words by Kelsey Simpkins
photos by Lora Hlavsa and Kelsey Simpkins
The Aural's Top Minneapolis Music Venues
words by Kelsey Simpkins
photos by Lora Hlavsa and Kelsey Simpkins
It's been almost a year now since I've moved away from Minnesota, but it seems I can't stop talking about how great it is to see live music in the Twin Cities. There are so many different venues in town and no show is ever quite the same. The crowd, the sound, the lighting, all affect the experience you have in the audience or on stage. And no matter the bands performing, a show can be great, mind-blowing, or downright disappointing depending on the venue. So for those still seeking new stomping grounds, deciding where to book a gig, or needing a place to impress a hot date, here are my opinions on Minneapolis' best places in town to see live music (in alphabetical order).
I'm not at SXSW this year. I've never been - not yet. And I'm sure someday I'll get there, as a writer, as a photographer, as someone covering it for some outlet. But I know it will happen - I'm convinced - it's a destination I will reach sooner rather than later. So it remains strange that I can't seem extend that same assumptive privilege and positive expectation I do about my career to my love life.
Year after year, since the teenage heartaches of high school, I have found music to be that bridge between the agony of loneliness and rediscovering the joy of independence. But a decade into knowing just how debilitating heartsickness can be, it now takes a special kind of music to bring me back from the bottom. Back in the day, it was "old" Coldplay, Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, X&Y, and I thought they were destined to be my forever bittersweet band with Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. The perfect blend of melancholy despair, grand instrumental swells, bright outlooks, and hopeless romanticism - bundled into a British accent. But I strayed from Coldplay after 2008, with an abundance of new music in college and the real world, right at my fingertips. And most recently, in moments when I "Can't Even," I've found myself turning to Black Books for my soundtrack to that relentless need for inner resolution.
One of Austin's best emerging acts, Black Books merges the sweeping soundscapes of early 2000s indie hits with the unique vocals of Ross Gilfillan and the rest of the crew. The album is achingly genuine, anchored in honesty when they sing "I saw the best in you," as the guitars, synths and drums swarm together in a rush. It dances, it dreams, it weeps and it holds you when you need it most. Thank goodness I was already lying down at the opening of "Heaven Help Us," because it gets me every time. "If it's true - and it's true - then it's not my problem," comes across as a ironically modern mantra amidst a wide open and echoing sonic background; one that has pushed me through many nights in the past month. Like the swan song of one's love - a song to convince oneself that it can be over - it stays simple enough to keep you breathing but will break your heart by the end.
It's the start of the album, however, that matches up most closely with the early Coldplay style, but not quite one song. When it breaks on, "Say the words and cut me lose, no I came here just for you," Black Books is making it clear that this will be an emotional journey, with them and with yourself. It's not a typical breakup album, but it will serve as one. It's more about that thing called life - what happens when you're planning for something else - except it's about what happens when you're feeling for something else. It's dramatic in the most moving of ways, as it grabs your hand and runs, pulling you towards the center of your soul and saying, "Look - this is the best view yet."
And it wouldn't be one of the best albums we'll see all year if it didn't provide that perfect mix of positive and uplifting in the middle of the melancholy. "Golden OK" and "Sade" line up a beautiful platform that slowly guides into the epic sadness of "Crybaby," the hope and denial in "Best in You," and the sassy but composed "Really Nice to See You." On a through listen, the last dip into "It Could Be Better" (if it's not obvious in track title) returns to heartsickness, followed by the gorgeous and tear-inducing "Heaven Help Us." Finally, "Knew That I Would" is like a signal of daybreak, the dawn after a rough night. The joy in the end of this tune is spilling over, coming to terms with "I guess I'll let you go."
In a way, this album by Black Books is both a beginning and an end. It has gotten me through yet another heartbreak, another "what if?" and "why not?" Another ending on lack of fault. It's not for trying. But some things will end and others won't. It's knowing that a new chance will always come around, just like another amazing album such as this, that gives me an odd hope for the future.
So here's to knowing that some day, I'll end up in Austin mid-March for SXSW. Someday I'll also see Black Books live. And maybe someday, I'll think of their music as something I was able to share with someone else.
Grief is an emotion often associated with speechlessness; a heavy weight too much for words. Feelings as intense as loss may lead to songs without words, like those of Mendelssohn, or something perhaps only silence can carry.
But in Glass Period, Caitlin Pasko's first release under her own name, she uses the captivating simplicity of hands and breath to communicate that a weight such as this is best dealt with by sharing it. On piano, Pasko is at home, and she invites us to come in, sit down and join her.
