Altered States

IT'S A WARM autumn Saturday night at the Music Box Theatre on Nicollet Avenue, and the band February is making the most vivid statement of its short career. It's the CD-release party for February's full-length debut Tomorrow is Today (Carrot Top), and the band's hard ambient-guitar music rises against a battery of lights and multimedia effects, turning this cavernous, vaudevillian chamber into a polychromatic ocean of sound. As concerts go, it's therapeutic. Few rock bands--local or other--can create such a unity of place, atmosphere, and sound without losing sight of the impromptu chaos of raw pop music.

"It was everything we ever wanted to do, ever, all in one night," laughs singer Amy Turany, kicking back in the band's rehearsal space. The artistic catharsis might have been inevitable as well: Here's a band of four focused, tightly knit individuals who have consistently displayed a fully realized vision for themselves and their music. Their 1994 demo (recorded when February was three months old and two members were in their teens) was the blueprint for the dancey-trancey minirevolution in local music that would briefly go by the now-reviled industry tag, "dream-pop." But it was February's live electricity that set them apart, and almost instantaneously drew crowds to their earliest gigs.

"Everything fell into place when we first played together," says bassist Steve Saari. "To this day, part of me thinks, 'God, we're pretty sloppy.' And yet we all innately know how to cover up for each other."

February has always seemed a powerfully female band, which does not really refer to Turany's fine vocal sheen, or even the willfully emasculated boys in the band, who regularly perform in skirts, berets, and/or glitter makeup. Musically, as in person, they're just not very, uh, patriarchal about things. They barely qualify as a guitar band in the traditional sense: Manic guitarist Damien Neubauer stays away from rock's phallocentric guitar clichés, and, in watching him play, it's not clear that the guy knows about things like chords and keys. He just plugs into a dozen pedals and processors, and plays intuitively, organically. It's bassist Saari and drummer Todd Reubold who provide the musical plot points. The sound that emerges envelops you in womb-like safety, even as Neubauer flails about.

Though February has been stigmatized as a "mellow" group, they're at their best when cranking up the tempo and volume. In a few ballads, the melodies are too wispy and formless, the gravity too abstract; the listener descends too far, from a vivid dream state into deep, void-like slumber. And, despite its initial blast, "Hit Me," Tomorrow is Today takes its time waking up. Yet, the last two-thirds of the hour-long record are flawless. As it gains momentum the band proves it can work wonders with ambience, especially on the album-ending trio of six-minute knockouts: particularly "Rue Mouffetard," a love song that hits every sustained note perfectly; and the symphonic "Peacock," which comes down like a choir of angels.

Then there's the spellbinding "Pulse," perhaps the first drum'n'bass/pop hybrid ever to come out of Minnesota--and with a live drummer, no less. It's the backbone to a body of electronic experimentation that appears throughout the record. The new direction took root in a long backstage conversation Reubold had with the drummer in Everything But the Girl, which inspired February's drummer to supplant the band's relatively thin percussion sound. "I watched that guy play," says Reubold. "He's playing drum'n'bass, he's playing jungle, he's doing it live. I thought: 'It's possible, I can do this.'"

In short, it's all the sound of February's drive to stay vital, which often works itself out through a self-critical cycle of crisis and creation--or creation through crisis. And while the band admits that bad timing on that cycle marred the recording of their 1996 EP, Even the Night Can't Tell You From a Star, it evidently worked to their advantage in sculpting Tomorrow is Today.

"People think that we're always so happy and sometimes we're not. And we draw from that," says Saari, who plays the philosophical role to match the singer's charisma, the guitarist's mania, and the drummer's intensity. "Sometimes we want to quit the band, but it becomes a way of rebirthing itself. It feels perfect when we play--but the idea that perfect doesn't really exist is what we put across. That's the beauty of it: the spontaneity."

February performs Friday at the 400 Bar; call 332-2903.

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