CD Reviews: Avenpitch, Middle States and Drew Danburry

Avenpitch: Minnesota's electropunk ambassadors to the world If you know little about the Twin Cities electropunk movement -- like me last week -- take a gander at this slab of knowledge: "Nobody invented this electropunk thing. No city can claim ...

"Cast Off"
Avenpitch's "Cast Off" (Dance School, 2009)

Avenpitch: Minnesota's electropunk ambassadors to the world

If you know little about the Twin Cities electropunk movement -- like me last week -- take a gander at this slab of knowledge: "Nobody invented this electropunk thing. No city can claim it (though New York certainly tries). It's simply what happens when you take a generation of bored teens and twentysomethings -- raised on hardcore punk, British techno, Nintendo and Doritos -- and place cheap digital recording technology within their grasp. Next thing you know, you've got a million zillion half-rock, half-electronic, cyborg bands thrashing out one MP3 after another of ragged, jagged synthesizer pop and giving it away for nothing on their Web sites. ... If that ain't punk, I don't know what is."

That very-helpful info was cooked up by Death by Karaoke Records' Emil Hyde for the Twin Cities Electropunk line of compilations, a free series organized by Todd Millenacker.

But Millenacker, who has organized four such collections to date, is more than just a genre "uber-fan." His reason for wanting the scene to blossom is actually twofold: he's also the vocalist, guitarist, programmer and co-producer for Avenpitch, a group I shall so humbly refer to as Minnesota's electropunk ambassadors to the world from here on out.

Why, oh why, would I bequeath such a high honor on a band whose new album I've only spent a week with? Well, for starters, I listened to it.


"Cast Off," the group's third, is a revelation -- both for me and an entire movement.

This tour de force opens triumphantly with "Pregnant Pause," a static-drenched assault with enough synthy goodness to remind us all just how missed God Lives Underwater really is.

Avenpitch keeps it going with the bold "Maybe I Was Wrong," which falls somewhere between the sounds found within "Donnie Darko" and the 16-bit incarnation of "The Legend of Zelda," and "Desperado," a radio-ready firestarter that is sure to clinch your vote.

Other immediate standouts on this altogether-amazing affair include the Cars-y "Sweet Summertime," "Disappear" (complete with U2-level production values) and "Don't Come Cryin' to Me." Besides nicking a line from Soul Asylum's "April Fool," that last one incorporates subtle melody nods to R.E.M.'s "Imitation of Life," marking it with a level of familiarity that makes it the disc's most accessible outing.

Even if you walk away from these tracks with a whole different set of comparison points, one thing's for certain: "Electropunk" is a really misleading genre category for Avenpitch. There isn't much in the way of abrasiveness here. The angry "Two Minutes Hate" notwithstanding, Millenacker and crew are just modern-day popsmiths with an imaginative taste for new sounds. They have a knack for crafting unavoidable gems and, if they get the breaks they deserve, many more will get to hear what I hear.

And they'll like it.

Avenpitch will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, at Beaner's Central. Sassanach and Erth are also on the bill. Cost is $5. After that show, Avenpitch will head over to Superior and play a free set with the Good Colonels at 11 p.m. at Thirsty Pagan. Details (and free MP3s) at .

Middle States: With skills like this...


It's been said that the Guided by Voices fanbase is divided into two distinct camps: lo-fi purists and those who embrace that legendary Ohio band's forays into high fidelity with open arms.

My sensibilities fall into the latter, so I take great pleasure in announcing that Middle States' "Happy Fun Party" is music for my people.

Just to be clear: No, this Minneapolis band isn't one of the 12,000 Robert Pollard side projects, but, given frontman Wes Morden's pitch-perfect approximation of his voice, it's easy to mistake it for one.

And then there's the rest of the Middle States, who all seem to have taken a GBV pill before hitting the studio with Tom Herbers (an occasional Low collaborator) as well.

They're probably sick to death hearing about how close the two bands sound, but I mean it as a compliment of the highest order. When GBV was briefly signed to TVT Records in the late '90s/early '00s, the two albums produced during that unusual arrangement yielded some of the most irresistible compositions of the rock era -- and the bulk of the "Happy Fun Party" material is just as awe-inspiring.

The album's leadoff track, "In Charge," and "Straight to the All or None" -- which sounds like it borrows the Leslie speaker trick Kim Thayil used on Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" -- are excellent examples. They're both strong contenders for best single of 2009, but that's not just because of the GBV parallels: Like Rich Mattson and Tony Derrick in our beloved Tisdales, Morden draws inspiration from all those classic records you've heard incessantly since you first started falling in love with music.

As such, the Middle States formula is all at once refreshing and timeless-sounding. This is undeniable music.

Middle States will play a CD release show for "Happy Fun Party" Feb. 6 at Stasiu's Place in Minneapolis. Visit for more information.


More low-voltage, high-energy fun from Drew Danburry

I hope this isn't my immense bias speaking, but "This Could Mean Trouble, You Don't Speak for the Club" is another landmark album for Utah troubadour Drew Danburry.

The former Danburrys member, who has grown increasing competent as a solo artist over a handful of releases, just can't seem to record a bum note.

(Before I go any further: Danburry is a joker. His song titles are usually as long as record reviews in too-cool-to-listen-to-the-whole-thing glossy publications. While funny -- my favorite on the new album is "God Communicates to Us Through Billboards, If You Don't Believe Me Just Go to the South, He's Left Us Notes Almost EVERYWHERE Down There" -- their paragraph-long lengths might lead to some confusion. To avoid this, I've opted to refer to Danburry's songs using their abbreviated forms.)

Unlike his former group, whose Weezer/Rentals vibe knocked you over within seconds, Danburry's solo efforts have a way of easing into your system. And, on "This Could Mean Trouble," the visionary has graduated from the clunky-but-lovable tracks of his early solo career -- and the wistful Grandaddy landscapes that came next -- to full-on prophet. The sound he's perfected is all his, and no amount of easy "sounds like..." comparisons will get the uninitiated any closer to understanding the genius that shaped this wonderful record.

Instead of dwelling on tracks upon tracks, I just want to touch on one: "Postponing Alaska, Pt. 2." There are many must-hear moments here -- "I'm Pretty Sure," "Take Me Home" and "Tonight I Was Trying to Read" are as lovely as they come -- but this magical number is the artist's definitive statement.

Like the time it takes a car on the horizon to finally reach you when you're driving down the Dakotas, it seems to defy the rules of time and space in its arrival. It kind of meanders into your consciousness. It should be an unsettling experience, but it's not ... it's glorious.

Perhaps it's because I've been listening to Danburry for more than five years now, but this song just feels like home. If I were to move across the country (for a second time), this is what I would be listening to as I left everything I knew and loved behind.


When you find yourself in a new or strange place, you need something to hold onto, something that will immediately brighten your mood and reassure you that you'll get through it. This song, then, is that proverbial security blanket.

Funny enough, these are the thoughts I was thinking before I even started paying attention to this song's immortal lyrics: "It's what's been bothering me of late / Believe what you will I extend that grace / It seems Alaska is my fate / But it's not my true place."

Moments like this don't come around too often. Anyone out there who's ever spent hours alone searching for a "truer sound," time's up; Danburry's just made your journey a lot easier. In the simplest terms, this album is a gift.

"This Could Mean Trouble" is out now on Emergency Umbrella Records, and Danburry will be back in our neck of the woods in April. Keep your eyes on for updates.

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