[sic] Magazine

Viet Cong – Viet Cong

I don’t know what it is about Vietnam, I really can’t explain it – but it holds a strange & beautiful affection for me – even though I’ve never actually set foot in the country! I’ve travelled to Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Bali – but never to Vietnam – and that’s despite reading umpteen books about the war and the people, both of which I find absolutely fascinating. That’s just plain wrong – and it’s something which I definitely need to change in the not-too-distant future.

Really, I could bang on about how beautiful that part of the world is – and how the words “war-torn” used to precede Vietnam in the media, as recently as the late 70’s. I could also tell you about some funny tales involving speedboats, monkeys, bananas and coconuts. But that’s maybe for another time.

Maybe because of all of this, when the Canadian band Viet Cong recently caught my attention, I was instantly eager to discover more. It’s fair to say that even the album artwork itself looks intriguing, displaying a black & white photograph of a bandage being applied to someone’s hand. It tells us very little about the music, but seems to fit so well. First and foremost though – and let’s get this out of the way – oh, how I’ve missed angular alternative music such as this in recent years!! It feeds through my speakers like a breath of fresh air – like something oddly familiar and yet both shiny & new. There’s so much energy here that it simply inspires you to start shaking your arms and frantically jumping around the room.

There are just seven tracks occupying Viet Cong’s eponymous debut album, but included within that is the magnificent closer ‘Death’ weighing in at some 11 mins 18 secs – but more on that later. ‘Newspaper Spoons’ kicks things off – and literally sounds like a huge invading army approaching. When the guitars crash in, they’re menacing, tortured and downright wonderful. The world in which Viet Cong inhabit is strangely different from yours & mine – the lyrics are distinctly left-field, almost as if they’ve survived the Apocalypse: “Deliberately made to disintegrate, Difficult existence, Underestimated alienation”.

‘March Of Progress’ commences with a kind of repetitive rhythm underlined with a menacing synth – but it just sounds so damn good. There’s a robust production which ensures that the rawness of the music is preserved and an overall sound which makes this album especially difficult to date. If I’d been told that it was recorded in the mid- to late-70’s then I probably would have believed that – until the music suddenly goes crashing off at an angle, for instance during the last 90 seconds of ‘March Of Progress’ – when we’re suddenly hurled back into the present.

The guitars on ‘Bunker Buster’ are sublime. Distorted, angular and loaded with venom. It’s worth mentioning the vocals too – part melodic, part angry and part soaring. I’m pretty sure Ian Curtis would be nodding his approval to this record. Likewise, first single ‘Continental Shelf’ possesses a life of its own – it commences with possibly the most accessible riff on the album before taking a mere 17 seconds to whisk you into a nuclear bunker. When Matt Flegel’s vocals kick in, he sounds somehow tortured, possessed. The chorus is almost silky smooth in comparison with the rest of the track.

And so to ‘Death’, which perfectly encapsulates all the elements of Viet Cong’s sound. Just when you think it’s over – some 6 minutes in – like The Terminator, it simply refuses to stop. When we reach 8 mins, once again it takes you off at an abrupt tangent. It’s almost like 3 songs rolled into one. When the song eventually dies, I’m almost half expecting the speakers to explode.

An astonishing record, at times angry but always absorbing. Welcome to the Sound of 2015.

Viet Cong at Jagjaguwar