Times New Viking are back with their fifth album (yes, fifth!) in six years. Heralded for their underproduced, noise pop sound, the trio of Jared Phillips (guitars), Beth Murphy (keyboard and vocals) and Adam Elliott (drums and vocals) have released Dancer Equired. Fans may be in for a little bit of a surprise, as with album number five has come something previously unknown to the band – production via proper recording facilities. It may seem a little trite to mention this, but I think it’s worth considering as this is a group that has built a following who will be expecting the distorted drums, trebly guitar and shouted vocals of previous releases. It’s interesting to see if the use of proper recording facilities can add a new dimension to the sound, while retaining their core identity.
On opener ‘It’s a Culture’ the pace starts fairly high with Murphy and Elliott channelling The Vaselines through their vocals. It’s a good start with the drums thumping away and the distortion still happily present. ‘Ever Falling in Love’ keeps the tempo steady while the vocals act as counterpoint to each other creating an interesting sound. Jared Phillips keeps things moving along with a nice guitar sound that skips along with the drums. The fact that the band are in proper recording facilities isn’t immediately apparent as yet, particularly as there’s an echoey quality throughout this track. On ‘No Room to Live’ though, the sound is altogether cleaner. The hiss, distortion and feedback seem to have been dialled back somewhat allowing the melody to flow throughout. The drums remain familiar, pounding along but the guitar and vocals are sharper, yet definitely still Times New Viking.
‘Try Harder’ seems to make up for the cleaner sound of it’s predecesor by assaulting you with a guitar sound that’s crazily out of tune. It may well be the guitar being tuned that we are treated to. It kicks into gear though and settles into a nice fuzzy guitar sound. Adam Elliott’s vocals are given the limelight just ahead of Beth Murphy’s, who’s vocal floats along in the background, adding colour to those of Elliott. The guitar and drums here are a little laid back compared to the initial few tracks. ‘California Roll’ is an altogether summery sound by comparison. Beth Murphy’s voice is allowed to take centre stage here, with the music thinning out on verses and filling the gaps in between times with a bit more bite. Again, the production is subtle. Producers Adam Smith and Dustin White have drawn back the veil of distortion just a little and given us all a better look at the band.
‘Ways to Go’ is heavier on guitar and features a nifty keyboard riff. Vocally, we’re back in territory occupied by The Vaselines. There’s also a hint of label mates Wye Oak here, as well as elsewhere on this record. If you blink you may miss ‘New Vertical Dwellings’. It flies past, but is probably one of the weaker tracks on the album. It’s all pretty messy sounding with unclear vocals fighting to be heard over a mumbling keyboard, frantic guitar and staccato drumming. ‘Downtown Eastern Bloc’ however, is a first listen standout. The guitar kicks up as the song starts to be joined by a nice drum line that eases down on the distortion. The vocals are almost in harmony here as well and altogether this feels better for it. The drums and guitar play off each other throughout this immensely enjoyable track, waxing and waning in tempo but always complimenting each other. The guitars on the following track, ‘More Rumours’ evoke early Pavement as the vocals vie for prominence, as the drums pound out the pace in the background.
‘Don’t Go To Liverpool’ won’t win them any friends in Merseyside based on the title, but for all Scousers out there it’s worth sticking with it. A nice keyboard and warm guitar sound prevail as the vocals once again decide to co-operate. It’s an almost joyous sounding number that may surprise a few people and is another track to grab the attention on the first listen. ‘Fuck Her Tears’ is a rapid fire ride, with a great guitar riff. The pace remains high throughout, thanks to machine gun drumming from Adam Elliott, matched in pace by the guitar. Vocally, Beth Murphy takes centre stage and adds a nice keyboard sound to balance the drums and guitar making this is another excellent track. The sound darkens slightly on ‘Want To Exist’. The drums take on a heavier sound and the guitar fizzes away alongside them, while Elliott’s vocal leads and Murphy’s lighter chorus follows. ‘Somebody’s Slave’ slows down the pace before things are rounded off with ‘No Good’. It’s an almost disappointing end after a particularly strong second half to the album. The vocals are over-produced while the guitar feels a bit jagged and out of place considering the rest of this album, before the track fades out.
No doubt minds wiser than my own will decide whether or not the use of a recording studio and proper studio production have had a positive impact on Times New Viking’s sound. As an album Dancer Equired is a good record. There are some really good tracks in here that you will want to listen to again and add to your Spotify playlists over the summer. There are a few misses as well and a couple of pretty strange songs when taken in the context of the album as a whole. Regarding production, it’s fair to say that when the veil of noise is drawn back there is a great sounding, versatile indie rock band here. It’s also fair to say that when the producer’s let the band revert to their previous noise pop sensibilities, it also works pretty well. What perhaps stops this album being a real standout is that indecision between the hiss, distortion and growl of the bands previous sound and the desire to make a more listener friendly and cleaner, dare I say, conventional sounding record. That said, there’s enough here to make this worth a listen for fans and newcomers alike.