I thought a stranger had read my mind when the beginning of “Me Alone” commanded in strong, but tender lines, “If you want to be alone, then be alone, be alone.” What a strikingly obvious statement, yet one that takes hearing several times before it can sink in. As Pasko builds and pauses throughout this tune, the push and pull of dynamics and tempo keep the ear and the heart hooked on what’s next. The piano pulses, the vocals distort and clear up again, all while Pasko is “trying to find my way back.” Then like it has a life of its own, the piano breaks into a spirited run, accompanied by saxophone and other sonic background elements. It settles into a soft landing, like a breeze has suddenly whipped leaves up into the air, only to let them fall calmly back to Earth. I knew immediately that I was listening to something remarkable.
The depth that Pasko reaches in Glass Period is very personal: a rare emotional journey documented in six songs that are specific enough in origin, but vague enough for the listener to connect with on their own level. Described as a “small chapel to personal grief,” I imagine listening to this collection in mid-morning, as soft light filters through stained glass to reach the luminous wood floors of her private construct. She sits at a grand piano at the front of this spacious yet intimate room, on the same level as the pews. Sound echoes vibrantly off the stone walls, wooden furniture and vaulted ceiling. A minimalistic piece of architecture, sparse and simple. Brown, white, yellow. A solace from the outside world, but not separate from it. A place that only exists because this album does.
Pasko lost her father recently, and endured a break-up soon after. Her mother, alone in romantic love after 38 years, and Pasko, an only child, now have just each other. But Pasko has found through the creation of this album, that she and her musical vision are not alone. Because others have joined hands with her in a time of trial, she now lends one to us.
It’s a wonderful bit of fate when the right music comes along at just the right time, entering my life sometimes when I least knew I needed it. Pasko’s work resonates with me on many levels in the present, in ways that hurt to acknowledge and remind me of the indefinable things that keep me going.
She starts with the haunting and slow, “Barking Dog,” reminding us that we are born and die alone. A dark start to something so beautiful, as she asks, “What about the time in between?” The piano is constant, leading step by step, as Pasko leads into greater statements about what it is to be alive, and to feel.
It’s the moments full of space in “Favorite Dessert,” however, that leave me baffled every time. A tour of grief, Pasko alludes to letting someone go as she visits locations throughout her day. The shower. The grocery store. The bathroom. So short, yet so powerful, I forgot to exhale until “Open Windows” came in. The two pair like a diptych, dark to light. Indoor to outside. Harmonies on the keys create a gorgeous backdrop to a landscape with bare feet and bright fires. The additional sounds that pulse and beat behind her drive the heart to beat faster, to feel more, to fill oneself with sound and not in thought. “I picture you in tall grass,” Pasko breathes, “I picture you with no shoes on.”
“The Still” cut me right in half, with a soft knife. “I was afraid to fall in,” Pasko sighs, “I was afraid to fall out.” For any large emotion, whether grief or heartbreak or anxiety, the purgatory of immersion or avoidance is a familiar cliff. As she jumps up to higher notes, a release kicks me inside; as the music gets louder, I let go. Using the piano like a gong, she signals it is time.
Right at the start of the final track, “Get Right,” Pasko laughs and says, “I’m gonna keep going.” You can hear the smile on her lips, the tingle in her fingers. The thought that this might be the first take of this song on record. There’s anticipation in the static before she sings.
“How lucky am I?” Pasko asks, plucking notes on the piano strings. A strange kind of question to end a somber record, as she confronts the reality of loss in all its forms with an almost upbeat style. “And I know why,” she persists, pushing the tempo, tangling the notes. She keeps going.
Like she must, like we all must do; in the face of grief, in the startling light of morning.
“You’re gonna lose me,” Pasko knows. Yet at the end, she sings with a sense of relief, a lifting weight. Like after getting the notes out, they can final float away. There is such a complex presence of permanence and also a temporary touch to the entirety of the album, like a dream that you confuse with reality upon waking. Letting go but knowing they will always be with you.
There’s a sense of safety in living somewhere other than the present, of muddling the intensity of facing one’s feelings. But when a stranger turns to you and announces, you are here. And I am here, too. What is here and ahead is difficult - but there is a way through. Are you willing to follow? When that stranger is Pasko, you press play.
