The 14 Twin Cities college bands you need to hear
Gimme Noise's fondest memories from college aren't set in $100 million athletic centers or on perfectly manicured lawns, but rather in dingy basements and coffee shop stages. The student music scene has always made big contributions to the Twin Cities as a whole -- local immortals like the U of M's (for a year anyway) Bob Dylan and Macalester's Hüsker Dü started playing while at school. Now, the next generation of well-educated Minnesota musicians are ready to take over.
We've assembled a list of 14 of the best bands to come out of this cultural crucible in recent years. Whether you're still holed up in the library or reminiscing on your glory years, these scholarly musicians are sure to expand your worldview and broaden your horizons -- or at least give you something cool to listen to on a Friday night.
14. Regional Dialect
College connection: Drummer Alyse Emanuel is a sophomore at Hamline and lead singer Mathias Hertel is a student at St. Paul College.
Alyse Emanuel is a triple-major Sophomore at Hamline -- Religion, Music, and Studio Art -- with an unofficial concentration in drumming for bands all over Minnesota. She started working the skins with Regional Dialect last summer after seeing them at a show and asking if they needed a drummer. This fits with how the soul mavens at Regional Dialect operate -- they're know for their frequent collaborations, including occasionally backing Sophia Eris of The Chalice. The sound is a soulful swing with a twist of hip-hop and blues, and Hertel's voice has the depth and smoothness of a good whiskey as he pours two fingers of his heart over the mic. Regional Dialects will head back to the studio soon, and you can catch them next on February 23 at Memory Lanes.
Check out Regional Dialect here.
13. The Premiums
College connection: Bassist Alex Hamberger graduated from the U of M last May.
"It was kind of like a long-distance relationship," Hamberger says of the early days of funk masters the Premiums. Hamberger and drummer Brett Miller knew each other from high school outside of Milwaukee, but went their separate ways for college -- Hamberger to the U of M, Miller to UW Oshkosh where he met the rest of the band. Members of the Premiums would frequently commute between the two states before the Oshkosh cohort moved to Minneapolis in an RV called "The Groove Thang" in fall 2011. The band had settled in enough to release a self-titled EP last November. The Premiums bring a truly funky sound that gets people on their feet and dancing, mixing high energy rhythms from Jamaica to Motown. The charms of the Premiums aren't lost on the band themselves. "I actually can't help myself, you know," Hamberger said. "I'll get really into it and then be like 'oh shit, I'm still playing.'" The band is currently trying to hammer out some Twin Cities gigs, but in the meantime be on the lookout for a new release sometime this fall.
Check out the Premiums here.
12. The Mystery Train
College connection: The band are all recent graduates or seniors at McNally Smith.
Americana rockers the Mystery Train have roots in a house near McNally Smith now called the Elephant Graveyard (previously the 108 house), where lead singer Simon Brooks and drummer Colin Wilkinson lived for a time before graduating in Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 respectively. The band would host frequent house shows there, building up to their first self-titled EP release last March. The Mystery Train is what Johnny Cash would sound like if he'd gotten into punk in his 20s, and they're liable to mess up your floor with all the stomping the crowd will get up to. Brooks is like a rockabilly David Byrne -- though they sound nothing alike, both are fully willing to embrace and exploit all the weirdness in their voices to great effect. The band performs next at the Acadia on March 7. They expect to release a new 7" some time this summer.
Check out The Mystery Train here.
College connection: Lead singer Andrew Ranallo graduated from the U of M in 2007, and bassist Blake Pederson briefly attended the same year.
Nallo may not be the newest band on this list, but their style is certifiably fresh. The band plays a unique fusion of a garage band's raw simplicity and carefully crafted elements of spacy psychedelic pop. Basically, imagine an alien race setting up a four piece in your basement -- though that might be overstating the oddness a little. "It sounds a lot more normal to us then it does to other people," guitarist Ronnie Lee said. Normal, maybe, but not ordinary. Nallo perform at Cause on March 22, and will be releasing their 7" Drugs for the Kids at the Hexagon on April 6.
Check out Nallo here.
10. The Velveteens
College connection: Drummer and singer Kiera Coonan is a current student at MCTC, where guitarist Jonny Holupchinski was a student last year.
Like members of many of the bands on this list, Coonan and Holupchinski met in high school and have played together for years. Their current garage girl group the Velveteens didn't start to take its current shape until they met co-conspirator bassist Jillian Schroeder through Minneapolis's DIY scene in 2009. That aesthetic carries through the band's work, which is raw and self-made while still remaining charming and fun in their laments of modern love. As you can hear on their self-released and self-titled cassette tape, put out last spring, the Velveteens used to go for a retro doo-wop sort of sound, but since we last spoke with them they've started to move away from an early 1960s cafeteria dance and closer to a mid-1980s cul-de-sac garage. They're playing next on February 21 at the Cedar for a show to promote Macalester's student radio station WMCN, along with list-mates Carroll, Bad Bad Hats, and Is Home Is. They will be joined by Macalester prog-metal outfit Maeth. If you can't get enough, they're playing the next night at Eagles Club 34 for The Dust Buns' tape release.
