Vietnam's debut EP, The Concrete's Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street, is a remarkable introduction to the band's quietly ferocious rock. The five songs here evoke a muggy summer night in the city (indeed, the EP was recorded at New York's Magic Shop in the middle of August 2003): sometimes intimate, sometimes uncomfortable, but consistently, relentlessly urban. Shades of the Velvet Undeground's deadpan cool and Bob Dylan's sardonic wit and nasal drawl inform the band's sound, but even though Vietnam's influences (and name) date from the '60s and '70s, their music doesn't sound at all dated. The strikingly spare arrangements and dragging tempos on "Too Tired" and "Lullabye" sound weary and wired at the same time, and leave plenty of room for Michael Gerner's sharply observed lyrics; he's able to make a line like "goodnight, my angel, goodnight" into a threat that should keep that angel's eyes open 'til dawn. As the EP's title suggests, on The Concrete's Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street Vietnam doesn't shy away from the seedy and the desperate. "Makes No Difference" examines the emptiness of consumerism and masturbation, noting that "drowning seems so pleasant when you know how to sink." Yet the band manages to make ennui sound interesting instead of dreary, and by the time the song flares out into a jam seven and a half minutes long, they've turned their frustration into something transcendent. "Apocalypse," meanwhile, pauses to admire the flames raining from the sky on judgment day (or, perhaps, 9/11): "Don't get mad, woman/It's not like the end of the world comes every week." Vietnam does pick up the pace somewhat on "Princess," which comes across a bit like an earthier, more bohemian Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or Spiritualized. On most band's releases, this song would be among their best, but the charged atmosphere on Vietnam's slower songs is much more compelling (and further proof that the tension in a song has nothing to do with its tempo). More than many full-length albums, The Concrete's Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street really feels like a journey, so much so that it's almost difficult to figure out where Vietnam will go next with this sound.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares