The influence Robert Pollard’s genius still casts on the Central Ohio music scene is kind of unbelievable. In the seventeen years after Bee Thousand rocketed and the then school teacher rose to international semi-stardom and cult icon status, lo-fi bedroom pop has yet to go out of style in places like Columbus. So, it would seem fitting that when it came back into fashion nationally a few years back, the media actually started paying a bit of attention to a scene they’d ignored for the better part of… well… forever.
Most of this attention has gone to local art school graduates Times New Viking, who apparently spent much of those art school days extensively studying old Guided By Voices material. Let’s count the ways TMV are stylistically aping old GBV. They write tons of succinct pop songs and record them very quickly to four track — just like old Guided By Voices. They make homemade collage art for their album covers sans Photoshop magic, just like Uncle Bob has been doing for years and still continues to. Christ, this album cover even has the same color scheme and generalized feel to the aforementioned Bee Thousand.
See what I mean? It keeps going, though. They’ve released albums on Matador, and now Merge… just like Robert Pollard. The promo video for this album, entitled, “Hello, we’re Times New Viking from Columbus Ohio” is basically a direct homage to the Official Ironmen Rally Song video GBV released back in the mid ’90s. They take a lot of pride in being Ohioans and wear it on their sleeve, just like Robert Pollard. After years of recording lo-fi records, they finally decided to go what Pollard would refer to as “mid-fi” on this new one, just like Guided By Voices eventually did. Also, if that wasn’t enough, they opened for the reunited classic lineup of Guided By Voices on their tour last year, so there’s that.
Listen to “Ever Falling In Love” – DOWNLOAD MP3
Despite all these similarities though, it’s not like Times New Viking sound all that much like GBV; it’s just that you don’t often see that kind of dedicated idol worship in any act. Their pummeling blend of bratty male-female call and response vocals and amplifier worship certainly treads its own path. What’s odd about TNV is that whereas Pollard used lo-fi to put an emphasis on his godhead-brilliant songwriting, they do almost the exact opposite, relying on pile-driving walls of fuzz to seemingly distract the audience from the fact that they write awesome songs. The reason I consider 2008’s Rip It Off kind of a classic isn’t because of its unrestrained use of white noise, but has more to do with the hyper-infectious songcraft.
Recorded in an actual studio, Dancer Equired finds the band turning down their trademark racket and attempting a cleaner sound, but still firmly hiding behind their Central Ohio aestheticisms. It’s good collection of poppy tunes that could do with some more of the variety that made GBV classics like Alien Lanes so compelling. In general, I think TNV’s faster, more pop-oriented major key tracks tend to work better than their more laid-back material, which is why, in my mind, they kind of peaked thusfar with the aforementioned Rip It Off. This just kind of struck me like Times New Viking by numbers, albeit with slightly more focused (not much) production and percentage-wise more mellow minor key jams thrown into the fray.
Or at least so I thought, until I realized that they’d pulled another rabbit from the Robert Pollard bag of tricks, by making an album that fails to truly connect with the audience until at least listen number four. So after half-dismissing this, even writing a more negative review, I suddenly found myself humming half the tunes compulsively, and generally having to concede that I was being fairly short-sighted in my initial assessment. Here they’re doing exactly what I kind of hoped they would, which is putting more emphasis on the songwriting than anything else, which works, although admittedly in a more challenging, less immediate kind of way. Since much of their music is very repetitive, though, you have to kind of hope they continue to push themselves on the follow up to Dancer Equired. My suggestion would be to go full-on hi-fi, add a bass player, and go out of your way to diversify your approach. Maybe someday you’ll write your Isolation Drills. As it is, DE is the perfect album to reign in the spring with-popped out indie bliss — but as mentioned, I think they can push themselves even farther. They have such a great mentor.