Twin Cities Trio Craft Impressive Second LP
With the recent release of their second full-length “Motherland”, Minneapolis trio Apollo Cobra are revealing themselves to be a local act you can’t afford to ignore.
Without the use of laptops, guitars or typical drum machine sounds they are making dance music that feels simultaneously organic and futuristic. Keyboardist Dylan Nau’s penchant for retro synthesizer tones lends an aesthetic of new-wave nostalgia without being pigeonholed as throwback. The overall sound certainly appears to take cues from certain 80′s artists (think David Bowie meets “Speaking In Tongues”-era Talking Heads) but their sound feels more modern than retro.
I first caught sight of them during Midwest Music Fest in Winona, MN this past April where I had to jump the fence behind Ed’s No Name Bar just to get inside the packed building. I’d been given positive reviews from several friends so I expected something special but I wasn’t prepared for the wild frenzy this three-piece created in that little bar. The audience became merely a swirling blur of pumping fists and bobbing heads; a mass of bodies pulsating and undulating like a human wave pool. When I discovered that they were from Minneapolis and releasing a new record I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
“Motherland” displays a great deal of musical growth for the band. Their debut record “Dance To This” was also a good representation of their style and live energy but lacked the production polish and songwriting development that is on display on here. The opening track “Feel Like It” will illustrate this immediately as a slow, soulful keyboard melody emerges from a din of synth before falling into a minimal, yet entrancing groove.
Throughout the album, bassist Aaron Stoehr (who is also the primary vocalist) and percussionist Jessie Lesmeister hold down an impressive two-man rhythm section under synth-heavy tunes which consistently vary in both style and structure. “Shut Up” feels more like a grungy, party groove with some hilarious lyrics:
“She said ‘my boyfriend’/I said ‘so what’/I want your/I want your lips but I want them shut.”
“Pissed” varies greatly from the rest of the tracks on the record and is also one of the highlights. Aside from being the only instrumental track on the album, it lives up to its name by being the most aggressive with a chorus hook that borders on being hard-rock riffing. It evolves during every verse, beginning as a bass anchored, post-funk swing and eventually transitioning into a Booker T & The M.G.’s style organ sound before building up into another effective chorus.
The best cut is probably “Learn To Win” where an oriental-flavored keyboard riff leads into a superbly well-paced and arranged tune with a psychedelic, underwater vocal effect and what feels like a perfect fusion of authentic and artificial percussion. This song impresses me more than most others. The ability to meld genuine musicality, good songwriting and dance beats together is a true accomplishment and one that has only been done by a handful of great artists. The way these three players work together and complement each other is a testament not only to their individual skill but also an emphasis on ensemble work over individual accolades.
Perhaps equally impressive is the track “All My Friends” which features the best arrangements of any song on the album and achieves a similarly effective blend of dance groove and pop hooks as something like “Let’s Dance To This” from their first release. The timing and layering of multiple keyboard effects and flavors gives “All My Friends” the most full and satisfying production of anything on “Motherland” and leaves me hoping that the next album will expand upon these techniques.
“Motherland” is easily the most impressive release I’ve heard from any Twin Cities-based group this year and their CD release show at The Nomad at the end of June was another stellar experience with enthusiastic fans and a high-energy performance. There’s no excuse for any Minneapolis music fan to miss these guys.
Check out “Motherland” on Spotify and then buy a copy at one of their upcoming shows.
July 21st – The Beer Dabbler Highland Fest – Hillcrest Park in St. Paul, MN
August 25th – The Franconia Sculpture Park Concert Series – Shafer, MN
Brandon Rompa is a writer and musician from Minneapolis, MN. He began writing album reviews and current-event music articles for his college paper at Winona State University in 2007 and has continued to pursue the craft in his leisure time since, hoping to share his love of recorded music, present and past, in a conversational and relatable manner.
Brandon is also a regular contributor to the Milwaukee-based arts blog http://marionart23.blogspot.com/
Email Brandon at email@example.com