Times New Viking always seemed to relish being its own worst enemy. A few years ago, the Columbus, Ohio, group was at the forefront of a briefly heralded lo-fi movement for two reasons: Its spiky songs were overstuffed with more hooks than any of the band’s distorted peers could muster, and the anti-production values favored by the guitar-keyboard-drums trio were the most confrontational. (The masters for 2009’s “Born Again Revisited” were infamously submitted on VHS tape.) With a smirk and a middle finger, TNV lived out a sort of indie-rock fantasy life, recording uncompromising songs about drugs for iconic Matador Records while being handpicked as opening act by some of the group’s biggest heroes (the Clean, Yo La Tengo and Guided by Voices among them).
“Dancer Equired,” TNV’s debut for Merge Records, confirms that the band is much more a band than a style. It’s not the endurance test that past albums have been. The band lets the songs breathe instead of smothering them. Jared Phillips’s slicing guitar lines, Beth Murphy’s punchy keyboard riffs and drummer Adam Elliott’s surprisingly affecting vocals each have their own space instead of congealing into a sonic blur. Elliott and Murphy used to share warbled, off-key vocals. This time you could almost call them harmonies.
Brash two-minute chargers such as “It’s a Culture” and “[Expletive] Her Tears” remain the band’s forte, but the “slow-fi” slogan on the back album cover is no lie. The light, leisurely jangle of “No Room to Live” and “California Roll” is positively inviting, something unheard of in the band’s past catalogue.
“Want to Exist” serves as TNV’s new mission statement. It’s enveloped in warm fuzz, comfortably plodding and both resigned and hopeful. Elliott sings: “There is nothing left to do with this image / Never meant to bring on this vision / Working on a new way of living / Taking drugs to bring it some meaning.”
Well, at least some things remain the same.
“Want to Exist,” “No Room to Live,” “[Expletive] Her Tears”