Authentically autumnal audio

Gabriel Shapiro

As the skies over our northern town darken through the always short-lived autumn into winter, temperatures no longer register in healthy double-digits. Music that lightened the summer’s breezy, sticky sizzle moves back into the cabinet, replaced by something to complement the introspective months under the frost. No more poppy bounce, no more lyrics that wanna have fun and dance – it’s time to chill, seriously.

90 Day Men, Chicago’s answer to the question “Can anyone be that hip and that good?” have provided us a new winter soundtrack. Lush and dark as burgundy velvet in a smoky bar, the piano sounds like a cross between Tom Waits, drunk and lamenting another worst-case scenario come true, and The Smiths’ saddest moments, just before the crashing in of “Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me” or just before death on “Asleep.”

Underneath the waves of melancholic piano, drums jolt and hold their breath, never fully exploding, but rather driving the drowning victim further down. Guitars flash through, more sounds and textural elements than notes and chords, shimmering like light through the surface of the dark water, ever more distant and faint as the piano reasserts its lead. Vocals, when they happen, are sung in moody, breathy voices and ask difficult questions, such as, “Where do we go from here?” If the music and the season are married in a shower of leaves, they will certainly honeymoon under a blanket of Minnesota’s purest white snow. Heading into the cold with a beautiful melody leading us, our only lament can be that the CD is over so soon, not unlike autumn itself.

As a three-song CD single, this effort can only be seen as a cruel tease, dropping hints of what greatness will follow when the forthcoming “Panda Park,” the album from which “Too Late or Too Dead” is the lead single, is released in early 2004.

Don’t despair, though; the 90 Day Men are not leaving us in the lurch for long, and before their last CD “To Everybody” has left your regular rotation, they will be here in person, appearing Oct. 3 at Minneapolis’ new home for all that is fantastic in live music, the illustrious (and nearby) Triple Rock Social Club. The show is unfortunately an ID event, so you young fans will have to press your ears to the windows out on Cedar Avenue this time. Luckily, October isn’t terribly cold. You might not want to lick anything metal after nightfall, but shivering on the sidewalk won’t be fatal.

90 Day Men are known to shatter the minds of audiences the way they shatter constricting generic labels. The instantly accessible music found on their latest offering might be a step away from their previous work, but in the live setting, anything interesting and well-played can be more immediately comfortable than its companion recording. The show will undoubtedly be full of fervent fans and tentative newcomers, most of them awkwardly obvious in their grasping at hipster status, but leave the hot threads on the rack and blow your cash on the true measure of your street cred: the tickets and the records.

So the bad news is certainly bad: ID show, the full-length is still a ways off, and the last bit – the single isn’t even out yet. But take heart, many of your contemporaries around the country will be waiting until Oct. 6 to get it in their waiting hands, and you probably won’t have to wait as long. Southern Records, the label releasing the single and the following full-length, will more than likely be sending a few copies up to the Twin Cities in anticipation of the show, so call your favorite local record stores and ask for it. If all else fails, the band will certainly have copies for sale at the show, and if you’re just too young, get an older friend to buy you one. Then throw it in your stereo and hit repeat, watch the leaves turn color and fall off the trees, and wait for the long, cold winter.