Fans of 2008’s divisive Rip It Off, Times New Viking’s breakthrough album for Matador, defended the band’s lo-lo-fi aesthetic by pointing to the melodies underneath the shrill, even lurid production. But many could not get past the deafening buzz-saw-like quality to the songs. Some probably wondered why, if the tracks were strong enough on their own, Times New Viking chose to lacquer everything in brittle noise.
Whether the band wanted to answer their critics or simply make the songs the focal point of the band (rather than the method of recording them) is hard to say. Times New Viking, though, and Matador, have promised better sound quality on the band’s latest release, Born Again Revisited. This is somewhat of a revelation for the band, given the fact that they gained notoriety with a fuzzed-out sound, and that last year’s terrific Stay Awake EP gave few hints if any as to their new approach. Of course, lo-fi forefathers Sebadoh (for just one example) cleaned things up a bit on 1994’s Bakesale, so the move is not unprecedented.
It’s apparent pretty much from note one of Born Again Revisited that Times New Viking is delivering on their promise of a tidier sound. But the change isn't drastic -- the songs still come in two- to three-minute chunks, many sounding like air-raid sirens. A curious thing about Times New Viking is that their songs, despite being tightly wrapped in cacophony, have never really been hasty or especially wild like many of their punk brethren's. Often, Times New Viking create well-paced, melodic guitar-and-organ anthems, many of which shine through on Born Again Revisited.
"No Time, No Hope," a pessimistic update on earlier album Present the Paisley Reich cut "New Times, New Hope," features Beth Murphy's keyboard front and center, casting a warming glow on Jared Philips' lawn-mower motor guitar squall. The lyrics are a bummer, but the result is something close to a pop song -- as close as TNV will probably ever get. Elsewhere, gems like album opener "Martin Luther King Day" and "2/11 Don't Forget" jolt and froth, the band sounding confident, unhurried. There's energy bursting through on almost every song, spitting out of the speakers like blow darts.
Sure, as with most Times New Viking releases, there are some tracks that feel like filler. ("High Holidays" and under-forty-seconds-album-closer "Take the Piss" come to mind.) But it's a small complaint: Born Again Revisited is brimming with catchy choruses, expert song craft, and a few honest-to-goodness fist-pumping anthems. And this time around, your eardrums remain intact.
Their music is slathered in layers of lo-fi gunk, often sounding like they microwaved their masters before handing them in, and their penchant for performing at ear-splitting levels can be occasionally bothersome. Still, one can’t help marveling that Columbus’s Times New Viking aren’t more popular. The band’s three albums thus far have been filled with warm, hooky anthems that emanate a scrappy, punk rock “Up With People” vibe. TNV’s second album for Matador, Born Again Revisited, is set for a September 22 release. Judging from the song “No Time No Hope,” the trio seems to have resisted the urge to clean up too much, sticking with their cruddy art-rock approach while keeping the skewed positivity flowing.
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