Check out The Velveteens here.
9. Total Trash
College connection: Singer Jessica Katz is a senior at the U of M, and bassist Joel Gomez is a graduate student there. Guitarist Dustin McChesney graduated from MCAD and drummer Jared Sather graduated from Augsburg.
"Punk rock, minneapolis, no bullshit." It's probably somewhat blasphemous for us to go beyond what Total Trash writes about itself on Facebook, so we'll try to keep the Pitchforkese in check for this one. Total Trash started with Katz and McChesney bought 100 blank cassette tapes last year and set out to fill them. That led to their debut self-titled release last summer. It's pretty much exactly what it says on the tin -- songs built around Black Flag influenced riffs that stay in your head for days and a spastic energy always searching for destruction. "We're trying to express as much rage and passion as possible in under a minute," Katz said. No bullshit. You can experience Total Trash at the Rathole on February 25 or at the release show for their new tape You Don't Try at 7th Street on March 14.
Check out Total Trash here.
College connection: The band met at St. Thomas.
The seeds of Asker were planted in fall 2010 when lead singer Alex Rollins met guitarist Jack Vondrachek in freshman Theology -- call it divine inspiration. The band plays with the poise of industry vets, creating perfectly-executed indie rock with a moody and personal edge. Their polished yet emotional sound scored them a record deal with Nashville's Schematic records this summer, sending them to Tennessee to lay down tracks a week after finals ended. The band is currently taking time off from school to tour and record. They'll swing through the Twin Cities for a homecoming gig at 7th Street Entry on April 27, and their first full album should drop sometime this fall. Though all three are still technically enrolled at St. Thomas, the band is already looking towards the next phase in their career. Rollins summed up their big ambitions, saying "I hope I don't have to go back, honestly." From what we're hearing, they might not have to.
Check out Asker here.
7. Is Home Is
College connection: Is Home Is graduated from Macalester last December.
The artist formally known as the Olsen Twinns, a.k.a Mickey Davis, has been featured on Gimme Noise before. Since then, he's released his sophomore album Found Things, toured the West Coast, graduated from college and landed a job in Des Moines. You could say he's been busy. Davis dropped the original name after receiving a, quote, "really nice" letter from the former tween idols' publicist last November. Though the name may be different, Davis remains the quintessential electronic music composer. No sound or rhythm seems out of place, and the dense and complex grooves never feel cluttered or overproduced. Is Home Is comes back to town on February 21 at the Cedar. Davis is currently in the process of choosing a label for his third album, planned to be released sometime this spring.
Check out Is Home Is here.
College connection: Bassist and vocalist Mitch Schooler graduated from the U of M last semester.
Nerves is the product of high school friends Sam Lewis and Char Nolan, but they didn't become fully formed as a band until March 2011, when they started playing live shows around the Twin Cities. They put out a self-titled EP on January 25 that showcases what they're about, and what they're about is weird experimental metal that still kicks you in the face. Citing influences from jazz to shoegaze, Nerves creates some seriously intricate progressive mental that never gets so wrapped up in its layers and build-up that it forgets to form one kick-ass whole. The band expects to release a full length album sometime next year, and you can see them next in the Twin Cities on March 23 at the Hexagon.
Check out Nerves here.
5. Bad Bad Hats
College connection: Lead singer and guitarist Kerry Alexander and drummer Chris Hoge graduated from Macalester last May, and bassist Noah Boswell is a current student.
It seems we can't get enough of Bad Bad Hats in recent weeks. And we're not the only ones: their most recent EP It Hurts, available for free via Afternoon Records, has been on everyone's ears since its release on January 28. Songwriting and recording duo Alexander and Hoge recorded their first song together to enter Macalester's 2012 Battle of the Bands. Mac has played a big role in the band's history, and Hoge is helping to keep the scene going with his recording project Sea Prime Demos, where he's recorded several artists from his alma mater. Bad Bad Hats, joined by Boswell at gigs and in brainstorming sessions, perfectly straddles the line between sock-hop and garage band.
Alexander's voice, light and substantial like a helium balloon that never floats away, tells stories of the trouble with love over quick guitar tracks with just enough weight to keep everything together. "I'd say that we're cute and tough," Hoge said. "Like a baby lion," Alexander added. Catch these cats at the Cedar on February 21, at the Turf Club on February 22, and at Vita.mn's Are You Local? showcase at Mill City Nights' Nether bar, where the band will compete with Carroll (along with rap crew Audio Perm) for $1,000 and a spot in a South by Southwest showcase.
