by Jon Hunt
When I was 16, and just starting out as a songwriter, here’s how I recorded my stuff. First, I got two cassette tape recorders (I borrowed one from my dad, who didn’t like me messing with his stuff). Hit record on one, tracked myself playing drums. Rewind. Hit record on the other and play on the first one, so I’m playing bass along with a recording of myself playing drums. Rewind. Hit record on the first one and play on the other so I’m playing guitar along with myself playing bass and (slightly tinnier) myself playing drums. Repeat until finished. Finished product: a cassette of really lousy, poorly-recorded songs to give to your girlfriend, which, if you’re lucky, she’ll politely tell you that she likes (and if you’re unlucky, she’ll record over it with songs taped from the radio).
I describe all this “when I was a kid” garbagio simply to point out how staggeringly different it is for the current generation of young musicians, who, thanks at least partly to technology that couldn’t even be imagined in the mumble-mumble ’80s when I was young, are crafting a surprisingly vital and thrilling all-ages scene in Minneapolis. They’ve got access to tons of home-recording tech like Garage Band and Reason. They’ve got share-’em-and-follow-’em websites like Soundcloud and Facebook and Bandcamp. And most importantly: they’ve got each other to encourage, collaborate and push each other to hone their craft. As a result, we’re seeing bands whose members aren’t even old enough to smoke, let alone drink*, coming up fully-formed, with an arsenal of great songs and fantastic recordings under their belts
Unless you’re tied into the all-ages scene (i.e., you have a kid in their teens or you, for whatever reason, frequent all-ages music venues), you probably don’t know a lot of these bands. Some of ‘em are mostly bedroom recording artists, meaning they might not even play live at all, or infrequently at best. But they know each other – check out the intertwined follow lists on their Soundcloud or Facebook pages – and they’ve been helping to build this scene from the ground up. The following is a rough guide to the best of ‘em. If you want a glimpse into the future of the Minneapolis sound, check out this surprisingly diverse and extremely not-amateur-sounding batch of underage musicians.
Bomba De Luz — My favorite band in the batch is Bomba De Luz, a darkly sophisticated folk-rock band led by astonishing 16-year-old lead singer Lydia Hoglund. Their most recent LP, What A Heavy Weight, actually reminds me not a little bit of a couple of local ’70s bands (Podipto and Gypsy, believe it or not, though I gotta believe that’s purely accidental — couldn’t tell you what they were actually shooting for, considering how out-of-time this stuff sounds). It has that same blend of folk-based songwriting married to heavy and rather astonishing guitar playing (courtesy Evan Slack, who also records electronic/guitar fusion stuff as a solo artist). And you will absolutely swoon for Hoglund’s voice, which has a super-cool smattering of grit to it. And she’s a terrific, sophisticated songwriter, too — never once will you think “this is someone who hasn’t even graduated from high school.” Her tunes shift from dark and heavy to light and sweet with surprising ease, and her grasp of clever melodies and chord progressions would be enviable in someone twice her age. You’ll freak out for the intensity of “Swear You Away” and the emotional tension that underlays “Gordon” and “I Once Loved You.” An astonishing combination of talent on display, and a band you’ll be hearing a lot from in the next few years. Bandcamp: http://bombadeluz.bandcamp.com/
Northern — Northern (formerly Danger Will Robinson — a name that tweaks my nerd sensibilities, but I can see why it’d get old) play a kind of low-key post-rock/shoegaze thing, with huge slabs of echo, heartbeat-throb drums and no actual vocals (which is a thing these days — a lot of psych groups are instrumental-only, which I find interesting). They know how to get quiet/hushed and they know how to explode into gigantic, arms-raised epic bits as well — listen to their live set for some great examples of this dichotomy, especially the thunderous “Mother Bear” and “Mother Bear II.” As an example of the cross-promotional collab between these acts, check out Bomba De Luz guitarist Evan Slack’s appearance (and production credit) on “Bicycle Expressway” here. I love that they’re unafraid to play seven and eight-minute songs, and I love that they give their grooves enough space to build to something truly special. It’s great stuff.
