Committing to a new band can roughly be equated to dating. That first track you hear is almost like your first date. Sometimes right off the bat the two of you aren’t compatible, so you nip it in the bud in order to prevent further wasting of your time and money. Other times, things go great, the conversation flows, every track is solid, she’s actually funny, and you don’t find yourself skipping songs. It might just be the start of a long romance. But every now and again, no matter how well that first album/date went, there is no follow up. The band disbands without any given reason or she just won’t return your calls. What could have been something perfect, becomes another one of life’s big let downs. Such is the case with our Artist Of The Week: Vietnam. A Brooklyn based rock band that put out one beautiful album and then broke my heart and disappeared.
Michael Gerner: Lead Vocals/ Rhythm Guitar
Joss Grub: Lead Guitar/ Vocals
Ivan Berko: Bass
Michael Foss: Drums
Now they only have one full-length album, but it all started with a six song EP from early 2004, titled The Concrete’s Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street, released by Vice Records. Unless you’re under heavy doses of Robitussin, the record is almost un-listenable. The guitars meander, the band can’t stay in rhythm, and the vocals sum up to an unintelligible vacant howl. The biggest problem however, is that it doesn’t seem that these guys had any idea of how to actually construct a song. After that EP they disappeared for three years. If that had been all they ever released, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest. I also wouldn’t have really cared. Nothing on that album works. But in 2007 they were back, with their first full length, aptly titled Vietnam.
I first heard this album late in the summer of 2007. It was perfect. It became one of those albums that arrives at the perfect time and then doesn’t leave the rotation for months on end; every song hits on point, and the mix is fantastic. I’d leave work at the bar, march into the disgustingly humid Boston night, pop my headphones on, and let the band take me out of my own head for a while. Lead singer Michale Gerner’s Dylan-esque voice, matched with the dark hypnotic guitar riffs on their track Summer In The City provided the perfect backing for any late night stroll through downtown. To this day, that song invokes memories of walking the hot pavement, sweating profusely, and just aching for a cold beer.
They have the up beat stuff as well. Welcome To My Room is a fast paced, jump around, party track that features excellent vocals, energetic guitars, and surging percussion. When compared to the efforts of their first EP, it’s like night and day. It’s utterly astounding. I don’t know what happened in the three years that passed between the EP and the LP, and I don’t want to know. I like to imagine, someone came along, shook the bejesus out of these guys, told them to get their shit together, and taught them to rock proper.
The heavy guitar and pained vocals hark back to the heroin laced Seattle sound of the 90’s that I miss so much. I don’t want to wax nostalgic about something like H, but I will say that the bands I was into back then consistently had members that were currently dabbling or had dabbled, in chasing the dragon. I get it though. I mean Vicodin is pretty cool. And if you’re looking to get a high, I guess heroin is the crème de la crème. I’m speaking as someone who knows all about “the heroin”. That’s right. I watched The Wire. I know how that shit works. Now I don’t know if these guys are using themselves, or if they’ve just captured the essence of that sound. What I do know is; guys that stay on that shit usually end up in the ground. Hopefully that isn’t the case here.
After their self-titled debut, Vietnam went off the reservation. Finding info on these guys is damn near impossible. Online searches lead to deleted articles, unfinished blog posts, or old concert photos. It’s gotten even more difficult due to the fact that there is now a band called, Mt. St. Helen’s Vietnam Band, that seems to be cutting up the indie scene. No longer is the keyword search of “Vietnam” and “band” getting me anywhere I need to be. Finding footage of them is no easy task either. I’ve been searching for days, and haven’t been able to find anything after a 2009 show at Big Sur. It wasn’t even worth posting. It’s them on a stage surrounded by what appears to be 75 to 90 hippies who aren’t paying attention.
The future of Vietnam remains unclear. Their website claims they’ll be releasing a new record in early 2013, but I don’t know how much faith I put in that statement. Their website is pretty bare bones. The plus side is that they did recently play a show in Brooklyn last month. That means they aren’t dead. Being “not dead” is a really important part of putting out a sophomore album. Check out their first effort here. Hopefully these guys will get back in the studio soon and we can have another sweaty summer soundtrack by next year.
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