His & Her Vanities
BAND MEMBERS: Ricky Riemer-- guitar, vocals, keyboards, sampler Terrin Riemer-- bass, vocals, keyboards Sara Winkelman-- drums Matt Abplanalp-- guitar Reviews: by Gregory McIntosh, All Music Guide While the arty His & Her Vanities owes a great deal of it's canon to post-punkers Devo, the spirited recklessness of the Pixies, and even the pre-punk innovators the Monks (via drummer Sara Winkelman's aggressive and tribal tom-heavy approach to percussion), it would be severely unfair to dub the group as a carbon copy of anything. On it's energetic self-titled debut, the group dives right into said thumping drums along with droning keyboard under the stoic, almost robotic vocals of bassist/keyboardist Terrin Riemer and pushes through the entire album with enthusiasm and innovative, contrasting workouts. '52 Pickup' summons sharp and elliptical guitar work, layered intelligently by Ricky Riemer, and catchy vocal tradeoffs between Terrin and Ricky Riemer, while 'Back 2 Square 1' forsakes some of the tension for a more summery (a dirty summer, make no mistake) melodic approach, which could easily be plugged into one of the many hipster, feel-good Volkswagen advertisements, provided Volkswagen were looking for a gritty image. At times the fidelity is purposely gross (gro-fi, perhaps?), but His & Her Vanities has the ultimate knack for feeding off this to build layers of clever depth that are slowly unveiled over several listens. Whether or not Madison, WI, has realized what an intriguing group it has in the difficult to pin down His & Her Vanities is a question that begs to be asked; however, one hopes the answer is yes and implores the rest of the world to take a minute to listen to an infectious, fun, and refreshing group that simultaneously stands far out from and somehow fits into the scene of the numerous punk and post-punk revivalist bands that dominated indie culture during the early 2000s. Too much rock His & Her Vanities s/t Science of Sound CD 2003 - 12 tracks 34:55:00 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 it's 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 it's 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 it's 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. The isthmus by Al Ritchie Obviously, 'new wave' isn't so new anymore. In fact, it's now old enough to watch itself play in a bar. But that doesn't mean it's punky spirit of invention isn't still rearing it's begoggled head in new and intriguing places. One of those places is the east-side home of Madison indie-couple Ricky and Terrin Riemer, the basement of which is where His & Her Vanities was conceived and it's debut CD recorded. The album traipses through everything from Sonic Youth guitars to B-52's vox to the angular rhythms of Wire. Occasionally augmented by playfully loping synthesizers, HHV's left-of-center labcoat rock immediately recalls the quirk 'n' jerk sound of '80s post-punk, yet largely maintains a modern freshness by embracing that vivifying pomo spirit of fun-fun-fun generally reserved for cutesy/spazzy Japanese bands like Cibo Matto and Buffalo Daughter. A few of the tunes get lost in the candy-like swirl of sonic bells and whistles, but the buzzing, bratpunky 'Slowage' and improbably joyful robot-rocker '52 Pickup' are among those that nail the perfect balance of melody and weirdness. And, it seems to me, that's what the best new wave music was always all about. a common sense by Jaques Bluett The eponymous self-titled debut album from the Madison based quartet His and Her Vanities hit the shelves of the finest fringe record stores in the greater Midwest earlier this summer, but the full effect of this band's angular tunes has yet to be felt by the rock intelligentsia. People use words like "punk" and "indie", "no wave" and "no core" to describe this band. I could reverse name drop similar bands like Sonic Youth, Devo, the Pixies, and the Strokes to try to persuade you to listen to the Vanities. But if you were to put all of this data into a computer and spit out all of the permutations of sounds, I don't think that the Vanities would emerge as one of the "similar artists" in the categories lovingly offered by your favorite media player. However, I could say that I like the aforementioned bands and also like the Vanities, for what that's worth. But to do so would sell this band short. The Vanities have put their best foot forward with the first several tracks on the album. At once sexy and mechanical, "Alfonzo" starts up with rave-up beats and a loving robotic voice that tells us about "the processed king'. The songs are artistic and evoke fine images, but the songs never veer toward a statement of human apocalypse, which would spoil all of the fun. Instead, the human