Times New Viking vs. No Age

Another new contributor! Welcome Zack Turowski! His first piece is a double-header review of Times New Viking @ RnR Hotel in DC and No Age @ Floristree here in good ol’ Bmore. You can also download live audio of No Age’s set.


First photo: TNV, the rest: No Age

The Baltimore/DC area has had the good fortune in the last two weeks to host the shining stars of the lo-fi resurgence that’s hit the streets in the last year or so — No Age, who appeared with fellow Pitchfork heroes Abe Vigoda and the High Places, as well as Matador’s hippest recent find, Times New Viking, joined by Titus Andronicus and True Womanhood. While I enjoyed the openers at both shows, they don’t have the same profile as No Age and Times New Viking, although Abe Vigoda might be on the way, Titus Andronicus and True Womanhood are only just getting started, and The High Places’ pop tendencies don’t really fit the sound of the scene. But how do the two headliners stack up against each other, and what do they have in common with the recently reunited (with one notorious exception) set of bands whose style this lo-fi revolution is so reminiscent of?

Before anyone outside of L.A. saw either band live they had to contend with their “studio” recordings, and purchasing Rip It Off and Nouns on the basis of various indie-media slobbering, our expectations were perhaps raised unduly high. Then, after tearing up your fingernails getting the CD out of the wrapper there’s the marketing to deal with. The Times New Viking cover, with its sloppy appearance, creatively punctuated song titles, and a big Matador flag on the disc itself, is clearly referencing the best band Matador ever signed, and that’s even before you hear the white-hot 2-minute bursts of energy that are, for lack of a better word, called “songs.” And just as Pavement’s early recordings swept away the legions of Post-Punk mopers with an exciting, spontaneous sound, Times New Viking threatens to turn the collective indie gaze away from the Post-Punk/New Wave revival that has dominated indie aspirations for the last three years, and that’s fine because everyone knows we don’t need another Does It Offend You, Yeah album.

No Age @ Floristree 7/9/08

Nouns‘ packaging also immediately established indie-cred with a booklet that is as thick as any of their 90s forefathers’ reissues: 71 pages of Smell pictures, sweet record collections, a Dan Deacon concert, and a money shot from Touch & Go records. All these extra-curricular additions threaten to subvert the music itself, which in the case of both bands doesn’t leave much of an impression upon first hearing beyond being noisy and difficult. But good music demands some kind of effort on the part of the listener so we stuck with them and it turned out that on subsequent spins, Times New Viking has some killer grooves and some punchy rock songs with all the requisite chord changes. And No Age, while certainly being a little weirder in terms of song structures and textures, managed to worm their way into the subconscious with a bellowing, primitive roar, while, esatblishing a Sonic Youth like penchant for locating the subtle beauties inside this cavalcade.

Rock and Roll Hotel, where Times New Viking played, is basically a several-layered bar in a mediocre-to-below-average neighborhood in D.C. It ‘s meant to look kind of sleazy, but clearly they sank a lot of money into the place, and it pays off with the cool themed rooms upstairs and what I’ve heard is good food, but those are secondary attractions when TNV is playing. Much stronger live than on record because their sounds are so much simpler, they actually give the appearance of being a rock band and not three people playing into a dictaphone. Without the walls of overdriven hiss and static that cover up probably half of the possible wavelengths on their debut, the riffs sounded like the great, classic early-90s pop/rock riffs that Guided by Voices and Pavement had originally milked from 70s classic rock B-sides and album tracks. Clearly the meters-in-the-red effect of the CD is, unlike early Pavement and Sebadoh, a deliberate effect, and not just the result of low-budget recording equipment. Certainly this isn’t the first time in music that one person’s mistakes or limitations became someone else’s gold, but TNV is beyond imitation. Rip it Off is to Slanted and Enchanted what the Jesus and Mary Chain was to the Beach Boys and Burt Bacharach– a deliberate deconstruction of some of rock music’s most beloved icons.

No Age was similarly revealing live. The comparatively pristine Nouns is constructed with so many layers washing against each other, the production almost reminded me of the also recently re-united My Bloody Valentine, a sound which is simply impossible to acheive live with two band members. So No Age opts for a more organic, perhaps more amateurish sound on stage, but also reveal themselves to be more forward-thinking, as feedback drones clash with minimalist jams and repeating riffs that managed to escape monotony by way of their nascent enthusiasm. While they lack some of the rock’n'roll muscle that Times New Viking possess but choose to ofuscate, No Age demonstrate a curiosity about individual sounds and textures that may give them a bit of an edge for today’s avant-garde audience. Not to mention that Floristree is probably the coolest place to see a band in Baltimore, or perhaps on the East Coast for that matter, especially for $5.

no-age @ floristree

Currently both bands are in their infancy and, though it’s cliched to say so, only time will tell whether they continue to make interesting music. I don’t see either band making concessions to the mainstream; in fact their recording approaches could be a benefit in a world where the CD format has lost much of its value and almost all of its respect (unless you’re Radiohead, for whom market forces don’t apply). I do think both bands could do with a bit of focus. No Age’s two man assault was cool in the hollowed-out industrial building called Floristree, but if they don’t find a little more of a voice within all that sound they’ll soon be considered a flash-in-the-pan.

Similarly, Times New Viking will have to exercise some control over their monitors if they hope to maintain their current level of excitement; let’s just hope a clean up doesn’t produce anything comparable to JMC’s Darklands. Just as Sebadoh, Pavement, Cat Power, Guided by Voices, and (unfortunately) Liz Phair struck out for new directions when they realized they could produce more ambitious music, I expect these guys (and girl) will get tired of two chord bashers and make something more tonally varied. Thing is, the one continually alluring aspect of the first wave of lo-fi bands were the lyrics, even from the start, and I can’t help but think that for two acts touted as the voice of my generation, I have a tough time making out what they’re saying. And while no one can claim to understand all the meanings to Pavement or Silver Jews songs, theres a lot of people for whom those words mean a great deal. I only hope that in our ultra-self-aware indie atmosphere these bands can manage to get out some captivating words instead of resting in a noisy, but nonetheless comfortable detachment.

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