When you’re good at making good noise, what’s the harm in making more of it?
“Is it better to burn out than fade away?” is a totally cliche question to ask about bands, but it endures purely because, well, it’s still a very reasonable question. Is it better to make some noise and disappear entirely, or continue as long as you want, running the risk of fading into obscurity entirely? For Brooklyn three-piece Vivian Girls, the answer was obvious. After three great albums, and after modestly launching the careers of dozens of fast, messy, and compelling (some more than others) imitators, the band called it a day. But some bands don’t know how to actually stay gone, which made the band’s return that much more expected. After all, when you’re that good at making good noise, what’s the harm in making more of it?
Memory, their fourth, is exactly that – it’s more noise. If you’re into the band and what they do, that should be a great prospect. Some bands don’t come back to make new statements – some of them just come back to keep doing exactly what they were doing. And from the jump, Memory is, for better or worse, exactly what the band were doing in the first place: catchy, fast, fuzzy guitar pop with buried vocals, with lyrics that are important, but not that important. At times, it feels like their production regressed; Everything Goes Wrong was just as fuzzed-out, but still gave moments of clarity, while Memory re-muddies the mix.
That doesn’t make it bad. If you’ve loved Vivian Girls before you’ll be awestruck by Memory, a showcase of everything there is to love. Cassie Ramone’s voice is still an apathetic whine with a delightful hypnotic quality, heightened by the backup vocals of the revolving rhythm section of Katy Goodman and Ali Koehler. It takes time for their words to really surface, and though they aren’t the point of these songs, the things that surface are the ones that call out to you, like a fuzz-rock Rorschach test: “We gotta live separate places/ We gotta start over on separate coasts… You gotta move on, You gotta move on,” they sing on “Your Kind of Life,” a song about the weird agony of running into an old ex and the denial that you can force yourself into when it happens, or the sing-songy drone of the trio reminding you “And no one wants you/ No one needs you/ No one loves you/ No one cares” on the blistering “At It Again.” Later, she confronts the dark demons of self-destructive nihilism on “Sludge” in the form of drunk driving because “it matters nothing cuz when God speaks/ She kills us all,” perhaps one of the most depressing sentiments of the whole album.
They still give themselves moments to try slightly different things, with mixed results. The long, shredding outro of “All Your Promises,” while face-melting, feels like total overkill for a band so adept at getting in and out of a song as quick as they can. On the other hand, the slow build of “Lonely Girl” is what heightens it to being one of the best songs here, and the one you may find yourself coming back to the most. Even with these moments, the problem is that Memory, while good – especially by this band’s standards – doesn’t present a compelling reason for why the band really got back together.
Then again, does a band need a reason to get back together? Vivian Girls are strong enough, and worthy enough of our time, that any new material from them is still a gift. It’s no wonder an entire scene bloomed out of their sound, one that sounds like the culmination of dozens of different bands while sounding like only they could. In turn, Memory sounds exactly like only Vivian Girls can. It’s the sound of a great band shaking off the rust of dormancy and picking up almost exactly where they left off, unafraid of what’s expected of them to the point of being defiantly apathetic about it, which is more than worthy of everyone’s time.