Check out Bad Bad Hats here.
College connection: Guitarist Sean Neppl is a student at the U of M and lead singer Jeff Cornell attended Augsburg.
The Twin Cities suburb of Eagan isn't the first place that comes to mind when you think of, as their Facebook puts it, "dreamy-ass jangle pop," but it is the first home of Minneapolis band Gloss. Neppl and Cornell grew up there and began playing music together in high school. After adding drummer Jordan Bleu, bassist Jackson Woolsey and synth player Emmy Carter, Gloss began playing shows last May and put out the single "Front Porch" in October. The song got talked up by bloggers around the world, who praised the band's ability to construct their complex gauzy and layered guitar pop without losing the groove. Gloss plays with an brightness like the sun shining off of new snow that you can't help but get lost in. According to Bleu, the band has only performed live all together about 10 times, but there are more dates ahead -- tonight at the Kitty Cat Klub and March 7 at 7th Street. A new single, titled "Ian's Dream" after a former band-mate and current album-cover artist Ian Miller, is set to drop on February 22, and a 7" featuring both singles and a B-side will be released via Manic Pop! records in April.
Check out Gloss here.
3. All Eyes
College connection: Bassist Joe Christensen graduated from Macalester in 2011 and lead singer/songwriter Alicia Wiley graduated from McNally Smith in 2003.
Christensen took an unusual path to graduation, taking two years off to record and tour with now-defunct Minneapolis band White Light Riot. Along the way he met his fiance Alicia Wiley, who began the process of writing and creating the Lynchian (as Christensen described it) sound that brought All Eyes together two years ago. Their November debut made our list of top Minnesota albums last year, and for good reason -- the dark experimental sound defies all constraints, moving through highs and lows like an electric fog that swallows the listener whole. All Eyes is made up mostly of musicians with other projects going on, and that plus a focus on recording leads them to play shows at a rate of one per month, so don't pass up the chance to see them locally if one comes along. The band is also working on new music, but has no concrete releases planned, so keep your ears open.
Check out All Eyes here.
2. Wiping Out Thousands
College connection: The band met at McNally Smith in 2010.
The news that dance titans Wiping Out Thousands are pretty good at music will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog. Nonetheless, our list would not be complete without the romantic and musical duo of Taylor Nelson and Alaine Dickman, who first met when Nelson sent Dickman a Facebook message looking for a singer for a more traditional rock project. Though Wiping out Thousands is nowhere near what anyone would call rock anymore, Dickman's voice is still the glue that holds it all together. Her moody and deceptively powerful vocals hold together beats and breakdowns so high energy that it seems like they could fly apart any minute. Wiping Out Thousands is a hydrogen bomb exploding on a dancefloor forever, a sonic concoction flithy enough for the bass heads and funky enough to keep the vibe sexy. Their work, on their January 2012 EP Reaction Machine and their October full-length This Came first, has not gone unnoticed, garnering them a Vita.mn cover story and a spot in First Ave's best new bands of 2012. You can see what's up for yourself at Mill City Nights on March 1 and at Cabooze on April 19.
Check out Wiping Out Thousands here.
College connection: All of the band members except guitarist Max Kulicke (who graduated in 2011) graduated from Macalester last May.
The inspiration for Carroll's name comes from an unusual source: a St. Paul street sign, from the avenue where lead singer Brian Hurlow (of Seattle) shared a house with drummer Charlie Rudoy (of New York). Members of the band, who hail from all over the country, had met before -- in freshman music theory, in Mac's African music ensemble -- but they didn't started working together until Rudoy heard Hurlow's music and the two formed a collaboration during their junior year. Bassist Charles McClung (of Nebraska) and Kulicke (of Philadelphia) joined in and the band as it is today really started rolling in fall 2011.
After a year of refining and perfecting their sound at live shows, Carroll put out their first EP Needs last week. The work paid off, big time. Songs from the record are already in rotation at The Current on MPR, who called them "among the freshest tracks we've heard come from the Twin Cities in a while." No arguments here. Carroll's song structures are immaculate, but that doesn't hold back subtle and powerful emotional resonance they bring. The melancholy yet bright tracks use melodies like tides, inevitable and simple yet imminently mysterious. Carroll will be at the Cedar on February 21 and in the Nether Bar at Mill City Nights for the Are You Local? showcase on March 1. They plan on getting in a few more local dates before touring the East Coast at the start of summer. Though the material for a full-length is "about half written," according to Hurlow, there isn't set release date. No matter when it drops, we're sure it will be worth the wait.
Check out Carroll here.
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