Local album reviews: Astronomique, Honeydogs, Desdamona, Enemy Planes


Album: Self-Titled
Label: Self-released
Grade: B

There's something so delightfully, unrepentantly throwback-y about the new Astronomique EP, Self-Titled. Their first EP, Burning Stars Fade, had hints of that for sure, but still sounded relatively modern — kind of a synth-dance-Brooklyn-circa-now vibe.

This one ups the post-punk ante by like a 1,000 percent with an ass-ton of magnificently echo-driven guitar/bass interplay. Think: Siouxie and the Cure, with the emphasis on the brighter aspects of those bands rather than the goth, moody ones. Add in some vibes lifted from Cocteau Twins and Lush (always a good thing), plus sharpley danceable beats, and you have an EP pitched squarely at Minneapolis' dream-pop past.

It'd be a pleasant retro trifle if the songwriting wasn't so focused and hook-laden. Standouts include the bouncy, flange-tinged "Masquerade," and the gloriously arpeggiated "Until Daylight," which focuses on jagged keyboards and singer Logan Fongemie's matter-of-factly pretty vocals. And you bet "Like Junkies" is a Local Current radio hit waiting to happen, with its MBV-inspired keyboard riffing.

Downsides: occasionally homogeneous beats (happens to dance records sometimes, what are you gonna do?) and a couple of areas where beat quantization would have helped (it's tough to sound mechanical when things get off a little bit).

On the whole, though, Self-Titled is a fine addition to a psychedelic dream-pop scene that's felt a little dormant and tired lately. Beautiful.


The Honeydogs
Album: Love and Cannibalism
Label: Simon Recordings
Grade: A-

We'd swear that Adam Levy, the Honeydogs songwriter-singer and frontman of half a dozen other bands, is following a mid-'60s album trajectory of late. 

If Our Postmortem by side project And the Professors was his Sgt. Pepper, and the heartbreaking solo album Naubinway was his Big Pink, then Love & Cannibalism is — dunno, Wild Honey? Get Back? One of those beautifully stripped-back soul albums that get by on pure guitar oomph, delicious horn charts, and old-timey rock 'n' roll moxie.

It's good. Like really, really good — one of those records with melodic twists and turns that'll surprise the hell out of you. Just listen to the delightful, totally unexpected chord shifts on "Sandstorm." Rock-wise, "Arguing With Fiction" is about as good as it gets, and damned if "Little Sister" doesn't sound like it belongs on one of Andy Partridge's more down-to-earth LPs. 

Are we still underrating Levy, not putting him up there with the canon of Awesome Minneapolis Musicians alongside Prince and Westerberg? This record should pretty much fix that. There ain't a moment that isn't at least "awesome." Plus there are a handful of utterly transcendent moments ("Wheels" — hoo man, all that George Harrison slide, those horns, and that chorus wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Nilsson album).

The best Honeydogs album? They've got a lotta highlights, but we swear to you Love and Cannibalism is up there with their acclaimed 10,000 Years. And it's even better due to Levy's ever-increasing sophistication and melodic smarts. An absolute masterpiece, top to bottom.

Album: No Man's Land
Label: Zlink Entertainment
Grade: B+

On which the Minneapolis MC demolishes — with a fucking nuclear bomb — the notion that X-chromosome rappers are even one goddamn iota less than their male peers in terms of artistic invention and hardcore delivery.

Doubt it? Take one spin of "The Comeback" and tell us she doesn't spit magnificently. Lyrics: smart, insightful, angry, funny. Flow: heavy, righteous, amazing. And then go ahead and spin the rest of No Man's Land for the "artistic invention" part. The record is an absolute tour de force for Des, showing a massive range of sound — hard funk, smooth/mellow psychedelic soul, and everything in between.

And the title ain't kidding. Apart from producer Big Jess and turntablist Nimo the Hooligan, there aren't any men here. Hooks are delivered by some of the best singers in Minneapolis (the hyper-gifted Lydia Liza fan, the force of nature that is PaviElle French), and the central focus is always Des' amazing rapping. Some of the best hip-hop songs of the year can be found on No Man's Land, including the über-heavy "Year of the Cat" and "Siren Sound," complete with its on-point sampling of Big Brother and the Holding Company. 

It's startling, stunning stuff, and extra props for a terrific album cover featuring paintings, poems, and a gorgeous embossed logo. Just a reminder: This album was made possible by both crowdfunding and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, so keep voting for people who fund amazing art like this, OK?

Enemy Planes
Album: Beta Lowdown
Label: Rock The Cause Records
Grade: A

Hoo boy, Enemy Planes. This record is genuinely something different. In terms of influence, it's tough to place. It's psychedelic, but not in the obvious ways; it has shoegaze elements, but not the usual touchstones like fuzzy guitars and trippy sounds. It's melodic but super mysterious, rockin' but super mellow, avant garde as hell but super listenable.

We're guessing it's that inability to be pigeonholed that won them that Hard Rock Cafe Best Band In The World contest thingy. But those kinds of accolades mean zero without cool records to back them up, and damn straight Beta Lowdown is a cool record.

Jesus, listen to "(O' Ensnared) Swans" to get a hint of what's happening here. It's heavy as hell, but then there's these jingle-jangle guitars, and the singer sort of drags in a weirdly pretty falsetto. Everything sounds intriguingly Lynchian, you know? Nominal hit "Devolver" sort of jangles like an early-'80s REM song. Then it unexpectedly strikes a gothy post-punk melody. Then the whole thing kind of warbles like your favorite Slowdive song.

It's confusing but utterly marvelous stuff, maintaining a truly mysterious and spacey mood throughout. And it can't be really compared to anything else, which is a hell of a thing in 2016, amirite? 


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