The problem with having a sound unique enough to summarize in two words is that people will use that tag.
A lot. L.A.'s Abe Vigoda are self-described "tropical punk," and Google results say this phrase appears 1,640 times next to their name. It's totally accurate. The band's second album, Skeleton , mixed steel drum-mimicking guitars and stilted, hard-to-play (easy to call "tropical"; more accurately "syncopated") rhythms. L.A. all-ages performance space The Smell was their musical home base. On Reviver Abe Vigoda take the next logical step in the development of their easy-to-peg sound: they abandon it. Skeleton was great, but also hinted that there were more variations and textures hidden inside the songs. Just as on Skeleton , Abe Vigoda establish an aesthetic right from the beginning of Reviver . Or rather, they establish what it is not; and this time it’s "not-tropical punk."
This EP contains five songs, but shows Abe Vigoda presenting a different but equally developed sound from "Don't Lie" onwards. On "Don't Lie", guitarists Juan Velazquez and Michael Vidal turn their instruments on an angle; and their guitars sound strident, and strained. The whole song feels darker, more languid than anything on Skeleton . Vidal, the band's fresh-faced singer, croons-- actually croons-- "Don't Lie" and the rest of the EP as if he's lived several lifetimes since their last album. There's a slowness to it that feels like weight, but not drag, and this pull goes in many directions. Abe Vigoda pan their tracks to emphasize the contrasting guitar melodies, but their low production values let them blend and swirl together at times.
Still, the separation is the most enjoyable across the EP. "House", for example, has that familiar jagged, unsteady beat, but the best and most disorienting sounds are its guitars. Here the guys do a crisp little tone in one ear, and spikier guitar stabs in the other. They don't clash, really, but they compete for your attention.
Abe Vigoda wants to make their adjustments explicit, by recording songs that've been done before. They cover both their own track, Skeleton ’s "Endless Sleeper", and Stevie Nicks' 1983 hit "Wild Heart". Reviver 's "Endless Sleeper" runs slower but shorter. There are no drums here, and the song turns into jelly without either a backbone or the hard, bright guitar of the original. It's a proof-of-concept for their new sound, but it doesn't beat out the energy that charges through the band's first edition. Their "Wild Heart" interpretation comes off better. The band sing only a fraction of Nicks’ lyrics and keep Vidal’s voice low. One of those lines, "Another chill off an already broken heart" defines the way the vocals work: Vidal's voice sounds deeper and dispassionate across the EP's five songs.
"Wild Heart" rests on a five-note guitar melody and simple bass line. It feels methodical, sparse, and totally unlike them, which is exactly what they want.
If Skeleton was island punk, Reviver moves the band out to sea. The drumming feels less straightforward here and only adds to the dizzying effect that makes you feel like Abe Vigoda's members are working at cross-purposes. Sometimes it feels like they're playing two different songs, working from two different ideas. There's no steady view of the horizon anymore. It's disorienting, but charming, to hear their parts blend, settle, and separate over and over again. I can't think of a name for it.