We are Vikings – S/T

This band certainly doesn’t sound like Vikings. That is, unless the Vikings at some point became cuddly purveyors of sing-songy low-fi pop music, and instead of pillaging homes they instead pillaged dusty 60s and 70s records from the used bins. (Is there a metal band called Viking? If there isn’t, there ought to be.)

We Are Vikings, by way of the album notes, are a duo who tracked all of the instruments on this release (with a four-track recorder in a basement, from the sounds of it). When you talk about low fidelity recording, one name usually gets mentioned the most, and as you might have expected, the Guided by Voices influence is quite apparent. We’ve got bright melodies with lots of movement (ala Bob Pollard), the poorly tuned guitars, the muffled drums, and even song titles such as “Imperfect Triggers.” But in place of GBV’s British rock influences, I’m hearing Neil Diamond, the Monkees, and maybe a bit of later-day Sloan. It’s an interesting sonic niche to say the least, and as such this isn’t a total GBV rip-off, it’s more like the other side of the same coin.

Luckily these guys don’t take themselves too seriously, and the playful nature of the disc is infectious. I can’t seem to get “Don’t Hang Me For That” out of my head, although I swear that I’ve heard that melody before. There’s a slight touch of humorous subversion: “Dave Heller’s Epiphany” sounds like Bad Company having a drug meltdown somewhere on the road and is seriously funny and twisted. The guys also throw us a curve ball with a beautiful and serious slow number, “Sleepy Eyes Closed,” at the end of the disk. The melody is a soulful one, and the instrumental parts are cool as well. I just kept thinking, if only the instruments came through clearer, and the vocals were tuned a bit more, and the drums had some presence … ah, screw it. When you get into the realm of low-fi recordings, you have to expect these sorts of frustrations. If I were independently wealthy, I’d send these guys a grand so they could have another stab at this song in a real studio.

Sometimes you can get by on charm alone, and these guys come darn close to doing just that. There are a lot of reasons that bands decide to record with sub-standard sound quality, but if they must go the lo-fi route with a recording, it really helps if the performances are somewhat polished. As it stands, there are so many missed notes and muddled sounds that the inherent charms of home recordings start to work against the band. The listener should never confuse a lo-fi recording with low-quality rock. A lot of other lo-fi recordings are too frustrating for me for these same reasons (see the Swirlies) and often just make me want to say “get lost.” In the end, however, there’s a certain charm and ability to the band that makes me want We Are Vikings to stick around and make more records. They don’t have to enlist Sir George Martin or anything like that, but a few more steps in the direction of a well-produced recording would suit them well.