For the past six years, Times New Viking has been looking to fuck with their sound any way possible, especially on their past three records. The lo-fi pop-punk of Rip It Off gave way to the higher-fidelity, though still shit-gazey Born Again Revisited. And so it’s no surprise that Dancer Equired, the Ohio trio’s fifth LP and first for Merge, sees Times New Viking maturing to an even cleaner sound, though never completely forfeiting the kill-yr-speakers aesthetic that made them standouts in the lo-fi community.
At first, Dancer Equired comes across as a bit startling. This is the cleanest Times New Viking has ever sounded, though that tends to happen when you have access to a proper studio for the first time. Beth Murphy’s organs are high in the mix, never fighting against Jared Phillips’s comparatively crystal-clear guitar and Adam Eliot’s steady, but almost subdued, drumming. The split vocal duties of Murphy and Phillips now have an added sweetness to them, but they’re never without some creative bite—lyrics get lost in the fuzz, the two often sing with the prolonged tedium of disaffected teenagers, and differing vocal lines overlap like dialogue in a Robert Altman film, an intimacy they manage to create even when they are singing the same words. Remnants of skronk appear throughout Dancer Equired, but this time around Times New Viking tease the listener with warped instruments or lackadaisical, even begrudging, chord changes.
But the melodies and hooks are as strong as ever, and Dancer Equired finds Times New Viking running the gamut of pop punk, lo-fi folk, and mid-tempo ramblers. Opener “It’s A Culture,” “New Vertical Dwelling,” and “Ways To Go” are straightforward, Guided By Voices-like bedroom rockers, inflected with gritty guitar licks, Murphy’s always smooth keys, and just the right amount of snark. Runaway jam, “Fuck Her Tears,” revels in its rushing guitars and shout-out-loud lyrics where half the joy is being able to pick out just a handful of words. But songs like these are scarce. As short as the record is (14 songs in just over 30 minutes), there’s a patience to them. The distorted, lo-fi folk of “No Room To Live” feeds into “Try Harder,” a deliberate, angst-ridden cut where you can feel Phillips forcing his hand to slide between each chord. There’s a woozy steadiness to “Downtown Eastern Bloc,” which shuffles and builds just enough until it peters out into static like a fading high.
There’s more room to breathe on Dancer Equired—the distortion is present but never oppressive, used almost as an accent rather than a driving force. And Times New Viking’s willingness to work with and develop their own brand of lo-fi continues to separate them from the rest of the pack. There are some out of place and underdeveloped moments on Dancer Equired, but that’s perhaps a necessary side-effect—such is growing up. Dancer Equired closes with “No Good,” a simple acoustic piece with just Murphy on vocals, albeit marred with feedback. It’s sweet and charming, but spun with a wonky guitar that phases in and out of tune, almost like it’s a send-up of Yo La Tengo’s “My Little Corner Of The World.” But not in a bad way—it’s simply Times New Viking taking a page out of their former tour-mates’ book, but always making sure to put their distinctive mark on it.