The Vovos – ‘Jana’ review: cheery jangle-punk hides barbs about capitalism and climate change

Melbourne five-piece fold their societal critiques into bright bouncy songs

As a teenaged band named after a brand of iced biscuits, The Vovos are ripe for underestimation. Thankfully their songs correct any such misjudgments right away, tackling the daily realities of climate change and interpersonal strife with remarkable sharpness. The Melbourne five-piece spike even their most playful moments with knowing and often scathing lyrics, drawing you in with seemingly happy-go-lucky jangle-punk before landing one gut punch after another.

Take ‘Lost In IKEA’, the would-be straightforward opener of their debut album, ‘Jana’. Inspired by the actual experience of trying to buy a chair in the labyrinthine store, the song suddenly seizes on the language of capitalism to convey the struggle of selling oneself to the outside world. After calling herself hazy, lazy and “kind of crazy”, vocalist/guitarist Ada Duffy drolly drops phrases like “limited time only” and “the offer ends soon” before pleading “Please take me home, I’m only $29.98.” It’s comic self-deprecation informed by a nagging frustration with commercialism.

Meeting through two consecutive Girls Rock! Melbourne camps, Duffy jammed with bassist Lu Galanta and guitarist Bethany Feik when they were as young as 14. Keyboardist Ruby Ayliffe and drummer Bianca Ayliffe later came on board (Mika James has since assumed drum duties, and both drummers appear here.) Girls Rock! Melbourne also supported the recording of 2019’s ‘Constructive Criticism’ EP, which introduced The Vovos’ spiky pop ambushes via songs about navigating Melbourne’s so-called liveability and marrying a carnivorous plant.

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Practicing after school and writing songs collectively, the band were soon playing Boogie Festival and supporting Skegss at Melbourne’s expansive Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Scuffing up the outsider indie pop of The Moldy Peaches and Daniel Johnston with punky abrasion, The Vovos sound like the closest of friends during their short, memorable songs, turning even the mundane acronym “IGA” into a spirited singalong.

The members harmonise freely, turning other everyday phrases into sudden choruses or call-and-response exchanges. Overlapping vocals are as much a highlight as the frayed guitar solo on the closing ‘Compromise’, which mocks Canberra’s bland cultural offerings during a school trip before coming around to the “big small town” outside of that narrow context.

Just as ‘Compromise’ starts out as a one-note takedown but develops into a more nuanced appraisal, other Vovos songs evolve in a similar fashion. ‘Temporary Solution’ adopts a rallying cry for iced tea during a heatwave before contrasting that fleeting relief with Australia’s raging bushfires. Likewise, ‘Eat Your Greens’ opens with a stated goal of keeping things light – “Let’s write a happy song,” begins Duffy – before holding people accountable for their inaction on climate change. The group-sung chorus goes “Coulda shoulda woulda stopped the coal / Saved the earth” before ending with the damning question “But you didn’t, did you?”.

Striking closer to the heart, ‘Spring Cleaning’ collates the members’ combined experiences to vent about the need to cut off toxic friendships. Against gnashing guitars and pleasantly plinking keyboards, ‘Keep Up’ takes aim at hollow influencer culture with this acidic statement: “I’m not gonna lie / I don’t really care about your life.”

These songs are consistently threaded with bright melodies and bouncy momentum, folding their critiques into fun DIY pop songs. On ‘Honey’, a jaunty look back on the oversized feelings that accompany the crushes of those early teen years, The Vovos even circle back to that carnivorous plant from their earlier song ‘Venus’ (as in flytrap). The band members may be approaching their 20s and channelling their activist spirit into both their lyrics and the benefit gigs they play, but they’re still not beyond singing about their deep affection for houseplants.

Details

The Vovos band Jana album review 2021
  • Release date: July 10
  • Record label: Roolette
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