Interview: Little Man

Little Man’s new six-song EP might be called Orbital Amusements, but it’s grounded in swampy, earthy riffage like nothing the band has done before. That’s neither a bad thing, or an unrecognizable shift: The crunchy, swirling, and psychedelic ’70s sound of T. Rex and Led Zeppelin is still there in guitarist and songwriter Chris Perricelli’s playing, and the George Harrison-esque, Zen Buddhist-inspired spirituality in his lyrics is as strong as ever. But Amusements thunders in a whole new way, thanks to the the jolt of creative electricity Perricelli got when his restless muse found a new way to make noise via—technical guitar-geekery alert—a new set of custom-made guitar pedals. With a new, more propulsive rhythm section in bassist Brian Herb and drummer Sean Gilchrist, Little Man’s sound is now flavored with a thick grunge-metal that Gilchrist jokingly but memorably describes as “dirty rumble beefy.” Little Man plays an album-release show for Orbital Amusements at the Turf Club on Friday, May 27 with Red Pens and The Rockford Mules—and onstage accompaniment by, appropriately enough, a pair of hula-hooping dancers, The Cosmonettes. Before the show, The A.V. Club talked with the band about how the new songs grew out of both cutting-edge tech and old-school spiritual symbology.

Originally published May 26, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

Review: Nick Mamatas, Sensation

In his 2004 debut novel, Move Under Ground, Nick Mamatas handled what could have been a gimmicky premise—a fight for the soul of America between H.P. Lovecraft’s evil chaos god Cthulhu and a ragtag crew of Beat writers led by Jack Kerouac—with intelligence, depth, and wit. Unfortunately, he’s on considerably shakier ground in his third novel, Sensation, which fumbles to an unfocused conclusion after a strong beginning.

Sensation’s central idea spins off from one of biology’s creepier parasitic relationships: the Costa Rican wasp Hymenoepimecis, which plants its eggs in a living victim, a spider of the genus Plesiometa, then chemically alters the spider’s behavior so it willingly builds a nest for the larvae that will eat it alive. Mamatas takes that a step further, imagining a secret war between the arthropods that has spilled over into our realm. Although the conflict has been raging for thousands of years, the humans are completely unaware of it, thanks to the Matrix-like machinations of the spiders, who have been keeping understandably quiet about the fact that they’re actually a collective superintelligence with long-term plans for a forcible symbiotic relationship with Homo sapiens. Both species envenom human minds for their own purposes; the wasps inspire anarchy and chaos, while the spiders seek conformity and control. Colonies of the arachnids observe and influence history in disguise, riding in the hollowed-out heads of artificially constructed “men of indeterminate ethnicity.”

The spiders’ carefully guarded secrecy is thrown into jeopardy when their wasp enemies sting an ordinary middle-class New York City woman, Julia Hernandez. The wasp venom is just as bizarrely potent on humans as spiders, and it wreaks profound changes in Julia’s personality. Without knowing she’s changing, Julia transforms into a radically different person, with anarchist politics and a brutally direct penchant for cutting right to the point. In Sensation’s most potent sequence, Julia leaves her husband Ray at gunpoint in the middle of sex, cruelly refusing to give a reason because “I like the idea that your stomach just turned to concrete.” With no apparent plan in mind, she becomes the catalyst of a nationwide movement of Dada-esque hipster anarchists, then murders a rich capitalist and turns fugitive. Ray watches this from afar in helpless confusion; the spiders view it with dispassionate alarm, certain it’s a new skirmish in the millennia-old deathlock with their insect enemies.

It’s a compelling setup worthy of Philip K. Dick, and Julia’s horrifying transformation seems like a promising jumping-off point for Mamatas to explore how biology affects the big questions of whether there’s any such thing as free will or a single “self.” Is Julia a helpless pawn driven insane by forces beyond her comprehension, or her own true self for the first time?

