The druidic opening to Viet Cong immediately makes it clear we're dealing with a real LP here — every moment of redlining percussion carefully arranged to support the intensity and catharsis that propels you through the next 40 minutes. The record is made up of acts, tension-building transitions equally important as the most song-like moments.
There are traces of Women — Matt Flegel’s four-string octave-jumping style and Mike Wallace's deconstructed rhythmic brilliance propelling the songs through their most chasmic points — but on their self-titled debut Viet Cong meet all the hype and expectations head-on, bringing you through their grief only to feel empowered by the end.
They made the record with Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh in Ontario at The Barn (the same studio where METZ tracked part of another one of this year's most anticipated records), and attention has only been growing since a rough mix of their “Bunker Buster” session surfaced on Soundcloud early last year. It was a fleshed-out version of the song they ended their set with at POP Montreal in 2013 — everyone flooding into an already-full l'Esco as the door guy tried to stop people from crowdsurfing. The song was still in its early stages — at the time named after their tourmates Freak Heat Waves — but packed with enough ferocity to blow all our minds in the sweaty, expanding venue.
It was part of a 50-date tour they were doing that year, after only being a band for a few months.
"It's hard to feel like you're doing anything when you're stuck in Calgary playing the same venue over and over again," said Flegel in an interview ahead of that POP Montreal show.
"We needed to get out of there."
So they toured and recorded, forging an identity completely distinct from Flegel and Wallace's time with Women — even while the implosion of that band sits at the heart of this record.
The album cover captures that feeling, the band emerging from the pain they've been going through since the death of their former bandmate Chris Reimer in 2012. The wounds are now healing; the bandages are coming off.
After the chanted introduction of "Newspaper Spoons", the driving "Pointless Experience" starts to crack into that trauma, Flegel ending the choruses with the line "If we're lucky we'll get old and die."
But it's the following track "March of Progress" where the record hits a turning point.
Emerging from a meditative loop of distorted percussion and keyboard drones, in "March of Progress" come the most Public Strain-like moments on the record. Flegel puts those feelings into metaphor as buildings built to break, and fire coming from a different sun.
With the words "Your reputation is preceding you / We're all sufficiently impressed / And this incessant march of progress / Can guarantee our sure success" it's hard to imagine he's singing to anyone but himself.
Their 2013 cassette was a collection of different sounds, from the shoegazing "Static Wall" to the Clash-like "Throw it Away", trying things out with no intention of making a cohesive whole. Surprisingly, they seemed to have gravitated more towards the sound of the slow-building "Select Your Drone" which at the time seemed more like a noisy throwaway track to end the demo.
But they've honed in on something hypnotic here, fueled by Wallace's inventive drumming and Flegel's ability to push the song forward with his words. "Continental Shelf" is an echoing, sombre anthem made human by Flegel's pleading vocal delivery of lines like "Don't want to reminisce / I can't remember."
Album-closer "Death" covers even more dynamic ground than the entire record preceding it, starting with Wallace's drums cutting through a cycling guitar line in rapid fire before he and Flegel lock in to carry things forward, eventually slipping to a sludgy halt. It happens so gradually that it's hard to remember how "Death" even started.
Viet Cong closed their set at Divan Orange in July with "Death", to an awestruck crowd that didn't know how to dance to it. But they'll learn. This record could easily end up being one of the best things to come out all year.