Vietnam Werewolf - Ohio's City (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Vietnam Werewolf

Ohio's City (2008)


Vietnam Werewolf. Sounds pretty scary. Like Michael J. Fox eloped with one of John McCain's lovechildren. In reality, they're not scary at all, and play a gritty, familiar combination of early hardcore styles and straight-up punk rock with a tinge of pop-punk that meets halfway between two of Minneapolis' finest in Dillinger Four and early Replacements. The hooks are generally subtle, while the lyrics are more direct, crafting fiery protest songs of intelligent dissidence. Take for example "Patriotic Cancer," which while sounding a bit like Moral Crux, reads more like a handful of lines out of Dan Yemin's lyrical booklet: "Step back and spin around / Let's count the number of walls and figure out which ones we can start tearing down / Ask every single governor why they think they deserve to tell us what purpose we serve / And what our bodies' parts are for / […] / You've been in our business and bedrooms for too long / There's the fucking door."

What sets Vietnam Werewolf and their debut Ohio's City apart is that while so many pop-punkish bands are content to lay down a couple chords and one or two good hooks and move on to the next song, Vietnam Werewolf never run this risk of simplistic homogeneity because all their songs are well-composed of many different parts and songwriting devices. Listening to the ‘Wolf reminds me of a Jeff Ott quote describing one of his former bandmates, whose songwriting would "literally make you brain hurt." I'm not sure if that's really the case with Vietnam Werewolf, but it certainly seems like they put a good amount of effort into their songwriting. Even with the songs that erupt more out of sheer energy than technical craft, like the scream-along "I'm Going to Blow," you can tell that the band has a firm grasp on what they're trying to do, filling the measures with sly, underlying emphases that may not even be apparent upon the first listen.

Some of the album's finest moments are spread between different facets of the band's work. The ambitious sing-along chorus of the cheeky "I Used to Be a Kid, I'm a Notary Public Now" engenders a tone of hopefulness, while "Expiration Dates" features a pounding lead-in and slightly resembles one of Berkeley's tragically un-remembered punk bands, the Wunder Years. Lyrically, Vietnam Werewolf hits their stride in the feisty lefty-punk anthem "More than a Sound": "I thought a part of punk was asking some questions / About the lies we're fed and challenging conventions / There's a joke called 'the revolution' / And it looks a lot like white, middle class rebellion."

This may be the first full-length from Vietnam Werewolf, but they are a band with roots planted in the best traditions of punk rock. Ohio's City is punchy and well-composed, snarky yet reflective, and teeming with literate punk vigor. When the moon is high over Hanoi (and even when it's not), expect Vietnam Werewolf and Ohio's City to be delivering some of the best new punk around.

[Some disclosure: VW features staff reviewer Matt Whelihan.]