Review by Tim Sendra
Times New Viking aren't for the faint of ear. The trio from Ohio has no time for subtle recording tricks like EQ, proper levels, or fidelity. No doubt their recording budget hovered around the low two figures with most of that going toward beverages. The resulting album is a 30-minute blast of over-driven organ, squawking guitars, rattling drums, and pushed-to-distortion vocals that sound painful when played loud, and like a far-off hum when played quietly. Despite all this, Rip It Off is an incredibly good record. Maybe because of it, even. Beneath all the noise are songs with pretty melodies, huge hooks, and singalong choruses. Take the fuzz off of "Drop-Out" and you have a TV commercial, clean up "Another Day" and you have a girl group classic, fix the levels on "Off the Wall" and you have (possibly) a sweet love song. There is most definitely a pop band at the bottom of that layer of hissing sludge. Not that we're talking about an Archies record here, there is plenty of raw emotion on display ("Rip Allegory," "The Apt."), songs that have some complexity in their structure and delivery ("Relevant: Now"), and a huge dose of art, from the typewritten text on the cover down to the unique use of punctuation in the song titles. People might compare them to bands of the lo-fi era like Eric's Trip or early Smog, and those are good comparisons. Better yet would be to compare them to the lo-fi pioneers from New Zealand like the Clean or the Tall Dwarfs, or any band whose technical limitations (imposed through necessity or by choice) never got in the way of delivering a good song. Rip It Off is overloaded with good songs and provided you don't let silly things like clean sound get in the way of enjoying good songs, you might find yourself infatuated with Times New Viking.
Times New Viking
Rip It Off
So much for cleaning up their sound for Matador. After two releases on the recently returned Siltbreeze label, Times New Viking have become better songwriters, but thankfully don't change much of anything from their humble home-recorded beginnings. An effusive press release for Rip It Off draws a line from the Sex Pistols through Slanted and Enchanted and Alien Lanes to end at these guys and girls, and while those claims are a bit too bold to take at face value, they make a certain kind of sense: The Pistols ended up holding the banner for all the bands who realized they could do it themselves, and the songs written by Pavement and especially Guided By Voices swelled with the pride that their basement tapes could stand ably next to their heroes' carefully constructed classics.
That DIY spirit is key to Times New Viking, but there's a different sort of reclamation going on here. Yes, the instruments sound like off-brand department store toys, the speaker cones are blown-out, and the recording equipment is rudimentary. They're noisy enough to put off even fans of the 90s "lo-fi" generation. But every chord, every note, every yelped vocal, every grizzled and treble-tearing tone is one of sheer exuberance-- they may act aloof, but TNV get off on the privilege of just making a sound.
In a time when technology makes professional-sounding recordings accessible to even the smallest bands, that exuberance is refreshing and becoming rarer. TNV continue to straddle a sort of middle ground that might be too melodic and structured for real noise fans and too sludgy for indie-pop shut-ins, but by honing the hooks a little more, Rip It Off leans ever so slightly towards the latter. It doesn't rock as hard as the band's debut, nor does it have anything quite as instantly memorable as "Teenage Lust!", but it's their most satisfying front-to-back listen.
On the surface, this is simply another batch of lo-fi indie-pop songs, but the band refines the lessons of earlier records and improves on them, all congealing into a capital-A album. The clumsy thwack of "Come Together" recalls the swagger of their debut, while the irrepressibly cheerful "Rip Allegory" and "The Early 80s" are unabashed pop hewn from lazy arpeggios, bubbling one-finger organ riffs, and desperately shouted boy/girl vocals. "The Wait", with its deliberate tempo and sing-along chorus, is TNV's most discernible anthem yet, but they mostly stand their scuzzy ground-- the slow echoing notes of "Relevant: Now", and all their attendant feedback, cements the group as self-lacerating rockstars; too seasoned to avoid writing pop songs, but still too smart to take them seriously.
The layer of fuzz works like a security blanket-- a way of creating not just a distinctive sound, but of putting up an awning of safety over them and their listeners. Only the slightest bit of straining brings you to the pop virtues of these songs, on the band's own terms. Sure, it's an affectation, but its just another way of using the studio as an instrument in a way that makes these songs more intimate by design-- for better or worse, you can't sell a Volkswagen with a Times New Viking song. If cleaner production means truckloads of new bands who can summon their influences with little effort, and even less enthusiasm or creativity, then I'll stick with my tinnitus, thanks.
-Jason Crock, January 22, 2008