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By Emily Weiss
The Blind Shake want to get straight to the point. When they do, they want their instruments to do the talking.
"If you have something important to say, and there's a lot of words involved in saying so, just type someone an email," baritone guitarist Mike Blaha says matter-of-factly. He and his bandmates—brother Jim on guitar and Dave Roper on drums—are seated on the patio outside Grumpy's downtown, where they just finished a month-long residency. None of them are having anything to drink, not even water. "There are a lot of better ways than music for communicating long ideas. If you have a short idea, do a couple lyrics, a couple riffs, and there it is. Go home."
It's a simple credo, but one that the Minneapolis trio has honed to near-perfection in their 10-year existence. They tackle punk music with a lockstep precision, filter it through hardcore and garage rock, and dish it out with an oversized sound that, at its core, is as minimalist and no-nonsense as possible. It's the perfect recipe for a killer live show and, indeed, the Blind Shake are one of the must-see live acts in the Cities.
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"Every band worth its salt should be good live, or better live than they are recorded," insists Jim, tapping his index finger on the table in front of him. Blind Shake shows are usually fast and furious, with little banter or decorum, although there's been plenty of crashing about and broken instruments by the time they're finished. "If someone says, 'I still like them better live,' that's a compliment," Mike says. "If they said, 'I like them better recorded,' I'd be hurt by that."
Seriousness, the band's new full-length, is their best attempt yet to translate that energy onto record, and, not surprisingly—as they themselves declare—it's also their best record. The album clocks in at less than 30 minutes with 13 tracks, so the songs flash by in roughly a minute and a half apiece. "We wrote 25 to 30 songs for this album.... When you're writing a lot of songs you have a lot of ideas for other songs," explains Mike. There wouldn't appear to be much room for deliberation in such an approach, but that doesn't mean it isn't spontaneous: "There's always a song that makes the album last-second. And it winds up being one of our favorites on the record."
Lead single "Hurracan" sets the pattern for the rest of the album, its wiry surf-rock riff wound tightly around a driving backbeat while the lyrics spin off of a deliberately nonsensical catchphrase. "Sold My Beatle A" somehow manages to speed things up, while the title track is sheer heaviness, the sort of sludgy, grinding wall of sound that Blind Shake ought to have the patent on by now. Even when they break out an acoustic guitar on the nimble finale, "Hand Me Down," the ricocheting notes prove every bit as ominous as their loudest moments. It's further evidence, too, that the band can put together an album's worth of songs that build off one another (much like a live set, surprise, surprise) without ever sounding monotonous.
The focus and cohesion of Seriousness owes some debt to the band's kindred spirit and longtime hero, Michael Yonkers. They've collaborated with the Minneapolis noise-rock pioneer multiple times in recent years and have a new album, Period, due out in the fall, along with a documentary. The collaborations with Yonkers have not only helped the trio get more comfortable in the studio but also, as Mike explains, explore their own music more confidently. "There's a groovier side that he brings out in us, in a weird way, so Jim maybe has more noise-experiment stuff. Then when we go back to doing our own thing, we've already done the groovy thing, so let's keep the noise."
With Seriousness set for an official launch this weekend at the Hexagon, the Blind Shake can get back to doing what they love best as they head out on tour. Despite their reputation locally, their following may well be stronger in other parts of the country, especially the West Coast, where fans make a habit of seeing them each time they visit.
"We're in a happy place," Mike says cheekily, then pauses. He throws his hands up and adds with a laugh, "Now cut to the next scene and we're all going off the cliff...."
THE BLIND SHAKE play a CD-release show with Chambermaids, Is/Is, and the Sundowners on SATURDAY, JULY 9, at the HEXAGON BAR; 612.722.3454