One speed -- full speed. One way -- all the way.
This is the working philosophy behind the latest album from the 4onthefloor, possibly Minneapolis's last-standing rock band. It's been six years since frontman Gabriel Douglas and his kick drum-thumping foursome roared their way into the Minneapolis music scene, winning the title of Vita.mn's best new band in 2011. Since then, it's been a maelstrom of touring and recording -- 443 shows and five albums, the fifth of which, All In (out May 26), was designed to capture the blue-collar rapture of happy hour in their home state.
"We're a rubbertotheroad band," Douglas says ahead of his group's record-release show Friday at First Avenue. "Our biggest forte is conversion by fire."
The 4onthefloor shows are kinetic affairs, with each band member stomping 4/4 time into their individual bass drums. Douglas and his bandmates Nate Case, John Lehmkuhl, and Jake Quam pound their way through apprehension and pretense, turning static dancefloors into down-home hootenannies. Their music is a welcome mat for folks itching for a good time.
"I think there's a lot of exclusive music out there." Douglas says. "And the 4onthefloor party is an open-door invitation."
The 4onthefloor's latest album has its bucolic moments -- flourishes that hearken back to the barnyard yip of the group's debut LP, 4x4 -- but All In is intentionally meatier. The licks are faster and more furious, though Douglas recognizes that in a scene like the Twin Cities, where nuance and introspection are cardinal virtues, making straight-up guitar rock might be more alienating than inviting.
"For a lot of people that aren't into rock 'n' roll, I could see them putting us into the same bin as Nickleback," he says. "But, in the 21st century, you live a diverse and complex life, and we're just writing simply for the complex creature that is the 21st-century music fan."
Though it's tempting to assert the 4onthefloor as the last bastion of American rock in the Gopher State, a claim like that doesn't exactly jibe with Minnesota's stereotypical lack of ego. But the 4onthefloor aren't motivated by aggrandizement. They're not a nostalgia band, nor are they looking to champion a revival. Douglas just sees a definitive lack of the "good-hearted, good-natured, good-timing rock 'n' roll" of his youth reflected in the Twin Cities music scene.
"I think that the rock band is a rare breed in all metropolitan areas -- especially Minneapolis," he says.
All In sets out to strike a balance by complementing the high-concept world of the local art scene with countrified geetar scorchers. Devoid of pretension and cooked up with reverence for the band's, uh, stomping grounds, All In is basically Minnesota Nice tabbed out on a fretboard. The perfect totem of that is "All My Friends," a consummate barbecue shanty bulging with gang vocals. Thematically, the tune is on par with the LCD Soundsystem song of the same name, though the 4onthefloor don't preen over lofty seven-minute overtures -- their two-chord chant-a-long burns to an end in three minutes flat.
"We're hoping it will be an anthem of the summer," Douglas says of "All My Friends." "If you're on a road trip, that's song one, windows down, here we go."
Douglas grew up in northwestern Minnesota, an environment immortalized in the outlaw folk ramble "Small Towns." In the song, Douglas lies in his Minneapolis apartment sentimentalizing teenage water-tower makeouts, Golden Oldies 100.3, and the rural desolation of soybean farms. It's a moment he universalizes to other blue-collar transplants who don't have the clemency of their native sounds.
"Most [the 4onthefloor fans] are goodhearted and hardworking," Douglas says. "We're definitely a release for people. If you work hard, this is good music to take a load off to."
On the other end of the spectrum, Douglas's adoptive neighborhood of Uptown is the muse for All In opener "Lake Street Shuffle," and "Ms. Behave" is the kind of riff-driven lovesick subtweet you might hear in the background at a Northeast taproom hosting a bags tournament.
On Spirit of Minneapolis, the 4onthefloor's previous record, Douglas & Co. aimed to musically emblemize rural/urban duality without fully realizing that goal, but All In doesn't deal in half measures. The record is the most committed -- and
consequently the most Minnesotan -- the revival rockers have ever sounded. "You don't want to leave anything on the table, 'cause then you'll always wonder if things would be different had you given your full self to it, so the poker analogy works," says Quam, the only member of the 4onthefloor with a full drum kit.
"Writing about Minnesota isn't something we're trying to do; it's organic," he continues. "How could we not? We're Minnesota boys. This album has a lot of personality, just like our state."
Douglas is aware that his single-tempo stomp-rock aesthetic might make him look a bit hickish or draw comparisons to butt-rock paradigms, but the 4onthefloor are comfortable in their pigeonhole. What else do you expect from a group of city boys born out in the sticks?
"If you want me paint me into a corner, just save the paint," he says, grinning, "I was already standing there anyway."The 4onthefloor play an album-release show at First Avenue on Friday, May 22; 6123321775
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS