Times New Viking Present the Paisley Reich

[Siltbreeze; 2007]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: basement psychedelic post-punk
Others: Swell Maps, Desperate Bicycles, Psychedelic Horseshit

In early interviews for an upcoming article on Siltbreeze Records, I asked my subjects about the “Siltbreeze sound.” I’d listened to most of the label's discography and was hard-pressed to come up with a motif within the records. A few of the subjects suggested lo-fi recording quality as being trademark of Siltbreeze releases. Surely, I thought, these records had some sort of aesthetic thread running through the label’s output that connected, say, A Band’s Artex to Jim Sheppard’s Picking through the Wreckage with a Stick besides the records’ sound quality.

When Times New Viking’s Dig Yourself resurrected the label from a two-year slumber, the record added even more confusion to defining the “Siltbreeze sound.” In the Siltbreeze spectrum, the record’s lo-fi melodic garage pop exists far away from bands like The Dead C’s experiential leanings. However, the album’s best songs also veer to the left of the more straightforward musical path taken by blues rocker labelmates like The Yips. If one aesthetic thread runs throughout the Siltbreeze discography, it’s that the music is not black and white and Times New Viking certainly aren’t an either/or band.

On Dig Yourself, the band sounds challenging but accessible, like the spawn of The Desperate Bicycles and Television Personalities, two British psychedelic post-punk bands. The band’s penchant for creative hooks and veiled pop-culture references aligns them with forefathers Television Personalities. Like The Desperate Bicycles, the band digs the DIY aesthetic -- recording on primitive equipment and designing their own artwork. The straight-to-boombox technique used to record Dig Yourself furthers the feisty organ/guitar sound of The Desperate Bicycles’ classic “Smokescreen/Handlebars” 7-inch, capturing a great muddy blur of a duet between Beth Murphy’s droning keyboard and Jared Phillips’ fuzz-caked guitar.

The organ/guitar sound blossoms again on the band’s second album Present the Paisley Reich, but whereas Dig Yourself inadvertently wanted to be the “Smokescreen/Handlebars” 7-inch, Present the Paisley Reich just happens to exist within the same realm. The band sounds more serious and informed about its art. The trio approaches each tune like a different gem from the Nuggets box, ensuring virtually no filler mars the set. Originally planned as a triple 7-inch, the record loosely adheres to the classic DIY 7-inch single template, following up each anthemic garage pop gem with a couple strange but equally notable B-side-type songs. Even the band’s choruses sound grown and literary but still retain a level of fun. Rather than fun but empty choruses like “They said that we were high, but we were not high”, they give us earnest twenty-something sentiments like “I don’t want to die in the city alone.”

Their instrumentation isn’t more (or less) proficient, just more potent. The trio still retains the same bass-less lineup. Adam Elliott, the band’s de facto leader, sings while beating some sense into his drums. Jared Phillips’ distorted guitar trudges along with the beat, occasionally adding a solo or bridge, but never resorting to overindulgent wankery. In addition to providing counterpart vocals, Beth Murphy’s Moog colors the action, filling the blank spots in the sound. If anything, the band learned how to distill stranger melodies into psychedelic garage pop songs, retaining a balance between the obscure and the profane. Thusly, a song like “Devo and Wine” grabs the listener with a jittering, angular vocal melody, otherworldly keyboard space gun pulses, and thunderous guitar bridge, while sounding like nothing in the average indie rock listener’s musical lexicon. It has the traits of a hit British single from 1979 and post-punk in its DNA.

The band’s flirtation with hook-laden, lo-fi power pop has been compared to another British rock-aping outfit: Guided by Voices. With their stylistic change-ups and production values, one can certainly see why. Unlike GBV, TNV records never feel like a sketchbooks filled with half-baked ideas. None of the band’s side A tracks on Present the Paisley Reich exceed three-and-a-half minutes, nor do they need to. In a minute-and-a-half, the band whips through the chorus-verse-chorus rave-up “Imagine Dead John Lennon” and, surprisingly, it’s a fantastic and complete song.

The catchiest track on the A side, “Let Your Hair Grow Long,” a tune that’s already been canonized in some cliques, is a sing-a-long that exemplifies how the band works. A spunky organ line guides the instrumentation, while Elliot provides a heartbeat. Phillips’ guitar oozes distorted pus, filling in any vacancy in the groove. Call-and-return vocals power the verses, while the chorus contains the semi-duet chanting of “Summer will be gone/So, let your hair grow long.” Beneath the catchy surface, Phillips’ fuzz vortex spirals into a snippet resembling a Lambsbread freakout during the breakdown parts. At the end of the tune, a tape loop of the chorus hides beneath the Castlevania organ line, signifying the band’s tendency to subliminally insert their experimental tendencies for the sake of song.

Though they don’t stray far into the experimental zone, the side B tracks captivate the listener with grooves that travel beyond the whole post-punk psych thing into already established areas and sometimes, the unknown. The exciting clamor of “Lover’s Lane,” complete with Beth and Adam’s dueling vocals, flirts with early hardcore song structure. “Allegory Gets Me Hot!” sounds like X-Ray Spex with Murphy belting an angular vocal melody to a skronk rock background, all in a few seconds shy of a minute.

The band cannot quite be pigeonholed into one particular genre, because they transcend any given sound label with each track. It’s within this aesthetic that the "Siltbreeze sound" lies. Siltbreeze’s discography plots a map of outsiders that cannot quite stick to one genre because they make honest music. Honest music does not aim for “classic” status. In fact, it may not even aim for an audience larger than the small group of friends and colleagues in the band’s immediate music community. Therefore, it is stripped of any charade and allowed to take its own form in whatever genre it may fall into. With Present the Paisley Reich, Times New Viking constructed a small trophy for Siltbreeze’s discography.

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