This quartet was reared on some other great bands, but it’s lead singer Ween Callas’ quirky screechy-meets-singing delivery that packs the oomph into the already neo-disco backbeat on “Guru”. Touchstones like Gang of Four and Blondie would be obvious, but there are some Middle Eastern touches in the tune that also resemble Bjork—if she was fronting the Banshees instead of Siouxsie. Evan Haros works this Middle Eastern magic on sitar, as well as adding some electronics while guitarists Ravi Dhar and Skoda flesh out the number. Fans of Metric or Canada’s lesser-known Controller.Controller would lap up this song in a minute. The lone hindrance to the track might be the brief lull near the homestretch before the guitars kick into high gear yet again. A far better attempt reaches fruition during “Dekoder”, as Callas sounds like she’s singing in a phone booth at the bottom of a gigantic tin can. It’s distant but works quite nicely, especially leading into the second verse. It then builds again on the guitars to create a thick, quasi-psychedelic melody the type of which one would be hard pressed to grow tired.
A lot of people might see Viva K as a rather ragged and somewhat unpolished Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but that is rarely a bad thing. They aren’t afraid to push the envelope with each ditty, especially “No Better Time”. Starting as if they’re going to break out into Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”, the band then opt for a funky groove while Callas sings about saying too much. It’s quite strong, with little in the way of sonic fat around it. Viva K set the groundwork for “Does It Matter?” with a slight industrial blueprint that instantly recalls “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. And as fine as the electronic aspect is here, it’s the deep bassline that sets things off in the right direction. But as strong and as focused as “Does It Matter?” is, you get the sense that “We Are Safe” didn’t go through such an editing or tightening process. Psychedelic textures are all over this windswept rocker, Callas does an adequate vocal, nothing more and nothing less, and the result is something surprisingly listless and limp. It might work at the album’s end but not near the heart or core of the record.
The quartet atone for such sins, however, on the lovely garage-ish yet danceable jewel “Light Light Light”, a distant cousin of Primal Scream’s “Shoot Speed Kill Light”. Callas goes into a cute and cuddly, quasi-Gwen Stefani-meets-Karen O mode early and often. The drumbeat is also another asset, bringing to mind Blondie’s Clem Burke minus the snazzy attire and thin black leather tie. But there is another clunker, “Splendour”, that recalls something Duran Duran might have done circa “The Reflex”. Part tribal but part disco, the effort really doesn’t blossom the way it should, instead content to stick to the same melody from top to bottom. The repetition of “No, no, no”, for those somewhat long in the tooth, could also conjure up images of a youthful Sinead O’Connor wailing away on “Mandinka”.
The biggest plus to this disc is that you know that, for the most part, they can sustain one solid track after another, even if some people won’t be able to find time for or even stomach the electro-pop of “Porch Raga”, which is neither country or raga for that matter. It has its moments, but probably won’t be worth repeating or replaying. Viva K hit pay dirt for the fifth or sixth time on the catchy, radio-friendly, No Doubt-ish “Love Everybody” as the electronics hover over the tight rhythm section.
// Notes from the Road
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