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Viva Voce - Lovers, Lead the Way

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Artist: Viva Voce

Album: Lovers, Lead the Way

Label: Asthmatic Kitty

Review date: Sep. 30, 2003

Husband and wife tandem Kevin and Anita Robinson have plugged into their amps as Viva Voce for over seven years (I remember them playing club shows and Christian music festivals when I was in junior high, 11-12 years ago), yet Lovers, Lead the Way is only their second full-length recorded album. The couple from Portland, Oregon are true proponents of the indie music scene, having toured up and down the country with bands big and small and recorded songs for countless compilations and EPs. They run their own record label, and formed the Cut & Paste Collective several years ago for the production and promotion of indie artists. Individually, Anita endorses Daisy Rock guitars, and Kevin is a staff writer for Tape Op magazine, a forum for his fascination with DIY production.

That’s right – they do it all themselves, a fact which shouldn’t be surprising considering their place in the indie community. But before you expect the rasp of a 4-track recorder, be prepared for the shocking, slick production of a Dave Fridmann studio. I’ve never heard a record tracked in a basement (literally, acccording to the album notes) sound so tightly produced or so epically scaled. Lovers, Lead the Way is the only self-produced album I've ever heard with an intro orchestra that could have come from the Bambi soundtrack.

With influences coming from those genres that we just can’t seem to get rid of – psychedelic pop, shoegazer, ’80s pop, even adult contemporary – the Robinsons strike an honest, face-to-face aesthetic. There’s no trying to hide behind studio tricks, just talent in the various mixes and the atmospheric spectors at work here. The expansive orchestral opening of “Fashionably Lonely” gives way to drum machine hits and acoustic guitars, and then pulls out into plush Cat Stevens textures, a far cry from the dance pop vocals of “Wrecking Ball” and the sexy Yo La Tengo-inspired “Red D-Lish”; yet, it traces the same line of anthemic pop throughout. The singers Robinson reveal a stunning underbelly in the darker moments of “Brightest Part of Everyone” (a steady statement vaguely reminiscent of something on Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” single) and the bending minor chorus of “The Tiger & How We Tamed It”. Other album highlights include the lilting power-pop cut “Best Thing Ever (Maybe Not)” and the epic marvels “Yr Epic Heart” (an instrumental) and the album closer “Let’s Bend Light”.

For good and for bad, Lovers, Lead the Way is a true pop album – one that sticks with you; one where the words linger; one where the music and songs actually begin to mean something. At first the drum machine and acoustic guitar on the first track sound cheesy, and then a second or third listen reveals the same section to be slyly beautiful. Likewise, the poetic that their lyrics invoke catches you in a sweet blend of lovelorn praise and cliché. The effect is pure sentiment.

It strikes me that I’ve got to find one unique thing to say about this record, because anything that comes to mind could irritatingly be applied to 2.001 other records: The catchiness of the pop music motifs despite their conventionality; the sensibility of the song structures despite their predictability; the originality of the sound despite the fact you’ve heard these notes countless times. Sometimes, though, an album just feels right. Here’s another one.

By Joel Calahan

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