Sound Check

Best local album of the millennium, so far: The Busy Signals' Baby's First Beats

Signal to Noise

BY DINT OF creativity and good timing, the Busy Signals' forthcoming Baby's First Beats (Sugar Free Records) may be the first great local platter of the 21st Century (cue timpani). But you've likely never heard of the solo artist behind this plural alias, Howard Hamilton III, a former member of local lo-fi pop twiddlers Saucer.

Hamilton sings and plays what the album's credits call "loops, blips, gits, decks, and keys," with backup singing by Kitty Craft (a.k.a. Pamela Valfer, also of the defunct Saucer) and pal Lisa Janssen. The results, set for an early March release, should bring national attention to a local loop-rock loop growing in both size and stature (see Sukpatch's addictive Tie Down That Shiny Wave EP on Grand Royal, and Triangle's forays into clubland).

In a phone interview, Hamilton confirms that he sold his 1963 Ford Falcon for $2,000 in order to purchase an eight-track and a sampler after Saucer split in 1997. He holed up in his bedroom, created a five-song demo, and knocked on doors with the help of Sukpatch singer Chris Heidman. The demo caught the ear of Chicago-based indie Sugar Free Records (home of buttery pop-corn such as Beulah and Wheat), who signed the Busy Signals to a low-pressure deal.

Self-recorded and mixed in House of Hamilton, the nicely packaged Beats is essentially homemade but not the least bit crude. He goofs on mid-Sixties pop; he programs French lounge-rocking beats; he sneaks Casio snippets between samples of children's toys. Subjectwise, the album riffs on the woe-melting wonder of headphones, and meditates on taxidermy, the food chain, and stationery.

Hamilton hasn't exactly made himself available to groupies lately, having spun the odd evening in the Entry, with only tentative steps planned into the performance realm under the name Busy Signals. "I'd rather have people listen to the record," he says. When he does unveil his new material, he says, expect on-the-spot remixing--and karaoke over other artist's music. (Scott Henkemeyer)


Will You Please Turn That Down?

EVEN DIE-HARD CLUBGOERS occasionally lament the fact that you often just can't hear the songs. Between amp distortion, crowd noise, rock theatrics, and the occasional drink spilled down your leg, seeing a favorite band live can be significantly less intimate than spending a Friday night at home with your favorite CD.

Ergo the perfect rock-show remedy: Bryant-Lake Bowl's Noiseless series. Nestled in the wine-and-beer bar's cozy cabaret space, artists drop the rock façades, unplug (or at least turn down), and engage attentive audience members with the closest thing to a show in their living room. "[The format] adds an air of theater, as opposed to a workshop or open mic," says series founder Patrick Whalen. "It's more personal."

After taking last year off, Noiseless returns on February 4 for the first of four consecutive Friday nights. Meshing genres and generations of Minnesota music, the four-year-old series has shown how things that shouldn't work together can--like rapper Slug jamming with Polara percussionist Peter Anderson. February includes sets by Mark Mallman, West Bank blues legend Dave Ray, and Jayhawk Tim O'Reagan. This Friday summons roots rocker Mason Jennings, guitarist Todd Trainer (of Shellac and Brick Layer Cake), and Slug with Eyedea.

What, besides an apparent need for quiet, do these artists have in common?

"It comes down to the song," Whalen says. "It's this weird intersection of commercial culture and this ancient state of communication. But fuck that--let's hope it's fun." (Bill Snyder)


Coming Soon: Satellite K

IT'S BEEN A year since Radio K (KUOM-AM 770) launched Video K on cable-access to fill the gap left by video-free MTV. The show's indie vids still air Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. on Channel 33 in Minneapolis and 9:30 p.m. on the same channel in St. Paul (suburbanites can go to for channel details). Now the station begins a new tradition I hope it clings to: videotaping live performances of, and interviews with, bands that play the studio. Locals Astronaut Wife were suitable guinea pigs: They have the audio and visual allure of Stereolab fronted by three Laetitias (yeah, I'm shallow). On Friday, February 4, the station will screen the Wife segment (along with rarely seen videos by Mark Mallman, The Promise Ring, and L.A. hip hoppers Styles of Beyond) at Intermedia Arts; (612) 871-4444. (Peter S. Scholtes)

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