Picked to Click 2013

The 23rd installment of Picked to Click, or when the rappers took over

GRRRL PRTY have an ongoing residency at Icehouse. The nights have incorporated other local female rappers, including BdotCroc and the Lioness, but they're also teasing clues about their forthcoming debut full-length. The latest is a single called "Night Watch." Get into the GRRRLs now before the PRTY gets a lot bigger.

Thousands of bands form at colleges every year, but only a scant few are serious enough to grow up to be MGMT (Wesleyan) or Vampire Weekend (Columbia). But the indie-rock foursome Carroll, named after the street they lived on while studying at Macalester, made a solid first step with their debut EP,Needs. With their tightly constructed hooks, reflective synths, and Brian Hurlow's sensitive yet elusive missives, these five songs were a precocious introduction.

"For all the smart and talented people who go to that school, there are a lot of people who talk about the things they want to do and don't do them," says guitarist Max Kulicke, while relaxing on an outdoor patio with his bandmates. "What was so appealing about this project was it was three people who I knew had talent and skill, but who were also trying to actually go out and execute."

Judging by the mariachi wafting gently in the background and the tacos and beers everywhere, Carroll must be having a band meeting. Every Tuesday evening, recent Mac grads Kulicke ('11), vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Brian Hurlow, drummer Charlie Rudoy, and bassist Charles McClung (all '12) organize at El Paraiso on Nicollet to talk shop. "Shop" can be a pretty loose term, however. In less than an hour, tangents jump to Stevie Wonder, Lorde, Michael Jackson, Sharon Van Etten, Radiohead, Rush, Mac DeMarco, and Benjamin Britton, but usually back to Carroll.

At the moment, there's a split at the table regarding the virtues of pop songwriting. Hurlow says he never shied from it, but Kulicke admits a heavy blues past.

"Part of writing a really good pop song, an attribute of someone who does that — let's take Carroll for example — our EP is like shimmery pop compared to the darkness of what's coming out now," chatty Rudoy says in between laughs and sips of his beer. "But because at the end of the day we are guys who create pop music, we bring that element even when we're writing Deerhunter-inspired shoegazey mud. We can't help but craft it in the most deliberate way."

Nearly everything about these guys feels deliberate. They booked their first tour themselves and recently demoed new songs at a cabin in Wisconsin. About 10 tracks are in the works, and they're mum regarding the respected producer they're working with. "Definitely not Rick Rubin," says Kulicke. But they insist they just don't want to jinx it until it's set in stone.

What Carroll can't hold in is a palpable, four-headed excitement for their next deliberate move. Rudoy volunteers, "These songs are the sound of the four of us living together, eating together, traveling together, and crying together." They all laugh again, but nod in agreement.

Frankie Lee comes offa lot like a drifter and a wanderer in the mold of Woody Guthrie — riding the rails with the clothes on his back and a guitar in hand. He sure looks the part, with his cowboy hat, scraggly blond beard, worn jean jacket, and work boots. But the truth is altogether different. For Lee and his music, it's all about finding a real and permanent place in the world.

"My first memories," says Lee, "are of being outside, and of farms." He grew up mostly in Stillwater but spent his earliest years on a dairy farm in Prescott, Wisconsin. "There was a big front porch and you had a beehive and the food was homemade," he recalls. "My mom still has a piano, and every time I go out there, we play music."

Lee — who performs under his middle name rather his last name, Peterson — has spent most of his adult life working to rediscover, and keep connected with, those experiences. When he was 20, he moved to Austin, Texas, a place that reassured him such a life was still possible. "It was like going to music school for free — or for five bucks a night," he says. "Everybody plays, everybody sings [there]. There's no separation between a mom at a piano and a band in a bar."

After spending seven years in Austin and another two in Los Angeles, playing mostly as a sideman, Lee returned to Minnesota in 2010. Last spring, when he released his first EP, a collection of weathered, country-tinged folk songs, he called it Middle West — an ode to John Steinbeck's Travels with Charlie. Even then, he was intent on playing music and living life on his own terms. Lee waited more than a year to release the songs after they'd been recorded. "The way those songs were played, and the way I'd written them, they seemed like songs that would last. I said, 'Let's live with it a little bit.'"

Indeed, there's a timeless quality to the songs that Lee writes, songs that aim to break through any given moment to hit at the heart of something that's both larger and more intimate in our lives. "Everything to me is a story. Wherever you're coming from, you're trying to connect that story to people," Lee insists, motioning with his hands as though pushing a toy train. "Everybody knows what it's like to be lonely, everybody knows what it's like to be in love or to want to be in love," he adds. "I want to be a link in that chain, I don't want to be outside of it."

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