element of the enigmatic Alfonzo ("looks on fire/with suave attire/and no strings attached/just look at the man") invites us to party. It's a confusing party - a game of Twister with Mark Mothersbaugh in a microwave - you struggle to take the keys out of your pockets, but the music invites you to stay with it's beatbox that seems to be in a race to the finish with drummer Sara Winkelman. Guitarist Ricky Riemer throws musical confetti while trying to hold you down to fit you with a party hat. At the heart is Terrin Riemer's just-in-time bass explosions and many-octave vocal interplay with Ricky, which could be the revamped soundtrack to an Atari sponsored "boys against girls" dodgeball match. "Slowage" has a much more graceful ascent, an eighteen-wheeler in low gear climbing up a steep mountain, humming with efficient engines. The tension wrought in Ricky's guitar unwinds violently in the chorus as Terrin screams out in red-shifted tones. This is a song of the celestial sphere, something too beautiful to be born from the earth. Too few songs are crafted with the appreciation for built tension and release that this song evinces. Too nervous to stop in any one place, the songs keep changing cars, putting on fake moustaches, trying to keep a low profile. "The Shocking Truth" is a noise parade with post-punk guitar riffs screaming over the beat from a drum major that demands that you keep in step. The next songs tend to evoke more traditional indie rock tropes that are sure to keep the kids moving. If there's a complaint to be issued by this reviewer (I know you won't believe me if I just keep gushing about this band), it's that we are promised too much in the early part of the album. The tracks that follow are great pop songs with some unconventional hooks, but they can't match the intensity established in the early going. At the risk of sounding too harsh, I contend that the later tracks fall short only because of the high water mark that this band has already established. But don't take my word for it. Check out the band's website to check for upcoming shows in your area, listen to sound clips, and purchase the album. ^#^core weekly by Evan Rytlewski Especially in the local music scene, there's something to be said for quality control. All too often, even the best local artists fall into the trap of releasing countless, indistinguishable albums, flooding an already oversaturated market and scaring away outside listeners looking to explore the local scene. His & Her Vanities, however, are a local act that shows some restraint. Their catalogue - two full-lenths released two years apart - epitomizes a 'quality over quantity' mentality, and they limit the number of shows they perform to just a few every couple of months. Despite the band's intentionally low profile, the Vanities have cemented a dedicated local and national following, largely through word of mouth. Their self-titled debut album is widely circulated around the internet by fans of quirky rock, and the group furthered their profile with a well-received show at 2003's South by Southwest festival. Although the Vanities have few plans to promote their recently released second album, A Thought Process, the record will likely win them new listeners and create more buzz around them. A Thought Process fine tunes the sound the Vanities mastered on their self-titled debut. Traces of Devo, Wire and Gang of Four are still tied together by pop sensibilities reminiscent of the Pixies' and the Dismemberment Plan's most accessible work, but this album has a rawer feel to it than their last one. Missing are the layered keyboards and electronics that were a strong presence on the debut, scrapped in favor of a down-to-basics guitar, drum and bass sound. The change works well. Without the keyboards, their sound is less cluttered and more urgent, and none of the playfulness that made the first album so endearing has been sacrificed. Like their deubt, A Thought Process was self-recorded in Science of Sound, the basement studio of guitarist/singer Ricky Riemer. Riemer primarily uses the studio to record with the Vanities and his other band, Transformer Lootbag, but the studio could become a real powerhouse in Madison's music scene. Three of the year's best local releases - the latest Vanities album, the self-titled debut of Carl Johns' pop outfit Charlemagne and alt-country sweetheart MaeRae's YesPlease - were recorded there and more should be on the way. 'I'm still reconfiguring some stuff down there now but soon I want to open up the door to more people,' Riemer said. The Vanities will celebrate the offical release of A Thought Process with a show at the High Noon Saloon Saturday, Sept. 4. Catch them now or your might have to wait a couple months before they play again.