Our Golden Friend
RVG came out of nowhere in 2017, with their recorded-on-a-shoestring debut A Quality of Mercy becoming a word of mouth success. They’ve since become a live must-see thanks to their powerful songwriting and the enrapturing stage presence of frontwoman Romy Vager. They return with Feral, an even stronger and poppier collection of songs that still has that signature bite.
That first LP bottled RVG’s live energy perfectly and so it should have – most of it was recorded live at legendary Melbourne venue The Tote. The band have played to their strengths and captured this same unhinged energy a second time around, with Vager sounding more impassioned than ever and the guitars ringing and roaring throughout with intensity. The production is retained but the sound is more expansive and certainly brighter, full of jangly arpeggiated guitar chords and cleaner pop-rock riffage. It’s a sound more indebted to The Smiths and the pop-punk of late 70s groups like The Only Ones, and it suits the songs to a tee.
Good thing that the songs themselves are also excellent. Single Alexandra is a brutal tale of ostracism and one of the best Australian rock songs released last year. And this year’s mantle may well go to I Used to Love You, a heartfelt anthem with an unforgettable refrain that channels the stark romanticism of The Go-Betweens. Recent single Christian Neurosurgeon is a song that the band has previewed live for a while and it sounds great in-studio. It’s a fast-paced but menacing pop-rocker, its absurdist premise an excuse for some great lines from Vager: “Have you found the cross/ In the medulla oblongata”? Help Somebody is a slice of reverbed post-punk bliss. It’s well aware of it too, reserving its closing 90 seconds for some heavenly intertwining guitars and humming bass.
The remaining songs, although not as distinctive, are all worthwhile. There’s the bopping jangle of Little Sharky and Asteroid which both feature some great narratives from Vager. Prima Donna is a fun character study, and Baby Bottle‘s dismantling of a toxic personality is this album’s answer to Vincent Van Gogh. Only closing track Photograph misses the mark by virtue of its length. The only real complaint is the uniformity in songwriting style on the album. Baby Bottle, Alexandra and Christian Neurosurgeon, for instance, all start with the exact same palm muted notes, and the first two are very similar songs structurally. These songs easily distinguish themselves through their words, but it would have been nice to see RVG stretch a tad more.
Overall this is a standout effort and solid contender for Aussie rock album of the year, expanding RVG’s palette from post-punk to Romantic jangle pop. Most bands would kill for a setlist this strong after two albums.