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That changed with Shelverton and Bringetto's next project, Seventeen Queen. An attempt to create music with more overtly pop sounds and arrangements, the band was short-lived but prophetic. When Buffa rejoined his friends ("It just made sense," says Shelverton), they changed the name to the Audience, which in turn became Vue.
The Death of a Girl, released by Berkeley's Gold Standard Laboratories, is Vue's most recent offering, and its best work to date. Featuring three tracks recorded in the summer of last year (with local producer and ex-Vain frontman Davy Vain) and two tracks from an early single, it illustrates just how far Shelverton, Buffa, and Bringetto have come from Gilman's skate punk aesthetic. In fact, the supreme irony of Vue is that for all of its members' punk cred, the band completely eschews that genre's breakneck tempos, crunching chords, and mosh-inducing rhythms. Instead, Girl features the amphetamine-fueled lust of the Stooges-like "Child for You" and "Hush Your Head," while the title track is an eerie, organ-driven dirge that recalls "From Her to Eternity"-era Nick Cave.
Buffa's guitar lines are linear, reverb-laden, and decidedly un-punk throughout, while Shelverton sounds genuinely unhinged à la Iggy, Cave, and the Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce. "I'll taste your strawberry lip gloss again and again/ I'll kiss off all the perfume all around your neck," he slurs on the plodding title track, before it explodes into howling noise. By the end of the almost seven-minute song, the singer sounds spent and defeated.
That's rarely the case on the band's self-titled debut for Sub Pop, recorded over the past year in two sessions, one with Vain and the other with Northwest producer Phil Ek (best known for his work with Built to Spill), and released in February. Filled with bouncing beats, angular guitars, and Shelverton's attitude-infused vocals, the album references three decades of eccentric rock, conjuring ghosts almost too numerous to mention, including Diamond Dogs-era Bowie, Bauhaus, the Stooges, the Birthday Party, Gallon Drunk, the Fall, and long-lost L.A. neo-goths (and one-time Sub Pop act) Plexi. Exploding immediately with "White Traffic," a pummeling three-minute manifesto, the album swerves indiscriminately between glam (the Keith-inspired "Angel's Alright," and T. Rex-flavored "Cotton Kisses"), atonal art rock ("Nothing Left But You," "Talk to a Model,"), and pure garage pounding ("The Shame," "We Were Here"). There's even an ambient instrumental. One has to speculate about Shelverton's, Buffa's, and Bringetto's record collections, and in what warehouse they're stored.
"The fact that they can play something and make it simultaneously sound like Television or the Gun Club or Duran Duran or even Nation of Ulysses is pretty admirable," says Sonny Kay, punk veteran and proprietor of both Gold Standard Laboratories and Oakland's Bottlenekk Distribution. He first encountered Buffa, Shelverton, and Bringetto seven years ago, when his hardcore band regularly shared bills with Portraits of Past. "As individuals, it seems to me that they're all coming from totally different angles," says Kay. "It's so precarious, everything is so chaotic when they come together. In a way that adds a weird element of excitement to what they're doing, an element of chance."
But Kay can see a time ahead when Vue will need to focus on a singular sound, or risk being the master of none. "Right now they're kind of riding this fence between this full-blown, almost rock operatic, traditional, classical-type rock band, and this uppity, guitar pop band. I think they could conceivably do both pretty well, but I think that sooner or later they're going to have to make a decision about which way they want to go."
The problem is that Vue's pluralistic approach is part of what makes it Vue. The band members themselves eschew any allegiances to one genre or another, preferring instead to be inspired by an album, a song, or a single hook. But this approach elicits accusations that their music is dated. "A lot of what's written about us says 'good retro rock,' and I don't think we're retro rock at all," says Shelverton. "I think we're modern in that we reference a lot of things."
Buffa contends that despite his enthusiasm for various sounds and styles, the band's music has always contained a central, unifying theme. "There's a certain mood or sound that's always present in all of it," he explains. "It may have changed in its form or direction, but it's stayed the same entity."
It's an entity that's had to make its way to Austin in a battered, leaking van that two weeks ago stalled in the middle of Haight Street -- a minor distraction on the road to the next show and the next record. And despite their youth, their impressive past, and their release of two bracing albums within six months of each other, Shelverton and Buffa seem to be almost incapable of comprehending their achievements. "I think we have the potential to do a really, really good record," Shelverton confides. "I'm always looking forward. It's hard to rest on what little laurels you have."
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