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.--David Malitz
Recommended tracks: “Want to Exist,” “No Room to Live,” “[Expletive] Her Tears”
Bootsy Collins doesn’t always get props alongside his former employers James Brown and George Clinton for the role he’s played in the creation and propagation of funk. The spoken-word intro to this cultural-primer-cum-dance-party wastes no time setting the record straight, and with testimony from none other than celebrity scholar Cornel West.
“In the beginning, there was total darkness, and out of this darkness there came a word called funk,” West declaims to a sci-fi synth figure reminiscent of Parliament as its otherworldly best. “From the high trinity of funk,” he continues, came “three undeniable geniuses — the godfather himself, James Brown, the funk master George Clinton and the funk teacher, Bootsy Collins.”
History lessons abound, especially early on, but the good times and indelible grooves never give way to didacticism. “Mirrors Tell Lies,” for example, reignites the molten funk-rock of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. “Hip Hop @ Funk U” has a languid gangsta vibe, with West Coast MCs Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg paying homage to the fat, spongy bass lines — interpolated from Bootsy’s classic work with P-Funk and James Brown — that hooked many of their early hits.
Bobby Womack and George Clinton are among the other R&B luminaries featured here, along with two of Bootsy’s other fellow Parliamentarians, his late brother Catfish and P-Funk’s late musical director Garry Shider. Rather than cluttering the proceedings, this profusion of personalities lends the music focus and depth, making it something akin to funk’s answer to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
— Bill Friskics-Warren
Recommended tracks: “Don’t Take My Funk,” “Hip Hop @ Funk U,” “JB – Still the Man”
Holy Ghost! has the great good fortune to have released “Holy Ghost!” on LCD Soundsystem’s vaunted DFA label at roughly the same time LCD Soundsystem is disbanding, the breakup leaving an opening for a synth-heavy-but-still-accessible New Order-loving revivalist act.
Complicating matters is the fact that Holy Ghost! has come along at a time when releasing full-length albums seems like a touching act of nostalgia, especially for a dance band. Millhiser and Frankel seem to struggle to fill all that space between singles, and in keeping with their reputation as avid recyclers, many of their songs seem like many of their other songs with the words changed.
The best songs on “Holy Ghost!” — and there are a handful of pretty great songs — tend to be semi-serious and analog-synth-heavy (“Wait and See”), or de facto mash-ups (like “Do It Again,” which melds Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance” with “Fashion”-era Bowie).
Even some of Holy Ghost!’s lesser moments are brushed by greatness: “Some Children” is an otherwise clunky track made awesome by the presence of yacht-rock patron saint (and Doobie Brother) Michael McDonald, who belts out the chorus like it’s some great lost artifact of ’80s pop, recovered at last.— Allison Stewart
Recommended tracks: “Static on the Wire,” “Do It Again”