Last year, married duo Viva Voce released the stunning Lovers, Lead the Way!. That full-length CD impressed many with its shiny melodies buried under epic production. After what must have been an exhausting effort (the band wrote, produced, and played nearly all of the music by their lonesome), I was surprised to learn that barely a year later the band has released another full-length. Released on Minty Fresh, The Heat Can Melt Your Brain is on the surface underwhelming compared to Lovers, Lead the Way!. Gone are the long psychedelic freak-outs of their previous effort, and the band seems to have stripped off their characteristic layers of sound. What the listener is left with on The Heat Can Melt Your Brain are songs that contain just a hint of the ethereal psychedelia that permeated wide swathes of their previous work.
But, the fact that Viva Voce has toned down their approach to recording music isn’t necessarily bad, because the songs that are left to stand on their own are wonderful. Kevin & Anita Robinson have written songs that are somehow even more catchy and accessible than the songs on Lovers, Lead the Way!: songs with tight melodies and instantly lovable choruses that the listener will find him or herself humming all day long. “Alive with Pleasure” opens with a long instrumental that gives way to Anita’s sweet-girl vocals and deliberate guitar lines. The song spastically erupts into a musical outro, featuring wonderful the guitar work that characterized past Viva Voce releases. The short “Lesson No. 1” follows and, with its appealing melody, hand claps, loose-sounding guitar work and rhythm section, the song is indie pop at its purest. Following this is the much darker “Business Casual”, sounding like a long lost track from the dreamier Lovers, Lead the Way!. As Kevin’s underrated voice takes over the lead-singing duties over a swirling cacophony of keyboards, trembling guitars and a groovy base, one senses a tension to the music that consumes the listener. “The Lucky Ones” ushers the listener back into Viva Voce’s more accessible pop, with Kevin’s “ba-ba” background vocals supporting yet another innocent-sounding lead vocal performance from Anita. The song’s distorted guitar solo smack-dab in the middle of the song only augments the song’s appeal. The seething “High Highs”, perhaps the highlight of The Heat Can Melt Your Brain, combines Kevin’s understated vocals with serious groove and odd effects. The song somehow combines pop’s slick and chic side with a seedier urban undertone. It’s almost a shame that, at just under 3 minutes, the song is so short, but its brevity at least leaves the listener wanting more.
“Daylight” is another gem of a song and pays homage to the 60’s with its harmonized chorus, while at the same time being firmly rooted in the present with its dirty guitar lines and sophisticated bass line. A trend in The Heat Can Melt Your Brain continues with “The Center of the Universe”, in which Kevin again takes over the lead vocals for one of the band’s more experimental songs. “The Center of the Universe” contains an appealing melody and song structure like so many of the band’s other offerings on this release, but the song is cast in a darker and spacier light, with soaring keys and guitars and a generous use of effects on the vocals and instruments. By comparison, the instrumental “Free Nude Celebs” comes off as a little flat, but redeems itself with more excellent guitar work (presumably from Anita, who has to be considered one of the premier female guitar players in all of music). The band regains their form with the mellower, Beatles-influenced “Mixtape = Love”. On the song, Viva Voce takes the later Beatles psychedelic sound (with a pensive piano line, a George Harrison sounding lead guitar line, and dissonant chords) and infuses it with their own beautiful harmonies from both band members. Anita’s voice is exquisitely angelic on “Mixtape = Love”, with Kevin adding his own voice in support of his wife’s. Finally, The Heat Can Melt Your Brain ends with the mostly instrumental “They Never Really Wake Up”, which is re-conceived version of a song that appeared on their split EP released with Soul Junk on Velvet Blue Music. The song features a nice piano line, and a slow tempo that resembles the previous track. The band’s bass playing takes centre stage on the track, while Anita’s layered “ooh” background vocals and keyboard sounds build into the song. Finally, both Kevin & Anita share the lead vocal melody as the song lazily drifts on, fading after 6 minutes of musical bliss.
So, while Viva Voce may have stripped back layers of sound, their pristine melodies shine through wonderfully, satisfying the listener. Don’t pick up The Heat Can Melt Your Brain expecting a Part Two of last year’s release, but buy the CD expecting a collection of well-written and executed songs that are simultaneously listenable and creative. Fans of psych-pop heroes The Flaming Lips or Lenola, as well as previous Viva Voce fans, will be pleased with this quality release.