[18 November 2010]
PopMatters Music Editor
What’s in a name? Not so much in the case of So-Cal quartet Abe Vigoda, since it’s pretty much the only thing that’s not dead serious and totally intense about the band. The jokey moniker, apparently chosen on a whim after founders Michael Vidal and Juan Velazquez kept seeing cameos by the hang-dog ‘70s character actor on Conan O’Brien’s show, is a misleading misnomer for a group that stirs up as much raw, unbridled emotion as Abe Vigoda does on its latest album, Crush. Not unlike its L.A. underground peer No Age (whose Post Present Medium imprint released Crush), Abe Vigoda makes its initial impact through brute force, but holds onto your attention by channeling it into messy, noisy art. Just call Abe Vigoda noir-wave, the result of smashing post-punk aesthetics, goth melodrama, and electro-pop energy into each other, then bringing the whole thing to the critical mass.
Even though the reference points for Crush are obvious with its Joy Division dynamics and Cure theatrics, Abe Vigoda’s got more than enough inspiration and intuition to make its art-punk seem fresh and something all its own. You might not have expected it from an outfit that tried to pioneer tropical-punk on its previous outing, 2008’s Skeleton, but Crush is kinda like what you hoped the new Interpol record would’ve been or what Rapture could’ve become if not for the production tricks and the hype. With its psycho-thriller chords picking up steam right from the intro, the dance-punky opening track “Sequins” kicks off the album as if it’s already in the thick of things, covering the full range of emotions that doom-and-gloom pop taps into. Combining Vidal’s deep-throated, almost hoarse vocals with pulsing keyboards and man-machine beats just underneath, the play of textures and tones on “Sequins” generates a sense of drama that sets a rivetingly dark mood and furious pace for what follows.
An even more compelling example of Abe Vigoda’s neo-post-punk is the title track, which cues things up with some spazzed-out dissonance and jumpy drums before the band is off to the races, whipping up an adrenaline rush of pounding rhythms, grinding guitars, and siren-like synths. What really drives “Crush”, though, is Vidal’s voice, which pushes so hard that its Robert Smith-like intonations get knocked out of tune while delivering bleeding heart lyrics like “I wrap my hope around you” with no shame or scruples. But no matter how foreboding and overwrought “Crush” might come off, there’s still an instinctively poppy quality that cuts through the haunting, brooding atmospherics, something Abe Vigoda shares with the best of its influences.
Perhaps the band gets carried away at times on Crush—“Dream of My Love (Chasing After You)” and “Pure Violence”, as their titles suggest, are over the top and verge on histrionic—but Abe Vigoda actually has a deft and subtle enough touch that shows there’s more to what it’s doing than pure power. More New Order than Joy Division, “Chasing Shade” makes moves towards full-on synth-pop, coming up with a more raucous take on Cold Cave’s dark techno. On “To Tears”, Velazquez’s sped-up, ping-ponging guitar lines have a math-rock feel to them, but they’re more visceral and yearning than what you’d typically find in that sub-genre. And even if angular post-punk is Abe Vigoda’s default starting point, there are shoegazer undertones to “Beverly Slope” that take the edge off a little without polishing things up too much, adding a sense of calm and reflection in the midst of the stormy, throbbing sound.
But it’s the sprawling centerpiece “Repeating Angel” that shows how Abe Vigoda continues to grow into its own: Rather than forcing the issue to conjure up tension and excitement as it does on some of the hyped-up tracks, the foursome builds up drama by carving out more room to breathe on “Repeating Angel”. While the Kraftwerk-precise electro-beats set the song in perpetual motion, the band creates size and scale by giving the driving synth refrains and Vidal’s baritone croon the space and time to really stretch themselves out. More fleshed out in its dynamics, but without losing any sense of urgency, “Repeating Angel” would be pitch-perfect slotted in as the ballad on any indie-prom playlist. The epic-length number proves that Abe Vigoda is an act with a strong self-identity that’s also restless enough to push itself to find new and better ways to express what it’s all about. That’s really the way Abe Vigoda is making a name for itself.