It's exceedingly rare for me to listen to an album and really, truly, want to love it but be unable to utterly adore it because it actively tries to make me not like it. But such is the situation I find myself in with Rip It Off by Times New Viking.
Almost everything you read about this band will say something along the lines of "beneath the lo-fi production, treble-y hiss, and red line distortion lie songs of startling melody and creativity." That's true, but it's often offered as a kind of excuse. The truth is, in 2008, signed to Matador, Times New Viking must have purposely chosen to release an album that sounds this bad. It reminds me of early Pavement as heard on the Westing (By Musket And Sextant) compilation: below average to miserable sound quality that still doesn't ruin the quality of the songs. The difference there is that it was Pavement's first few releases, and with their proper recording debut on Matador, their sound hadn't changed so much as it was refined to a keen edge and you could actually hear it.
On Rip It Off, loud, distorted guitars, thudding drums, and the occasional organ chunks grind their way to the top of the mix, trading space with barely audible vocals. On one hand, the sheer visceral sound of the album has me pumping my fist and shouting "indie rock finally has balls again!!" On the other hand, if the songs didn't sound like they were recorded on the monophonic cassette voice recorder I have in my closet somewhere, I would like it a lot more. Again, my assumption is that the band intentionally wanted the songs to sound so noisy and lo-fi, and I simply don't think it works. When the most shocking moment of your noise-y indie rock album is the part where the sound cleans up for the acoustic ending of 'End Of All Things', something is wrong with your aesthetic.
In the end, I give Times New Viking some grace points. I begrudgingly respect any band who release something that sounds so defiantly lo-fi and noisy in this day and age, not to mention with song titles like 'Times New Viking Vs. Yo La Tengo.' Maybe next time if they meet us halfway, and let us hear the great songs they have buried beneath all the crap, they'll truly have something worth praising.