One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, the saying goes. Dumpster diving with Times New Viking isn’t a hobby for everyone, but out of the noisy dust cloud emerges a collection of songs worthy of inclusion in any sentence mentioning faithful Guided By Voices or Yo La Tango acolytes. Compared to their earlier DIY efforts that sounded at best like the band recorded onto a VHS tape (really) and at worst into a rusty old Folgers can (not really), this time around under the auspices of Merge Records, Dancer Equired effectively ups the fidelity level to 11. Now, working with a budget that must surely exceed three figures, the hearts of these songs are animated, the hooks sparkle in the grime, and the Ohio band clarifies what they want to say without changing how they say it.
When the trio coalesces into unity, their musical shortcomings are all blended together in some odd, time-tested shitgazey hangover cocktail — slop wrung out through the speakers that somehow cures whatever ails. The dueling vocal lines of Adam Elliott and Beth Murphy are always just a few cents off from each other, making them sound more like a couple at odds in their relationship than concordant guy/girl rock duo. Each voice has its own amateur appeal, but both sound like seasoned pros when yolked together in a song. In “Ever Falling In Love”, their lyrical lines crisscross and eventually join together at the end for a hushed unison coda where pop rears its pretty little head.
Hushed, though, is few and far between here on Dancer Equired. Their desire to remain firmly planted in the lo-fi genre causes these songs and songlets to remain at a dynamically consistent level: loud enough to annoy the shit out of the neighbors. But for its lack of levels, TNV know how to hold the listener’s attention. The riff-driven “Downtown Eastern Bloc” stands out as a side-step from the messy jangle most of the record heralds. In fact, it and the equally lengthy “Want To Exist” offer the band time for these songs to shape and develop. With both clocking in at over three minutes (a veritable marathon for TNV), each displays careful craft and soul, especially hearing Murphy languidly nod to Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” on the chorus of “Want to Exist”.
Surrounding these comparative epics, the band putters about in their GBV wheelhouse to varying degrees of success. The stand-out banger “Fuck Her Tears” connotes either something awesome or really awesome depending on how you read it. Love is fragile and precious to TNV, and there’s no shortage of lyrics that trace love at its most raw and desperate. Unfortunately, the medium for that expression grows tiresome when you realize the lo-fi genre has generally been strip-mined of its natural resources over the last 30 years, leaving some of the album’s smaller gems to feel pyritic and dull.
Dancer Equired marks the band’s fifth LP, and to the lay listener, it could sound like their first. Or their demo. Or just them fucking around in a basement somewhere in Ohio. But they are sharp and witty songwriters, not just shaggy slugabeds pitching their low-art to hip kids. Amid the noise, however tiresome it may be at this point, there’s a glint of genius in these songs that’s best realized if you turn this album up as loud is it can go and think about relationships and stuff. Even if noise/lo-fi/shitgaze is showing its wrinkles, its heart still beats strong here.