Times New Viking Rip It Off

[Matador; 2008]

Styles: fuzzy, lo-fi punk/pop
Others: Mika Miko, Swell Maps, Dead C, Jay Reatard

“The time has come,” the Walrus said

“To talk of many things:

Of pop—and punk—and the combination thereof—

Of Green Day—and their kin—

And why everyone is so into Against Me!—

And whatever happened to The Promise Ring?”

There was a time when the genre ‘pop-punk’ didn’t exist. Imagine it: a world without Blink-182, Sum 41, and other numerically-named bands populated by guys with spiky hair, baggy jeans, and chain wallets. Twenty years ago, we could have had a conversation about the overlapping universes of punk and pop without ever having to nod in the direction of a slew of mediocre bands and protest that we’re talking about something different.

Punk and pop did not always combine to form the kind of calculated, corporate-rock sludge we’re always scraping off our shoes. And while it seems common knowledge that these two genres are mortal enemies (unless combined, oil-and-water style, as above), that simplifies a complicated history. Remember, if you will, surf-pop, and The Ramones’ love of girl groups — a passion so deep it even led them to record with Phil Spector. How about when The New York Dolls stole that gorgeous line, “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V” from a song by The Shangri-Las? In the mid-’70s, the masturbatory excesses of prog-rock were punk’s enemy, and the simple melodies of early-'60s pop were touchstones for the new genre. Punk was emotion over intellect, directness over subtlety, trash culture over high art— in short, what pop has always been.

Ten years later, pop and punk came together to bring us Beat Happening and other beloved, albeit infantilized, K Records bands. From there, it was only a short leap, via Pixies, to Nirvana. We can probably blame Green Day, much as we all loved them in middle school, for what transpired after that.

And yet, in these dark days for punk, pop, and the God-awful genre they combined to form, Times New Viking have emerged from a cloud of feedback, clamoring to make it new. The band’s recent transition from the seminal-but-marginal noise-punk label Siltbreeze to Matador, that most staid and venerable of indies, says something about the worlds they straddle. If their fuzzy, lo-fi aesthetic, complete with echo-chamber boy-girl vocals and minimalist instrumentals, might have once relegated them to underground cult status, their unadorned pop hooks and sing-along (or scream-along) lyrics have nearly universal appeal.

Rip It Off is not so different from TNV’s first two albums, but it finds them continuing to refine their signature style. While on previous releases the band often sounded as though they had submerged perfectly good pop songs in a cold bath of amplifier noise — just for the hell of it, or because they couldn’t afford better production — the distortion has finally fully justified its existence. On Rip It Off, Times New Viking tackle the idea of pop, with pristine melodies arising from the feedback muck and sinking back into it. Songs like “Relevant: Now,” unusually long for a TNV composition at over three and a half minutes, scale back on the dissonance, allowing quieter moments. In the final 30 seconds of “End of All Things,” the car-crash clang ceases completely, and the song finishes with the Spartan clarity of unamplified guitar and campfire chant. “Times New Viking vs. Yo La Tengo” actually does sound like what might happen if the band invaded their labelmates’ recording session.

The music of Times New Viking is pop stripped down to its vital elements, and that’s what punk — real punk, good punk — has always been. With most songs clocking in at under two minutes, Rip It Off is a series of sketches. In “Another Day,” a few notes on the keyboard stand in for a more complicated hook and are just as successful at taking root in the listener’s mind. The band’s lyrics follow suit: they are emphatically anti-poetic but their lack of mystery makes them strikingly evocative. “I need more money ’cause I need more drugs,” Beth Murphy and Adam Elliott sing on “(My Head).” Times New Viking grasp pop and punk’s other common ground — youth and its discontents — so fully that even the smallest statements penetrate into the disillusionment and boredom of post-adolescent life. Hearing “Your face is on fire/ Your hair is a mess/ Let’s go do something/ That hasn’t been done yet” from “Faces on Fire,” I think of all the projects I’ve abandoned, since college, without even giving them an earnest try. The album’s catchiest cut, “Drop-Out,” barely breaks a minute but still manages to finger our collective frustration: “A simple dream can’t bring relief/ Waiting for something more than a bad idea.”

Rather than engaging in the full-out pageantry of overwrought songwriting, TNV distill punk and pop into a combustible mix laden with the tension that the two genres continue to exert upon one another. Punk asserts its bare-faced aggression, and pop pushes back with sheer irresistibility. That’s how it’s done.

1. Teen Drama
2. (My Head)
3. RIP Allegory
4. The Wait
5. Drop-Out
6. Come Together
7. Faces on Fire
8. Relevant: Now
9. The Early ’80s
10. Mean God
11. Another Day
12. The Apt

13. Off the Wall
14. The End of All Things
15. Times New Viking vs. Yo La Tengo
16. Post-Teen Drama

Most Read