viet cong’s self-titled may be their debut album, but it plays through like an effort of music industry veterans. which makes complete sense; the calgary post-punk quartet rose from the ashes of women, a band bassist matt flegel and drummer mike wallace contributed to before its untimely dissolution in 2012. totaling just seven tracks yet clocking in at around forty minutes in length, viet cong straddles the line of art rock experimentation and the maudlin sentiments of their post-punk forefathers.
concussive floor toms reminiscent of an old military documentary usher in the album on “newspaper spoons,” and slowly solidify into something coherent as a mixture of flegel’s chanting and dissonant, buzz-saw guitar feedback is layered over the top. it’s a telling use of disconnect and tension, and viet cong expertly flirts with its resolution over the next ten minutes of the album. not until flegel begins his vocal lament on “march of progress” does viet cong bear any semblance to musical consonance, but then the band makes up for lost time with haste. guitar arpeggios pan fervently from channel to channel in anticipation of the album’s first memorable melody, one propped up by wallace’s drumming which suddenly becomes resurgent in its meticulous and gradual subdivision.
viet cong certainly didn’t emerge from obscurity, and were in fact birthed from a mixture of animosity and tragic loss. not long after women’s acrimonious split, former guitarist christopher reimer passed away in his sleep, another untimely end that seems to have profoundly impacted flegel and wallace throughout the writing of viet cong. guitarists scott munro and daniel christiansen contribute admirable amounts of dissonance to the record, particularly on the cascading “bunker buster” and the triumphant post-punk microcosm “silhouettes,” but the two former members of women arguably constitute the more formidable duo in viet cong. both have risen above their rhythm section duties to contribute to the forefront of the band’s sound, flegel with his commanding turn at lead vocals and subtle-but-integral bass lines, while wallace’s drumming often matches or exceeds melodic instruments in the album’s mix.
viet cong ends with “death,” an eleven-minute funeral pyre ostensibly dedicated to reimer. the song is neither eulogy nor commentary, but instead falls somewhere in between, a distillation and union of the musical and personal ideas that resonate across the album. on their debut, viet cong have married chilly experimental soundscapes to equally-chilly post-punk essentials with aplomb, resulting in a stunningly cohesive album that is a decidedly unique and welcome alternative to the usual winter musical fare. spin it multiple times.