The French-American post-punk duo of Vivarock (otherwise known as Guylaine Vivarat) and Fiat Lux (AKA James Greer, a former member of Guided By Voices) is set to release “Uptime!” on March 10th on Unsatisfied Records and kick off a U.S. tour, including a stint at SXSW, in March and April. “Uptime!”, the fourth full-length in Vivarock and Fiat Lux’s repertoire, finds them generating an invigorating collision of uptown gloss-pop and downtown gritty-city rock, even though the two reside in Joshua Tree, California and not New York City.
The duo formed in Los Angeles in 2012 as Détective, eventually shortened its name to DTCV for unknown reasons, and continued to sonically build upon an indie rock foundation that harks back to the American alternative noise-rock stylings of the 1990s. French-born Vivarock fronts the band and brings a soothing, seasoned chanteuse quality to her vocals. She constructed a lion’s share of the songs on “Uptime!”, writing, singing, and playing guitar, bass, and keyboards. American native James Greer (novelist, screenwriter, critic, and musician) contributed three of his own songs to the album, writing, singing, and playing guitar.
The resultant pop-rock combo platter is odd, but mostly tasty, where Vivarock’s radiant, catchy vocal harmonies and gently fluted, wordless coos contrast with the sharp edge of careening distorted guitar conflagration and propulsive drumming. It’s no fluke that the duo cites Blondie and Sonic Youth as the main cornerstones of DTCV’s sound on “Uptime!”. Vivarock chimes in with softly gliding songstress vocals while boldly roving distorted guitar lines immolate around her. And, whether it was intentional or not, Vivarock occasionally captures the trademark rich, throaty tremor of Belinda Carlisle, while Fiat Lux sounds like a more animated Thurston Moore on the songs he sing-talks on.
“Uptime!” is packed with 12 fully-developed cuts that mostly follow the traditional ‘verse, chorus, verse’ structure. It would have been interesting if Vivarock and Fiat Lux upended the format and stopped certain songs at an off-kilter moment instead of continuing with that tradition. Case in point, “Early Alone” stirs it up with two veering guitars, a pounded out drum beat, and Vivarock’s sweetly dreamy vocals; then suddenly the song hits pause and it would have been so cool and breathtaking if it stopped right there. Instead, it restarts in the same pattern as before. Another concern is that too many songs are filled with Vivarock’s mildly cooed “Oohs” that recall Debbie Harry’s crooning intonation on “Rapture”. It becomes too much of a good thing (Yes, that can happen!) and ends up feeling too repetitive by the album’s finish.
Appetizing album-starter “Astros” kicks off with The Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat” drum pep, but shadows soon appear in the form of an ominous, prominent bass line, driving guitar restlessness, and Vivarock’s mid-range, controlled-menace vocal tone as she sings “What are you trying to defy? / Do go on / I see the way / Why don’t you see it?” Her main vocal line is at times laced with intoxicatingly alluring harmonies. The lead single “X Water” is vintage Sonic Youth/Dinosaur Jr. guitar-galvanized goodness crossed with the pop vocal sensibilities Belinda Carlisle (and a touch of Sinead O’Connor). The song resolves into a discordant ending of repeated, short stabs of guitar, emphatically hit drums, and cymbal shimmer. Vivarock’s supple vocals are showcased best on “X Water” as she ranges from light coos to sultry sing-talking to forceful exclamations as she defiantly declares “…I wonder if I ever needed you.”
The strangely-named “Miley Cyrus Wins the Race”, which may or may not be about the mega-celeb media magnet, slides along on a sinister bass line and then blossoms into wiry guitar riffs and Vivarock’s hazed, Girl Group harmonies. A richly rueful melancholy shades her vocals as she reminisces about “…my young years / Love lost and gained.” and emotively implores “If I could turn it all around / I’d do the same.” “Bay of Pigs” briefly shines the spotlight on Fiat Lux (with vocal assist from Vivarock) and his bluesy electrif(r)ied guitar licks, cymbal burn, and jazzed up drum rhythms.
Vivarock smolders dangerously at the start of “Rock and Rock Hall of Fame Induction Song” with a subdued catch in her throat, dazedly intoning “Back in the fire / you turned to clay.” A steady drum beat is pitted against fiery guitar jags that build up into a grinding cycle. Fiat Lux is again the focal point of “Invitation To A Beheading”, sing-talking like a light-toned Nick Cave against an up-tempo beat and sparse, angular guitar riffs. Vivid lyrics mark the song, with Fiat Lux flatly stating “I saw Satan fall like lightning.” as Vivarock once again interjects her cooing murmurs into the song structure. By the end of the tune Fiat Lux faces off against himself as he engages in an energetic blues-rock guitar riff battle – which is basically a win-win situation.
The sun-kissed, strummed acoustic guitar serenade of Seventies-inspired “California Girl” features both Fiat Lux (on main vocals) and Vivarock (on backing vocals). Fiat Lux sing-talks in a casual manner, sounding like a cross between Steve Kilbey and Thruston Moore, that “I hope I don’t f*ck everything up” and “…I’ll cook for you baby / and I’ll stop doing so many drugs.” His flippant delivery of these serious lines makes them sound borderline silly and it doesn’t help when Vivarock backs him up with trilling “Oohs” and the perky command “Don’t f*ck everything up.” Vivarock and Fiat Lux finally share main vocal duties on the too-short album-ender “Radio Drive” and it’s a refreshing blend, especially amid the continually cantering pace. A few of the other songs on the album could have benefited from this type of dual vocal treatment.