Born Again Revisited is the fourth album from Ohio three-piece Times New Viking who, since the middle of the decade, have been resolutely (and sometimes almost painfully) acting as standard-bearers for all things lo-fi. Their previous release, last year’s Rip It Off, although well received, was at times quite an endurance test of a listen, with its layers of fuzz and feedback and an accumulation of white noise. The band toured the album as part, aptly, of the 2008 “Shred Yr Face” tour, although it was one’s ears, more than face, that bore the brunt of the shredding.
But this time round the more extreme elements appear to have been somewhat reined in: there are less wince-some instances of physically painful noise than before, with only the thrice-repeated (keyboard?) note on (No) Sympathy producing comparable winces.
It would be misleading, however, to give the impression that the band have departed completely, or indeed even very much at all, from their template. Nearly all of these songs are still resolutely and definitively low on production values and high on sounding like three people playing their instruments in a room with a tape recorder running, in particular I Smell Bubblegum, Little World, Something More and (No) Sympathy. A slightly lighter touch (or is that, in fact, a heavier touch in the production suite?) is discernable on City On Drugs and Hustler, Psycho, Son, which sound relatively crystalline in comparison.
What Times New Viking have always had going for them, once you get past the whole “noise” thing, is the ability to pen what turn out actually to be rather cute, perky pop songs. That ability has not deserted them here: No Time, No Hope, transcending its title, turns out to be a youthful, cheery happy kind of a track; Born Again Revisited is ebullient; as is City On Drugs, all repetition and him-her vocals; while Hustler, Psycho, Son could almost prompt a mass singalong.
Yet there’s also a thread of negativity or even nihilism that can be detected partly from those few lyrics that can be made out (“Was it worth it? Doubt it” from Those Days, or “That cup of tea / Didn’t comfort me” from Move to California), or – more – from the track titles: City On Drugs, No Time, No Hope (reflecting punk’s “No future”, perhaps?), Half Day In Hell, (No) Sympathy, Hustler, Psycho, Son.
There is a noticeable and significant split between these upbeat tracks and the altogether darker seam. The latter is represented not only by the wording of titles and lyrics, but also by the menacing opening chords of first track Martin Luther King Day; by I Smell Bubblegum (punky crash-bang music and less tuneful vocals); and Little World which again evokes a sense of threat, and is delivered with a detached, impersonal, slightly disturbing vocal.
Similarly, compare and contrast the tracks that could be classed as “tuneful” (City On Drugs, Born Again Revisited, No Time, No Hope, Those Days) with those that are distinctly atonal or deliberately dissonant in vocal or instrumentation (Little World, 2/11 Don’t Forget, (No) Sympathy, Take The Piss). These little internal contrasts give enjoyable texture to the album and make its overall pattern one of (relative) light and shade. It somehow never feels quite as gruelling as listening to this band has sometimes felt in the past.
There will be those, undoubtedly, who will argue that this softening and leavening of their sound is the start of a “sell-out” by Times New Viking. That would be unfair. This has always been a group whose well-crafted songs have managed to shine through, to a significant extent, despite the self-imposed strictures of their recording and (lack of) production methods. Here, one can see the first cracks appearing in the barrier between the listener and the music and this, surely, can only be to the good.