cohesive from start to finish.