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Posted March 7, 2007 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

VietNam’s Infatuation With Time

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When I first looked upon a group photo of VietNam in a magazine a few months ago, I expected it to be a feature on some obscure anti-war band in the 1960s, consisting of four friends that would be habitually defined as “hippies”. Well, looks can be decieving. VietNam are actually fairly recent, as lead singer/guitarist Joshua Grubb and guitarist Michael Gerner formed the beginnings of the four-piece in late 2000 out of their hometown of Austin, Texas. In regards to the band’s name, it appears that it was a symbol of the group’s rebellious nature. “We just wanted a name that had power,” Gerner told Rolling Stone, “I grew up as a military brat and ‘Vietnam’ was a bad word”. Over the next three years, the duo gained a sort of special reputation wherever they played. Both Grubb and Gerner were known for their eccentric and wild personalities, both being kicked off several tours because of their uniquely profane antics. Such events have led to a delay in their prominence, a factor that is just starting to excel to a respectable point. Gerner is particularly reputable for his on-stage presentation, where he sways in a fashion that makes Elvis look like an amateur. The tentative duo eventually caught the attention of drummer Michael Foss and bassist Ivan Berko, who both saw the two men unleash a fury on stage in New York in 2003, unveiling a sense of passion that was both unfamiliar and desirable to them in their wildest rock ‘n’ roll dreams. When the four of them finally got together, it played off naturally. With their thin figures, loose clothing, long hair, and excessive beards, all four members looked natural on stage in unison. They played together just as collectively, whether it was attributed to their shared appearances or not. Labels eventually took note of VietNam’s throwback performances, being a representation that the band valued the power of music over wealth of any kind, just like those cult bands of the 70s. Vice Records was one of the first to take notice, as VietNam released their debut EP, The Concrete’s Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street, in 2004. Consisting of five live songs, it was a well-received release that was a good display of natural energy and enjoyable old-fashioned passion. After touring actively, they headed to the studio in 2006 and began to record their debut full-length. The result was the self-titled VietNam, released by Kemado Records on January 23rd.

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The lyrics repeated throughout “Mr. Goldfinger” are arguably the most accurate in depicting VietNam’s vivid personality. “Money and class are just a pain in the ass for me,” Grubb roughly spouts out, following it with several references eluding to ecstacy, cocaine, and prostitution. “A couple whores on the side are keeping daddy alive, what’s an old man to do?” is another effective reference by Grubb’s raspy moans, portraying a rash directness that many contemporary bands fear will cause them to “lose sales”. VietNam doesn’t seem to care about sales though, which is all the more enjoyable. Reminded of the 70s yet? Their influences are obvious, as you may have guessed. An admiration for Dylan, the Velvet Underground, and John Lennon are all relevant, including modern nods to the likes of Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo. “Mr. Goldfinger” contains a thick saxophone throughout the entire song, conveying a slight jazz overtone over distorted guitar riffs and unified keys. The whole song is clouded in a haze of self-righteous rebellion and experimentation, being a song that may have fit well in any miscellaneous anti-war stage production in the early 1970s. I would imagine the song has a following when played live, as Grubb sings it stylistically so singing along is extremely capable, even when under the influence of any drugs the song mentions. “Priest, Poet, & The Pig” reminds me of Dylan and the Velvet Underground a bit, being more poetic and repetitive in comparison to VietNam’s other murky songs. Grubb seems to have a similar snarl to Dylan, as it almost sounds as if the comparison is intentional. Either way, it is an enjoyable display as Grubb satirizes the usual (being lawyers, politics, wealth, and education) through the midst of a guitar-led triumph. “Step On Inside” is the opener to the album, starting out slightly rough but eventually picking up the pace over the joyous stomps of percussion and a very nice string accompaniment. VietNam is an enjoyable collection of ten songs, layered with blues, funk, jazz, and most visibly, good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. The four-piece’s raw energy is also a reason for good fun, even if several of the songs last too long and eventually sound like an improvised jam session, but what’s so wrong with that? Add VietNam to the likes of David Vandervelde and 2007 is shaping up to be a good year for a 70s revival. The album also contains contributions from Jenny Lewis, Paz Lenchantin, and the horn section of Future Pigeon. Until a time machine is invented, seeing VietNam live should be one of your most effective contemporary methods for recreating the 70s. Peace.

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VietNam – Mr. Goldfinger

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/vietnam-mrg.mp3]

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VietNam – Priest, Poet, & The Pig

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/vietnam-pri.mp3]

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VietNam – Step On Inside

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/vietnam-ste.mp3]

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].