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
It all started with a wedding gig. When Andrew Broder's best friend tied the knot in 2008, it brought together all former members of cryptic art-rockers Fog. Together for the first time in five years, frontman Broder, drummer Martin Dosh, bassist Mark Erickson, and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker had a decidedly different set of musical marching orders.
"We were told to only play Tom Petty and Creedence Clearwater Revival," recalls Dosh, seated on the Icehouse patio alongside Broder and Erickson. "We ended up having a blast, and it was an important step in the realization of this new band."
Inspired by the loose and rollicking gig, the reunited friends began crafting viscerally charged post-punk under a new moniker reflective of their ascendant aggression: the Cloak Ox. The antithesis of the obtuse, sample-driven work of Fog, the band's thorny debut EP, Prisen, kept the pedal to the metal. Equally raucous gigs cemented the group as a local scene lynchpin, and they topped the City Pages Picked to Click poll in 2011. Rather than ride the buzz, they went into hiding for nearly 18 months, reemerging with a full-length album, Shoot the Dog, that finds the restless quartet expanding upon their formerly primal sound.
The Cloak Ox open for Why? on Friday, October 4, at Fine Line Music Cafe; 612-338-8100
"Andy is maybe the only person I've ever known that's gotten younger the longer I've known him," says Erickson, only half-joking. "When I met him he acted like an old man. Now it's 12 years later and he actually seems younger. [Fog's 2003 album] Ether Teeth sounds like some weird outsider artist that's been around for a long time. There's a more youthful energy to the music now. I think the ideas are as complex as they've always been, we're just putting them out there with more verve."
"It all started off real casual, just sort of dipping our toes back into the water," recalls Broder. "I realized pretty quickly that just isn't very fulfilling to me. By the time we started working on this album we were definitely ready to expand the sound and work a bit harder."
Shoot the Dog manages a nifty trick, retaining the electrifying immediacy of the Cloak Ox's initial efforts while incorporating a wide range of keys, strings, hand percussion, and horns. The album's nine tracks include a gnarly, nine-minute dirge called "Yesterday's Me," the prickly garage-rock nugget "Talking Big," and a funky orchestral-pop exploration in "King Rope." Tying it all together is Broder's increasingly robust singing voice. Having heard him croak in the shadows for most of Fog's existence, it's hard to believe it's the same guy now commanding the spotlight with a distinctive tenor that boldly floats into falsetto terrain.
"I didn't really enjoy singing on those early Fog records," admits Broder. "I figured out my own little way to do it, but I wasn't what I would consider good. Singing is the thing that people relate to most in songs, and the music is usually meant to propel that. So becoming a better singer has certainly changed the way I write songs."
No strangers to the national indie-music spotlight through their members' various sideman gigs with Why? and Andrew Bird, the Cloak Ox appear set to make a run at similarly sizable fame. Singles debuted in major music media and high-profile guests like Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe are blogger catnip. Primed to hit the road for their first national tour, Broder sounds unabashedly enthused about the recent abrupt turns in his musical journey.
"I never left music but I kind of feel like music left me," admits Broder of the fallow years between Fog's 2007 swan song Ditherer and Cloak Ox's birth. "I was making music but I didn't have any ground beneath my feet. I feel young with music again now. I know where my ideas are coming from and where I want to take them. That's exciting."