My thanks to Stuart for keeping me in the loop.
The first time that Viva Stereo entered my radar was when I received an e-mail back in December; unfortunately it was in the midst of all the holiday shuffle and I was not able to give the music the attention it deserved. Then I received another e-mail, about the imminent release of “Endure the Dark to See the Stars” (9 May 2011). Again, time became an issue, but after a few listens to the album, I had to write about it. Now, again, I do not know much about the band’s history or previous releases; however, this Glaswegian band does exemplify everything that is really meant by “indie,” and not that adulterated label we all use to signify bands that live on the festival trail. Free from the corporate fetters, the band is able to develop music on their terms and not jump on some bandwagon. And I believe that it is because of their independence that this is one of the must albums of 2011.
From a sonic point of view, “Endure the Dark to See the Stars” is a cohesive album. Admittedly, I prefer schizophrenic albums that leave you guessing what style of music is coming next. However, this is usually the case because most bands do not have the craftsmanship to stay within a predetermined range and still create songs that are eloquently distinct from one another. Not a problem for Viva Stereo; they have created a soundscape that flows effortlessly from track-to-track. The production value of the collection is outstanding; I point this out only because there is a false belief that big, label owned studios are needed to produce strong tracks – rubbish! “Endure the Dark to See the Stars” could not have been produced more superbly anywhere else. Just like artists like Northern Portrait, not only is the production spot on, it is the music that speaks for itself and not studio gimmickry.
Opening with a synth-didgeridoo sound before the syncopated beat drops in, “Vultures” represents what the band does best: the ability to write music that cannot be generically labeled. A bit of the shoegaze, a bit of psychadelia, a bit of straightforward guitar playing, a bit of electronics – what it isn’t is the generic “rock-pop” that is becoming trite. And though most of the music is straightforward, songs like “New Life” has some of the best arrangements you can listen to. Combining constant and savvy strumming with strings, the band displays their pop sensibilities here, even in the closing interlude – the song hooks you without using the same “hooks” that are constantly used by other bands.
Though most of the songs have a thick wall of sound, Viva Stereo changed it up for “Good Friend.” This song is bare – an acoustic guitar, ambient keys, minimal strings, and vocals. It is the most distinct shift on the album. The album also contains one other distinct shift, and that is with “My Beating Heart”: emotive strings and key effects, a subdued guitar, and the strongest vocal arrangements on the album, this is definitely the heart tugging track on the album. The first of two other tracks I have to point out is “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” which really brings in the electronic references, quite often this track employs an ostinato. The second track, of course, the closing track, the epic of the album and my favorite, “We Set Sail.” Epics are not the easiest things to compose; most repetition can be disengaging and three-minute concepts stretched further are irritating. So, in a nutshell, the concept has to be big and the repetition has to be inviting and captivating – it must make you feel and wrestle with that feeling. That is what Viva Stereo hits on with “We Set Sail.” With a slow and steady build up that never explodes into cacophony, it is not the dirgeful sea lament one might expect from the title. Unlike so many of the epics that I love, which pivot on the keys or bass, it is the lead guitar arrangement that carries this song. Simple but sophisticated, fading out seconds before the end of the song along with the beat, the simple chord on the keys at the end is viscerally powerful, without being haunting.
“Endure the Dark to See the Stars” will be released on 9 May 2011 by De-Fence Records, which is a Scottish independent label – an offshoot of Fence. Head over to the website (link below) and support Viva Stereo, support the label.
2. Endure the Dark to See the Stars
3. New Life
5. Got Myself Lost
6. Good Friend
7. There’s a Riot Going On
8. My Beating Heart
10. We Set Sail
Keep up with Viva Stereo at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Also, visit the De-Fence Records where you can pre-order and purchase “Endure the Dark to See the Stars.” Also, check out the band’s Bandcamp, where you can preview and purchase past entries in their discography.