“It’s not every year that the winner of our Picked to Click poll blows the rest of the competition out of the water, but every so often a band comes along that manages to win over the hearts of the entire music scene.” Though a tad hyperbolic, City Pages‘ recent introduction of this year’s best new band honors, which were given to Minneapolis’s Red Pens, weren’t bestowed without sufficient rationale. Particularly over the past few months, few burgeoning local acts have appeared so consistently on the radar—the excitement surrounding this band is hard to dispute.
A visual artist, guitarist Howard W. Hamilton III originally met drummer Laura F. Bennett after a friend of Hamilton’s suggested that he should check out Bennett’s work. From there they began collaborating until Bennett eventually hit the guitarist with a suggestion that maybe they should play together. Considering that they performed together for a year before actually playing in front of an audience, their album Reasons is more than simply the band’s debut: it’s a sonic time capsule culminating the evolution of their relationship.
Imagine for a moment what an under-produced version of Sonic Youth’s “Sunday” might sound like had it been shortened, amped up, and filtered through a youthful Midwestern duo: that’s pretty much what you’re going to hear on the majority of Reasons. In a half hour Red Pens tear through a dozen songs, shredding and wailing away on their instruments before an undertow encapsulates the last song and carries it out to sea.
“Cave Something” switches up the pace early on in the record, with Bennett introducing the track through a rumbling introduction while Hamilton chimes in with a steady drone of guitar that overwhelms the next three minutes of the song. “Street Issues” later continues the album by dropping a full-bodied sound that raises Hamilton’s vocals over an uncharacteristically bouncy riff. After a few more tracks of violent riffing, “Phase You Out” brings the record to a conclusion by capping off everything off and fading away. As its slow, emotional drive dissipates, it’s hard not to think about the blazing sound that came before it and pressing play once again.
The reason that best new band honors might seem a bit much is because there are hundreds, if not thousands of bands around the world right now attempting a similar sound at the moment as Red Pens. But it’s the delivery of the dizzying shoegaze-inspired whirlwind that the band sets itself apart. Whether it be the wavy “Children and the Kids” or the shredding sounds of “Kick Me,” Red Pens offer ample evidence suggestive of the true quality of their interpretation of the sound. For those who don’t get it, the band is just another faceless entity in the overpopulated populace; for those who do: Reasons is a record to play many times.