Hard to believe it -- since they've played around town enough to never really go away -- but the new records by Heiruspecs and Dillinger Four were both a long time coming.
In the case of Heiruspecs, the hip-hop wunderkinds-turned-veterans are finally issuing their first CD since 2004's Razor & Tie release, "A Tiger Dancing." It's only the third full-length album in their 12-year career, but it's hard to call them slackers considering they're still in their 20s and toured 200-plus dates behind the last record (which helps explain why this one took so long).
D4's record comes after an even longer hiatus: six years. The local punk kingpins didn't exactly sit on their all-too-often- exposed heinies, either.
What took so long? As was reported here in 2006, the band hit a slow patch after it hit an ice patch and rolled its van following the very last tour date behind "Tiger Dancing."
"It definitely freaked us out," bassist/bandleader Sean McPherson said then. "[But] it turned out to be a pretty nice mental-health break for all of us." The members took time out for school, jobs and other bands, including Ela, Jessy Greene's group, Big Trouble and frontman Felix's side project Strong Words. They also took time to search for a new label, which seemed fruitless in the end. The business has changed even more than the band.
About the record: "I think you can definitely hear that our tastes have changed, and that's probably a result of us playing more in other bands," Felix said, a point proven by the disc's welcome dosage of heavy rock ("Get Up") and vintage soul/funk ("Slammin' Caprice Doors"). One other thing that's immediately noticeable: This is one epic-sized album. Produced by local hip-hop guru Joe Mabbott, it's loaded with 21 tracks and a slew of guest artists, including I Self Devine and Dessa.
"We figured after four years, we needed and deserved to make a 76-minute record," McPherson said.
Best songs: "Lenses," a moody but infectiously bouncy track with pointed guitar work by Josh Peterson and soulful guest vocals by Maria Isa, recalls the Roots' work with guest gals (Erykah Badu, Jill Scott). Or "The Pushback," the band's funkiest masterpiece and some of the most effortless-sounding, steady-flowing lyrics by Felix.
"When the musicians recorded that demo it was almost like, 'Well, this will never be a Heiruspecs song, so let's play like Medeski, Martin & Wood,'" McPherson recalled of the latter track. "I think, more than any record, Felix picked the beats that we least expected him to."
Oddest song: "Sunshower," a light, warm, poppy track featuring Semisonic's Dan Wilson. "I got his e-mail address off one of those big group e-mails where the names weren't bc'd, but I was afraid to use it for the longest time," McPherson recounted. The two parties met backstage at the McNally Smith River Rocks Fest in September and soon hatched a plan to complete the track. Said Felix, "He changed the song dramatically, and for the better. I'm very proud of it."
Completed promotion: About 4,000 three-song sampler discs were handed out last month, half of them delivered along with pies from Pizza Lucé. As McPherson explained it, "CDs are maybe double the cost of a flyer if you print that many. It worked out to 64 cents apiece." DIY, baby.
Pending promotion: Saturday's release party at First Ave will be the first time Heiruspecs have headlined their own show in the main room (they did go on last at a benefit where the late Sen. Paul Wellstone also appeared; that should give you an idea how long they've been playing there). Next year could find them returning to the road, although McPherson said, "We'll do it more selectively this time." It's safer that way.
Album: "C I V I L W A R"
What took so long? "We were never that quick at making records," singer/guitarist Erik Funk pointed out. This one came exceptionally slow, though, as drummer Lane Pederson finished grad school and became a dad. Funk turned his bar, the Triple Rock, into a full-fledged rock venue in 2003 with help from bassist Paddy Costello and guitarist Billy Morrisette, all in their mid-30s.
Costello said they never questioned the band's future, though: "I tell people D4 is my hepatitis. I couldn't get rid of it if I tried."
About the record: The going line is that the band has grown up and grown more serious. Funk disputes that notion, though: "We have funny song titles and funny live shows, but our music has always been serious," he said. There were some heavier influences on these songs, including the deaths of his father-in-law and some friends, plus the omnipresent war/politics/corruption topics that punks always rage against but that became especially infuriating since the last record.
Musically, it's classic D4. Same studio as the last one (the Terrarium). Same producer (Dave Gardener). Same label (San Francisco's Fat Wreck Chords). And same great wind-up punk riffs and hyper tempos. The only noticeable difference: The vocals are more up front and clean. Yeah, almost like a band you might hear on the radio. Said Costello, "We finally had to admit that Erik actually knows how to sing, so we pushed him out front more."
Best songs: "A Jingle for the Product" or "Clown Cars on Cinder Blocks," which open and close the album, respectively, with big choruses, bigger guitars and an up-yours gusto reminiscent of punk's glory days.
Oddest songs: "Parishiltonisametaphor," which kicks off with piano and, of course, isn't really about Paris Hilton, and "Gainesville," where Funk's vocals are at their most polished and the hooks are prevalent.
Completed promotion: The band just finished a three-week tour with California punk stars NOFX. The guys also had a release party in Brooklyn, N.Y., the day the album came out (Oct. 14) at a warehouse where the stage was still being built when they pulled up. "Sure enough, the thing came tumbling down during the opening band," Funk said. "We wound up with about two square feet of stage for each of us." Gives new meaning to "tight band."
Pending promotion: Tonight at the Triple Rock, the group is finally throwing two hometown CD-release parties, which conveniently coincide with the bar's 10th anniversary. D4 also plans to return to the South by Southwest conference next year and tour with the Bouncing Souls. "We're going to be more like a real band," Funk promised.
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