Eardrum-scraping production, guitars and keyboards in the red, boy-girl melodies at the top of their lungs: Certain factors are a given with any new Times New Viking album. The Columbus rock trio has found a potent comfort zone in the nebulous realm of lo-fi, rendering each new offering instantly recognizable as the work of Adam, Beth and Jared.
As for the legion of also-rans clumsily striving to mimic TNV's fashionable fuzz: That's Mr. Elliott, Ms. Murphy and Mr. Phillips to you.
Transcending their influences is a mighty feat for a band once burdened/bolstered by constant comparisons to Guided by Voices, Swell Maps and the Clean.
Those legacies still echo throughout Born Again Revisited, TNV's fourth full-length album, released last month on mega-indie Matador. But for a while now these three CCAD grads have owned a sound as distinct as any of the acts that spurred them along.
That said, Born Again Revisited isn't about its creators settling into autopilot. More than any previous release, it blows open the doors on what a Times New Viking song can be. That all-encompassing aura they've established - call it "romantic nihilism" if you wish; call it "shitgaze" if you must - is merely a backdrop for their ever-expansive creative vision.
If 2005 debut Dig Yourself captured lightning in a bottle, they've spent each successive release learning how to wield that lightning like wizards. By the time Rip It Off dropped last year, they were delivering tightly constructed tunes in many shapes and sizes, from the frantic skree of "RIP Allegory" to the peaceful sway of "Drop-Out."
It was easy to miss how far they'd come as songwriters under all that aggressive hiss. With Rip It Off's searing crackle scaled back here, TNV's prowess as tunesmiths comes to the fore.
Entry point "Martin Luther King Day" sounds startlingly similar to the last album's opener "Teen Drama," but its airy chorus shows a growing mastery of dynamics. The title track screeches and slams like a hit Basement Jaxx single getting eaten by the cassette player.
"No Time, No Hope" speeds along in the vein of previous instant classics "Let Your Hair Grow Long" and "Imagine Dead John Lennon." They maneuver their trusty rocket into narrow passageways for "(No) Sympathy."
"2/11 Don't Forget" and "These Days" hit the brakes and float on a slow groove, while the gnarled, nauseous "High Holidays" hints at the band's appreciation for former Siltbreeze labelmates like Naked on the Vague and Ex-Cocaine.
Then there's "Move to California," an indie-rock anthem to do TNV pals Yo La Tengo proud. It curtly dismisses the notion that Ohio is a prison to be escaped by anyone with a creative mind and a free spirit, proving that Times New Viking's self-confident domain extends beyond their sonic netherworld and into this terrestrial plane.