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Abe Vigoda - Crush

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Artist: Abe Vigoda

Album: Crush

Label: Post Present Medium

Review date: Sep. 22, 2010

When Abe Vigoda broke out in 2008 with the shimmery punk Skeleton, it was closely associated with No Age and other spazzy, high energy, barely-teenaged punk bands like Mika Miko and HEALTH. Now, two years later, the band’s celebrating its fourth album, Crush, with a series of shows with Cold Cave. And curiously, the new pairing will probably work at least as well as the old ones. While Abe Vigoda hasn’t entirely left its trebly, guitar-spiking aggressions behind, it’s made a dramatic move toward a kind of dark new wave-y plasticine glamour that recalls not just Cold Cave, but forebears like the Cure, Depeche Mode and New Order.

How does a shift this dramatic happen? To be fair, you can hear it starting on last year’s Reviver, in a subtle pulse of disco beat under the shiny guitars, a bit more decadence and languor in Michael Vidal’s vocals. These were hints, though, that were easy enough to misinterpret. Anybody could tell something was different on Reviver. Very few could have predicted that Abe Vigoda was about to turn into Fad Gadget.

The impetus seems to have been new drummer Dane Chadwick, who replaced Reggie Guerro in 2009. Vidal credits Chadwick for bringing a new focus on melody to the band, as well as an expanded array of electronic instruments. There’s also a far greater focus on craft here than on previous Abe Vigoda recordings. Where Skeleton made a gleeful uproar out of short, repeated riffs, simple drums and shouted vocals, Crush brings in a verse-chorus structure and bridges, multiple interlocking parts (before the guitars and drums were basically playing the same rhythms) and subtlety. The whole band has responded to the new framework, but you hear it best in Vidal’s singing. A yeller before, he’s turned into a haunted crooner, whispering Bowie-esque ironies and conjuring Robert Smith-like doom on “Repeating Angel,” the disc’s most ominous new wave ballad.

Still, it’s not just the slow songs that are arrestingly different. Even all-out bangers, like the title cut, are swathed in layers of fuzzy mystery, the band’s signature bright guitars and manic drums enveloped in a penumbra of shoegaze-y distortion. “November” buries the vocals and turns up the distortion as in days gone by, but still manages to feel chilly and mid-1980s glamorous, like a particularly aggressive Echo & The Bunnymen epic. And “Dream of My Love (Chasing After You)” brings pinging keyboards, bass and drums forward in vintage New Order style, hushing Vidal to a romantic whisper in the background.

The production on Crush is a long way from slick, but it is noticeably cleaner than on either Skeleton or Reviver. For the first time, all the sounds aren’t crammed into a single undifferentiated mass. You can hear the bass. There’s occasional white space. You feel your attention flickering between layers of sound, rather than pummeled by a unitary, all-hands-on-deck energy.

So, which is better? Spazz-punk Abe Vigoda or new wave Abe Vigoda? There’s no clear-cut answer. There was nothing really wrong with what Abe Vigoda was doing before. What the band lacked in subtlety, it more than made up for in sunny enthusiasm. Yet it’s the kind of approach that could easily turn stale over several records. The band was right to recognize that maintaining the status quo wasn’t an option. With Crush, these kids found a way forward, and strangely enough, they found it by looking back.

By Jennifer Kelly

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