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ISSUE 119 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/10/2006

The Plastic Constellations

By Ian Anderson
Executive Editor

Friday, March 10, 2006

When TPC started as wide-eyed and bushy-tailed 15-year-old kids from Hopkins, Minn., they had no idea as to what their fate would be. But now, as maturing 23-year-old men, it has become increasingly clear that they are destined for greatness.

How could this have happened? You may ask. Four suburban kids from Minnesota stumbling upon legendary indie-rock status does not seem likely – or even possible for that matter – but that's why it's so great.

Crusades is a testament to the determination of four kids that know that “Second best is never good enough when you're tryin' for it all” (Men In Dark Times).

They have outgrown the countless antiquated high school references they have received throughout their existence. Finally, they are able to escape the gravitational pull of a promising past for a downright exemplary front of hot licks and phat beats. They're coming over to your house, drinking your beer, and keeping you up all night even though you have to wake up early in the morning for work. Oh, and they'll be needing your car, too.

This expedition for the ultimate follow-up began shortly after Mazatlan came out, when TPC hooked up with Frenchkiss in New York.

“The record was done and we went on a two week tour out East,” singer and guitarist Aaron Mader said. “Craig [Finn of the Hold Steady and Lifter Puller] and Tad [Kubler also of the Hold Steady and of Song of Zarathrustra] brought Steve from Frenchkiss out to Pianos.”

After a few months of back-and-forth between Frenchkiss and 2024, “We had to decide if we were ready and willing to take the next step,” Mader said. “Whether or not to tour all of the time and work through our contract with 2024.” What was once a high school dream now seemed to be a possibility, and TPC stepped up to the plate. After signing with Frenchkiss, TPC found themselves sitting at the “cool kids” table.

“Life has definitely changed a lot,” singer and guitarist Jeff Allen said. “There isn't a lot of money, so its not like we're rolling in dough. But, it has changed how much time and effort we put into it.”

Now, TPC is doing what all soon-to-be-great bands do: Tour, a lot. This transition in a band's maturation is by no means a simple process. This is where hardships tend to rear their ugly heads: Once a band is outside the safety zone of Minnesota-nice, this evolution can either kill a band or make them stronger. TPC definitely falls into the latter category.

Crusades sweats epic. Not since Led Zeppelin's “The Battle of Evermore” has there been a song, nay, a record so vast in concept that it motivates moral quests and treks of unfathomable distance and danger. A record so epic that any simile used to describe it must be equally as anthemic, as glorious. Here is an album worthy of Mordor.

Such grandiose music surely must have its limits, but TPC knows just when to dial it down before going over the top. This feel for the appropriate has been fostered over years of just working damn hard. Only friendship and experience as a band 10-years-old teaches this sense of knowing what's good, how good and when to use it. They use it.

Allen and Mader spit intelligent rhymes back and forth throughout the record, one-up-ing each other left and right, showing off what lyrical gifts their healthy backgrounds of hip-hop listening have given them.

Jordan Roske's bass lines are smart: straightforward, not too busy and not too stagnant – smart. His solid foundation is only matched by Matt Scharenbroich's backbeats, which, sorry to say, are bigger than anything you've heard before. With massive reverb that would make At the Drive-In question their badittude, Scharenbroich is encapsulate in a Lowry-tunnel shaped and sized room, which only adds to the weight and overall hugeness of the mix.

The hottest track on the record is “Ghost in the House,” which may just be the coolest retelling of a fight, ever. The song begins with a Ten Grand-esque riff that breaks into an onslaught of sidestepping guitar riffs accompanied by the TPC-standard booty-shakin' drumbeat. Heavyweight lines like “One knife drawn to ask for respect / The second meant to prove it's a threat / The third was meant to use and collect,” set a scene of quest, conquest and confrontation.

The chorus is a riotous chant of victory: “And in the morning we'd see all the things we'd saved,” which leads into the hidden gem of the song, an actual sentimental line: “We slept on the lake / And felt our bodies lock into the tectonic plates / I could have sworn it was grace.” But, as if created purely as a failsafe to contradict Mader's true softy nature, they drop a massive breakdown of dueling guitars that conjure images of Mader and Allen standing back-to-back, soloing on a pedestal while Roske slowly descends from the ceiling on a wire track and Scharenbroich's steal drum cage begins to levitate and rotate toward a tank of water filled with tiger sharks. This boldness to confront the extreme that makes TPC so dynamic and contagious.

However, the track that takes the epic award is beyond any doubt “Belly of the Beast,” a dark tale of intense turmoil and the forging of the unforeseen. Placing a sword and sheath into each band member's hands, they become characters in a quest paralleled only by Beowulf. They journey into the heart of darkness, possibly never to return. But in this song Mader breaks the fourth wall with a true confession: “I only use this sword to tear the flesh / And the fact that I'm really scared to death / I only use this battle scene as the text / To hid the fact I've only dreamed of quests.”

“The stuff I'm singing about isn't a metaphor,” Mader said. “They're straight up things that are just big in my head, and Jeff balances it out, bringing it to real life. [Crusades] is about day-to-day struggle and overcoming the hard stuff … I also just really enjoy volcanoes and dragons, I never was into dungeons and dragons as a kid but I was always curious.”

The album traces a blockbuster plot of exploration and conquest. Calling Crusades a concept album would not be too far off the mark but it also maintains a semblance of pop-awareness that keeps it accessible.

“I wrote out this huge thing mapping this album as a concept album. To me it's a concept album,” Mader said. “But to everybody else it's not, and that's okay.”

To Allen, Crusades is about passion. “It's about just going for it,” he said. “Not settling. Don't settle for something unextraordinary.”

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