Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Times New Viking - Rip It Off

What wonders hath the "blogosphere" wrought? CYHSY, TnT, and now TNV, a band I should technically like because they're loud and shambolic and they get compared to Guided by Voices and Beat Happening and are signed to Matador Records. Somehow, I am finding the process of converting myself into a TNV fan to be painful--to my ears, to my head, and to my heart. To wit:

Ears: In much pain after listening to Rip It Off and its subversive production.
Head: Aching after trying to read along with their lyrics, printed in a size 4 font, squeezed on the inside front cardboard flap of the product.
Heart: Breaking as I prepare to diss my first band and reveal myself to be a jerk. TNV does not deserve to be dissed. Any normal person who heard two seconds of Rip it Off would immediately say, "Turn that racket off!" They are defiantly unlistenable music. No one is going to give them a snowball's chance in Hell unless they've heard a lot of good things about them. Indeed, I wanted to get their last album when it came out in 2007, and I saw a video of them playing a song live and it looked like a really exciting concert experience and I thought they might be the first great "undiscovered"-"discovered" (bands written up in blogs all over the place, but still not in the perceptory field of any of my friends) band to save rock and roll after the White Stripes, YYY, !!!, Liars, Strokes meltdown in 2002. This is what I thought before hearing any of their recorded material. TNV do not deserve to be dissed.

But it is my duty as a "mark" to warn others that Pitchfork's glowing patronization of this lo-fi wonder is potentially linked into some kind of weird partnership with Matador, whereby they review records that aren't going to sell well really well, and review records that they know will sell well poorly, to create a weird kind of supply and demand economics driven system towards the criticism, proliferation and capitalization on indie rock (Krist Novoselic's sarcastic comment, "Indie rock is a viable commodity" from the Nirvana! Live Tonight! Sold Out! video doesn't seem like such a joke when Pitchfork has turned into the behemoth it has, Lollapalooza has re-established itself, Coachella has raised its price from $140 for 2 days to $270 for 3 days, new festivals in exotic locations throughout the globe get added every summer, and Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, and Mission of Burma have quietly managed the respect that comes with being a 2 decades plus strong indie rock careerist while only now beginning to gain the respect of the mainstream) taking place since 2001 and getting stronger and more expensive every day.

TNV are always described as "lo-fi." There is nothing crisp or clean about them. If you were to collect all of the most poorly recorded GBV songs there were, the audio quality would match that of Rip It Off. It is the lowest of the lo-fi. It is worth noting that this band is on Matador. If Pavement is on Matador, they end up working with Nigel Godrich. Maybe TNV doesn't get the same size budget to work with, but they are still on Matador. If they wanted to sound better, they could. Is it time yet to take direct issue with the Pitchfork review of this album, which gives it a robust 8.4? The reviewer goes as far to admit that this band will not sell Volkswagens, but they also refer to the "layer of fuzz" that swathes the album in over-trebled obscurity as a "security blanket." Their security being that they will not win many fans, but those that take time to understand TNV will be richly rewarded, because they are one of the last "exuberant" bands left that don't care about appealing to the masses. This makes very little sense to me.

OK, I will admit I put "Mean God" on my running playlist for today after work, and "Drop-Out" is O.K. and "Off the Wall" sounds like an actual song. But the only well-titled song ("Times New Viking vs. Yo La Tengo") is boring. None of the songs really separate themselves from the bunch. I feel like I could make this album. The singer sounds like a tiny bit like Bob Pollard or really any other regular guy screaming on a lo-fi recording. The other singer sounds like she should be on K records or in a Riot Grrl band. Most of the songs sound the same. They are mostly about a minute or two. They have the same dynamics.

I will say that their lyrics appear interesting. They are extremely direct (I think "Relevant: Now" is about how people are supposed to be taking them seriously now) and the lyrics often work well in the context of their songs and their style. However, they are printed very tiny and it hurts to try to follow along with them as you listen, just one more way that TNV are difficult and don't really care about being nice to their fans.

The only way they are generous with their fans is with how prolific they have been in a relatively short time. One can hope that they will actually put out their own Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or Do the Collapse in another four or five years. However, if they remain stubborn and anti-pleasure, they will not develop anything more than a small cult following. I would like to see them live once so I could comment on their live sound, their energy, what the show was like, but I cannot recommend this record. To do so would be unfair to anyone reading this review, because later they could confront me and say, "Why would you like that?"

