Devo, Pere Ubu, and the Dead Boys are punk legends in the Buckeye State. Most heroes from Ohio's indie-rock boom of the '90s live on only in old fanzines, tattered flyers, and hazy but endearing recollections from record-store burnouts.
Outside of Guided by Voices, chances are you've never heard V-3, the Boys From Nowhere, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, the Gibson Brothers, Prisonshake, Moviola, and a million others.
Merging pure pop, riveting rock, and feedback that sticks to the top of your skull was the key -- and nobody did it better over the years than indie rockers from Ohio. Their heyday was considered ancient history. But in 2005, three art-school brats from Columbus, calling themselves Times New Viking, released Dig Yourself, a record channeling the spirit of the long-forgotten.
Then earlier this year, guitarist Jared Phillips, drummer Adam Elliott, and keyboardist Beth Murphy did it all over again with a disc titled Present the Paisley Reich.
Hitting you like grapefruits between the eyes, both records tromp through shambolic rock and roll, and tinny, saccharine ballads that are stupidly catchy. The hooks are so simple that pop musicians probably stumble upon them when fucking around. But Times New Viking assembles "fucking around" into perfect tunes, which it then turns up really fuckin' loud. This buries the jams in screaming hiss and thick static.
TNV's appeal for fans of pop and rock comes not only from hip-swinging melodies, but lyrics as well. TNV infuses its verse with a "romantic nihilism," as Elliott puts it. This, in turn, produces tunes that are dumb but bittersweet. "You can waste time/But don't be wasting mine/You know we go together like/Devo and wine," chirps Murphy on the Paisley Reich track "Devo and Wine."
It's impossible not to smirk when encountering those charming lines. The same goes for wistful sass like "Fuck Books" and "Imagine Dead John Lennon."
Noise freaks, on the other hand, dig the group because its music launches them into head trips. The yelps on "Dance Walhalla" stick to piercing high-hats and blistering guitar. TNV knows how to build too. "Love Your Daughters" starts with a pleasant kick-drum romp through some lilting guitar. This leads to a harrowing collision of every instrument during the song's screeching chorus.
As a result, TNV mingles with nearly every music scene out there without belonging to just one.
"We love the idea of being a band who can play with everyone from Spoon to Smegma," explains Elliott. "Whenever we play with noise and experimental groups, we're always the pop group. And when we play with pop groups, we're always the weird, noisy band."
Case in point: Times New Viking has played Cleveland several times, performing in radically different situations each show. In April of this year, the group opened for indie-pop legends Yo La Tengo at the Beachland Ballroom. The previous month, however, TNV -- along with noisy acid punks Clockcleaner -- played a tiny gig at Tower 2012, a nonprofit DIY venue on the West Side that puts on some far-out events.
Back in the '90s, Tom Lax's Philadelphia label, Siltbreeze, released a slew of now-classic records from Ohio fuzz-pop and noise-rock groups like Vertical Slit, Mike Rep & the Quotas, the Yips, and most of the bands mentioned earlier, including GBV. Raised in southern Ohio and a graduate of Ohio University, Lax has always been obsessed with the Buckeye underground. But he put his seminal imprint on ice at the turn of the century.
Then he heard Times New Viking.
After experiencing how the band feeds its garage pop through sheets of noise, Lax knew this was classic Ohio music. So he resurrected Siltbreeze in 2005 for the sole purpose of releasing Dig Yourself.
"It's not just the sound. It's the legacy," says Lax of how TNV fits into the history of Ohio rock. "I would say it's the exorcism of eight flaccid state presidencies -- the channeling of historical anger into a mangled and unique ferocity. It seems only fitting that a state that has shat out that lot could also be responsible for birthing all these bands."
See? He is obsessed.
Since 2005, Times New Viking has done nothing but pick up steam. Webzines all over the internet have spread the word from one town to another. With TNV tunneling through tiny clubs, minding its business, Matador Records -- one of the biggest independent labels in the United States, home to Pavement and Cat Power -- took notice .
Shortly after Siltbreeze released Present the Paisley Reich, Times New Viking commenced recording its first disc for Matador.
According to Elliott, the band is sticking to its half-buried-in-mud aesthetic. "They told us we could do what we wanted and to record it how we felt comfortable. So it isn't really cleaned up, though there are more varied recording styles."
Even if TNV were to clean up its sound, there's always the band's ear-splitting live shows. With Murphy and Phillips banging away on their instruments as if they were rusty sheets of scrap metal, the group's kaleidoscopic onslaught shakes the head and will often make you see bright lights, if you keep your eyes closed.
But the best sight at a TNV show is the ear-to-ear grins on a bunch of 40-year-olds, delighting in a new band that has -- in its own charming way -- nailed the delicate mix of singsong and blistering racket that they remember as the sound of classic Ohio indie rock.
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