The knock on Minneapolis dream-pop trio ON AN ON is that they can't keep focus.
Their July record, And the Wave Has Two Sides, is a totem of this criticism. Though the record is wistful and flush with blissful tones and movements, the critics were turned off by it's inconsistencies. Paste described the album's sound as "fidgety." Consequence of Sound diagnosed a lack of "clarity of vision," but for vocalist/guitarist Nate Eiesland, ON AN ON's prismatic approach is far from a fault.
"It's just a really wide range that we're trying to function within because the last thing we want to do is box ourselves in," he says ahead of his band's show on Sunday at the Turf Club. "Some people really like things to be exactly the same, but that's not the kind of stuff we're into. It's an honest record, and it's more human that way, because people aren't very consistent. We're just being human and pushing record."
It's a cliche that people contain multitudes, but in the critical realm, it's not about the multitudes you constitute but how well they're packaged. ON AN ON's 2013 debut Give In earned generally favorable reviews as a more unified vision, but And the Wave Has Two Sides was conceived very differently. Eiesland, keyboardist Alissa Ricci, and bassist Ryne Estwing recorded Give In after their previous band Scattered Trees dissolved. Using the pre-booked studio time for that band, the three went into the studio and gave themselves to the moment, multi-tracking each song and piecing them back together.
"We recorded those songs on Give In without ever actually playing them together," Eiesland says. "That whetted our appetites for tracking something in a more old school way."
The songs on And the Wave Has Two Sides don't try to bottle the same lightning. They were conceived over two years of touring and recorded in vivo to provide a more natural live show experience. And when you're trying to create an album that can live in any situation, you meander down many pathways to get there.
For better or worse, this is the root of the record's varied feel.
"It wasn't super precise, but it was awesome, because it's just like people in a room actually making these noises," Eiesland says. "We wrote with that in mind. It would've been easy to make another Give In, but that's not what's going to keep us playing shows for another two years. and, you know, to thine own self be true."
Listening to any one song off And the Wave Has Two Sides out of context can be misleading. Just try the album's lead singles — "Drifting" and "It's Not Over." The former gives the impression that ON AN ON are a sort of moody Fleet Foxes takeoff, whereas the latter conjures Duran Duran and Top 40. This demarcation is driven home further by the songs' videos — "Drifting"'s interpretation is pensive and melancholy, and "It's Not Over" features lovers chasing each other in a comical Maze Runner homage. Fidgety? Arguably. Unclear? Perhaps, but And the Wave Has Two Sides was created with duality in mind — just check the title.
That's not to say the album was assembled without any direction. The tracklist was whittled down from the over 30 songs the band recorded, with "Icon Love" the being lush, masterful centerpiece. Though songs on the album range in topic from military technophobia ("Wait For The Kill") to a psilocybin-laced adventure in Lake Superior ("Stay the Same"), Eiseland, Ricci, and Estwing deliberately forced these seemingly incongruous pieces together.
"From my perspective, it's a cohesive piece because sequencing is really important to us," Eiseland says. "I like that there's some room for misinterpretation, misunderstanding. It's just all the more human to me."
The misunderstanding of ON AN ON traces all the way back to their origin story. As Scattered Trees, the threesome was always billed as being from Chicago, where they formed and rehearsed until breaking up in 2012. ON AN ON is still commonly cited as hailing from the Second City, something that Brainerd native Eiseland would like to demystify. And as ON AN ON continue to make bigger, more diverse sounds, Eisland hopes that the Twin Cities will have the lucidity to recognize ON AN ON as one of their own.
"We've always been from Minneapolis, it was just a little false start," he says. "For years, we've been living in South Minneapolis just trying to make good music, and finally it feels like people are accepting us as the local band that we are."
ON AN ON
With: Eliot Sumner, AATS.
When: 8 p.m., Sept. 25.
Where: Turf Club
Tickets: $12-$14; more info here.
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