Viet Cong and Sleater-Kinney Start the Year with a Bang

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Viet Cong
Viet Cong 20 January 2014 | Jagjaguwar

The dissolution of Canadian post-punk act Women found members Matthew Flegel and Michael Wallace in a purgatory of sorts. After two critically acclaimed albums, Women abruptly came to an end in 2010. Before the band had a chance to reconvene, tragedy struck as guitarist Christopher Reimer passed away in 2012. The past couple of trying years are reflected in Flegel and Wallace’s new band’s self-titled debut. The chaotic, rapturous Viet Cong is driven by loss and fueled by resistance. Viet Cong knows the end is in sight. That doesn’t mean they have to accept it.

“Pointless Experience” explicitly examines the ultimate, unavoidable futility of life, where the best possible outcome is to “grow old and die.” “March of Progress” builds towards a noticeable progression. Beginning with a surreal and hypnotic vocal performance, the song propels itself on the back of swirling, distorted guitars. “What’s the difference between love and hate,” asks Flegel. He’s not proposing an answer, just exposing how fucked up and messy human emotion is. It’s unknown where the music is heading, but it’s progress nonetheless. The band members are in no way more informed about where this ship leads, with the song cutting out in its most urgent moment. These songs sound spontaneous in nature, creating the adrenaline that supplies the record with a jolt of vitality.

“Death” is one of those legacy-defining tracks for a band. No one knows where Viet Cong is heading in the future, but “Death” will be dear to all who grow to appreciate this record. The 11+ minute track begins with a looping guitar riff, which turns out to be a necessary calm before the inevitable storm that envelopes the track’s final seven minutes. It’s as valiant a fight against the inevitable stroke of death as anyone has put on record. “Death” also neatly sums up the many joys of Viet Cong. As much strength as there is in these recordings, a larger factor in what makes this album an essential listen is the equal amount of vulnerability injected into the compositions. As great as the music sounds, it wouldn’t resonate on the level that it does without the humanity emanating throughout the record; a sign of life in a setting that threatens to overwhelm it.

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Sleater-Kinney No Cities To Love 20 January 2014 | Sub Pop

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a Sleater-Kinney reunion. The band’s vital seven album run from the 1990s to the mid 2000s could have remained an impenetrable collection of songs triumphing the voiceless, the ignored.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. There’s still a lot to be pissed off about. There’s more than enough reasons to justify the existence of a new Sleater-Kinney record. And it just so happens that No Cities To Love reveals a band just as hungry, just as conflicted and powerful as they were during any of their previous eras.

Carrie Brownstein told the New York Times the band wouldn’t have been able to record this material if the “stakes weren’t high” enough. That’s a well-known phrase in the world of film, but it isn’t often referenced when discussing music. Her time in Portlandia may have had an unintended effect on her music career. (Then again, when haven’t the stakes been high on a Sleater-Kinney record?) It’s a testament to all involved that this plays as a universal rallying cry, a political statement of solidarity and empowerment. “Price Tag” finds Corin Tucker reminding us that the “the system waits for us,” the individuals who give life to giant corporations. The album centers on the idea that the collective we are the reason things hold any value; the title track culminating in a refrain of “It’s not the cities / It’s the people we love.”

As much of the album is a fight against corporatist, conservative thought, it’s also a celebration of the hidden freedoms of living on the margins, providing a chance to “invent our own kind of obscurity” on “A New Wave”. No Cities is the rare album that not only has something to say, but knows exactly how to deliver it. Melodies flow in and out at an alarming rate, brilliant idea stacked upon brilliant idea.

We do not live in a perfect world. Thankfully, we have a Sleater-Kinney record that perfectly captures the many flaws and advantages of living in this modern age.

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