By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
The cicadas are silent at the moment, thanks to the arctic temperatures, but soon nature's freakiest rock band will recommence its strangely soothing cacophonous chorus, and all will be well again. The insects' human counterparts, Ring, Cicada -- a Collinsville, Illinois, quartet whose enigmatic comma has plagued many a copy editor lo these many years -- are set to drop their first nationally released full-length, Good Morning, Mr. Good, in early May on 54° 40' or Fight! The small indie label, which is based in northern Michigan, is also home to Minnesota art-squallers Sicbay (whose frontman, Nick Sakes, used to be in Dazzling Killmen with hometown improv legend Darin Gray), among others. Originally, Good Morning -- which was recorded and mixed nearly a year ago by none other than Steve Albini -- was scheduled for an early-April release, but the label pushed it back a month because of complications with the distribution. "It kind of bummed us out because we were, like, all ready to go," says bassist Eric Abert with a sigh. "April seemed OK because we recorded it the previous year and it wasn't a full year yet, but now -- well, whatever. We're just glad it's coming out."
The band is nothing if not patient. Formed nearly ten years ago, Ring, Cicada has shuffled members so many times that even Abert, who's been playing with the outfit since late 1996 or early 1997, is a little hazy about the early days. "This is the only lineup that's done anything," Abert explains. "The other ones didn't even really play shows; they just started it out, you know?"
Unfortunately, the lineup instability continues. A couple of years ago, the hitherto-all-instrumental band took on a singer, only to lose him a short while later. Guitarist Christian Powell assumed vocal duties on a handful of songs (Ring, Cicada remains mostly instrumental), but soon after recording Good Morning, the drummer, Keith Abert (Eric's brother), quit to pursue a postcollegiate career. "I'm really happy with our new drummer, Aaron Zeveski," Eric says. "He's great, but I sometimes feel like it should be the way it was on the recording. We were all pumped up; we knew [Keith] was quitting, but we thought that doing the recording might change his mind."
It didn't, but that's no reflection on the CD, which perfectly captures Ring, Cicada's dense yet spectral post-punk riffage. From the spacey dirge "I Can Hear You Breathing" to the proggish miniepic "Esoterrorism" (a portmanteau of "esoteric" and "terrorism"), the interlocking Telecasters ring and retch, pule and pummel, buzz and thrum. Powell and second guitarist Dave Goodman weave melodies that are pretty without being insipid, and the rhythm section's ability to master post-rock's obligatory tempo changes is equally impressive. One of the guys in Shiner (R.I.P.) once said that Ring, Cicada had the best live guitar sound he'd ever heard, and Albini did an excellent job capturing it.
Working with the seminal engineer/musician/provocateur turned out to be a pleasant experience, as well as a fruitful one. "We were so freaked out about it going up [to Chicago]," Abert admits. "I mean, he's Steve Albini! Everyone we knew who worked with him, I'd ask 'em what he was like, and they'd say, 'He's just a guy, man, like, really cool.' We got there, and right off the bat he's cracking a little joke -- not about us or anything -- and we were, like, man, this guy is awesome. We just busted it out. The first day we did seven songs, and then the next day we finished up and did a few overdubs, repaired things, and then mixed the next day. We went back in December to finish up a few things and add some vocals. The guy just knows what he's doing, man."
Although the CD release date's a few months away, you can still get your Ring, Cicada fix this Saturday, when the band holds court at Radio Cherokee (3227 Cherokee) with Parts & Labor and Skarekrauradio.
Also on Saturday, retro garage darlings the Gentleman Callers party like it's 1965 at Frederick's Music Lounge. The band celebrates the release of its first seven-inch EP, a winning slice of queasy Farfisa and strangled-whiteboy soul stylings. If you dig the Troggs, the Kingsmen, the Sonics and the entire Nuggets boxed set, you'll love this record -- and the EP's unspeakably cool packaging will appeal to all you vinyl fetishists out there.