Release Date: Apr 26, 2011
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Noise Pop
The spastic, ear-needling noise surrounding Times New Viking’s songs has always been hard to justify. Sure, their music has an ornery, almost inhospitable exterior, but the cores of albums like Rip it Off are happily indebted to spontaneous pop — the trio’s glimmering yelps are at once both mangled and ambrosial, and a hell of a lot more disarmed than all the tape-hiss around it. However, Dancer Equired is probably the most transparent the band has ever sounded.
In speaking with audio restoration engineer Michael King a few years ago about some of the archival releases on Reel Recordings (his jazz and progressive rock imprint), he said the goal of the label was to present music in which the emotional qualities were never compromised by recording medium or recording quality. In other words, the power of music should be able to come through, even if the sounds are committed to cheap tape with a room mic or are captured live in a space in which the instruments are off balance. Certainly things can be done to bring up levels and so forth, but one has to rely on a bit of ‘feel’ and a bit of faith that the residue of an experience is really there.
Times New Viking had a pretty good gimmick going throughout their first seven years together. On their albums and singles, they took their songs and recorded them in a way that can only be described as cruddy. Recorded at the bottom of a swimming pool on a Fisher-Price cassette player cruddy. Accidentally dropped the masters in a vat of old greasy crud.
By now it shouldn't be necessary for every review of a new Times New Viking album to mention how lo-fi, abrasive and plain noisy they are, but how underneath that blanket of noise there are exuberant pop-songs, par excellence, just champing at the bit to hook you with their...well, with their hooks. Well, it wouldn't be necessary to mention that, but for the fact that they've only gone and cleaned their act up. For it's true, Dancer Equired dials back the distortion - not all the way of course - but the guitars at least have a texture that betrays the actual playing of strings as opposed to the corrosive amplified screeches that dominated Rip It Off.
Times New Viking have managed to pull off something quite challenging over the course of their career, which has now extended through five-full length albums since 2005. As time has passed, the Columbus-based trio has built-- ever-so-slightly--on their template of fuzzed-out indie-pop, handling each change they've approached as carefully as when handling a crucial Jenga piece. Their hooks have grown sharper, their production higher-fi on each go around, but most importantly, by simply being so ridiculously consistent, they've established themselves as a band very worth investing one's time and interest in.
There were whispers that this might happen four years ago. That was around the time Times New Viking made the jump from Siltbreeze, an outpost for the proudly abrasive and frayed, to Matador, an institution that has flirted with the mainstream since their 1990s heyday. The commercial prospects were curious: How well could they sell a band renowned for dropping hooks behind minefields of growl? Surely, Times New Viking, a trio of art-school grads and Guided By Voices disciples, would clean up their act.
Remember 2008? In today’s genre driven music landscape (we’re partly to blame, of course), the lo-fi resurrection of three years ago feels as antiquated as the Fertility Icon. Being curious archeologists by nature, we believe that any neglected format that springs back to our consciousness needs to be resurrected for the sake of posing as that year’s model. Of all possible recording techniques, low fidelity is the most romanticized – this notion of evoking the spirit of an age many didn’t even live automatically renders you as the knowledgeable one in the block.
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, the saying goes. Dumpster diving with Times New Viking isn’t a hobby for everyone, but out of the noisy dust cloud emerges a collection of songs worthy of inclusion in any sentence mentioning faithful Guided By Voices or Yo La Tango acolytes. Compared to their earlier DIY efforts that sounded at best like the band recorded onto a VHS tape (really) and at worst into a rusty old Folgers can (not really), this time around under the auspices of Merge Records, Dancer Equired effectively ups the fidelity level to 11.
Is it possible to be shitgaze superstars? For a while in 2008 it looked like Times New Viking might be. It was April, and their first release on Matador, ‘Rip It Off’, was released in the UK. Up to this point, only diehard shitters (© me) could hand-on-heart lay claim to being “down”, but by the time follow-up ‘Born Again Revisited’ landed, they’d elbowed themselves out of the niche enough for non-shitters (again, my term) to be interested too.
A delightfully ramshackle, shambolic half-hour of lo-fi thrills. Mischa Pearlman 2011 While you couldn’t exactly call this fifth album by Columbus, Ohio trio Times New Viking a reinvention or rebirth, there is a salient difference between this effort and its predecessors – mainly, on Dancer Equired, you can actually hear the songs. Which is to say that that the layer of squalling noise that was placed, like a filter on a lens, over the top of their songs, has been replaced.
Ohio lo-fi outfit Times New Viking is known for pushing the sonic envelope. 2009’s Born Again Revisited was recorded on VHS tape, and it’s that fuzzy, grainy, analog sound that initially attracted lo-fi die-hards to the band’s repertoire. Their latest release Dancer Equired, hitting shelves via Merge Records, takes a step back from the garage and into the studio, resulting in a collection of songs that maintains the band’s stripped-down sensibilities while putting more (needed) emphasis on melody and songwriting.