The name, the song titles, the cover. Viet Cong’s aesthetic is pretty clear on their debut album and the from the very first note, it’s evident that their sound cements it. After the breakup of Calgary indie rock band Women and the subsequent unfortunate death of guitarist Christopher Reimer, members Matthew Flegel and Michael Wallace sought after a new means of releasing their haunting and discordant music, and thus Viet Cong was born. The band’s first release, Cassette, gave glimpses into their cold and droning post-punk styles but on the self titled debut album, this is amplified and taken to harsher levels.
Although post-punk’s literal definition relegates its existence to the 1970s and 80s, Viet Cong fall into the post-punk revival trend that re-emerged in the 2000’s. While bands such as the Rapture and Franz Ferdinand channelled the influences of acts such Talking Heads and Elvis Costello, like many others this side of the decade, Viet Cong draw inspiration from the darker sounds and visuals of bands such as Joy Division and This Heat. Songs are heavy and sprawling, providing intricate detail while maintaining a confrontational level of noise and are supplemented with expectedly dark lyrical surrealism.
However, unlike Women and their influences, all is not doom and gloom. There are pop like hooks and riffs and genre bending techniques, particularly on the song “Continental Shelf“, a song that couples 60’s style drums with wailing guitar lines and an upbeat chorus melody. Glossy synthesizers even enter the fold and subvert the expectations many had of what was seen as simply Women 2.0. Not only is this difference in sound something that largely suits the band, but something they are entirely comfortable with. Flegel and Wallace are willing and capable to pervade new sonic territory, creating multiple transitional surprises throughout the record.
One of these noteworthy surprises occurs around the midpoint of “March of Progress“. As the heavy rhythmic drumming and repetitive string sounds reach near-stagnancy, the song gets a burst of energy, sprinting at double the pace as if there is a finish line in sight. The relative contrast shows a band that defies the restrictions of genre and takes a Janus-faced look at post-punk, filling its tired corpse with fresh blood. “Your reputation is preceding you / we’re all sufficiently impressed“, Flegel sings; aware of the critical pressure that burdens his newest project, but nonetheless confidently assured of success.
“March Of Progress”:
The most consistently surprising moments happen in the album’s closing. The aptly titled “Death” is a rampaging song that piles on stark guitar stabs until it reaches a bubbling point. Just when one expects the album to fade to a close, the track nonchalantly spills over into a groovy piece, underlain by barrelling drums and a complete contrast to the previous sections, mirroring “Continental Shelf”, and ending the record directly opposite to where it started. The growth of Flegel and Wallace since Women is clearly demonstrated here: transitions are abundant and surprises are plenty and the recording is of a much higher quality. The cold feel of the band’s residence makes its way onto the record, capturing the sublime beauty of chilling Calgary alas with moments of thunderous fury.
Just as punk was thought to be dead, post-punk seems to have rejuvenated thanks to the effort of bands like Viet Cong. As music becomes more focused on creating the future of sound, the punishing sounds of these bands remind us that the influences of past represent a still unexplored playground of musical endeavour. Viet Cong’s hype only shows the extent of public desire for experimentation in such uncharted territory, and when bands like this show where music could go, their relevance is easily apparent. Viet Cong’s self-titled album is out now via Jagjaguwar, purchase it here.
Words by Bradley Harris // Editeed by Ayo Adepoju