April 26, 2011

Douglas Martin can’t hear you.

Among the DIY basement venues and tinnitus-afflicted denizens of America’s lo-fi underground, the name Times New Viking inspires a brand loyalty that rivals Pepsi, Kleenex, and whatever name brand is hawked during Oprah’s Favorite Things segment. However, we all can agree that fifteen (milli-)seconds of any TNV song would likely send any number (the over/under is set at “all”) of those middle-class, middle-aged women running for the hills. After all, when it comes to noise-pop, the Columbus trio is damn good at the latter and gleefully carries the former to unreasonable extremes.

Sure, any one can double-dip their tunes in static, trebly noise, but TNV do something different. Drummer/singer Adam Elliott, guitarist Jared Phillips, and keyboardist/guitarist/singer/coolest person in indie-rock Beth Murphy turn the very concept of melody into abrasion. They have about as much subtlety of the tire-iron-in-the-cake trick that cartoon characters use to break their friends out of jail. They’re openly confrontational; a line is drawn in the sand and you are dared to cross it. And honestly, they really don’t give a shit whether or not you stand on their side. That punk-like defiance is a small bullet point on the list of the band’s endless charms.

A big misconception involving Times New Viking is that it was business as usual for the band when they left renowned noise-rock label Siltbreeze and signed with indie giant Matador — that the anti-production on Rip it Off was par for the course. The interesting thing about that record is how much more corrosive it sounded in comparison to Dig Yourself and Times New Viking Present the Paisley Reich. It’s almost as if the higher profile rendered them pricklier, as if the band found some sort of joy out of widely releasing a record so carefully designed to hold listeners forty feet at bay. Rip it Off— and really, the entire modus operandi of Times New Viking in general– was just as much a cruel joke intended for the casual listener as it was a treat intended for lovers of guitar-pop cacophony.

Thus, it may come as a slight shock to you when you press “play” on Dancer Equired, listening to “It’s a Culture” for the first time, and hearing TNV sound like an only-slightly-louder version of Superchunk. But since I wrote about why that shouldn’t surprise you already, let’s discuss the other ways in which this album is different from the rest of the band’s output, because there are quite a few of them.

FIRST AND FOREMOST:
The album from its outset has a maturity foreign to the band’s prior state-of-being. Which is not to say they’ve lost the spirited rebellion of their earlier work, the band is just slightly calmer and more reflective this time around. Throughout Dancer Equired, the band is reminiscent of the scrappy DIY punks you hung out with in your teens and early-twenties– swilling vodka from water bottles and throwing light bulbs off of bridges– creeping toward thirty or already on the wrong side of it. It hits you even from the record’s beginning moments, with Murphy in Elliott singing, in unison (as they usually do), “I have no doubt that we will surely relate to what we are becoming.”

SECONDLY:
Though Times New Viking have always thrown inklings of romance in their otherwise chaotic lyrics about the dystopia that is young adulthood, Dancer Equired seems especially preoccupied with matters of the heart, whether it’s the winking bad grammar (or maybe just a mere sentence fragment) of a title like, “Ever Falling in Love,” the admission of, “I want to know everything about you” (and the delightfully gooey “Nothing seems real until you start talking”) in “Don’t Go to Liverpool,” or the wistful teenage melancholy of “California Roll” line, “We thought flowers were just nice.” “It’s not that the rumors are true; it’s just that the rumors I heard never mention you.” “Every now and then, you are somebody’s slave; seeking the attention and affection you crave.” “Tell me there’s a point to being me and you.” With growing up comes those residual feelings of settling down.

THIRD:
Not only are Times New Viking settling down into romantic life, Dancer Equired finds the band’s spirited belligerence being turned down a pinch. Many of the songs are rolling, mid-tempo numbers with earth-toned riffs and licks, such as the aforementioned “Ever Falling in Love” and “California Roll,” as well as “Want to Exist” and “Downtown Eastern Bloc”. Lead single “No Room to Live“ carries a Sarah Records jangle the band has never tried before, while keeping in line with the more measured pacing of the new Times New Viking. Only album highlight “Fuck Her Tears“ revisits the go-for-broke intensity and desperation of the band’s past, which easily makes for the band’s best song since Rip it Off closer “Post Teen Drama”.

AND FINALLY:
But the natural shift from hissy tapes and shrill feedback to the comfort of an actual studio has not dulled the band’s bite, despite the record being easier to listen to. The distortion is still found in heaps. The first-take, best-take mentality shines even brighter as their passion as musicians takes a priority over their passion as noisemakers; many of the songs are peppered with casual studio chatter, as if the band is recording the album from a holding tank with a two-way mirror with us watching on the other side. Many of the songs sound intentionally bored, like the sound of a working stiff (or a suburban teen) spending their Saturday afternoon stoned in their backyard, waiting for someone to call or something to happen, waiting for the urge to do something.

IN CONCLUSION:
The maturation of Times New Viking could be taken in many ways. It could be a product of growing pains, of not using tried-and-true formulas to create a record that Times New Viking would ultimately be satisfied with (their consistency from Dig Yourself to Born Again Revisited has been outstanding to say the least) to ultimately create the band’s first transitional album. Just as conceivably, they could be using their recent jump to Merge as a way to become more accessible. After all, the label has released a few Billboard chart-makers as well as one infamous Grammy winning album. In the heyday of TNV heroes The Clean– or even in the time of friends Yo La Tengo and Siltbreeze stalwarts Harry Pussy– a band like Times New Viking getting the NPR co-sign would have been looked down upon by the DIY faithful. A sellout move. A Judas kiss. But like every former punk or indie-rocker who eventually begins hoarding This American Life podcasts, Times New Viking are just growing up, something you’ve done or will eventually do. Et tu, Brute?

Download:
MP3: Times New Viking-“No Room to Live”