The secluded Pachyderm Recording Studio in Cannon Falls has seen some of the most celebrated groups of the past 30 years roll into town and bash out some of the best records of the modern rock era.
As the studio enters a new era with Duluth's Trampled by Turtles recording their latest album there with Low frontman Alan Sparhawk, it's high time for a look back at past music made in Pachyderm's hallowed halls that still has plenty of life of its own. Here, we rank the 10 best albums that were created at one of Minnesota's most famous recording studios.
10. Soul Asylum - Grave Dancers Union
While a good chunk of Grave Dancers Union was recorded at the Powerstation in New York, the Minneapolis band did return home to record some parts of the album at Pachyderm (with some help from Gary Louris and Kraig Johnson). Soul Asylum's biggest-selling, breakthrough record remains divisive amongst longtime fans, but their smash-hit singles and evocative ballads have endured. The group certainly branched out from their mostly regional appeal before this album, and the indelible material on Grave Dancers Union helped propel them into the national spotlight -- acclaim they certainly earned after years of hitting the clubs hard with their spirited live shows.
9. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
This is another record that wasn't recorded entirely at Pachyderm, but Bird and his band (with locals Martin Dosh, Haley Bonar, and Jeremy Ylvisaker) spent some quality time recording there -- while also recording at the Crazy Beast Studio in Northeast Minneapolis. Armchair Apocrypha is filled with material that Bird still works into his setlists to this day. And maybe it's the redolent album art, but these songs always tend to hit home during the cold Minnesota winter.
8. Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
Post-rockers Explosions in the Sky poured a lot of time and energy into the recording of their fifth album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, and it shows. It's a studied blast from a band who were completely firing on all cylinders during the lengthy recording session, as the album's six expansive songs all gloriously coalesce in a wall of taut noise and blissful release. For most EitS fans, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone remains a longtime favorite, with these songs sounding as inventive and vital as they did the moment they first came to life in Pachyderm's intimate studio.
7. Palace Music - Arise Therefore
Will Oldham's haunting collection, Arise Therefore, is initially a difficult album to immerse yourself in, but once you do the payoffs are real. The songs seem to arrive out of thin air, with Oldham whispering his concerns in your ear as if sharing a secret that he only wants you to know. Steve Albini produced the record (and would return to Pachyderm many times to record), and it remains one of the most refined, elegiac statements that he has been a part of in his distinguished career.
6. The Jayhawks - Hollywood Town Hall
The Jayhawks' celebrated masterpiece was partially recorded elsewhere (Hollywood Sound), but the record is brimming with the sounds and sights of Minnesota (the famous photo used for the cover art was taken on a winter's day in Carver County). The alt-country that flows through this album is sprightly and fresh, with the stellar songwriting tandem of Mark Olson and Gary Louris cranking out one spirited hit after another. These songs are drenched in emotion and energy, and represent the creative peak for a band that never really seemed to get their due.
5. U.S. Maple - Acre Thrills
U.S. Maple's sonic masterpiece, Acre Thrills, is probably one of the weirdest, most experimental records ever made at Pachyderm. The songs themselves are a bit impenetrable to the uninitiated, but once you find your way in, they reveal innovative sonic delights that aren't found in many modern releases. Vocalist Al Johnson delivers a string of urgent diatribes over the roiling, rhythmic arrangements of the band, generating a spiraling cacophony of sound that is at once abrasive and also shockingly beautiful.
4. The Wedding Present - Seamonsters
Steve Albini had given the Wedding Present a more textured sound on his previous recordings with the group. On their third full-length, Albini brought the Leeds band across the pond and all the way to Pachyderm. The sessions resulted in the best album of the band's career. It was the beginning of Albini's long working relationship with Pachyderm ("The live room is fantastic. World class," Albini said of Pachyderm. "I had good luck there. Most of my sessions there were successful. Things sounded good, and bands got what they expected and wanted."), and clearly the Wedding Present got exactly the sound they were looking for on this soaring, frequently heartbreaking collection. David Gedge and the Wedding Present recently revisited Seamonsters in its entirety at a stellar show at the 400 Bar, proving that these songs still have plenty of life left in them, and clearly still hold a lot of meaning to the band and fans alike.
3. Superchunk - Foolish
Superchunk's brilliant fourth full-length, Foolish, is filled with the sound of a band hitting their creative stride while also taking a big artistic leap. After releasing a string of successful singles and an odds-n-sods collection of B-sides on Merge -- the label that Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance founded -- Foolish was the first full-length album that Superchunk put out on their own. And the album bristles with the self-assured confidence and trepidation involved in that big decision, but the band hits the ground (or the driveway) running, and really never looked back. Foolish is filled with flat-out jams, as the band sounds energized and out to prove something to the music world that was gradually starting to embrace them at this point. And, following the blistering triumph of this record, more people took notice of not only Superchunk, but also the fledgling Durham, North Carolina record label that continues to leave its mark on the direction of modern music to this day.
2. Nirvana - In Utero
It's truly hard to imagine Nirvana in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. It's like trying to force two misshapen pieces from entirely different puzzles together. But somehow, some way, the combination worked, and Nirvana recorded the best (and last) studio album of their career at Pachyderm. In Utero also permanently secured Pachyderm's legendary status in the upper echelon of recording studios in the process, as well. Albini brought the biggest band in the world out to the tranquil, forested surroundings of rural Minnesota looking to capture some of the fury and raw aggression that had been diluted a bit by their commercial breakthrough, Nevermind. While Kurt Cobain was after the mercurial, untamed sounds of Surfer Rosa, the Pixies classic that Albini produced. In the end, they both got what they wanted, as Nirvana churned out an album that stood in volatile contrast to what their label and their fans expected from them, while also, sadly, being one of the final, and most brutal, artistic statements that Cobain would ever share with us. Pachyderm will always be known as, first and foremost, the studio where Nirvana recorded In Utero. And, as far as legacies go, that is a damn near perfect way to be remembered.
1. PJ Harvey - Rid Of Me
After the success of PJ Harvey's debut, Dry, brought her to the commercial big leagues of Island Records, there were fears that she might tone things down to please the suits. But the turbulent squall of Rid Of Me totally removed all doubts, while brazenly introducing Harvey's fierce, minimalistic rock sounds to the world. The album starts with the bold warning of the title track, and doesn't let its foot off of your throat once during the rest of the record. "50 ft. Queenie," "Man-Size," and a knowing but raucous nod to the musical history of Minnesota through a reworking of Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" all churn with a potency that shakes you to your core. Albini once again captured lightning in a bottle, as PJ Harvey shook the foundations of a male-dominated rock scene with an album that didn't pull any of its punches and has plenty of balls.
Which album is your favorite Pachyderm classic?