By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
This is not meant to be an attack on Abercrombie & Fitch. The manic tendency I'm about to describe has proved equally necessary at the Gap, Banana Republic, and countless other retail outlets where perky young things lie in wait behind columns of perfectly folded sweaters, eager to pounce on the casual shopper. You see, when I manage to wander into one of these lairs of fashion altruism, just one thought consumes me: keep moving. I literally don't stop. I trace figure-eights around the racks of boot cut jeans, zigzag through the mounds of pullover fleeces. "No, no, just looking, thanks." And I'm gone.
But even I, in my haste to avoid human contact of the retail kind, would pause for a moment if, for example, I happened to be in a band whose music was the soundtrack to a video on Abercrombie & Fitch's in-store TV. I mean, how could you not? Is this not the type of fleeting ego stroke that every humble, "Oh, I'm just in it for the music" rock musician secretly covets?
Sitting at a center table in a sparsely populated Uptown Bar on a recent evening, the four guys and one shy girl in Robotboy stare at me blankly when I ask this question. For an entire month, Robotboy's catchy garage punk provided the backdrop for a video in which a couple of hot, androgynous Abercrombie & Fitch devotees ride along in an aerial dogfight reenactment--and not a single member of the band bothered to pop in and check it out. How's that?
There's a lot about Robotboy that doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense. This is a band made up of two art directors, an interior designer, a media director, and a fixture and furniture designer, yet their music is devoid of any arty experimentalism or hipper-than-thou indie posturing. This is a band where four of the five members decided to wait until after they got married and had kids to get into this rock 'n' roll business. And this is a band in which everyone has had some degree of formal training on an instrument, albeit not the one they play in the band.
But it's just that sort of unexpected duality that gives Robotboy its appeal. On their recently released second album, And There Was No Future, this Minneapolis-based quintet breaks no new ground with their old-school three-chord punk. Yet nothing is wasted on this release; nothing is tired. What you have here is perfectly sweetened Minneapolis rock in the vein of early Soul Asylum, but with an undercurrent of morbidity that stirs uneasily below the surface.
"The music is sort of a veil," says singer-guitarist David Richardson. "It's melodic and up and fast, and you could lose yourself in it in a happy way, but the songs are about mortality and doing things you wish you hadn't done. Life is pretty fucking good for me, but I still think like it's all going to go away. It tempers everything I look at."
But while Richardson broods in a voice that is more than a little reminiscent of Joey Ramone's, the rest of the band skips along without any pretense of sonic exploration. Guitarist Steve Knapp's jumpy power chords bounce along in the crevices created by Ian Davies's galloping beat. It's Davies's surprisingly tight drum work that lends each song on the album a feeling of nervous insistence, particularly on "Blue," which opens like a bunch of exploding Black Cats. And although some of the Casio-flavored keyboard lines and overly fuzzed guitar solos border on the absurd, they are so innocently melodic that you can't help but bob your head along forgivingly.
It's doubtful that Robotboy will feel slighted by these words, for it's just this sort of simplicity that they aspire to. They see no good reason to muck things up with unnecessary depth and texture or any other such "musicality." Just as there's no good reason to go to Abercrombie & Fitch, regardless of what they're playing on the TV.