Let’s just get right down to it: It’s not as good as their debut. That wild sweet mess of an album, with its 22 minutes of sneakily infectious punk and reverb-doused girl-group harmonies, was one of the most lauded releases last year. The Vivian Girls became de facto presidents of the boys’ club that is the Brooklyn lo-fi scene, but now they’ve shifted their focus to meatier, more ambitious material. Cassie Ramone’s guitar riffs run up and down all over Everything Goes Wrong, and Kickball Katy’s bass digs deeper than before, but they’ve lost sight of the single biggest reason people fell all over each other when they heard their debut: the hooks. With a sound built around noise, they’re forced to rely on their vocals to carry the melody; this becomes a problem on an album full of (relatively) extended instrumental breaks. Remember how those three-part harmonies unwound against plodding drums and incessant feedback on songs like “Tell the World”?
But without the gooey pop centers, things start to sound more and more the same. A longer record (13 tracks compared to 10) with longer songs (“Double Vision” is practically epic, clocking in at almost four and a half minutes) emphasizes how little deviation there is here. Granted, if “Can’t Get Over You” or “I’m Not Asleep” popped up on an iPod Shuffle, it would be hard to find anything to complain about, but the potential standouts get swallowed up in the context of an album.
The Vivian Girls were pretty much trapped by prior success; if Everything Goes Wrong kept to a 90-second song format, they’d be criticized for being formulaic. If somehow their next record could combine this newfound technical prowess with their debut’s sharpened hooks, every heart in Williamsburg would explode.