Take a whiff

The van Gobots return with one member down and an aromatically titled EP, “Free Smells.”

by Joseph Kleinschmidt



What: The van Gobots’ “Free Smells” EP Release Show

When: 9 p.m., Saturday

Where: Cause Spirits and Soundbar, 3001 S. Lyndale Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: $5

Age: 21+


The van Gobots’ panache for clever titles yields some quirky results. Whether it’s their “Futurama” inspired band name or 2009 album “Guantanamo Beach Party,” the local rockers tend to ladle everything with a smirk.

But that’s simply half the equation. The Minneapolis-based trio delves into serious lyrical territory on their newest EP, “Free Smells,” despite its lighthearted, scented namesake.

“To me [“Free Smells”] is about essentially a twenty-something living in the modern world,” lead singer and guitarist Mike Baker said. “No one’s going to help us out, we’ve got to get our own money and we have to hustle for ourselves.”

Baker’s lyrics balance humor and sincerity with ease, informing the van Gobots’ satiric mentality. Formed initially in 2007 as a four-piece, the van Gobots return with a cohesive sound following drummer Keith Lacock’s departure from the band. With one less member, “Free Smells” seeks to underscore each member’s musical voice — and persona.

“Playing with three people, it really gives a lot of things room to breathe,” bassist and University of Minnesota alumnus Matt Kojetin said. “The voice of the instruments and really making sure each instrument had its own personality instead of it just being a cohesive wall of sound.”

The fully collaborative effort also marks the van Gobots’ foray in releasing music digitally. “Free Smells” will be offered for free online under the pay-what-you-want model.

“We wanted to give an opportunity for the listener to come in with a low barrier for entry,” Kojetin said.

Low barriers make for an EP full of catchy hooks and airtight production. For better or worse, nothing’s muddled or challenging among the new collection. The best moments of “Free Smells” push The van Gobots’ post-punk influenced tradition. Songs like “Someone to Blame” infuse guitar lines with the vocals, accentuating Baker’s huge presence as lead singer.

“I think what drew us to Mike was his exuberance and his huge personality,” drummer Nick Geier said. “He’s really that dynamic voice and that focal point that we needed.”

While critics labeled the van Gobots’ material as political in the past, Baker now writes with more personal themes in mind. The van Gobots drew from personal relationships with friends abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq for “Guantanamo Beach Party,” but “Free Smells” tackles lyricist Baker’s personal life as heard on the song “Hang it up.” It’s not that politics are off-limits for the band, just not the entire subject of their new EP. With a band as adept in sniffing out titles, the “political” tag might just be too stale anyway. Put simply, the van Gobots’ frank no-nonsense reeks on “Free Smells.”

“We just have to be an honest band,” Geier said,” “and if that means we’re considered more political than the people who sing about girls and how dope their swagger is, then yeah, that’s us I guess.”