‘Vanilla’-Shoegaze Rock Reflections of a Twenty-something-year-old Teenage Girl: Reviewing So Vanilla by Viji

REGINA AGUILAR reviews the successes, and the failures, of Viji’s debut record So Vanilla.


Viji, whose real name is Vanilla Jenner, was born in Vienna to a family that greatly influenced her interest in music. Her father builds instruments for a living, her cousin was in a band, and her grandfather was a classical pianist. Her first album, So Vanilla, is the product of a lifelong and generational passion for music and creation. With the help of producer Dan Carey, Viji has created a 12-track record with refreshing 90s and 00s shoegaze rock instrumentals, setting her on the path to becoming a big name in indie music.


The instrumentals on this record are, without fault, really good, once you get past the lyrics of some of the songs. One of the main victims here is ‘Karaoke’; starting off with a low distorted riff, it sets a chilling ambience which is later lost as Viji says things like ‘counter-culture is my baby’ and ‘I wish I were ugly’ in a cadence that feels at times forced and a delivery that could benefit from a more theatrical tone to match the rest of the song, particularly the screaming at the end, which then feels somewhat out of place.


Songs like Sundress in ‘Pink’, ‘Slip Out Quiet’ and ‘Say Hi’ felt unremarkable to me. They were okay, but not emotional enough to be drawn to them again, and not sad enough to not be boring.


Down, on the other hand, felt too dramatic, perhaps not making the most out of the artist’s eternal contemplation of their need for sadness to create. In a happy, and notably unfruitful, period in her life, Viji took inspiration from Murakami’s ‘Sleep’ from The Elephant Vanishes, a short story which led her to question ‘wow, is that the only time individualism comes through, when we are free of social constructs or romantic relationships?’ These reflections, however, feel very in-your-face in ‘Down’, a song that shows limited lyrical subtlety and unsuccessful attempts at poetising the matter – ‘misery makes me holy’. Lyrics that especially bother me are ‘angel cake you’re bittersweet’ which feels like it should be on a 2016 o-mighty tank top, and ‘Rewind the part that hurts the most / Cause it didn’t hurt me enough’ which has the cadence of a tweet.


‘Sharks’ is fun and fast, both upset and upbeat. This song is all it needs to be, without falling short of something else. Viji remonstrates a broken promise of protection, ironically from the person who then hurt her. She conveys this feeling elegantly, through everything from the title, to the lyrics, to the rhythm of the song.


The first track, ‘Anything’, tells a story of devotion in which all else is secondary. Viji takes agency to fully accommodate the other, expressed through the explicitness of the refrain ‘I would do anything, anything, anything, anything for you’. This lyric stands out from the rest of the song, not only because of the repetition but also because of the forwardness with which it is said.


The final track, ‘Ambien’, is my favourite of the record. Ending with a lovely piano instrumental, the song feels disillusioned, but not sad. As a conclusion to the album, it seems Viji is reflecting on the purpose of everything she has told us about – her overwhelming devotion, her ruminations on the ability to create, her sentiments of betrayal, and her navigation of the limbo between attraction and envy: ‘what was it all good for when the dust is settled? It’s all the same if I sleep it off’.


So Vanilla is available for listening on most streaming platforms.