"Do you think like Friedrich Nietzsche, and do you smoke weed?"
Neither are necessarily prerequisites to enjoying Daydreaming, the new album from local shoegaze somnambulists Murder Shoes, but a sense of nihilism and a lucid disposition definitely go a long way in wrangling the band's dreary absurdism.
Though Murder Shoes still haven't shed the pitch-black aesthetic that's made them the embittered, with their Minneapolitan take on Best Coast on Daydreaming — out last Friday on Land Ski Records — they've learned how best to scrape some humor from the misery.
"It's hard for me to watch bands who take themselves too seriously," says frontwoman/keyboardist Tessa Weinberg. "We're not cool, and we're not trying to be cool."
Death is a looming spectre, but Murder Shoes have long since reconciled that shunting reality, doing so by spending the last calendar year autodidactically confronting their existential doom. Since their founding in 2014, the surf goths have released two LPs (Cash on Fire and Daydreaming) and two EPs (May's Murder Shoes and July's Little Lost) and recorded a Dropbox full of demos that will live on as a mausoleum of the band's unpolished hangups, break ups, and foreboding thoughts.
The thing about nihilism and lucidity is that the one necessitates the other, and Murder Shoes' have gone to absurd lengths to squash the dread of the human experience. In "Reefer in Pizza," they take a moment from wallowing in an agoraphobic malaise to meow for 16 straight measures.
"We all have a weird absurdist streak," says Derek Van Gieson, who splits writing duties with Weinberg and guitarist/vocalist Christopher White.
"It's like the three branches of government, we try to keep each other in check," adds Weinberg. "It's not all coming from one person or one person's sense of humor, it's all of us and all the emotions all the time."
All three happen to be equally mirthful, existential fools, so that's how their music manifests.That's not to say that Daydreaming is a sad album. Though it contains at least five heartbreak laments ("Bad Reputation," "Secrets," Little Lost," "How Does It Feel," and the title track), the record is the poppiest work the five-piece has laid to wax. Songs like "Your Friend Kimmie" and "Nineteeneightyone" feel like Midwestern takes on Beach House, whereas lead single "Girls Named Benji" is a pop-punk thrust that hearkens back to Pixies and Cocteau Twins.
"I was worried the record was super pop," Van Gieson admits. "Before, we had a nice bit of raunch, but the more we play together, the more we know how to accentuate the stuff. It sounds super pop to me. It's almost a glossy record."
This gussied-up turn was partially achieved by the addition of drummer Elliot Manthey, whose energetic tracking have injected a pleasant energy into their tempo.
"Elliot literally turned us into a pop-punk band," Weinberg says. "People would always say we sound like Mazzy Star before, but he wouldn't let us be Mazzy Star. We gave him an inch, and he took a mile."
One gloomy aspect of Murder Shoes that's been preserved through the recording of Daydreaming is the band's gloomy visuals. Produced by Van Gieson — whose collection Enough Astronaut Blood to Last the Winter is coming out through Fantagraphics — Murder Shoes' album covers and show posters include oppressive, smudgey strokes and figures who gnash and grimace on the canvas. The consistent aesthetic has helped brand Murder Shoes as the type of band you use to fill the void between wakeless mornings and sleepless nights.
"That was my favorite part of being in bands, doing the artwork," Van Gieson says. "I like moody drawings and German expressionism with heavy blacks. I just like bands that have a unified visual identity."
While many bands turn such an identity into a pigeonhole, Murder Shoes' three-pronged writing system has kept them from being too pegged to that identity.
"I don't think we're self-aware," White says. "We're all letting each other be our own thing within the band, and we're all getting better at playing with each other. That just allows us to hone in on a sound that is us. I don't think we're like, 'Uh, I don't think you can play up the neck like that, because that's not how we sound.' It never happens like that."
Working with producer Knol Tate (formerly of Kill Sadie, currently of Askeleton and Deleter), Weinberg, Van Gieson, White, Manthey, and bassist Tim Heinlein cut Daydreaming in a single session. Despite the fact that they have a Terabyte's worth of material and three morose songwriters to draw from, Daydreaming's tight 11-track run was sewn together with an almost intuitive efficiency.
"I think this is a rad album," Weinberg says. "It's funny, it's emotional, and it's very representational of our last year, all our ups and downs and existential crises."
With more assuredness than someone making this claim should muster, she pauses to add: "It's moody, for sure, and that's because we're all naturally moody people."
Murder Shoes album-release show for Daydreaming
With: Daisy Chains and Rupert Angeleyes
When: 9:30 p.m. Tue., Nov. 10
Tickets: $8; more details here.