Times New Viking

The One Rule for this site is that the topics are selected by the iTunes shuffle function from my music library, and I try not to deviate from that. So it sometimes comes to pass that I arrive at a band like Times New Viking, about which I know precisely three things:

  1. They are named, in one of the most ill-advised plays on words in music history and that’s saying something, for a typeface.
  2. I saw them open for Yo La Tengo once.
  3. Georgia from Yo La Tengo put one of their songs on a mix CD that the band sold as a charity fundraiser during one of their Hanukkah runs.

There’s not much more to be said about item #1. As for the others, Times New Viking is exactly the kind of band I have grown used to seeing open YLT’s Hanukkah shows: obscure to me at the time, but clearly a significant presence in the band’s ever-expanding musical universe. I recall them from their opening set mostly as impossibly young, but this was in 2007, so presumably they’re older now. I do not remember much of anything about their music, and it’s entirely possible I spent most of their set avoiding the crush of the Maxwell’s back room and instead wandered out to the front room to get some dinner.

(A review of my concert notes reveals that I also saw Times New Viking opening for the Feelies in Prospect Park in 2011, but I don’t remember this at all. The disconnect between my ticket stubs and my memory is disconcerting at times — I have a torn stub from a 1988 Sugarcubes show that I have zero recollection of seeing, and you’d think that would have been memorable, especially given how into the Sugarcubes I was at the time.)

As for the mix CD, this is one of my favorite traditions of the Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows: Each night, a member or friend of the band puts together a playlist that is then played over the PA before and between sets, and which can be purchased from the merch table for a nominal fee. (All proceeds from all of the Hanukkah shows, dating back to 2001, go to charity.) My collection of Hanukkah CDs now includes discs curated by a bunch of people including members of Antietam and the Feelies‘ Dave Weckerman, and they’re always interesting, if nothing else.

I don’t listen to them all that much, though, except when they pop up on iTunes shuffle. So this particular Times New Viking track, “Devo & Wine,” is pretty much entirely unfamiliar to me. I have a handful of other Times New Viking songs in my collection from other sources, none of which made much more of an impact.

Most of my time writing this site is spent explaining how I became a fan of bands, but this raises a parallel question: Why did I not become a fan of Times New Viking? They certainly fit into plenty of the categories for other bands I discovered opening for Yo La Tengo at Hanukkah and fell in love with, so what did they do to get on my bad side?

Could it be the “lo-fi” thing? I’m not exactly sure what “lo-fi” is supposed to mean — sometimes it means cheapo production values, but here it seems to mean “everything is recorded well but then layered with so much distortion that it sounds like it’s playing through blown speakers.” It’s tuneful enough underneath all that, with overtones of bands like Pavement — but then, after loving the first Pavement album to death when it came out 30 years ago, I’ve had very little interest in that band ever since as well, for reasons that I similarly can’t put my finger on.

And by this point some readers who are Times New Viking fans (or Pavement fans) are probably shouting at their screens, “OMG, you don’t know what you’re missing!” Except I do know what I’m missing; it’s right there in my iTunes “Compilations” folder. What I don’t know is why I’m choosing to miss what I am.

This may seem a weird rabbit hole to go down, but then, “Why do we like what we like?” is kind of the mission statement of this site, so it’s frustrating when I’m not able to answer it. Times New Viking’s music is abrasive, certainly, but I like plenty of other music that can be abrasive: Sonic Youth and the Ex, to name two. It’s sing-songy in places, but much less so than, say, Kimya Dawson, who I like. What’s the line dividing pleasantly unsettling from unpleasantly so, and is there any way for me to define it without launching into impenetrable rock-crit verbiage?

I have a clear memory from around 25 years ago of my friend Pete making a mixtape from my R.E.M. CDs, for which his process was to listen to the first four or five seconds of a song, go “Nope,” then skip ahead to the next one, then repeat. (About every sixth song he’d hit a keeper.) I probably ridiculed him for it at the time — really, you’re going to make a snap judgment on whether you will ever enjoy a song based solely on the opening chords? — but in retrospect I kind of get it: Even more than TV shows or movies, songs tend to either click right away or not, and while I can spend (and now have spent) many paragraphs trying to figure out why, it’s not going to change that gut reaction when the music kicks in and I’m either pulled in or pushed away.

I’m going to keep puzzling over this, probably for as long as I listen to music, or consume culture in general. (Don’t get me started about why I can’t watch “Breaking Bad.”) Meanwhile, if your gut works differently, by all means check out Times New Viking, they seem to be good at what they do, even if it’s not for me.