There is a popular idea, with a shade of democratic idealism, that recording technology has progressed to the point that every would be musician has the means to make a nice professional sounding recording. This is mostly off base if the proof is the effects laden, fragmented and over tracked recordings that I hear so frequently*. The feat is that these recordings manage to sound both arid and congested. So it's with some excitement that I welcome bands like Times New Viking who do away with polish and the veneer of the current indie rock M.O. I've read a number of writers who regard this as gimmickry, likely the same dupes that heralded The Greatest as Cat Power's arrival (I'll take all her drunken half starts and uneven records over that MOR stillborn) or regard Nigel Godrich as anything but the Michael Bay of record producers. Polemics aside, the lo-fi sound is an aesthetic choice, just as recording "clean", and it happens to be in sympathy with every other component of the group's sound. Their affection for noise and hiss means a limited audience, and admittedly, I give points to any band still waving the flag of opposition.

While, initially, they seem to merely hearken to the salad days of lo-fi (they do sometimes share Guided by Voices' annoying affected accent), there is an urgency that's the band's own. Mostly, it's nice to hear the pendulum swing back towards less fussy bands unencumbered by laptops and mountains of pedals, performing songs crafted for live performance. They arrive along with a shift away from (I hope?) nondescript formalism and hyper-stylization. Best of all, it seems that emotions might regain some currency. Neo-hippie folk or the new no-wave, despite the impressive attention to costume, were never very good substitutes for feeling.

Times New Viking - Drop Out
Times New Viking - Love Your Daughters

Pitchfork Festival

*The Shins' last record was the first album I remember thinking truly representative of the perils of digital home recording. Overwrought, careful, incongruous. But then, no one seemed to mind.


D said...

I don't really mind the "affected accent" ever, especially in lo-fi bands like these guys or GBV. Isn't everyone always affecting when they sing? Some thoughts:

1.) No American rock vocalist is going to affect any accent other than a British accent or one of the various regional accents of North America (or the reverse, if they're British, ex: PJ Harvey, the Beatles, Eric Burdon). All this betrays is a deep affection and the need to imitate certain sets of source material: the blues and early rock in Burdon's case, British invasion pop in, say, Alex Chilton's. Chilton's strange, sweet mash-up of a voice is part of what draws me so much to Big Star--it's like he can't decide whether he wants to be a southern rocker or in a British invasion band.

2.) The distinction between affect and accent is somewhat unclear in pop music's current critical vocabulary. For example, Richard Hell sings in a heavy New York accent, but his vocals are also highly affected. Joanna Newsom sounds like she was raised by a pack of wild infants but it has nothing to do with region, it's all affect. This sort of affect has to do with varying levels of theatricality--how hard are you going to spit out a certain syllable? Which rhyme do you lean on in that Bob Dylan-esque way? It can clearly enhance music as much as it annoys. Antony is definitely Bryan Ferry on vibrato 'roids (as you once mentioned in somewhat cruder terms, hilariously), but damn if he can't make some pretty vocal lines.

Anyway, this writeup is on point. Count me in as another supporter of vibrant, real emotions in music.

j. minkus said...

What I mean is that Times New Viking's British accent doesn't feel all that appropriate to the content and general sound whereas, regardless of how I feel about the end result, Antony's singing is consistent with every other facet of his music, everything cohering as sweeping melodrama.

I suppose that a singer works with affectation, if you can call it that, to find something that feels right and fits the musical intent. To use your example, Alex Chilton really had to learn to find a voice that felt natural and exploited all his native capability. The space between teenage Chilton of the Box Tops and Big Star's first record is huge, and by the time of Third he learned to own his voice further, finding strength in vocal 'weaknesses', letting his voice crack and waver, hitting all kinds of emotional nerves in a voice that was way beyond The Letter or even #1 Record.

I do think it's not enough to say Americans singing like Brits are frauds or vice-versa. But there are times when it works and times when it doesn't. Times New Viking have a number of songs in which the vocal delivery feels like an interruption.