There’s something rapturous about Viet Cong’s self-titled debut that simply can’t be articulated in a way that hasn’t been used to describe its stylistic predecessors. Much of Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar) is derivative and not unlike singer/bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace’s previous art-rock band, Women. However, it extends much further than that. Flegel’s vocals are a spitting image of those of Ian Curtis, if maybe meshed with a bit of Spencer Krug, while as a whole the band is obviously influenced by Gang of Four, Wolf Parade, and of course, Joy Division. But even if Viet Cong is hardly forward-thinking on their full-length debut, its expression, whether it’s chaotic or precise, is executed extremely well.
While the album’s appeal might stem from that to which it pays homage, it’s the variety of sounds and the band’s compositional prowess that make it captivating. “Continental Shelf,” the only song that even remotely resembles a single, is representative of the spectacular bass-guitar conversation held throughout Viet Cong. Then we have the twinkling moments of “Newspaper Spoons” and “March of Progress,” as well as the Beatles-esque melody that breaks the pummeling cacophony of “Pointless Experience.” But these are truly just fleeting moments. Most of the pieces of Viet Cong are constructed by contrasting segments; no song ever maintains composure for more than a couple minutes, but the transition between parts is seamless.
Though Viet Cong can be appreciated easily without context, it could potentially come off as a dark, nihilistic record otherwise. Part of the impetus for the band was the death of Christopher Reimer, Women guitarist and friend of Flegel and Viet Cong guitarist Monty Munro. That event and Viet Cong are inextricable, which is perhaps especially reflected in the last line of the chorus of “March of Progress,” where Flegel sings, “If we’re lucky, we’ll get old and die.” Such themes are just as obvious on closer “Death,” a heavily orchestrated, monstrous song filled with extensive chapters, each one more isolating than the last. The quandary is whether the record (or at least some of the songs that compose it) are indeed the interpretation of loss or the bright side of being able to grow old.