Why get excited about a new Times New Viking record? The Columbus, Ohio trio are evidently a band with a well-defined sound and point, but that point is delivered quite clearly over the course of any one of their full-lengths. Pick up Present the Paisley Reich and you quickly learn that this band believes in the urgency and purity of lo-fidelity recordings, and they’re discouraged by how easy it is for anyone to make professional-grade recordings using computer programs these days. Pick up Rip It Off and learn the same.
So presumably, the appeal of owning multiple Times New Viking records lies in the quality of the songs. But since the band goes out of their way to make their recordings sound like they come from a stepped-on cassette, who wants to force their ears to scrutinize which songs are just pure noise and which are hiding great songs underneath the noise? I appreciate their general point, but in practice, Times New Viking are more satisfying as an intellectual exercise than as an act you genuinely want to listen to.
And perhaps they’ve finally realized the limitations of their obsession with lo-fi purity, because their latest, Dancer Equired, actually allows some light to shine on their songwriting gifts. Of course, Times New Viking are still Times New Viking: you’re still going to hear plenty of deliberately missed notes, out-of-tune guitars, purposely rote vocal performances, and lazy boy-girl harmonies. But there are enough conventionally pleasant choices here to make those more atonal elements go down a lot easier.
If Dancer Equired has any kind of problem beyond simply substituting slack performances for dissonance, it’s the underwritten half of the album. Of course, Times New Viking never sounded like a band that slaved over their material, but a significant number of the songs here aim for casually charming and land closer to self-satisfied. Opener “It’s A Culture” coasts on the charm of a thousand twee-pop songs that preceded it, and does so without any of TNV’s custom verve. And even is it’s only a minute-and-a-half, “California Roll” boringly meanders through a barely-there melody and a lethargic performance. “No Good” isolates keyboardist/vocalist Beth Murphy with a detuned ukulele and brings Dancer Equired to a particularly ugly close.
On the upside though, Times New Viking hit hardest when they go all Slanted and Enchanted, shouting perversely catchy tunes across sloppy and heavy riffs. “Ways to Go” attains that tricky early ‘90s indie magic, where stupidly simple keyboard lines and muddy, distorted guitars join together in such a blithe, satisfying way. Then there’s the ambling quirkiness of “Downtown Eastern Bloc”, which is basically a goofy guitar line extended into a curiously enjoyable half-song.
Clearly, Dancer Equired is a transitional album for Times New Viking. Leaving behind their signature tape-hiss leaves them awfully exposed, but Times New Viking aren’t lacking for confidence here. If anything, they trust every last whim a little too much. Credit them for their self-assurance and their willingness to change when their approach gets stale, but now that everything is out in the open, it’s time to be a little more discerning.