In January, Viet Cong released their self-titled monstrous studio album debut. That album exploded onto the scene, as Viet Cong now find themselves in a cross-continental tour, a stint of SXSW shows, and performing at several festivals, such as Primavera Sound, Pitchfork Music Festival, and Osheaga. The post-punk, art-rock Canadian quartet was birthed from ex-members of Women. The self-titled album was released via Jagjaguwar, which is home to Bon Iver, Angel Olsen, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Sharon Van Etten. Viet Cong is a vague, deeply profound, torturous, moving, fresh, and unbelievable debut that loosely ties themselves to current groups as well as past bands with still holding onto their pure essence.
Viet Cong opens up with an incredibly dense and distorted track, “Newspaper Spoons.” The song is ultimately about the meaningless of life and the feeling that no matter what you do, everything will have a penultimate end, when we no longer exist. Although the track is very heavy, it ends with a galactic, yet dismal display of electronics. The next song, “Pointless Experience,” continues to carry with it the heavy burden that the opening track left, as lead singer, Matt Flegel, sings, “everything’s better and then you notice that you were always unaware.” Flegel’s disintegrating vocals, tied with the distorted bass, and crisp guitars work perfectly to create a sense of unease and chaos.
Throughout Viet Cong, the band takes several twists and turns and continuously find themselves in unexpected territory. The album has no hindrances nor does it try to cater to an exact song structure or timing. It allows itself to get lost. On the first single, “Continental Shelf,” Flegel’s dripping vocals burn through your ears, “check your anxiety / no need to suffer silently.” The music video contains homages to classic horror and art house films, which captivates the dark spirits lingering in the corners of the song. It’s an incomplete and ominous track that alludes to upcoming danger or heading into the unknown, and, for some reason, Viet Cong makes you want to tag along.
“March of Progress” is a swirling landscape of muffled keys and guitars. It begins extremely slowly, and, out of nowhere, it hits you with a monstrous wall of energy. “Bunker Buster” deals with war, and, ultimately, the headache that is every war. It’s jarring, pounding, unrelenting, and it doesn’t stray away from its goal. Flegel’s stance becomes even clearer when he sings, “What side are you on man? / I think we look the same.” Flegel is angry, but thoughtful, and knows how to time his punches.
What builds Viet Cong is their ability to create tension and borderline on anxiety, keeping you glued to your headphones. On the second single, “Silhouettes,” Flegel yells, “There’s no connection left in your head / Another book of things to forget / An overwhelming sense of regret / Relay, reply, react, and reset.” It’s clear that Flegel and Viet Cong are dealing with the idea of people being treated like factories. He sees the future just as George Orwell or Aldous Huxley saw it; a mindless cycle that is conditioning people to be the same – and then die.
The album closer is the vibrant “Death.” The eleven-minute epic carries with it a sense of loss, as if home is nowhere, and you are searching for something that doesn’t exist. The band is dealing with a very close and personal death, and they delve into those feelings headfirst. The song spirals out of control and slows down to a pace equivalent to the third round of a boxing match. This boxer is down and out, drained, and on the verge of giving in, when he somehow finds the strength from within him to fight back. It’s a heroic ending to a chaotic, incredible, and demanding debut.