Whistle Kid — If there’s any of these bands that’s the logical successor to Howler (hell, those guys are positively old these days — we should get together and buy them a watch!), it’s Whistle Kid, who play a sprightly, cheerful brand of angular indie music with marvelous hooks and great vocals (courtesy Jake Luppen) aimed straight at the charts. “Poster Child,” the best of their Soundcloud tracks — is a skittering ska-fueled workout that resolves into a chorus that sounds as much 70s power-pop as it does modern indie, with great guitar playing and explosive drums to boot. “Dustpan” references the blues, probably courtesy the Black Keys, and has a pretty authentic-sounding grit and a nicely explosive batch of riffing that belies the players’ super-young ages. And I dig “Puzzles” the best, a 6/8 workout that flirts with indie-prog (see: Field Music, for a correlate). And dig their performance of “The Q” at Station 4 (featuring Bomba De Luz singer Lydia Hoglund) — Alex Graves is a hell of a guitarist who knows how to wield blues riffs. Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/whistlekid
Burn Fetish — Burn Fetish’s lead singer Sam Frederick has a rock pedigree — his mom is Minneapolis folk-scene mainstay Mary Jane Alm. Frederick possesses a rich tenor and a still-developing sense of melody, who knows how to wed them to power-trio riffage in a pretty cool way. Of all these bands, they’re probably the most math-rocky / metallic and the least indie — it’s clear that these guys have some 80s punk and metal records in their collections, as witness the meaty riffage (especially from the be-dreadlocked bassist) and head-bangage in their live show. Despite jokey titles like “Modern Shit Stain,” their songs are surprisingly sophisticated, with a good melodic flow and a little bit of bitterness thrown in to make it all interesting. Downfall: a slightly shrill, digital bass sound that comes from bunkum equipment, but that’s a minor point. They’re still developing — let’s see where they are in a year. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Burnfetishmusic iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/psychonauta/id536598717?ign-mpt=uo%3D4
Caleb — Full disclosure: I know Caleb’s father, Nathan Hinz, so I was already a little familiar with guitar prodigy Caleb, who’s the resident studio rat / guitar genius of the bunch. His complicated, electronic-driven songs are full of bananas-fast guitar wizardry tangled around frantic drum rhythms and sampladelic dub freakiness. He’s got a great sense of how to build an electronic track — starting bare-bones and dragging in all manner of weirdness along the way, frequently culminating at under three minutes, which is rare for electronic/dance/whatever experimental musicians. Caleb’s also the most prolific of the batch — he’s already got four non-albums under his belt (“collections of music,” he says, frequently with 15-20 songs on them) and a ton of non-album music on his Soundcloud page, as well as on-stage collabs with Northern and other musicians from this scene. As Caleb’s music develops, I totally see him developing a melodic sense that’s leading to more traditional songwriting — check out the super-recent, dissonant “Fish Hook Body” on his Soundcloud page, which sports a demented but interesting sung melody over the angular, Fripp-esque guitar playing and a Burundi-esque drum beat. Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/caleb-hinz Bandcamp: http://calebhinz.bandcamp.com/
Eliot Larson / National Figure / Owners Co. — S. Minneapolis high school student Eliot Larson creates music in two different bands — as part of Owners Co., a shoegaze duo with Leo Kendrickson, and as National Figure, his ambient / electronic / solo project. Owners Co. play rough-and-ready, super-heavy shoegaze, influenced as much by Brian Jonestown Massacre as it is by indie stuff like Japandroids. It’s still nascent so expect a little bit of melodic/instrumental roughness, but the base-line stuff is there — cool melodies, a sense of “owning the drone” (essential for anything claiming to be shoegaze, methinks) and a great heavy/light dichotomy. Meanwhile, his stuff as National Figure is cool, relaxed, ambient — the other side of shoegaze, really, a sense of quiet, hushed presence. Some of the tunes are nothing more than sketches, others read as unformed demos for nifty guitar stuff — and it’s all tuneful and highly listenable. Another one where I’m gonna love to see where he is in a year or two, when Owners Co. get tighter as a band. One to watch. Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/nationalfigure Bandcamp: ownersco.bandcamp.com
* Kids: you should really do neither. This has been a public service announcement. Thank you to Nathan Hinz for suggestions and research.