Have you seen Vexx live? On their self-titled 2013 debut, the band possessed such energy and frenetic chaos that I found myself immediately wondering what it would be like*. Vexx operate out of Olympia, Washington, the punk and DIY haven that you’ve probably heard of, and they have a new 7” release called Give and Take that was just released on Katorga Works at the end of April. While they are indebted to the sounds of late-’70s American punk, Vexx simply owned that sound on their debut, rendering any possible sense of influence irrelevant. There they seemed to enjoy playing as frenetically as possible, always on the verge of spontaneous combustion. The debut LP was initially released on Grazer Records and it sold out immediately. It was then subsequently remastered and reissued by the Portland, Oregon imprint M’Lady’s Records a year later. Obviously I’m not the only one who cared.
Now, with the new Give and Take 7”, the band has toned down the frenetic chaos of their debut a bit, in favor of letting other strengths shine through. A preexisting knack for catchy melodies is more on display here, and most songs sound slightly cleaner than their predecessors. Because the band’s elements are more exposed, they actually manage to pack a bigger punch. Everyone is working together here for the most part: Drums, guitar, and bass often lock in together in one single melodic line but still dive off into chaos at certain points.
The record starts off with “Black/White,” which finds Mary Jane Dunphe singing out those two words like the opposites they are. All the while, guitarist Mike Liebman churns out some memorable lines but never entirely steals the show. They strike a nice balance here. The song builds, surges mid-chorus, and then digresses into a bridge, repeating this over and over to satisfying effect. The second track boasts the memorable lyric “Just sleeping in the attic again/but I gotta find a new place to live,” set to a swift and memorable guitar riff, the whole thing ending all too quickly. The third track, “Walking in the Rain,” begins slowly. The emotion is palpable in Dunphe’s delivery. The song has a mystique to it that almost veers towards the gothic rock of Siouxsie and the Banshees. These elements don’t entirely mesh well, but I appreciate the effort to go somewhere new and the band wins me over by the end of the track anyway. The final track, “Flattened Scenes,” is a return to the sound of their first record. It’s quick, wild, and rabid; Dunphe screams wildly “We’re suckin mama’s teat” at one point before ending the track with one final scream. It all ends too quickly and I go and start the first track again.
*Some friends have said that Vexx live was, in fact, the best performance they have ever seen.