Though I love browsing brick and mortar record stores, mail order will always have a special place in my heart (and my record buying habits.) There’s nothing quite like coming home to find a package waiting for you and having the experience of opening it. This afternoon when I stepped out of the office for lunch, I walked home to find my pre-order of Vivian Girls’ Share the Joy waiting for me. Share the Joy marks the beginning of the Vivian Girls’ tenure on Polyvinyl and the label definitely did a nice job with releasing the album. I pre-ordered my copy, so it came packaged with a new 7”, a t-shirt, and a 1” button (I’m a total sucker for pre-order packages, in case you haven’t noticed by now — my favorite labels for awesome pre-order goodies are probably Happy Happy Birthday to Me and Mexican Summer, but anyway…)
When Share the Joy leaked, Polyvinyl made a free download of high quality mp3s available to everyone who had pre-ordered the album, so I’ve listened to it about 6 times over the last month or so. Share the Joy was a grower for me — upon first listen, a few songs jumped right out, others took some time to emerge. I think that listening to the recently released albums from La Sera (Katy Goodman) and The Babies (Cassie Ramone) have definitely impacted the way I read this album. I would recommend listening to both albums before listening to Share the Joy if possible — it’s interesting to consider these albums in conversation with Share the Joy as they provide neat points of reference for how Cassie and Katy develop their individual voices as musicians and songwriters and how their aesthetic sensibilities come together and interact on Share the Joy.
The songs on Share the Joy nod to several fine American music traditions: girl groups, the Paisley Underground, country, folk, but these seemingly disparate genres are held together tightly by Cassie, Katy, and Fiona. Album opener, “The Other Girls,” and the following track, “I Heard You Say,” remind me of The Crystals — detached vocals that are both eerie and catchy at the same time, drawing you in and keeping you at arm’s length at the same time. Later in the album, “Take It As Is Comes” and “Death” seem to draw on the Shangri-Las, with spoken word intros and bold vocals that touch on the perils of the human condition.
For me, the strongest stretch of songs on the album comes right in the middle — “Lake House,” “Trying to Pretend,” and the Green on Red cover “Sixteen Ways” are the core of the album, taking the momentum built by the album’s opening tracks and running with it.
Sonically, the album’s closing track “Light in Your Eyes,” suggests a minor departure from the rest of the album. The guitars have a fuzz and a crunch to them that’s not quite as noticeable in other tracks, but the same vocal aesthetics prevail, keeping the album working as a unified whole.
What really strikes me about the songs on Share the Joy are the multiple worlds they seem to inhabit. “Dance (If You Wanna)” suggests a youthful naivete (it reminded me a bit of early recordings by the All Girl Summer Fun Band), while songs like “Death” invoke both a sense of world weariness and a mature resiliency. I admire artists who are able to straddle these competing sensibilities, drawing on the memories and experiences that help us to find joy in living as our stations in life shift and change.
The Vivian Girls are currently touring in support of Share the Joy. You can purchase a copy of the album and scope out tour dates on the Polyvinyl site. They’ll be here in Cleveland on May 15th with No Joy(!!!) and Prisoners. More info on their Cleveland show is available on the Grog Shop website.
(Official video for “I Heard You Say”)