First, let's get something out of the way: Even if you instinctively recoil in horror just thinking of another band with two consecutive Vs in their name, UUVVWWZ is definitely not the worst band name you've ever encountered. Aside from the fact that the group insists on pronouncing it "Double 'U' Double 'V' Double 'W'...'Z'" rather than the more intuitive and percussive "You You Vee Vee Double-You Double-You Zee," it is actually a pretty cool name, at least in the sense that it gives few hints of what to expect from the music. In a field overcrowded with horrendous band names running the gamut from the deliberately obnoxious (Battlehooch) to the painfully pretentious (the Spiritual Machine), UUVVWWZ's moniker does not immediately indicate the musicians' worst impulses, and it has a welcome ring of enigmatic eccentricity. Even if it is needlessly difficult to pronounce, the name invites the listener to figure it out, and wonder what the band is all about.
So yes, the big question: What is UUVVWWZ all about? Judging by the sound of their debut album, it seems as though they are still working that out. They certainly have an aesthetic in mind: Loose yet tense, arty yet accessible, epic but not ponderous. The nine songs on the record happen to be the group's first nine completed compositions, and so while many of the tracks have the thrilling buzz of inspiration and discovery, it is also apparent that they're casting about in search of an identity. This is not to say that the songs lack character. The band's best asset is Teal Gardner, a singer blessed with a strong, distinct voice that's compelling even when it comes too close to emulating other vocalists. This is most evident on the album's spazzy rockers, which have the manic chirpiness of Deerhoof and Ponytail, but also the more populist tunefulness of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs. "Jap Dad" is the best of these songs, but as much as that number is charmingly bratty, it comes off more like the band are having a good time than being entirely themselves.
The quieter tracks on the record feel much more natural and relaxed. The opener, "Berry Can", shifts between a sweet, girlish vocal from Gardner and a dark, menacing riff that breaks into the song like an unexpected thunderstorm on an otherwise sunny afternoon. "Neolaño" and "The Sun" flirt with outright bluesiness, which encourages Gardner to play up the more bold and womanly aspects of her voice. "Castle", the album's centerpiece and best song, falls perfectly at the center of the group's aesthetic spectrum. As the music floats between moments of dreaminess, turbulence, and catharsis, Gardner's performance is similarly mercurial. For the most part, her emoting matches the sound of the band, but her inflections and cadences are often surprising and vaguely counter-intuitive. She is a revelation on this track, seamlessly transitioning between fragility and intensity, and investing her entirely inscrutable lyrics with a convincing urgency. The band would be wise to continue on the path laid out by this song. Clearly, this is Gardner at her most confident and affecting, but it's also the band's most dynamic moment, and allows them to move between a lovely, unapologetically pretty groove and an appealing heaviness. There are plenty of signs that UUVVWWZ are on track to become a better band, but "Castle" is the song that will make you impatient for them to hurry up and get to their next level right away.