After announcing their separation in 2014, Vivian Girls are back with Memory, a mature new album that dives into and appreciates the gloomy undertones of that maturation. Although Cassie Ramone and Katy Goodman announced their musical breakup five years ago, their last record was released even further back in 2011. The natural personal and musical growth that can occur in eight years makes itself evident on Memory, as the album immediately submerges you into a sound that is a bit heavier, and a bit less playful than that found on Share the Joy or Everything Goes Wrong. The fresh tune-up is welcome, as we are allowed to feel and appreciate the time passed between records. If Ramone, Goodman and Ali Koehler, joining in here on drums, came back after five years with an album that sounds like one made nearly a decade ago, it would have been simply baffling.
Memory achieves that submersion right away with “Most Of All,” a track that brings together a modern garage rock sound with a splash of the ethereal harmonies of 1990s shoegaze. It becomes a tonal introduction to the album, and it works. One of the best traits of the album overall is its brevity; there is very little fussing or trailing off of ideas, which makes a late-album digression into extended instrumentation stand out all the more.
“Your Kind of Life” feels like an address to the band’s long absence, and previous breakup, and one which casually acknowledges that split at the start so as not to let any elephants linger in the room. A discordant note is heard clearly at the start of the song, an interesting choice which embodies the friction in the subject of the song, which has the women singing the refrain of “you gotta move on and live your kinda life” in a way that feels like a friend dishing out some tough love.
There is a lot of internal conflict present on Memory as well, and the tracks that turn their focus on it are often standouts. “Sick” is an early, fuzz-heavy track that asks the question of whether something is real or just “in my mind.” “At It Again,” like a sequel to “Sick,” goes into detail about that sick behavior, and in a quick two minute burst we hear a litany of cruel things a person could say to themselves: “I don’t understand how you think you’re doing ok,” “no one wants [or] needs you,” “no one loves you [and] no one cares.” It’s an effective track that executes its purpose well by not embellishing at all. “Lonely Girl” ends this trifecta of internal demons by turning the volume down and going nearly acoustic; in order to draw out the nuances of this most vulnerable song on the album about someone who equally does and doesn’t want company.
There are a few tracks in the back half of the album which are subtly compelling, with thoughts on commitment and acceptance, as in “Sludge” and “Memory,” but the album does lose a bit of steam by the end, letting go of some of the propulsive tension that is so energizing at the start. The exception may be the last third of penultimate track “All Your Promises,” which acts as a kind of climax to the album’s arc, letting the vocals drop out and artful musical chaos take over. It’s a wordless section of the album, which makes the entire piece stronger by underlining the emotion of it all. A lot can happen in five years, or ten years, and the weight of growing up along with the cost of setting emotional boundaries, letting go of imagined futures and declaring what you want can be felt throughout the rock fuzz of Memory. The achievement of Memory is how Vivian Girls manage to fit five-plus years into 33 minutes, communicating the emotions contained within those years to their listeners within an instant.