Viva Voce | Rose City (Barsuk)

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cd_viva-voce.jpgCompared to Get Yr. Blood Sucked Out, Rose City seems more arranged, but to my brief, short-lived chagrin, less heavy.







Sometimes I worry about you, two-piece bands. There's only two of you, which can wax or wane the extremities of band toil; either the drama will be more intense with no third or fourth person to diffuse it, or it's easier to work together because of less outside influences. Either way, I always hope for the latter. But being a married two-piece that can tour across the globe year 'round and still come home to write some of the most diverse, harmonizing and organic songs—that should be considered a gift.

Kevin and Anita Robinson share this gift well, and it's clear on the Portland, Ore.-via Muscle Shoals, Ala. duo's fourth album, Rose City. The harmonizing between Anita and Kevin is Raveonettes-y, but less dark and monotone, and more bright and dreamy. The addition of two members for this album (who, by the way, take no focus off the two), Evan Railton and Corrina Repp, help wrangle whatever looseness is left over at the end of the recording session.

That said, this album is a fresh antithesis to 2006's Get Yr. Blood Sucked Out; it seems more arranged, but to my brief, short-lived chagrin, less heavy. I was able to drop my qualms, though, as I realized that with less heavy, we get more focused. Though Rose City was written in a mere three weeks, we don't get a notion that it's a rushed novelty album; a contrived "I-guess-we'll-do-an-album" album. It's alarmingly complete and concentrated.

Beginning with "Devotion," the disc immediately slides into a "Believer"-like driver, except more polished, with sort of a subtle flashback to mid-'90s alternative radio mixed with a tinge of new-era Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. "Octavio" is notable because it's a revisit to a slow-burning Viva Voce of the past, but there's some other, unspoken-for force present. It could simply be freshness; I haven't heard new tunes from them in too long, and maybe it's like how I feel after chugging a Sweet Leaf mint iced tea on a sweltering Lollapalooza day. I can't explain it; it's just nice.

One of my favorite things about Viva Voce is Anita's paper-thin coo against heavy, driving sludge and hollow drums, as we heard on Blood; something about the stark contrast of the two entities sounds ghostly and atmospheric. Though we don't hear as much of it on Rose City, the dreaminess and edginess of the duo's past efforts is still there. "Good as Gold" features Anita self-harmonizing, and it turns out sounding loosely comparable to if Jenny Lewis and The Heartbreakers spawned a track. The title track is homage to their current city, and it's good to be able to hear them pull certain details ("I wanna go back where it's grey and green/ where the protest songs have tambourines") from the city—just enough to where it doesn't sound like a John Denver tune. "Tornado Alley" is a straightforward dose of the stripped-down classic rock sound that we haven't much seen from them throughout any of their albums.

Overall, I think it's easy to appreciate this album for its subtleties and hints toward a possible new direction (see Blue Giant), and the band's continuous and near-flawless representation of modern pop and psych-rock. The difference is that Viva Voce refuse to carry the pretention that pigeonholes so many other bands in the indie music genre, and that's refreshing. A | Justin Curia

RIYL: The New Pornographers, Earlimart, Stars

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