Like Royal Trux before it, the Brooklyn-via-Texas quartet VietNam often sounds like its members dropped from the womb with The Rolling Stones' 1971-1973 catalog imprinted on their cerebral cortices. Hazy, anachronistic, and deceptively loose, the band's eponymous debut album at least has the atmospheric appeal of albums such as Sticky Fingers and Goats Head Soup; unfortunately, there's more to cling to in the atmosphere than in the actual songwriting it supports.
Not surprisingly, VietNam counts Royal Trux among its biggest influences. (Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Velvet Underground also seem like safe bets.) It's certainly a hipper choice than admitting, "We're still years away from our own 'Wild Horses'." And given the clever way in which Royal Trux approached the Stones' catalog—paying tribute while remaining ironically detached, or at least drug-ravaged, enough to keep from seeming slavish—it's also more fitting. Royal Trux, even in its major-label years, couldn't write a memorable hook, so VietNam is in good company there, as well.
To be fair, VietNam has its moments, such as in the sprawling blues of "Hotel Riverview," where the band approaches near-transcendence. Even as singer-guitarist Michael Gerner fumbles extra syllables over the song's verses, the interplay between his rhythm and Josh Grubb's lead is positively Keith Richards/Mick Taylor perfect. More songs like these—and fewer like "Mr. Goldfinger," which imagines Bob Dylan shouting over a Neil Young chord progression, complete with a Clarence Clemons sax solo—would at least provide coherence. Luckily for VietNam—who've somehow tricked guest stars such as Jenny Lewis, Paz Lenchantin (Zwan, A Perfect Circle), and Maroon 5's Jesse Carmichael into joining them for this mess—they've got enough hipster cachet to deflect any real thought over what they're doing.