Noisy garage rock kindred spirits Micheal Yonkers and the Blind Shake have combined for their second album together with the release of Cold Town/Soft Zodiak. The first part of the disc, Cold Town, finds Yonkers playing alongside the Blind Shake while the last portion, Soft Zodiak, has the Blind Shake playing their own material sans Yonkers. The 27 minute album is a snarling joy that shows two Minneapolis institutions firing on all cylinders to create on of the strongest Twin Cities’ releases of 2009.
It seemed like a completely natural fit when Minneapolis noise rock legend Micheal Yonkers and local fuzz rock trio the Blind Shake came together to record their debut album, Carbohydrates Hydrocarbons, in 2008. During this past decade, Yonkers has rightfully been placed on a pedestal after his lost classic Microminiature Love was re-issued. While Yonkers has been spending the last few years reaping the rewards of the album, which in all reality should have been bestowed on him three decades ago, the Blind Shake were slowly becoming one of the most powerful and dynamic rock bands in the Twin Cities music scene.
Cold Town/Soft Zodiac starts out with a hazy fuzz that should be all too familiar to fans of the band, with Yonkers’ burnt out vocals singing “Don’t ever say that I didn’t try to help you.” Instead of sounding sad, the droning musical backdrop of “What Can I Do” makes Yonkers’ menacing vocals sound like a demented trip down the rabbit hole. A layer of the metallic din is scaled back on the more psychedelic “Were You in the Way.” This is followed with a straightforward garage rocker titled “I Want to Tell You,” which features buzzing, but restrained, guitars juxtaposed with a steady cymbal groove that slides into pounding series of tom-tom beats. “Seventh Heaven” is an instrumental break that starts out with a Kinks-sounding guitar part before the band adds buzz saw-like guitars to the mix.
With “Cold Town” the Blind Shake’s Jim and Mike Blaha step in to assist Yonkers with the song’s vocal harmonies. The song, with a simple melodic structure, is a great example of what makes the two acts so great together. While “Cold Town” relies on a traditional arrangement, the dynamics of the song never allow it to fall into something that sounds trite or like a retread of the Nuggets catalog (as some artists are apt to do). There are guitar squeaks and slight dynamic changes that allow the song to be both accessible and unusual, without sounding forced or intentionally disconnected. “Before” is another instrumental that features the prominent Blind Shake formula (baritone guitar rhythm, slicing lead guitar and massive drums) with a helping hand from Yonkers’ noisemaker guitar parts. “When You’re Fallin’” sounds like a church hymn on acid, with lockstep drums and melding guitars, with Yonkers singing “When you’re falling, we will fly.” With this song the band holds back on the noisy outbursts while creating one of the most direct songs on the album. Seemingly making up lost time from “When You’re Fallin’,” they finish up the Yonkers-section of the disc with the brooding and fractured song “The New End.” The track—another instrumental—lets the bottom fall out a few times and simmers on for 2:30 of mind bending noise heroics.
For the last five songs of the disc, the Blind Shake perform without Yonkers and they do a great job of continuing the album’s staggeringly forceful rock and roll that is so prevalent on the first portion of the disc. You can hear the change immediately on “Wise Mr. Owl,” which trades in Yonkers’ swirling sounds for the Blind Shakes’ preferred sludge rock. On the Soft Zodiak portion of the disc, the guitars jump up in the mix and the whole sound is more forceful and pummeling. On “Soft Zodiak,” the vocals are mixed exquisitely with the piercing guitars and Dave Ropers’s forceful percussion work. Mike and Jim Blaha, who combine to create the dense blanket of sound for the band, show their cohesion on the last handful of tracks, in the process showcasing why the Blind Shake have become one of the more powerful bands in the Twin Cities. The band then mixes ominous baritone guitars and death march with screeching guitar stabs on the instrumental powerhouse “Radon Detector.” While timidly starting out with some distant sounding drums, it doesn’t take long for the Blind Shake to ratchet up the sound on “Bad Times,” which sounds like its demented take on the Black Lips, if only the Atlanta-based group’s sound was described as “scorched earth punk” instead of “flower punk.” “Birdo” brings the album to a close, the song combines the band’s shredding guitars and hammering drumming with back and forth vocals that add a nice touch to its sound.
Yonkers, the noise rock legend, and the Blind Shake, the heir apparent, have successfully taken what is assuredly a strong mutual respect and conveyed that into another richly rewarding album. Both Yonkers and the Blind Shake have their obvious fingerprints on Cold Town/Soft Zodiak without either side of the record ever becoming too dominant or overbearing. The album is a resounding success and finds these two amazing acts creating a noisy collage of music that is equally indicative of the strong past and the bright future of the Minneapolis music scene.
(Culture Bully by Josh Keller)