Times New Viking - Born Again Revisited

This is the pre-editor edition of my Lantern review of Times New Viking's 4th lp, Born Again Revisited.

On the back cover of their new album for Matador Records, Times New Viking provides a chart that claims their physical state has consistently deteriorated since their first album, while their spiritual state has consistently elevated.

While the entirety of the record seems to belie that sentiment, that overtone of career summation fills this album, fittingly titled Born Again Revisited. The title is a mix of oblique references to Charles "Chuck" Colson’s memoir Born Again, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, and, possibly, the “B.A.R” on North Campus that has been at the center of their evolution, Café Bourbon Street.

The record design also revisits the past; there's the horse from their first seven-inch for Columbus Discount Records as well as the cursive font and the Don’t Look Back Dylan from Dig Yourself. The childlike peace signs on last year’s Rip It Off reappear on a burning flag from Woodstock 1999. These icons return Xeroxed out of recognition, darkened, sullied, or as photo negatives. They are no longer pure and fresh - they are revisited, recapitulated, and looked back at from an older age.

TNV has a history of playing with the motifs of the hippie counterculture with song titles like “Let Your Hair Grow Long” or drummer Adam Elliott’s insistent peace sign he waves to the audience while playing. Their co-optation of these signifiers has never been without a certain detachment – the knowledge that the optimism and political convictions of that time are nowhere to be found in today’s hip youth who seem content with commodified indie culture and establishment politics.

The generational difference between these two youth cultures, and the current impossibility and displacement of those past ideas, is the album's base metaphor. This is made explicit in “2/11 Don’t Forget” where Elliott and singer Beth Murphy lethargically intone, “It’s not that I don’t like what you do, it’s just been done through and through.”

Born Again Revisited’s lead single is the mournful “Move to California,” a song whose halfhearted chorus, “move to California, hear you’ll have a better time,” is the world weary opposite of other California songs like “California Dreaming” by The Mamas and Papas, “California Girls” by The Beach Boys, or more current fare by Phantom Planet. For TNV, the California that usually stands for optimism and possibility is both Haight-Ashbury and Altamont, both Mario Savio and Sirhan Sirhan.

Musically, TNV is still a noisy Beat Happening with all that entails: boy/girl vocals, pop melodies, and short songs that are deceptively simple. And yes, the production is still their fourth member. They wisely dodged the overwhelming sentiment that they should record cleaner by delivering the master recording for the album to their label on a videotape. As a joke or not, TNV claims the record to have 25% more fidelity. But with the double meaning of 'fidelity' this could either mean they have 25% cleaner production or that they held onto their original concept even tighter.

Why tape fuzz has been the overriding preoccupation in their critical reception is mystifying but it underscores how adrift sites like Pitchfork are from independent recording and the context of do-it-yourself punk rock. Unfortunately for Times New Viking, their interjection of blown out recording into the mainstream indie rock world has launched a parade of disciples from California's Wavves to New York’s Vivian Girls, which has made TNV’s tape hiss ubiquitous.

This trend has put TNV in an impossible situation: keep making records in the same style of the crowd or drastically change by cleaning up their recordings and be berated for bowing to critical pressure. This is why the theme of Born Again Revisited is so strange, since it is a summation of a career too young to sum up. It leads one to wonder if they are saying this is their last album in this style or if they will, as they say in “High Hopes” - do it again.

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