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Vivian Girls: Share the Joy (Polyvinyl)

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Share the Joy is the cleanest-sounding Vivian Girls release yet. The Ronettes-in-a-thunderstorm furor of those first two records is now more Ronettes-in-your-living-room.

In the album's opening moments, on "The Other Girls," we get a small burst of percussive noise before the song settles into a jangly ballad. The guitars are spectral, but twinkly. Even during its extended crescendos, the song never allows that manic opening noise burst back in.

Next comes "I Heard You Say," which is pure shag carpeting and lava lamps, a psych-tinged girl-group breakup song that channels a bygone era in such an un-winking manner that it can't be kitsch, but it sort of is. It comes off as all style, like playing dress-up really convincingly. When the girls sing, "He'll never hold me in his arms again," it's not real; it doesn't come from the gut. Maybe that's the point. It's not a bad song.

When their sound was muddier, the artifice was less apparent. "Take It as It Comes" smirks so wryly that it's a bit nauseating: "But if I don't call him now, what if he winds up on a date with another girl?" a narrator fake-laments in between verses.

When someone throws a decade-themed party and pays lavish attention to detail (like serving appetizers on vintage Fiestaware or something), you can't help but appreciate it. But when they insist on playing pinochle just because it's period-specific, even though pinochle is boring, it can be a drag.

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