Review: Viet Cong, Cassette

Frighteningly easy summer listening.
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Frighteningly easy summer listening.
Viet Cong Cassette

opinion byJESSE NEE-VOLGELMAN

Rising from the ashes of the defunct and nigh-ungoogleable band Women, Viet Cong has just reiussed its rookie tour-only EP, Cassette. Starting like a druggy summer barbeque, the EP’s jangly anglo-inspired psych/post-punk first half is equal parts high-powered guitar and hippy-headband cymbal tapping. In particular, the opening single, “Throw It Away,” kicks it off with some wicked guitar riffing, Beatles-esque harmonies, and a keyboard that sounds like it’s played by an enthusiastic middle schooler who just discovered pitch bend. It’s goofy, fun, and energetic—bringing a vibrancy and surprising innocence to the band, especially given Women’s frosty isolation and the band members’ sometimes tumultuous past (one Women show featured a brawl between VC frontman, Matt Flegel, and his brother Pat).

The next track, “Unconscious Melody,” continues the group’s tonal departure from previously associated work. They’re more reminiscent of bands like the Morning Benders or White Denim, with lots of great, psych-lidded, head-staining licks. Unfortunately, Flegel tries a bit too hard to lyrically mimic the song’s musical drug daze, screaming, “I forget the feeling/I don’t have any sensation/It isn’t much of a feeling,” needing three lines to express the same exact non-meaning. However, while the lyrics leave something to be desired in the way of sophistication, maturity and substance, the quick energetic music more than makes up for the disappointment that inevitably comes from listening too closely. Similarly, “Oxygen Feed” has some nice chant-style invocations to the sun that threaten to make Viet Cong’s Cassette frighteningly easy summer listening.

From here, though, the EP takes a bit of a tumble. While “Static Wall” is mostly benign, “Structureless Design,” marks an ill-fated attempt to swim in darker waters. Supported by the song’s near-monotone drone, Flegel’s lyrical lament that “these things gradually wear you down” hits decidedly close to home. By the time he sings “we are a structureless design,” it sounds like an apology for the EP's sudden, unnecessary turn. The following track, a cover of Bauhaus’s “Dark Entries,” continues the trend—while it reclaims some of the first half’s grinding dynamism, it’s ultimately scratchy and screechy and out of their wheelhouse. By the Cassette’s end, it’s clear Viet Cong has yet to decide exactly what they are.

In the end, it’s the opener and strongest track which emphasizes the group’s most obvious issue: a seemingly self-conscious attempt to extricate itself from Women’s vestigial shadow. Without getting too Freudian, I can barely contain my cigar-and-goatee analysis at opening a comeback-of-sorts with a track punctuated by the lead singer crooning “throw it away” 21 times in a row. B-