Made up of familiar Twin Cities musicians, Alpha Consumer enters unfamiliar territory on its wild new album, “Meat.”
Jeremy Ylvisaker, left, said drummer JT Bates— in hospital bed with bassist Mike Lewis, right — doesn’t mind “playing the foil” in Alpha Consumer’s photos and videos: “He’s like Bun E. Carlos in Cheap Trick. We’re the guys with the pretty hair, and he puts up with us.”
Somewhere between their various gigs with Andrew Bird, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Brother Ali, the Cloak Ox, Dean Magraw and the Pines — to name just a few — the members of Alpha Consumer managed to become a real band with a newly released real album.
Not that there was anything artificial about the sonically madcap, New Wavey, crash-and-burn art-rock trio, but its quirky sound and sporadic existence always seemed to be more for fun than work. Perhaps because the guys always had plenty of the latter.
With last month’s release of “Meat” — which the band will promote with a release party Saturday at 9 p.m. at 7th Street Entry, where it had its first gig nine years ago — Alpha Consumer got more serious about its fun approach.
“There’s definitely something a little more tangible about this record,” said singer/guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, he of the Cloak Ox, Bird and Ali notoriety. “One big reason is having the record label involved this time.”
The label is Totally Gross National Product, the Minneapolis operation run by Poliça drummer Drew Christopherson and producer Ryan Olson, which itself has risen to a new level of validity following the success of Lizzo’s record. TGNP also put out the Cloak Ox’s album last year, a record whose needling guitars and calmly maniacal songs make Alpha Consumer’s album a worthy companion piece.
It was Ylvisaker’s Cloak Ox mate, drummer Martin Dosh, who can take credit for bringing Alpha Consumer together. Dosh heard some experimental home recordings Ylvisaker had been making with friends, and he booked Jeremy to open for him at the Entry without really asking permission.
“I guess I’ll form a band then,” Ylvisaker remembered thinking at the time.
He enlisted the two guys who are with him to this day, bassist Mike Lewis and drummer JT Bates. Each had performed together — Lewis and Bates going back to their teen years — and they jelled quickly. “We have turned into really close friends,” Bates said, “and that certainly helps in any band’s chemistry.”
Bates came up through the jazz scene and has been playing country of late with Frankie Lee and Erik Koskinen, but admitted, “I was a total Hendrix kid. This is the closest I get to playing in a trio like that.”
Along with Lewis — the Happy Apple vet seen on “Saturday Night Live” last fall playing sax with Arcade Fire — Bates said the Alpha Consumer rhythm section is able to “play in weirder, less obvious ways than in a conventional rock band.” However, he and Lewis happily let Ylvisaker play the alpha male in Alpha Consumer.
“He’s really an amazing guitarist and interesting songwriter, and it’s nice to see him say and play what he wants,” Bates said.
A 42-year-old St. Louis Park native, Ylvisaker learned music from his dad, John. The elder Ylvisaker pioneered a brand of psychedelic Christian folk-rock in the ’60s — “pretty cool stuff,” Jeremy proudly noted — and still pens hymns and music with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, including the well-known ballad “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.”
Jeremy’s songs are a far cry from Dad’s work. Forced to write down all the lyrics in order to issue “Meat” in Japan and Europe, Jeremy said, “My general impression was it was the work of a crazy person.”
For instance, there’s the bouncy, almost Cheap Tricky track “Stepsister,” with lovelorn lyrics that sound sweet and innocent were it not for the title. The B-52’s flavored spazz-out “Tool Makin’ Hands” tries to explain money to a monkey. And the obtuse lyrics of the Devo-y rocker “The Eat” seem to be underlined in its accompanying video, which debuted at Spin.com and was directed by an actual Devo cohort, local video pioneer Chuck Statler, director of “Whip It.”
“Meat” takes a surprisingly mellow and twangy turn with “Shadowless,” the album’s least irregular song even though it imagines seeing the ghost of local indie-rap hero Mikey “Eyedea” Larsen. “I figured if I ever were to see a ghost, it might be him,” Ylvisaker said with nary a hint of irony.
As for the other songs, Ylvisaker offered the nearest thing to a serious explanation: “There are people addicted to things, a lot of unlikely friendships, and a lot of misfits. Everyone’s a sucker for a misfit.”
That would bode well for this band if true.
Heliotrope is back