That last quote isn’t mine – it’s a line from Times New Viking’s song “We Got Rocket” off their debut LP, Dig Yourself (Siltbreeze, 2005). The Columbus, OH trio are champions of a (hopefully) renewed lo-fi movement. In their brief career they’ve already managed to bring Siltbreeze Records out of its slumber, recalling the label’s heyday when the imprint hosted luminaries like The Dead C, Sebadoh, and Guided By Voices. Indie rock has been on a steady downhill trajectory, moving toward an ever-cleaner sound that has basically erased the boundary between underground and mainstream. The Shins were the smash hit of the Garden State soundtrack, and Belle and Sebastian sound far more natural in the background of a WB soap drama than they do on college radio. Greil Marcus once described the best subversive music as the kind that makes the most noise; that is, the music that confuses and assaults listeners, confounding expectations by somehow eluding language as we know it. This was the achievement of rock’n’roll, punk, free jazz, and later, indie rock. But like its predecessors, “indie” has become a term that’s meaningless aside from its exchange value: a set of predictable styles, an empty shell, a shock without shock value.
Times New Viking make you forget all of that. They come from some kind of golden age where the only concern is how hard you can rock with a hoarse voice and a handful of chords. The album cover, which features a Bob Dylan whose eyes are crossed out, suggests that the music herein is deliberately removed from the sensitive songwriting of someone like Stephin Merritt in favor of huge riffs and militant, cymbal-heavy rhythms. Dig Yourself is an unpretentious collection of eleven lo-fi anthems, the group distilled to vocalist/drummer Adam Elliott, vocalist/keyboardist Beth Murphy, and guitar player Jared Phillips. It’s a fantastic debut destined for instant-classic status, coming through the speakers as a burst of raw energy, earnest and uncompromising. With a second LP released earlier this year, Present the Paisley Reich (Siltbreeze, 2007), already their music has weakened; featuring titles like “Imagine Dead John Lennon” and “Allegory Gets Me Hot,” its self-conscious attitude feels like a step backward from the charming juvenilia of “Fuck Books.” The album is less vibrant, less inspiring. One can only hope that signing to Matador won’t be the final nail in the coffin for this Columbus trio.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by Dig Yourself at first, anyhow. Then, sometime last week, I had a terrible day at work where I almost walked off the job after being yelled at for not activating gift cards correctly. I swallowed my anger, put on headphones and redirected my energy to mopping the floor. For whatever reason, I listened to Times New Viking. I didn’t regret it. Their crunchy garage tunes sounded amazing after an insipid eight-hour shift; they sounded like the best thing in the world. “Lion and Oil” came chugging from the speakers at full speed, with the dual vocal attack of Elliott and Murphy provoking the listener with questions bordering on the perverse. “What kind of pictures do you like to look at?” It doesn’t matter that most of the lyrics are buried beneath layers of tape hiss and guitar fuzz; listeners can fill in the gaps with their own angry thoughts. At its best, though, Dig Yourself is an empowering record. I was walking to the bus recently while “The Statue Pt. II” was blaring in my ears; at 10:00 AM my suburban town was practically deserted, allowing it to become the plaything of the imagination. By the time “Skull Versus Wizard” came on, I was convinced I could tear a hole in the landscape and step through to the other side. It reminded me of a line by Proust, who once said that “the only interest in existence lies in those days when a pinch of magic sand is mixed with the dust of reality.” Communicating across the ages, Times New Viking respond with nihilistic glee:
Every day I make the same mistake,
I wake up and go outside
Walk down the street and say,
“everything will be alright”
It’s vaguely reminiscent of Built to Spill or Cap’n Jazz in its rough idealism, but neither Doug Martsch nor the Kinsellas ever produced anything as good as the wall of sound that regularly emerges from Philips' amp. For best results, listen to Dig Yourself at full volume, with just a dash of self-righteous self-loathing. Soon enough you’ll be singing these songs in your sleep.
Times New Viking - Fashion to Talk About the Moon (163 kbps, 2.9 mb)
Times New Viking - Dig Yourself (Siltbreeze, 2005)