I don't like that. I can barely see why Pitchfork does. Maybe they are a decent band, but the album is crazy and for no one. Maybe they saved a lot of money recording that way. They sure are lucky to be on Matador.


Anonymous said...

If you don't like it, don't be ashamed of it, especially when you normally like that kind of music. But there must be a reason why you don't like it besides the fact that "indie" labels like Matador have become a commodity. What has Times New Viking's music missed that other bands of the same genre accomplished to make you enjoy their records?

JK said...

What bothers me about TNV is that they position themselves as a hip matador band with a lo-fi gimmick that somehow gets taken seriously when there are probably a hundred other bands in the U.S. that record the same way and actually sound better. I don't care that Matador is a commodity--but if TNV is going to be like "old school Matador" then the lo-fi pretentiousness is a gimmick, and not an indication of their talents. I don't think they deserve to be dissed, but I just find it amazing that this album can be "a big record" in this day and age. It's all PR and it's a big fake-out. I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear before but I publish my posts before I finish them, usually.

To summarize: I don't like their pretentiousness, thinking that they can get away sounding like that when they are on Matador, because they're "old school" or something like that, and so don't have to record well. Maybe on Vinyl and on a shitty record player in a dingy apartment this album sounds cool, but on CD (or worse, I-Tunes!) anyone who puts their 15 bucks into this album is going to feel gipped and that they're missing the right aesthetic for the music.

Anonymous said...

I'm still confused on how you feel about the music. On the one hand, you don't think they deserve to be dissed as a band, but that it's the hype which has turned an OK lo-fi band into a big band that disturbs you. But then you call them (and not the hype) pretentious and too big for their Matador britches...

Then if I may ask, how would your opinion of them change if they were on a smaller label, and if you listened to an analog record instead of a CD?

I guess I'm trying to go beyond the non-aural image of the music that is nearly impossible to ignore, especially (but not exclusively) since Elvis changed pop music to a much more visual enterprise. How does our perception of the music we listen to change if we judge music only by the music and not by the musician, or the songwriter, or the publisher or the distributor or the fans?

JK said...

I think maybe they are an OK Lo-Fi band, but they really aren't. They're obnoxiously lo-fi. They wear it on their sleeve. It's their sound; it's their genre. They think being Lo-Fi replaces playing identifiable melodies. They're more gimmicky than musical, but they're more interesting than typical bands because of this weird tendency to be completely trashily recorded. it is a huge burden for them to carry on with them.

I don't think they deserved to be dissed because the really obvious thing to do is diss them. Anybody can say they sound like shit and turn them off and never listen to them again.

Maybe it is their hype which is pretentious, but I think the band members themselves are pretentious for thinking that being lo-fi in 2008 is enough to earn them interested fans. Their idea of lo-fi is not the same as the early 90's idea of lo-fi, and this one is not a genre I would go out of my way to support.

They are too big for their matador britches. they should just be more humble and awesome like dead meadow or yo la tengo or malkmus or cat power, bands that can still be off-center/weird/occasionally unappealing to the ear yet still prove that they are as good (and much better) than any act in the mainstream. I can't say the same for TNV; they are defiantly amateurish.

They sound like Be Your Own Pet. Except Be Your Own Pet is awesome and TNV aren't because they almost seem like they're faking their way through their songs. Now, that may not be the case at all, but that's what it sounds like.

If they were on a smaller label, I never would have heard of them and I never would have bought the record and I'd never be writing this blog post, so yeah, my opinion wouldn't exist.

On analog (as i mentioned in the previous comment) I think it might sound a little cooler. If i was friends with the band members and they played me cassette copies of the songs I would probably tell them they were really, really good. But from an outsider's perspective, I can't really care all that much about it.

The Elvis comment is hilarious. I still want to see TNV live, as I mentioned. But I am going into it very cynical. Your analysis is very interesting. I do focus more on Matador, the blogosphere, what "lo-fi" means, and hype than I do the actual merits of TNV's music. But that is only because when I think about this band, I think about all that other stuff. I don't think about their music. It's pretty much forgettable music. But for how many people have made it sound as if it were life-changing, I had to decide for myself, and I was just SHOCKED that nobody had pointed out how ridiculous they were and I felt it was my duty as a blogger to caution people that if they were like me and bought this album cuz they thought it was going to sound cool, they should think twice.