Darkness doesn’t always have to call for a complete absence of light, as seems to be the theme of Calgary band Viet Cong’s self-titled debut album. Written in the wake of the ending of Women, a group half of Viet Cong’s members were in, as well as the death of the band’s own guitarist, it would be easy to assume this album would only focus on negativity. However, bright and energetic sounds emerge amid the gloom of Viet Cong.
“Newspaper Spoons” opens the album, featuring a refrain framed by abrasive instrumentation including pounding drums and distortion. However, a synth melody gradually comes to the forefront, providing conventional beauty within the storm of sound. “March of Progress” is a song that really displays the band’s uniqueness, mechanical percussion looping in time with a layer of synths during the extended introduction. “Maybe, you just need someone to keep you warm, with fire coming from a different sun,” sings Matt Flegel. This line eventually leads into rapid fire guitar playing that sounds exactly like that “different sun” is coming out from behind the clouds, light scattering across the landscape.
Strong guitar interplay is present in the following track, “Bunker Buster,” an off-kilter burner of a song. The bass weaves in to evoke the sounds of Sonic Youth and Sleater-Kinney: lovers of alternative tunings. “Continental Shelf” captures the clarity versus distortion Viet Cong do so well, fuzzed out guitar coming up against powerful bass during the verses. “Silhouettes” is frantic and direct, the instrumentation locked in place by a steady beat. “Death” comes last, a propulsive number that becomes a dirge before reinventing itself with an urgency that keeps the song driven and the listener keen.
A range of sounds are captured on Viet Cong’s debut, allowing the band to transcend the limiting categories of indie rock and post-punk to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Juxtaposition is this band’s strength: the dark against the light, clear guitar lines lit up over rumbling percussion. Viet Cong has experienced hardship and risen above it, taking the shadow of the past along with them.
Viet Cong is available on January 20th via Flemish Eye.
Top Tracks: “Continental Shelf,” “Silhouettes”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good) + *swoop*