Vivian Girls – Vivian Girls

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I don’t recall exactly when I first learned about Harvey Darger, but I found his story very disturbing and sad. Relatedly, I once spent a few hours at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, which specializes in outsider art. It was a moving but overwhelming experience. So many of these artists had crippling mental health issues and often no true therapeutic treatment (if they received any “treatment,” it was usually barbaric). I viewed their work not as some necessary byproduct of their mental state – the idea that mental illness produces art is a dangerous one – but as an embodiment of their drive to create or to express themselves, even in the most difficult of circumstances, and certainly without any kind of moral, financial, or other support. There was work from a woman who had been institutionalized (I believe in Louisiana, and I think in the 1920s or 30s (can you imagine?)) and she drew on paper plates and napkins and food wrappers – any scrap she could find to draw on. It undid me, standing there looking at this rescued art made by lost people. Vivian Girls share little with Darger’s Vivian Girls, though the band were outsiders themselves, and if or when their 2000s Brooklyn indie rock popularity made that characterization invalid is not terribly interesting to me. The original trio was made up of Cassie Ramone, “Kickball” Katy Goodman (both from New Jersey), and drummer Frankie Rose. Rose went on to play with Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls before going solo. Ramone and Goodman soldiered on for two more albums; they reunited for a fourth album in 2019. Goodman recorded and released under the name La Sera, which we will hear more about when I get to the L section.

What I Think of This Album

I’m not really sure what the big deal was about this album. I like it – almost every track is excellent – but it’s also nothing very original. Which is fine with me; that’s really not something I am ever going to complain about. I am just at a loss as to why a band that was obviously and heavily indebted to Black Tambourine (if not Dolly Mixture, or at least Talulah Gosh) and was not necessarily any more appealing than any number of similar-sounding British indie-pop bands of the late ‘80s became such a sensation. None of that actually matters, of course. What matters is the ten noisy, reverb-cushioned, crunchy songs powered by the undeniable passion of these three women, who often joined in harmony on the vocals.

There is no more pure distillation possible of the indie/punk worldview than a track like “No,” which offers that single word endlessly repeated as the entire lyric (the final “no” is delivered with a palpable, beautiful sense of despair). The rest of the songs are a bit more revealing, but no less enjoyable. “All the Time” is all rumble-in-Brooklyn drums and descending harmonies. “Such a Joke” has a propulsive, post-punk bass line and a weighted blanket of reverb. “Wild Eyes” is a bit more sweet-sounding, and features a nice needling guitar solo. The band plays to all their strengths on “Going Insane,” which would have been a standout on any C86-88 compilation. The trio get primitive (or is it primal?) on “Tell The World,” which sounds a bit like Tiger Trap covering Beat Happening. They spread their wings on the very effective ballad-like (there are still pounding drums here) “Where Do You Run To,” which strips some of the noise away from their melodic talents. “Damaged” brings to mind a harder sounding (and far less British) Talulah Gosh, featuring another enjoyable guitar solo. “Never See Me Again” could be a Smiths song if Johnny Marr played with only one hand and Morrissey was actually the feminist he always pretended to be. A nice companion piece to the undeniable “No,” is the thick and dark “I Believe In Nothing.” Look, if you had the choice on how to spend just over 20 minutes (yep), you could throw this on and have a great time, or you could spend your third of an hour doing many far less enjoyable things. By the way, Wussy has a song titled “Vivian Girls,” which is about Harvey Darger’s art.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Going Insane,” though the absurdist “No” is highly entertaining, too, and “Never See Me Again” is a fuzzy gem.

Release Date

October, 2008 (reissue – the original issue was in May on vinyl and limited to 500 copies. So. Very. 2000s. Brooklyn. Indie.)

The Cover Art

This is fairly ugly. The colors, the lines, the font. It’s all bad. I guess Darger’s estate doesn’t license his stuff?

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