Influences sometimes look best when worn on the sleeve. Many of the most thrilling groups in pop music were so effective (and beloved) not for invention, but for synthesis — exploiting a new and perfect combination of the familiar. Jesus & Mary Chain — themselves an increasingly relevant touchstone for indie bands — hit both hearts and the charts with a wickedly loud, undeniably cool A + B: sweet girl-group stomp and piercing Velvet Underground-y fuzz. Like JAMC, the Vivian Girls draw you into their sound with a wish-I-had-thought-of-that set of reference points: echo-y Wall of Sound production, '80s indie-pop ramshackle and gleeful riot-grrl instrument-bashing. Buried underneath all the influences (and reverb) are — most importantly, of course — great pop songs.
After the galloping, strangled punk burst of album opener "All the Time," it's "Damaged" that truly reveals Vivian Girls 'm.o. There's the mega-simple shuffling drums n 'tambourine backbeat, the just-off sugar-sweet high harmonies and four-note guitar solo — it barely noses past two minutes and is still longer than half the other songs on the album. The songs on Vivian Girls are flimsy and fun, but also kick up a dark, fierce racket. "Tell the World," with its chugging rhythm and minor-key harmonies, is almost certainly the best lo-fi spooky punk anthem you've heard in years — probably since the heyday of seminal '90s C86-ers Black Tambourine, who bear a clear influence on the Girls. By the time the sparkling bounce of album highlight "Where Do You Run To?" starts up, it's become clear: you've heard this sound before — you've loved it, even — but somehow it's never sounded quite this exciting. A neat trick, indeed.