But after a strong first 50 pages, Mamatas doesn’t seem to know where to take his story. Julia’s anarchist revolution bogs down in annoying stunts and tired twists on Internet catchphrases, leading one bored sheriff to yawn that “there ain’t no criminal statutes against being tedious.” A mid-novel revelation of the wasps’ true motivations drains the book of any further dramatic potential, and even seems hostile to the idea of striving for positive change against oppression. Weirdly, Sensation throws its most caustic satiric barbs at hipster poseurs, not the near-totalitarian aims of the spiders, which comes across as if Mamatas has switched allegiances this time, from Kerouac to Cthulhu.

Originally published May 19, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

Review: Minor Kingdom, Don’t Worry Baby

Music doesn’t necessarily have to strike you like lightning in order to work its way into your heart. The songs of Minor Kingdom will never inspire anyone to reckless abandon or lead to a mass outbreak of dancing in the streets. And that’s okay—that isn’t the point. Like Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Bon Iver before him, songwriter Kristian Melom is after a more introspective, unhurried and thoughtful kind of beauty. Don’t Worry Baby, his second album after 2009’s My Back Will Bend, is a carefully crafted set of slow, somber indie-folk ballads shot through with a tinge of mournful alt-country and grounded by Melom’s serious, pensive vocals—perhaps too grounded.

This is a record that needs a little time alone in order to win you over, working its mojo in the background during a quiet evening at home, curled up with a book. That intimacy is the album’s most charming element, but also its Achilles’ heel: Don’t Worry Baby is so soft-spoken and unprepossessing that it’s in danger of being overwhelmed like a spiderweb caught in a strong breeze, and the subtle qualities that are the album’s strengths are too easily drowned out. And there are plenty of delightful touches throughout Don’t Worry Baby, like the wash of shoegaze-y guitar that floats through “Sweet Emily,” the gossamer acoustic filigree in “Crazy Charlie,” and the wistful angelic chorus of “ooohs” on the album-closing “Good Luck.” But it’s a fine line between introspective and enervating, and a little more oomph would not have gone amiss here.

Originally published May 12, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

Interview: Color Me Obsessed director Gorman Bechard

There’s something missing from Color Me Obsessed, director Gorman Bechard’s new documentary about Minneapolis music legends The Replacements: the band itself. Bechard purposefully avoided putting Paul Westerberg or his bandmates in the film directly—no interviews, no music, no concert footage, no album covers. But what seems at first to be a self-defeating approach is perhaps uniquely suited to The Replacements, a band so infamously disinterested in its own fame that its members once tried to steal their master tapes and throw them in a river, and flipped the bird to the whole idea of MTV by making a music video consisting entirely of a speaker playing “Bastards Of Young” for three and a half minutes. As its title implies, Color Me Obsessed is about the band’s fans as much as it is about the band itself. By not directly including The Replacements in the film, its subject broadens beyond simple biography into an exploration of what it means to be a fan, and to have your life changed by a song. Obsessed tells The Replacements’ story, from formation to early ’90s flameout, through the words of fans, critics, and contemporaries from the Minnesota music scene, including Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart and Greg Norton, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Kids In The Hall’s Dave Foley, and Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy. The A.V. Club talked with Bechard in advance of Color Me Obsessed’s Minneapolis debut, 7 p.m. May 4 at the Woman’s Club, as part of Sound Unseen.

Originally published May 2, 2011 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

In Tune With Nature: Cloud Cult mixes music and environmentalism

Since he was a child, Craig Minowa’s two driving passions have been music and environmentalism. As the leader of critically acclaimed indie-rock band Cloud Cult, he’s built a career that puts both at the center of his life.

Cloud Cult began as a solo project in 1995, while Minowa was an environmental sciences student at the University of Minnesota. It has grown into a group that’s earned a devoted cult following for its philosophical and expansive indie-rock on albums such as “Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)”, “The Meaning Of 8” and its latest disc, “Light Chasers.”

During that time, Minowa and his wife and bandmate Connie Minowa have been trailblazers in greening the music industry through Earthology, a nonprofit organization that functions as Cloud Cult’s record label as well as, more recently, the umbrella for their environmental projects outside of music, including Connie’s green outreach work with local Indian tribes.

Originally published May 1, 2011 in Momentum, the magazine of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Read the complete article.

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