Hunting Club trade alt-rock for synth-pop

Mosaic is such different beast
Tony Nelson

The 2013 version of Hunting Club sounds almost nothing like the spiky rock band of three years ago. The Minneapolis quartet didn't have to change to sound distinctive, but they went ahead and reinvented themselves anyway.

"It all started when the band acquired a couple of new instruments," says frontman Eric Pasi of their gradual evolution into an elegant ambient indie-pop outfit. He's surrounded in a St. Paul bar by rotating multi-instrumentalists Kyle and Justin Steen and Jeff Marcovis. "Right from the start we knew we really wanted to screw with the guitar tones. They morphed into a softer and more lead-oriented direction, and I think the change in vocals was really just responding to that."

When Hunting Club burst onto the scene in 2010, their pitch-black self-titled debut's knotty electric guitar lines and complex rhythms evoked the sound of late-'90s Midwestern emo. The album balanced cathartic complex rock anthems with menacing midtempo numbers and slow-burning balladry, and Pasi creepily delivered lyrics like "Finger on the trigger and I feel your pulse/I got your blood on my hands I feel no remorse."

Given the positive critical notices the album received, it's a surprise that Hunting Club's sophomore album, Mosaic, is such a different beast. Shimmering lead lines replace the old serrated-edge rhythm guitars, drum machine pads frequently supplant traditional kits, and Pasi's voice is rendered nearly unrecognizable — and his lyrics occasionally indecipherable — via a newfound focus on falsetto. No remorse.

"There are six recorded versions of a lot of these songs," explains Marcovis, a studio engineer by day who was slated to record Hunting Club and ended up unexpectedly joining the band when their bassist quit just days before the start of the Mosaic sessions. "The initial idea of a song usually wouldn't change, that core guitar or keyboard line, but everything around it would. The emphasis would shift constantly between different instruments over time. Coming in as an outsider, right away I saw they almost approached their songwriting like they were mixing a record. A lot of attention was paid to dynamics."

Split roughly evenly between densely melodic and propulsive synth-pop like earworm single "Double Vision" and warped and woozy come-down ballads, Mosaic had a long gestation period that was essential to its strangely beautiful sound.

"Our credo from the very beginning has been to fuck with the songs as much as possible," offers Pasi, only half-jokingly. "We want to examine them from every angle before we're through writing them. One of our main apprehensions as a band is creative stagnation, so that's why we try so many different things. The instrument-switching is a big part of that. We always want to keep evolving."

Still favoring atypical song structures and a brooding feel — albeit with lighter sonic coloring — Hunting Club readily admit their band isn't for everybody, and they wouldn't have it any other way.

"A lot of albums are so innocuous it's tough to really have an opinion about them," offers Justin Steen to a round of knowing nods from his bandmates as our conversation wraps up. "Mosaic is distinct enough that people will have a reaction one way or the other. Art should evoke a response. I think we made an album that people will either really dig or just not get at all — and that's a good thing."

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