ARTIST: Viet Cong
At first it sounds like an irreconcilable gimmick: the MP3 version of an EP called Cassette. The paradox of listening to this EP on an iTunes player—a digital optimization of occasionally demagnetized post-punk—diminishes the bootleg ephemerality of Viet Cong’s debut. Tour-only merchandising is one of the remaining vestiges of the live show. The commodification of broadsides, t-shirts, and cassette tapes is a way to entice would-be fans through the exclusive right to purchase. There’s a particular dissonance inherent to listening to the Mexican Summer reissue of Cassette then—the awareness that as a listener, you’ve breached implicit tour-only distribution—and it comes with the price of immediate loyalty to Viet Cong. The band, not the guerrilla communists.
It’s a small price to pay since, from the opening track, it feels as if Calgary-based Viet Cong is riding the first wave of British punk all the way to the shores of contemporary art rock, a delightful fusion of post-punk, garage rock, and math rock that is every bit as likeable and challenging as the 2014 debut from Montreal’s Ought. Vocalist Matt Flegel is a ringer for Joe Strummer as the rest of the Viet Cong concocts its own version of combat rock, from harmonized guitar riffs to dull tom pops from drummer Mike Wallace. While the opening track bears the traditional touchstones of proto-punk—in composition, timbre, and duration—the songs that follow are memorable for their idiosyncratic hairpins that divvy and dissociate. The prevailing mood of the EP is defiance and so the go-to move is abandon. The implosive techniques—abandoned key, rhythm, what have you—are not lurking on the songs’ horizons, but occur like spontaneous railroad switches, even apoptosis.
It’s not until track three, “Oxygen Feed,” that rickety production reminds listeners that they are, in fact, listening to a digitized cassette. The lo-fi persists into the next track, “Static Wall,” which sounds like an MGMT campfire séance under shimmery meteor shower siege. Songs like “Structureless Design” and “Select Your Drone” begin as pop, but melody is jettisoned for dead-end screech. The industrial jams are insubstantial—feedback mocking rail then siren—but manage to forge incomprehensible depth, muddy the palette.
Several motifs, from synthesizer codas to a Bauhaus cover, seem to be slippery ingredients that are not yet integrated into the Viet Cong aesthetic, but are tantalizing artifacts that hint at what to expect from the mid-fall full-length release, which Flegel told Exclaim! will be more cohesive, featuring “a little more doom and gloom, gothed-out ‘80s,” all inspired by Flegel’s obsession with The Cure. The full-length will be co-released by Chad VanGaalen’s Flemish Eye, a bittersweet but familiar genesis for Flegel and Wallace, who were both members of the defunct Calgary-based band Women.
“And all that we are is something to keep the shadows and sun apart from one another.”