Oh Matador, you’ve done it again. It seemed lately as if Matador were going soft. Don’t get me wrong. I love Belle & Sebastian, the New Pornographers and Cat Power, but this was the label that blew our minds with Flying Nun reissues, the Fall, Guided By Voices, Jon Spencer, Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney and Pavement! Matador used to be the lo-fi mecca of independent labels, and now, by signing Columbus band Times New Viking, they can be again. Rip It Off is the third album from this trio (whose name elicits chuckles among my geeky graphic designer and writing friends, and if you’re not familiar with the default font for Word then you won’t get it) and the first for Matador. I was first tipped off to TNV by Columbus band, the Sun, who told me that this band was one of the best things coming out of Ohio at the time. And here we are, two years later, and I finally realize just how explosive and energizing this band really is. Matador, welcome back to the world of mind-blowing.
I suppose I’ll have to concede that lo-fi, fuzzed out rock isn’t for everybody. In fact, there was a time when I turned my nose up at it, not able to get past the lack of production value. But like coffee, beer and British television, lo-fi rock is an acquired taste. Rip It Off isn’t an album that you’d recommend to your average, everyday Postal Service or U2 fan. But, then again, we wouldn’t want to deprive them of finding out what all the fuzz is about. Times New Viking, as might be suggested by the album’s title, take genres, riffs and melodies from a wide spectrum of rock and roll, distort it all to hell and turn it into a noisy yet incredibly tasty stew. Guitarist Jared Phillips, drummer Adam Elliott and keyboardist Beth Murphy are tagged as Mark Ibold, Hamish Kilgour and Brix E. Smith respectively in Matador’s introductory e-mail, and a blend of sounds from their bands isn’t too far off the mark.
Songs on Rip It Off definitely have melody, but that melody is smothered in the hugs of fuzzy guitars and vocals. There are a few lines that can be deciphered here and there, but even then, they’re not necessarily important in appreciating the effect of TNV. Phillips and Murphy trade off on vocals, and there are times when I’m not even sure if the singing is coming from both, from Jared doing a falsetto or from Beth. But again, this doesn’t need to be like Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow where you need a companion guide to help explain the damn thing. No, Rip It Off is about the sheer enjoyment of abandon. This is probably what punk felt like at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976 or what Seattle felt like in the late ’80s. In other words, you may not be able to figure out what about the music, the sound or the lyrics (if you can even discern them) are so special, but you know that they are, and that you’re experiencing something altogether incredible.
At times, New Viking (ha!), recall a mix of the heady melodic days of the ’60s and ’70s (on songs like “(My Head),” “Drop-Out” and “Relevant: Now,” which lifts the riff from Free’s “All Right Now”) and the disenchanted days of the early ’90s (on tracks such as “Mean God,” “Times New Viking Vs. Yo La Tengo,” and opener “Teen Drama”). All the while, you feel as if you’re on an insane rollercoaster ride that you never want to end. Only one track clocks in at over three minutes, with most chiming in at less than two. This kind of rapid pace and jarring audio will make some recall the earlier days of Matador, and that’s just fine with me. Times New Viking is going to do more than just put Columbus back on the rock and roll map, they’re going to revive a once great label that needed a little resuscitation.
No Age- Weirdo Rippers
Yo La Tengo- Painful
Pavement- Slanted & Enchanted