Times New Viking’s Stay Awake EP follows up the band’s first Matador release, Rip It Off, with the same fuzz skuzz pop magic that has worked for it since its inception. The band’s primitive recording technique — much hated, much loved — remains. And it continues to scrape our ears clean. So clean, in fact, that their catchy melodic sing-alongs attach themselves even more firmly to the squishy gray matter of our brains. That’s to say this: Their use of raw power is not, as we might expect, an obfuscation, a way of hiding behind. Actually, the noise increases the pop potential of the songs. This is the kind of music we should be hearing all the time, instead of the deathly boring muzak we (and our ears) generally expect.
My favorite part of the EP is the final half — “No Sympathy” and “Sick & Tired.” The cracked, fragmented beginning of “No Sympathy” (which seems to feature some found radio sound of a world folk music I can’t name) gives way to a simply played organ melody that then sets the mood for what must pass for a staid song in the generally crazy Times New Viking world. The melody plays out slowly, each voice resting calmly on each note, even in the chorus. Of course, this placid song immediately gives way to the fist-pumping, guitar-driven joys of “Sick & Tired.” The sputtering vocals of the verse give way to an expansive falling melody in the chorus. You can’t help but want to sing out your own sick and tired thoughts.
Singing out, singing along. These are the things I think of when I think of Times New Viking. More than hardcore or noise or whatever other contemporary development in music, the biggest influence on Times New Viking seems to be the Carter Family. Stay Awake is another episode in a happy family sing-along radio hour. (Of course, the station doesn’t quite come in, hence the static.) Their songs, though they seem almost hyperactively spontaneous (“first thought, best thought” said Allen Ginsberg), also sound old and easy. It’s folk music without the hundreds of years of slow development.
No wonder they don’t care about certain standards of recording quality: They are their own Alan Lomax, immediately “getting down” the wild, the weird and the strangely alluring on a single-microphone tape recorder.