Vicious Vicious bringing sincere sexy back

Do Vicious Vicious look like they make silly music to you?
Graham Tolbert

White dudes trafficking in come-hither R&B can be broken down into two schools of thought. There's imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery revivalism ("The Mayer Hawthorne"), or intentionally over-the-top deconstruction ("The Har Mar"). For nearly a decade, however, Erik Appelwick has traveled a decidedly lonelier path. Through three albums as Vicious Vicious, Appelwick's scintillating slow jams and boisterous booty-shaking romps both acknowledge a debt to Bootsy Collins and inject distinctly modern electronic elements into the mix. As he settled into making his fourth album, however, Appelwick felt like Vicious Vicious's sincerity remained in doubt.

"It's never been my intent to make silly music," offers Appelwick, best known on the world stage as bassist for blog darlings Tapes 'n Tapes, though his track record on the local scene as a formidable frontman precedes that band. "I realized in hindsight that there were some places on the earlier records that were so tongue-in-cheek it actually did become somewhat silly. If this album seems more serious, that was definitely intentional. I was tired of being misconstrued as kidding around."

Though Vicious Vicious's first album in nearly five years makes good on Appelwick's aim of forgoing frivolity, it remains irresistibly catchy. Album opener "Jumpin' Fences" sets the dark and stormy tone early; it's a wounded and woozy ballad that teeters on the verge of collapse with Appelwick's voice coated in reverb and surrounded by skittering bleep-blips. Recorded with bassist James Buckley and drummer Martin Dosh, the rest of the songs beautifully blend shadowy atmospherics with pristine pop sensibilities.

After spending years tinkering on the album alone, Appelwick credits his linking back up with Dosh—an active Vicious Vicious member circa 2005's excellent Don't Look So Surprised before he joined Andrew Bird's touring band—with getting him sprinting to the finish line.

"Getting back together with Marty was huge," claims Appelwick. "Once he started playing on the songs, everything became a lot more three-dimensional. He was really vocal about what songs should be on the record, where to take musical ideas. The way we work is really great, because we approach the songs from opposite ends of the spectrum. Marty has a fairly electronic background. I'm a pop music guy. The place where we meet in the middle tends to be interesting. Once I linked up with him and James I quickly started setting deadlines to get the record out."

The tension between Dosh's heady electronic touches and Appelwick's primal pop urges is mirrored in the album's lyrical world, which finds Appelwick embracing dual roles as both a jilted romantic and unrepentant lady killer. For all his talk of sincerity, there's still plenty of ribald lyrical riffing ("When you fire up your engines girl/You know I'm gonna feel the heat") and flights of steamy falsetto fancy. The difference between this record and its predecessors is that this time around for every libidinous come-on there's a tender and introspective counterpoint.

"Not unlike the majority of artists out there, I'm very crippled by self-doubt," Appelwick admits, regarding his lyric-writing process. "As a songwriter, you put your ass on the line. On all my records there are certain lyrics that when I first listened back to them I doubted I could actually let breathe out there in the world [laughs]. I've slowly realized they become something else when you sing them enough times in the context of the music."

Back in action with his strongest backing band yet, Appelwick sounds eager to end his self-imposed retirement from center stage, while simultaneously aware that there's no pot of gold at the end of the indie-rock rainbow.

"I don't set goals anymore in the vein of 'I want to tour for two years behind this record,'" explains Appelwick. "I've done that with Tapes 'n Tapes, and it's not a game. It's a career. It's your art and it's also how you pay the bills—it's tough at times. As of right now I have guarded optimism about the record. I'm really happy with it. If people get excited about it, and great things happen, that would be awesome. I understand that still means going out there every night and working your ass off. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining because I prefer making music for a living. What's the alternative? Working at a soul-sucking job for money? That sounds far less appealing."

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