There is a growing subsection of musicians in the Twin Cities who are enamored with mining the unknown and bringing raw and untraditional elements to the surface. Experimental music, often lumped under the unhelpful umbrella term “noise,” has long had a place in Twin Cities underground venues and basements, offering more adventurous listeners the chance to plumb the depths of unexplored sounds. For the average music fan, this type of improvisational chaos can seem downright unlistenable at first blush, especially for those accustomed to more melodic, rehearsed, and otherwise musical arrangements.
But what’s caught my ear in recent years — and the ears of a growing pool of new experimental fans — is an overlapping group of musicians who are marrying the unpredictable elements of improvised noise music with a proficiency for pop, slowly and slyly introducing a sea of guitar-fed rock ‘n’ roll fans to the exhilarating underworld of unassembled sound. Speaking from personal experience, my first entry into this realm was the Marijuana Deathsquads residency at Nick and Eddie, a Wednesday night ritual that spanned almost an entire year and united musicians from disparate corners of the scene. No one ever knew quite what to expect from a Marijuana Deathsquads show, and that was kind of the point. But as the band refined their lineup and purpose, honing their sound in weekly 20-minute bursts, some familiar patterns and beats started to emerge and the band got more and more efficient and locking into a groove. A few of those familiar patterns were even refined into what could be considered songs, and they managed to get one short enough and punchy enough to fit into a music video.
As someone who witnessed Marijuana Deathsquads’ growth from the beginning, it made it all the more intriguing for me when new similarly minded bands like Votel (formerly H.U.N.X.) and Father You See Queen emerged. In some ways, you can even tie together the progression of Marijuana Deathsquads and the birth of Poliça, who incorporate similar elements like dualing, thundrous drummers, glitchy, distorted vocals, and a stubborn and steadfast rejection of structural predictability. What the feminine touch has brought to this amorphous subgenre of music has helped to carry it even further into the pop realm, especially given the undeniable talent of all three singers (Votel’s Maggie Morrison, formerly of Lookbook; Father You See Queen’s Nicole Tollefson; and Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh) and their unique and distinctive songwriting abilities.
While Polica burst forth as a finished product, however, Votel and Father You See Queen have used the public stage as their petri dish. In both instances, beat-maker Mark McGee will bring a loose skeleton of a song to the forefront (in Votel he works alongside Drew Christopherson and a group of live musicians, while he is the sole producer behind Father You See Queen), weaving layers of cyborg drones and groans underneath cascades of static and sizzle, while the singer sighs and sails octaves above the din in search of a distant melody. Over time, Father You See Queen in particular have settled into a rhythm as a live duo and filed away some of the more meandering moments to create captivating, emotionally charged songs,
Six of those songs have been recorded and will be released on their debut EP, 47, via Chicago’s Flingco Sound System label, and as much as these previous paragraphs may have scared off the casual listener, I think the songs could have broad appeal. Tollefson, who sings under the moniker Mona, is a relatively inexperienced songwriter but approaches the craft with an artistic spirit, stirring up untold emotions and blurring lines of poetry like an impressionist painter and then pulling the listener in with a sudden moment of clarity.
“The moment we knew / The vision was true / We don’t have to prove / We know what to do,” Tollefson sings on “We Give and Give and You Take and Take and Take and Take,” and she’s singing about love but she could just as well be singing about Father You See Queen, whose confidence only continues to grow as they further develop their intriguing sound.
For those interested in exploring Father You See Queen’s music further, they are currently streaming their entire 47 EP on their website, and will perform in a special arrangement with drummer JT Bates and guitarist Adam Marx a “pre-EP release show” this Friday night at the 7th St. Entry with openers the Cloak Ox, Marijuana Deathsquads, and Robust Worlds. A limited run of 36 handmade music boxes will be for sale at the pre-release show, and you can read more about the limited-edition release and tomorrow’s show in this interview published by the Onion’s AV Club.