California Sounds: Vivian Girls and Chulita Vinyl Club’s Sue Problema

Vivian Girls
Vivian Girls, from left: Ali Koehler, Cassie Ramone and Katy Goodman.
(Neil Kryszak)

Vivian Girls, “Memory” (Polyvinyl)

The first album in eight years from the reunited trio moves with distorted energy, with each short, sharp punk song making its point and repeating it a few times before driving to the coda. That shouldn’t surprise. Across three sublimely abrasive records starting in 2008, core members Cassie Ramone and Katy Goodman coupled first-wave punk’s DIY intransigence with an affection for Ronettes- and Lesley Gore-style harmoniousness.

The band was born in Brooklyn, but during a hiatus Goodman relocated to Los Angeles and issued records as La Sera. Ramone went solo too. Last year the pair reunited with drummer Ali Koehler in Los Angeles and committed anew to Vivian Girls, a moniker drawn from the reclusive Chicago artist Henry Darger’s epic works.

The 12 songs on “Memory” reveal musicians who have grown both as artists and technicians, even if their approach is as impatient as ever. Unlike another reunited band, Sleater-Kinney, Vivian Girls haven’t gone glossy or aimed at the crossover crowd. Instead, they’ve dug deeper into their decade-long aesthetic, adding a more accomplished sound below while piling mounds of feathery stuff up top.

The whole album comes and goes in 34 minutes. The wash of distorted guitars that flood through “Sick” nearly overwhelm Goodman and Ramone’s verses and choruses, which they sing in layered unison, as if an army of Vivian Girls was marching on Glandelinian overlords.


Chulita Sue Problema (a.k.a. Spin and Sparkle), “Encuentros Cercanos” mix (Chulita Vinyl Club)

Like Wu-Tang Clan, BTS or Menudo, members of the Chulita Vinyl Club combined forces as a way to multiply the power. The DJ collective is, in its own words, “made up of women, gender-non-conforming, non-binary, LGBTQ+ and self-identifying people of color” with chapters across the Southwest.

In California, the club spins in both Southern and Northern California. Like the other branches, its stated mission includes using “music and vinyl as a form of resistance against the erasure of culture.”

A noble cause, one made more so by their combined aesthetic. The club documents its DJ nights and festival appearances across social media and regularly updates its Soundcloud with mixes that jump from funk, soul and disco to vintage cumbia and Tejano.

Though each has its charms, the recent party mix “Encuentros Cercanos” (“Close Encounters”) from San Francisco-based Rebecca Gonzales — who DJs as both Chulita Sue Problema and Spin and Sparkle — is particularly beguiling.

A mostly instrumental set, Sue Problema (who is a children’s librarian by day) selects cuts so obscure that Shazam can’t track them: cheesy Casio-toned salsa songs, organ-driven mariachi marches and surf-inspired Peruvian chicha music. Luckily, the club posts its track lists. One highlight: As performed by Fito Olivaras y Su Grupo, the oddball ’80s cumbia song “E.T.” celebrates Steven Spielberg’s alien character with lines sung by a helium-pitched, would-be extraterrestrial.