It’s rare these days that a band can churn out heartfelt, screw-the-establishment, old-school punk rock and actually make it believable. Sometime in the transition from ’70s and ’80s punk to now, bands lost that torrential, D.I.Y. guitar-blasted sound and replaced it with depressing lyrics and overly dramatized pop attributes. The moment punk became mainstream, the genre died. Sure, a good portion of the early punk scene was geared towards making money and expanding the genre into other countries and was probably less about the music. Even so, the heart was there. The pioneers were alive and well.
The current set of teeny boppers still love to claim that they listen to punk rock – maybe to sound like anti-Christs or maybe they just need an excuse to shop at Hot Topic – but their shit isn’t punk. The old gritty, homemade sound and those casual, affecting lyrics countered the norms of the day and were “punk” for that reason. Today, it’s all just seen as MTV fodder and as the way to make easy dollars off a generation looking to “stick it to The Man” anyway they can, even if “The Man” is the local cop keeping them from skateboarding next to the library or the J.C. Penney employee trailing their every move in the young men’s department. Punk’s pretty much dead.
I can’t say I’m very well versed in Times New Viking’s discography, but I doubt it matters. Bands like this give us hope for blistering punk. In comparison to the seemingly unproduced, pseudo-home-recorded Rip It Off, all of the group’s previous releases must sound overly callous and needlessly high school. This is about as raw and D.I.Y. as you can get, but it’s well done and thoughtfully crafted. “Teen Drama” and “(My Head)” will make or break the entire album for you; either you love the warped, coarse guitar intros or you’re thrown into a world of generic garage band-quality theatrics. But if you explore a little bit, you’ll find layered elements of percussion and understated lyrical harmonies that at times will come through less coherently than from a speaker at a McDonald’s drive-thru. It’s a thundering burst of refreshment to a normally stale genre.
But the album is quite a bit more than homemade garage rock. It’s certainly tough to look past the overly fuzzy, scattershot qualities of the guitars and the almost indecipherable lyrics, but the overwhelming ferocity from tracks like “The Wait” snuggle delicately against the more joyful, accessible tracks like “DROP-OUT.” The juxtapositions keep you on your toes, a different view on the punk genre peeking around every subsequent corner. There’s continuity between tracks, but it’s all very subtle, something you wouldn’t expect from such a raw album. Even a track like “Times New Viking Vs. Yo La Tengo” – as lame is it may sound – stabs into areas of dramatized treble and throbbing guitar licks sans vocals, but doesn’t feel out of place at all, no matter how much it actually does sound like Yo La Tengo.
Rip It Off moves like a wobbly bullet – most songs clock in at the one to two minute mark – so it’s hard to find something you absolutely love or hate on the album. In many ways, this is the band tipping a hat to their predecessors like the Misfits with “Hybrid Moments” or The Ramones with “Judy Is a Punk.” While a track like “RIP Allegory” explodes with a European police siren, it stays with you right up until the point where it would become overly annoying or instantly addicting before fading into the next static boomer. But something like the gloriously gritty, spectacular track “Another Day” dies out before it can hit a sweeping, overly glorious crescendo.
The album becomes almost infuriating at times, much in the same way many of the early Stooges recordings do: There’s just no way to turn this shit up loud enough to bring out the true emotion. Times New Viking clearly embraces the overblown, bust out your neighbor’s window type sound. Tracks like “Come Together” and “Faces on Fire” explode with power, and they hang in the lo-fi genre with subtle lyrical accents that compliment the jarring ambiguousness of the guitar riffs. But both beg for tighter production without the dominant, haphazard recording set-up. They should be absolute scorchers, but they’re lost in the reverberating mayhem. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; the group’s not out to sound sugary.
This is as close to punk as we’ve seen since The Thermals debut More Parts Per Million or Pissed Jeans Hope for Men. No song holds anything back or becomes too bubbly and superficial. What Times New Viking lack in musical clarity, they make up for in overblown guitar reverb, fuzzed-out lyrics and blissful guitar licks. It’s not an easy listen, but if you can get past the fog, you’ll find a band that isn’t quite convinced punk rock is dead.