It seems as if the Vivian Girls are trying to move away from the two-to-three minute blasts of garage pop they’d previously released on their self-titled 2008 debut and 2009’s Everything Goes Wrong, for better and for worse. On Vivian Girls, the fuzzy, girl-group meets punk simplicity of songs like “Wild Eyes” and “Where Do You Run To” couldn’t be topped. They were concise packages of fun, energetic music and hooks. This was also a curse, though, as a handful of the tracks read like half-baked attempts at the success that the other handful pulled off. The following year’s record was a similarly mixed bag, where one track, the excellent “Out for the Sun”, even pushed over the four-minute mark. Since then, the trio moved into side project territory (La Sera, The Babies) without breaking much new ground. They don’t seem to be going any deeper here on their latest effort, Share the Joy, either. While they’ve scooted out the minutes some, this album remains another mixed bag of take it or leave it tracks.
“The Other Girls” opens the record, perhaps slyly acknowledging the trend of female-fronted fuzz-rock bands that sprang up around them, or more likely primarily establishing themselves as different from the conceptual “girl” as identity. “I don’t want to lie like the other girls/don’t want to try, try, try like the other girls,” Cassie Ramone sings over a languishing, down-tempo rhythm. The last few minutes of the song, though still slow, crackle with life after that non-descript start. The vocal line turns into a group-sung “la la” sort of melody, while guitar solos flow like sharp waves. “Heard You Say” follows and the intensity again seems to lack, but the sly, Mamas and the Papas style chord-changing, multi-part harmonies on the chorus more than make up for that.
“Dance (If You Wanna)” is the first song that sounds like it could have come from the debut, relying on ultra-repetitive lyrics and simple, kicking drum patterns. “Lake House”, which is an older track, played live for a couple of years, also features a driving rhythm thanks to drummer Fiona Campbell dashing forward. “Trying to Pretend” relies on Campbell even more heavily with rapid snare rolls finding their match in thudding tom licks; as it unfolds, the song rings out like a marching anthem. Ramone and co-vocalist “Kickball” Katy Goodman slink through “Sixteen Ways”, a ramshackle, lightning bolt guitar solo piercing through layers of wailing vocals.
The Kim Gordon in “My Friend Goo”/Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack” drawl in the middle of “Take It As It Comes” reads like it came out of a textbook, while the soaring hooks of “Vanishing of Time” lopes by on Goodman’s lithe bass playing and Ramone’s deft guitar picking. “Death”, another previously released track, takes another turn at a narrative, spoken word intro, this time discussing a sweet lust for life, with the wordless backing harmonies unexpected and brilliantly cooing. Closing things out, “Light in Your Eyes” also tops six minutes, again relying on a long-form solo section to invest a sense of urgency in the tune. The almost Doors-y extended instrumental section even has an organ part, and some of the longest-held vocal “oh”s I’ve heard in a while.
While the addition of jammy solo sections definitely is an intriguing step, Share the Joy comes across like another Vivian Girls record, which has its positives, but also means they’re not changing a whole lot or molding much new material. Fans will find more solid tracks, but this probably won’t convince anyone who thought they were just one of those female-fronted rock bands, and nothing more.