Lookbook's young hearts run free

Dance-pop duo headlining First Avenue for the first time

Morrison's vocals are almost impressionistic, with reverb and echo effects softening the edges of her voice and blending it elegantly into the accompanying slow-burning synth and distorted guitar parts, at times drawing the sparse background parts out so cinematically that the album transitions from pop songs to ambient music.

The closing track is so spare that the under-five-minute song is bookended by eight or nine minutes of crickets chirping, at times getting so quiet that it's easy to forget that the record is even playing.

Their full-length, Wild at Heart, in contrast, is a dance record. The pace is quickened, the beats are thicker and more filled out, and Morrison's lyrics, though still occasionally dark and contemplative, have a more playful tone. The tracks on Wild at Heart are still staples of Lookbook's live show, with tracks like "Over and Over," "Yesterday's Company," and "True to Form" becoming crowd favorites and entering into heavy rotation on local radio stations. While I Fear You, My Darkness was an explorative record, and saw Cutler and Morrison still adjusting to each other musically, Wild at Heart was more of a finished product, a triumph at the end of more than a year of searching for their sound.

With their next record already in the works, Cutler says they are making another leap in sound. He pulls up a new track and plays the opening line, a looped guitar part that is warped and bent so far out of shape that it sounds as if it's being played backward, while a booming, whooshing current of feedback persists underneath.

"All those sounds are actually mostly manipulated guitar sounds," Cutler explains. With a few clicks, he peels back the layers of effects he has added to the guitar parts with computer software (a program called Ableton Live) and brings the song down to its most basic elements, two different, equally plain and methodic electric guitar parts. "In this song there are two guitar tracks," he says, then clicks a few more times to layer the computerized effects back in, twisting the beat and bringing back the echoing roar. "The main thing that this is built around is that big 'zhuuuu zhuuuu zhuuuu.' Our whole album is going to sound like that, pretty much. Big, growing zhhh zhh zhhh sounds the whole time. I'm really into that."

"So all the music is like an accident waiting to happen?" Morrison asks, watching Cutler tinker with the software's effects.

"It's not an accident, it's all about experimenting and using new sounds—because everything is so boring now. Sounds in music, I mean. It's nice to make new things that people haven't heard, because everybody knows what a guitar sounds like, and who cares anymore? I don't."

THE NEXT NIGHT, hunkered down in a small studio space in northeast Minneapolis, Morrison and Cutler are hard at work laying down the tracks for their forthcoming LP. Almost everyone in the studio is shoeless. Morrison has kicked off her black-fringed moccasin boots and is padding around in bright pink socks, while Cutler lounges barefoot, and co-producers Joe Johnson and Matt Masurka, who is more commonly known by his DJ name Gigamesh, listen intently to Morrison's most recent vocal take.

Morrison fills a glass with whiskey and pages through a notebook full of lyrics, crossing out lines and scrawling notes in the margins, wincing as she listens to her voice falter slightly on the recording that's playing overhead.

Cutler knows just what to do.

"Here's what you're going to do this time," he tells Morrison. "You're not singing this from a studio. You're singing this from a mountaintop."

Morrison grins and nods, walking back into the recording booth and positioning herself in front of the mic. As she slides on a pair of headphones, Cutler continues his mystical narrative, coaching Morrison with images of open pastures, mountain peaks, and beams of space laser light.

"I made Maggie a good singer," Cutler tells me later. "Nobody knows that. Nobody had ever given her any direction before."

In contrast to her more experimental performances with Digitata, where she collaborated with producer Ryan Olson (most recently of Gayngs and Marijuana Deathsquads) and drummer Drew Christopherson, Morrison's vocal work with Lookbook is increasingly focused. Though she still occasionally lets out one of her trademark yelps between verses, she has veered away from the pops and screeches that marked her earlier work and developed a more controlled, soulful delivery style.

As the night in the studio wears on and the whiskey flows, Morrison loosens up, pushing her voice and trying a different style with each take.

"I used to do all of her vocal tracking myself," Cutler says. "I would give her a shot of Jameson before each take, and by the seventh take it would get really good," he says, laughing.

Morrison decides that it feels too unnatural to sing into a mic that is suspended from the ceiling, so before long she has removed the mic from its holster, clutching it with both hands like she does at live shows. A few minutes later, she tears off the mesh guard separating the mic from her mouth, then drops to her knees and shuts the lights off, bending down to the ground and singing until her voice goes hoarse.

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