Hot and Bothered

South Dakota-bred record thief makes great summer breakup album

The rise of the mercury is directly related to juvenile madness. This is why West Side Story was not set in Manitoba in January. When the kids are left with nothing to do but bake, a certain amount of hooliganism must be expected. This is the story of Vicious Vicious's "Here Come Tha Police," a hot-weather jam where kids "twist and shake like snakes in the desert" because what else can they do? Bass and drums thump like they're trying to match the sun beating down on a hundred partying teenagers. With dancing shoes worn through, they shake their heads and yell, "C-c-c-c'mon!"

Vicious Vicious can be boiled down to one Pied Piper to bored high schoolers, Erik Appelwick, who's also one-fifth of Olympic Hopefuls. Over a drippy double-scoop cone at the Lowry Hill Sebastian Joe's, the lanky songwriter wipes chocolate-cinnamon-pretzel ice cream from his upper lip as he talks about summer-inspired criminal activity. His greatest feat of collegiate shenanigans was nicking Buddy Miles's album A Message to the People ("pretty much the dopest stuff ever," appraises Appelwick) from an abandoned car.

"There was this car with a bunch of stuff in it and after a while we figured this person was never coming back," says Appelwick. "It was open and inside were crates full of records. And then there's Buddy Miles with this psychedelic painting of a fat dude with a tall Afro and all these flames coming out of his mouth and these writhing, naked women. There's a volcano and he's wearing an American flag cape. It's slamming party music." Perhaps the last active member of the Message to the People promotional street team, Appelwick also played the album between sets at the 7th St. Entry release party for Don't Look So Surprised (Plexippus Records), Vicious Vicious's second disc.

With respect to summer fruits, Erik Appelwick endorses watermelon
Cameron Wittig
With respect to summer fruits, Erik Appelwick endorses watermelon

Appropriately conceived last summer in the sweltering heat of fellow Olympic Hopeful Darren Jackson's attic, the new album fluctuates between sweaty dance songs and slower numbers cooled by a breeze blowing in from a plastic wading pool. Appelwick insists that most of his songs aren't about summer--but how many Minnesotans patronize beaches, drive-ins, and midways during the off-season months? "They just have a summery feel," he says, adding, "It's kind of hard to write fun songs about winter."

Don't Look So Surprised follows 2002's Blood & Clover, an album commonly categorized as roller-skating music, thanks to its bright and cheesy organ. But the new material shows Appelwick maturing, more or less, from rink rat to life of the party, kicking things off with "It's a Serious Thing," a funky fight with an ex brightened by infectious whoa-oh-ohs. The album revolves around the ubiquitous Jenny, a childhood friend whom the narrator can't seem to shake. In "California Skies," the pair blissfully dreams of trading in rural life for the glamorous heat of a Western metropolis. They bicker over basement games in the sedate "Truth or Dare" (with him stumping for spin the bottle, naturally). But things really come to a head on "Castaways," a modest pop song that's transformed into something deeper and grander by some ambient hum and John Hermanson's string arrangement, the perfect setting for a capsized romance. Behind all the fun and frolic of the album lies the understanding that all-night parties can lead to fatigue-induced confessions and miscommunication.

"If you listen to the first and last songs, the lyrical content isn't really so much about kicking around on the beach and stuff like that, he says. "It's break-uppy kind of stuff."

Appelwick speculates that the album is "maybe PG-13" for its mild adult content, a healthy dose of making out, and some alcohol-blurred vision, nothing too scandalous. When I say that by comparison, Olympic Hopefuls' equally summer-related power pop seems more accessible to a young crowd, Appelwick points out, "Yeah, but half those songs are about drugs." No wonder coming-of-age movies always take place during the summer.

 
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