VietNam – VietNam
I'm constantly reminded of my aging when I look around me and see fields turned into storefronts and those storefronts subsequently changing tenants. But above all, in a technological world gone to microchips and albums becoming dissected into 99-cent iTunes pieces, I notice the endangered species of record stores. Like a cantankerous music loving obsessive, I reminisce of a time when independent stores existed as a normal part of the landscape rather than a tiny blip on the screen; places that preferred to keep customers deluged with artists past and present on labels major and indie from lands far and nearby, whose charm rested in posters touting years' worth of releases papering the walls and dusty surroundings that left residue on your fingertips following time spent scouring rows and rows of new and used CDs, LPs and cassettes.
The self-titled debut by VietNam sounds like something I would have found at one of these stores, an undiscovered gem that somehow found its way into the cutout or used bin due to a record company executive reshuffling or a disaffected public that just didn’t “get it” at the time of its release. And like the Land of Misfit Toys from "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," it just needed a caring owner to help fully realize its potential.
VietNam sounds like the past and the present, as if it was recorded in the early ’70s, and its tapes had been stored away until a recent discovery set in motion its release in 2007. There are subtle and obvious references to Bob Dylan (or at least Bright Eyes doing Dylan), Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Crazy Horse, Lou Reed, psychedelia, blues and possibly more that I can’t put my finger on even after a few listens. The musical connect-the-dots fail to detract from the overall musical picture. Just merely nods of acknowledgement to what’s transpired before members Michael Gerner, Michael Foss, Ivan Berko and Joshua Grubb. The songs a have a loose hazy feel to them as if they were recorded following a swallow of Jack Daniels and several bong hits. They shift and rock with a purposeful imbalance but, most importantly, there rests a sense of dedication and discipline that allows them never to keel over into an indulgent mess of overkill.“Step On Inside” starts simply and ominously with a lonesome piano chord played over and over as Lerner invites us into a world where “all my friends are floating/there’s no ladders over here/and the lunar cliffs turn round and flip/but gravity’s the least of my fears.” The rest of VietNam finds us encountering characters who indulge in one drug or another or all of them together, living the life that revolves around such excursions and in the case of “Toby” not surviving. “Apocalypse” sounds like some Exile on Main Street outtake — slow-simmering blues meets Muscle Shoals horns — that was discarded after it was decided it sounded like it went too deep into the Delta and never returned. The more energetic “Mr. Goldfinger” could be from that same session. In fact, much of the pace on VietNam could be seen as some really screwed up drug-induced journey with its rushing highs and cavernous lows, of sparkling energy and numbness. At the very end on a hidden bonus track, VietNam sums up this wild ride by daring to hope. This moment of optimism seeps in at seeing the sunrise. In spite of puffy eyes from another night of this that and another, the members’ collective flame failed to be extinguished, and we find Lerner pleading “cause you got time on your side/just promise me that it won’t slide by.” You could go directly to track one and believe that he’s one of the few musicians extolling that if it doesn’t kill you, it’s worth ingesting again, or that the journey of hangovers, dry mouth and overdose isn’t enough. Either view you choose, VietNam remains a mesmerizing experience.