Vultures United – ‘Girls’
When judging an album of cover material, the listener is tasked with remembering and forgetting the original material at once—while the success of the new version should be measured against the original, the cover can and should be considered on its own merits. This task is doubly complicated in the realm of punk rock, since every hit song since the 60’s has been covered by (at least) one punk band. So, how does a punk band avoid redundancy and cliché?
Well, if you’re Vultures United: Get a killer batch of songs with a unifying theme, bring an inventive and flexible approach to the arrangements, and play the hell out of them. On Girls, the concept is to bring their hell-fire playing to a crop of songs originally sung by women. Of course, there are some obvious choices (X-Ray Specs, Bikini Kill); but there are plenty of oddball choices (Björk) as well as one modern top-40 cover (Ting Tings). Vultures United brings the same conviction and fury to each and every selection, making the album an intriguing listen.
“Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” takes the X-Ray Specs standard into even more aggressive and abrasive territory. Instead of sounding slavish, the song is doused in fanboy kerosene, ignited by the propulsive drumming and flint-and-steel guitars. From their unabashed joy, it’s clear that Vultures United idolized Poly Styrene. That they’ve turned early punk into hardcore is like turning lemons into lemonade: not at all surprising, but so damn refreshing!
Their cover of the Nico classic “These Days” is less traditional, blending acoustic and electric guitar textures in the most natural way. Truly, the end result sounds poignant and powerful without ever sounding schmaltzy. They actually manage to find a bridge between the fingerpicked guitar that Jackson Browne laid down all those years ago and the colossal distortion and smart arrangements of Fucked Up. The track is also deep with layers, and repeated listening will reveal accordions humming along with the guitar and campfire sing-a-long vocals. In a way that a hard-fast thrasher never could, this track highlights the communal and DIY aspects that make punk rock such a life changing experience.
Such oxymoronic moments abound on this thriller. Such as when the hardcore suddenly turns pop-punk on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover “Turn Into.” While pop-punk sounds tame, that’s not the case here. No more tame than a wolverine on a leash, at any rate, as the distorted guitars prove with their bared teeth. They also manage to recreate the sound effects on the song’s guitar solo, a unique blend of tremolo and spring reverb; by dialing back the extremity of these effects, they accent their debt to surf rock. This is a dynamic cover that manages to add piano and ukulele into the mix without disrupting the song’s flow or the band’s style.
Of course, the top of the pops meets bottom of the barrel approach works best on their shout-sung version of the Ting Tings’ “That’s Not My Name.” The image of a good girl transforming on the dance floor fits incredibly well into punk’s tradition of forging your own identity—“They call me quiet, but I’m a riot” indeed! The two worlds meld perfectly, reminding us why the Ramones were originally marketed as “bubblegum” before punk had a name. The singer picks up on this theme, bull-horning the words, even though no one would dare call him “darlin’.” They even turn in a traditional dance track breakdown, with the instruments quieting down while a female vocalist steps in. The molten lava meets cotton candy aesthetic erupts again at the end, overloading your senses with sugary power chords.
The band has chosen to release Girls in three different formats, each one offering unique tracklistings and exclusive songs. (Somewhere, there’s an obsessive punk rock completist looking for a bridge to jump off of.) The problem, however, is choosing which version (or versions) to buy, since all the songs are solid start to finish. Really, there’s no way to go wrong—just think of it as Vultures United’s way of giving everyone something special. But they do have some fun packaging ideas, involving pink or purple vinyl for the 7”. The band will be scheduling various release shows for the album, due out on December 12.