Picked to Click 2009: Red Pens voted Twin Cities' best new band

Celebrating the 10 winners of this year's best-new-bands poll

Steve McPherson is a musician, freelancer writer, and Gimme Noise contributor. He pens a weekly column, "Point of Departure," about the local jazz and experimental scene.

8. Whitesand/Bandlands

photo: Jay Givens

Andy Larson of Whitesand/Badlands shows no signs of slowing down

2009 Winner, Red Pens
Nick Vlcek
2009 Winner, Red Pens

by Joe Nelson

When I first saw Andy Larson perform, I was 14 years old and he frightened me. Playing with his apocalyptic post-punk trio the Vets—probably one of the loudest bands in the history of Twin Cities rock—Larson had a vein-bulging intensity that I had never experienced from any live musician. A surface-level listen to his newest group, Whitesand/Badlands, might suggest that he's mellowed out. Catch a handful of the band's too-infrequent live shows, however, and you may find yourself rethinking the concept of musical intensity altogether.

After the dissolution of his two previous groups, the Vets and Cave Deaths, Larson was ready for something new. "It's no fun to repeat yourself," he told me on a recent Monday evening during a break from band practice. "You might as well at least try to do different stuff, push yourself in different directions." To that end, the initial lineup of Whitesand/Badlands—which reunited Larson with two previous collaborators, former Vets drummer Ryan Parsons and Cave Deaths multi-instrumentalist Holly Habstritt, along with Huge Rat Attacks bassist Casey Holmgren—explored more contemplative, understated, and melodic territory.

Songs were built from chord progressions and arpeggios on alternate-tuned electric guitars, textured by Habstritt's trumpet and Rhodes piano, anchored by Holmgren's steady low end, and overlaid with Larson's distinctively keening and often harmonized melodies. I could use a number of familiar terms—atmospheric, ominous, hazy—to describe the result, and a comparison with literal badlands might be apt, too. But this would fail to capture Whitesand/Badlands' greatest assets: their use of rhythm and mastery of momentum.

Playing standing up and without a bass drum, Parsons undercuts the relative placidity of the rest of the group with busy, propulsive lines, making the rhythm section a study in maximalist/minimalist contrast. The songs, never surging past mid-tempo, are at once restrained and rushing, with simultaneous tension and release. This is a different kind of intensity, one that comes not just from aggression and volume, but from meticulous and engrossing composition. It's a testament to the impression these songs leave on a live audience that Whitesand/Badlands made it into this issue with no Myspace page, no record out, after a months-long hiatus, and without playing live very often; I myself have only seen them three times over the past 16 months, and I was seeing them every chance I got.

When Habstritt and Parsons left the Twin Cities in mid-2009, Larson and Holmgren had no interest in dissolving the group altogether. "One thing I wanted to do with this band was not have it beholden to certain people," Larson said. "That way it wouldn't have to crack and disassemble itself because of different membership. Instead you get to find different intricacies in the songs." The new and expanded Whitesand/Badlands lineup is a worthy successor to the original, with Katie Grillaert on full-time second guitar and vocals, Steve Earnest on Rhodes and guitar, and another ex-Vets drummer, the always-impressive Adam Patterson, on full drum kit. The band will soon be playing out behind songs from their as-yet-unreleased debut LP, and have already begun writing new material.

The outlook from the reconstituted band is optimistic. "I want to do some stuff going forward where, despite the fact that we have five people, we can all shrink back and play minimally. More people doesn't necessarily have to mean louder," Larson said. "There's a lot of possibilities."

Joe Nelson is co-editor of local music zine TEVS. This Whitesand/Badlands interview was conducted with the help of fellow TEVS co-editor Ezra Silver.

9. Double Bird

photo: Nick Vlcek

Getting to the bottom of the band name of The Double Bird, esquires

by Erin Roof

The Double Bird's résumé reads like a list of what's hot in the Twin Cities music scene. The trio claims membership in France Has the Bomb, Private Dancer, Building Better Bombs, Total Fucking Blood, Falcon Crest, Superhopper, and even more groups—giving them the chance to pound and strum their way across the entire spectrum of rock 'n' roll. And even with busy concert schedules, and somehow finding the time to work their "real" jobs, Pete Biasi, Ben Ivascu, and David Storberg are now stomping their dirty punk-rock shoes all over our cities with their new venture.

I caught up with the Double Bird (also known as: the Double Bird, esquires) at the Hexagon recently to talk about schedules, shenanigans, and the next big thing.

City Pages: How many bands are you in?

David Storberg: I'm only in one other band.

Pete Biasi: I think I'm in officially three bands with Ben. And then I have a couple other bands I play in, not counting the Double Bird.

CP: Oh, is it the Double Bird?

Biasi: I prefer it that way, but it's not an official thing. It's dealer's choice. As long as it has "Double Bird" in there somewhere.

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