Vivian Girls have made their quantum leap. On Share the Joy, the trio combines the off-kilter, energetic attack from their 16-minute debut with the shifting complexity of their second album to create a multi-faceted-but targeted-release which could very well stand as their masterpiece.
Although a faint humming opens the album, almost immediately the soothing calm warps into a shoegaze grind before settling down into the tune proper, "The Other Girls", a melancholy, but still poppy, call for individuality. As lo-fi and garage rock duos continue to flourish, Vivian Girls distance themselves from the narrow application of critics on this song, as is evidenced both by the song's six-and-a-half minute running time (an entire side of their first album!) and the precision that the group has used to layer their instruments in sharp definition.
While their previous records offered singular chunks of sound, now each element is given full breadth. Cassie Ramone's distanced call plays off Katy Goodman's inviting coos. Instead of bleeding together, the guitar and bass support each other, switching in importance while the drums of Fiona Campbell drive the music forward with smart simplicity.
Most strikingly, the Girls have advanced their songwriting from the avant-garde to the classic. The previous two Vivian Girls LPs seemed to function as singular pieces, with each song acting as a similar movement to an entire piece and often blending together. On Share the Joy, each of the songs have their own identity but fit together as more than a sum of their parts. On "I Heard You Say", the group takes Phil Spector's girl group harmony, dips them over an energetic AM radio, and interjects the energy found in early girl punk groups, such as the Slits and LiLiPUT. On "Dance (If You Wanna)" they lean towards their Ramones side and cut a hopper and bopper that sounds like a jolly fun time in the refrain until the lyrics in between suggest a much darker and somber vision.
The cleaner production allows Cassie Ramone's lyrics to bear their full weight. Although she might have been using clever plays-on-word and resounding statements on their first two releases, the edgy production softened the vocal delivery. Here, the crisp productions allows her words their full bite. When she says that all 16 of her children are dead on "Sixteen Ways", I don't know if I should console or congratulate. "Take It as It Comes" features Ramone using the architecture of early '60s girl group talk-interludes as a platform for female independence. When Ramone states that she wants "to die, not now, 10 years from now" on "Death", it sounds eerily earnest.
After the huge buildup from their self-titled release, Vivian Girls seemed to suffer an undeserved backlash from the critics and even some fans when their following releases broke the mold of their debuts. Share the Joy doesn't so much break their initial form as it does expand upon it and stretch it into a fuller bodied creature. Simply put, this is the best and most daring release from the group. If this doesn't shut up the former naysayers, then it's only because they're too scared to make the leap with the band.