There were some fantastic highlights, great releases, stellar shows, sublime singles and lots of interesting news in the music world over the past 50 or so weeks. But 2016 hasn't been much of anyone's year, overall. Luckily music is one of those things that gets you through both the good and the bad, and reveals things to you and about yourself that perhaps you couldn't have found on your own. And when you don't want to think about something, when you just want to feel it, music is perhaps best choice there is.
I know I missed out on listening to a lot of music that was released this year. I have a bad habit of ignoring the big releases, the names that get attention right away, in favor of ferreting out the smaller artists and labels for their contributions. There are so many year-end lists from big notables to little blogs like mine, that I find it useless to repeat what other people have listed and said just to fit into some stereotypical style. In a year that has challenged me in a immeasurable number of ways, the only way I've been able to survive is by just being me and being true to my own tastes.
So while I am technically still on a graduate school hiatus, my lust for listening has not lessened. My ability to chase story ideas and reach out to artists has suffered, and it's been difficult to sacrifice one passion (writing about music) for another (assignments for school --> which is on this blog). I hope this next year I can lift more musical interests back up into my routine, whether through reviews, features, mentions, playlists, or my long-in-the-making podcast. So if you're still with me, stay tuned.
But here is a short list of what stuck with me in 2016: a year of transition, trials, and beginning anew in the middle of instability and the unknown.
1. Kyle Morton - What Will Destroy You
2. David Bazan - Blanco
3. Daughter - Not to Disappear
4. Royal Canoe - Something Got Lost Between Here and the Orbit
5. Roosevelt - Roosevelt
6. SALES - SALES LP
7. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
8. School of Seven Bells - SVIIB
9. Porches - Pool
10. Deep Sea Diver - Secrets
Wingman - Honcho
Radiation City - Synesthetica
Hannah Epperson - Upsweep
Square Peg Round Hole - Juniper
All The Roses - ROSES EP
Joseph - I'm Alone, No You're Not
Pinegrove - Cardinal
Emma Ruth Rundle - Marked for Death
Astronaut Husband - Collection of You
Savages - Adore Life
Grouplove - Big Mess
Laura Gibson - Empire Builder
Day Wave - Headcase/Hard to Read
Lapsley - Long Way Home
Andy Schauf - The Party
Methyl Ethyl - Oh Inhuman Spectacle
Bear Hands - You'll Pay for This
Tiger Lou - The Wound Dresser
Douglas Dare - Aforger
Marian Hill - One
Gordi - Clever Disguise
Holidae - Tantrum
A Piano In Every Home - North American Review Part I & II
Ed Carlsen - The Journey Tapes
Tycho - Epoch
Little Tybee - Little Tybee
Faint Peter - Redoubt
Top Songs (in no order)
Andy Schauf, "The Magician"
Grouplove, "Enlighten Me"
Sylvan Esso, "Kick Jump Twist"
Many Voices Speak, "Video Child"
Too Many Zooz, "Warriors"
Racing Glaciers, "Sertraline"
Ed Carlsen, "Loose"
BLAJK, "French Class"
Glass Animals, "Life Itself"
Bob Moses, "Tearing Me Up"
Tiger Lou, "Untitled #3"
Father John Misty, "Real Love Baby"
Nick Leng, "Drivers"
Joseph, "White Flag"
Gordi, "Can We Work It Out"
Swimming Tapes, "Souveniers"
FEiN, "Don't You"
PYN, "My Baby"
Phosphene, "Be Mine"
Edward Vanzet, "Everyday"
Best (only) Festival I went to this year:
Basilica Block Party, Minneapolis (The Fray, Death Cab for Cutie, Cold War Kids, Gary Clark Jr., Ryan Adams)
Favorite Publication on:
Bearded Gentleman Music
True Love Waits: How Radiohead Taught Us to be Unconditional (over 2,000 Facebook likes!)
It's a 3-way tie between getting to cover Cantus' Covers concert, Holidae's CD release, and Wingman's debut.
Lucius at First Avenue
The Aural Premonition
Working with Reddening West definitely made 2016 a special year, as well as the time I spent with A Piano in Every Home. Finally publishing words about long-time favorite Lemolo made for an especially satisfying start to the year.
Special thanks to all the musicians, publications and people that made this year possible!
Oye vey. Election day is upon us in America, and the waiting is the worst part. What to do until Wednesday? What better than to focus on than foreign policy... I mean, music. So I've come out of hiatus for a day to help you and help me. I present to you a small selection of my favorite non-American (mostly Canadian and Australian) indie bands and musicians with recent releases. Happy listening!
Many Voices Speak