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Switching to Kemado after a brief stay at Vice Records, where they released their impressive debut EP, The Concrete's Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street, Vietnam returned with their self-titled full-length. While they're still playing the same kind of hazy, narcotic poet-rock they introduced on the EP, this time around the results are hit-and-miss. One of the biggest problems with the album is its sound. While The Concrete's Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street wasn't lo-fi, its sweaty, gritty production gave Vietnam's songs warmth and conviction. Vietnam was recorded in Los Angeles' famed Sound City studio, and unfortunately this more polished approach diminishes the band, making their sound thinner and more shrill than it was before. This doesn't do the ambitious sprawl of their music any favors. Though "Step on Inside" makes good use of the album's wall-of-sound production, more often it tends to show how big the gap between the band and the sound they're reaching for is. Tracks like the anti-materialism lament "Mr. Goldfinger" and lengthy junkie requiem "Toby" (one of many references on the album to near-fatal overdoses) come off as heavy-handed. Not all of Vietnam feels this strained, though. "Too Tired" and "Apocalypse" originally appeared on The Concrete's Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street, and sound nearly as good here as they did on the EP, and the band sounds much more genuine when they're having fun instead of trying for a grand gesture. "Welcome to My Room" chugs along on a heavy, Velvet Underground-inspired groove, then pauses for breath only to rev up again, while "Gabe" revels in the possibilities of a Spanish vacation. "The Priest, the Poet and the Pig" is a rousing highlight with some inspired guitar solos -- in fact, the consistently great guitar work is probably the best thing about the album. Vietnam is uneven and more than a little disappointing compared to the band's previous work, but despite its frustrating moments, it still shows that they have potential.

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