|Times New Viking
April 26, 2011
Times New Viking, the three piece lo-fi garage-based indie rockers hailing from Columbus, Ohio, has for the first time ventured into a cleaner production style through recording in an actual studio. And though they may have some sentimental attachment to their garage roots, the studio is also treating them very kindly, and hasn't resulted in any sacrifice of their scratchy stylings. Dancer Equired, their sixth album, retains that harrowing grunge sound while omitting extraneous feedback, making the listening experience a little more accessible than previous recordings. It's like a modern mix between Dinosaur Jr., Pixies and Sonic Youth, with overlapped and subdued vocals weaving through a crunchy guitar, bouncy bass and happening drums, all while still retaining that fuzzy cloud of slight distortion, which envelops the music in a vaguely intimate sense of feeling. It's great and wonderful in a charmingly explosive kind of way, making me wish I could do a jig in fuzzy slippers with the band members.
Keeping you on your toes from beginning to end, "It's a Culture" opens with a characteristic loading up of everything playing at once, the distinction between each element less important than the overall effect of a pleasantly overwhelming confusion. From the beginning to the end of the album, timing is the variable, speeding up and changing rhythms at almost any point, and combined with the stylistic scratchiness and distortion, fluctuating and sometimes off-beat vocals, Dance Equired will have you leaning in closer to pick out the little details, while also understanding it's the quilted final product you really enjoy wrapping around your earbuds. It's like experimental soft punk crossed with upbeat grunge and antics-driven, ironic modern "indie" but without any of the off-putting fluff. If there is any fluff in Dancer Equired, it's the kind of fluff you find when you put a pair of jeans through the wash with some important piece of paper in a pocket and all that remains is scraps of something you once knew: familiar, yet unattainable.
A little more down-to-earth than some of their previous beat-driven histrionics, Dancer Equired's still varied pace never runs out of steam throughout the 14-song long escapade into existential wanderings, slight social commentary and lyrical love bits. The album is really over before you know it, easily moving forward with constant changes in rhythm, riffs, hooks and melodies, consistently surprising.
It's often hard to make out the lyrics, but Beth Murphy's vocals, when given that tinge of distortion, and especially when paired with drummer Adam Elliot's, are sweet without being saccharine, like the perfect blend of honey and thorns. She also plays keyboard on the album, while Adam Elliot keeps the beat always raging, and Jared Phillips focuses his energy on playing a dynamic guitar.
"Downtown Easter Bloc," smack dab in the middle of the album, might capture the quintessential Times New Viking style on this album. The catchy opening riff, slightly chaotic timing, loud-then-soft instrumentation and crunchy strumming of a happy electric guitar in the foreground with overlapped, turned-down voices in the background, produce a fuzzy kind of contented feeling. In general throughout, the difference between the low voice levels and tuned-up electric instrumentation creates a perfect balance between distance and intimacy, like tasting blood on the tongue or a family of robots having a picnic. It's like forcing the ends of batteries together that have the same charge, or pulling Velcro apart and seeing how the two pieces interlock perfectly together just by feeling the resistance at separation. It even sounds a little like that, actually. The music wraps around you like a bodysuit of Velcro, fast-paced, roiling, not quite comforting, somehow familiar and foreign at the same time.
The next song, "More Rumors," is like trying to move a refrigerator with your mind.
Then it cleans up a bit and "Don't Go to Liverpool" is a skipping little love song, a dutiful organ effect on the keys helping them meander around as if on a path of their own, lifting up the lyrics "I want to know everything about you…" And there's a groovy little line, "Nothingness is real, until you start talking."
"Fuck her tears" is a jauntier little song with a bittersweet refrain, "My heart beats, yes, to your silhouette, fuck her tears!" Mixing elements of punk, grunge and catchy pop, it's easy to let the twitching and pounding drums infect you with a rebellious energy.
Backing up to earlier in the album, just to describe a few other elements, "Try Harder" has both elements of rolling vocals and a catchy hook and "California Roll" displays the aching soul of Murphy's voice. The twelfth song is like a dark walk down the alley of the mind, kept from going off any deep end by the up tones of the keyboard, as Elliot sings almost monotonously, "I want to be known, I want to exist," with Murphy's background vocals floating lightly behind his. "Somebody's Slave" lines up a boingy guitar and marching drums to impart, "every now and then you are somebody's slave." Each song, though consisting of the same elements, varies enough to make each one new and fresh, and the listening never boring. The momentum and energy with which the album moves could turn Mt. Rushmore into a sandy beach in hours.
With pithy lyrics, varied timing and some powerful combination of quick drums, distorted guitar and slightly far-off vocals, Times New Viking will keep your interest throughout the entire album, never missing a beat (never unintentionally, that is). Though each song could stand on its own as a complete tune, plugging in and riding all the way through to the end is definitely worth doing for this great post-grunge, lo-fi, high-energy album. And afterwards, you might want to do it again. I did, and I did again, and when I'm not listening, I sort of wish I were. Ah, is this what you might call "obsession"?
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Reviewer Bio - Nancy Woo, managing editor at OnlineRock, studied Sociology, Literature and Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz. A self-described "bohemian of sorts" she spends most of her time listening to music, reading, writing, freelancing in the world of journalism, tutoring writing, running, practicing yoga, attending live music and theater shows.