His & Her Vanities
s/t
2003
Science of Sound
12 tracks
34:55

I'll let you in on a little secret: If you want to be sure I listen to your album, tell me how you've been compared to Gang of Four, Wire, Pixies and Mission of Burma. I used to spend hours on mp3.com or rollingstone.com just searching for bands that listed the above foursome as influences or "similar artists." Why is it, then, that I haven't heard of Madison Wisconsin's His & Her Vanities before?

Now I'll let you in on another little secret: If you trick me into listening to your album by mentioning the above bands, you are, of course, destined to disappoint me. After all, critics generally refer back to those progenitors of quirky post-punk when they're unfamiliar with the more modern similarities that exist between the band in question, and its generally well- established (and derivative) peers.

His and Her Vanities, naturally, fits into the above category. They are reminiscent of any number of recent, post-punk and art-punk bands. Luckily for all (especially me), this self-titled release is far from disappointing.

The creative force of H&HV is the married duo of multi-instrumentalists Ricky and Terrin Riemer. And aside from the more-than-occasional assistance of drummer Sara Winkelman, all songs are written, realized and recorded by the couple. The sound components are simple: angular guitar, bounding (and occasionally, distorted to be abusive) bass, and snapping drums are augmented by whirring synthesizers and trading or overlapping male/female vocals. The band hasn't discovered new sounds, only ingenious ways to combine them.

Jagged vocal and instrumental lines drift in and out of phase in organic accidents, creating songs so thick that the listener has to experience the music rather than digest its parts. Climbing and falling guitar lines howl beside vocal melodies until one or both drop out to reveal the steady roll of a snare. In fact, throughout the album any instrument is likely to vanish leaving a noticeable hole. That moment of exposed winding guitar or bouncing bass serves as an introduction, forcing the listener into a different segment of the song.

It is true that in the darkest moments, such as the Ricky Riemer sung "Alfonzo," the band is truly reminiscent of Magazine and their ilk, but more often than not the distorted hectic cadence of Terrin Riemer's voice backed by disjointed electronic trickery is much more reminiscent of Le Tigre. Furthermore, in the craziest, silliest, poppiest moments, such those in "In a Culture," the band speaks more to Stereo Total.

The band's engaging musical elements are, unfortunately, seldom combined into complete songs – truly the genius of The Pixies or Mission of Burma. And because of this missing structure, their hooks and choruses aren't nearly as memorable. The band, however, chooses not to think in those terms. "Dispatch Elevation," for example, builds nicely to an expected chorus; however, the song quickly becomes vague and shifty, loosing any structured momentum that may have been built. I believe H&HV prefers its songs to be lessons in audience concentration until ultimately forcing the audience to surrender to the chaos that swirls about. My advice: trust the band to take you on their ride.