Wednesday, February 4, 2009

postpunk on the prairie: Arcwelder

Today we add yet another meme to the blog - postpunk on the prairie (i.e. the American Midwest). Since your trusty blogger originates from this heartland, he is quite familiar with the musics of the region.

What exactly is postpunk on the prairie? That's an easy one.... how about music that comes from the Midwest? Let's say that middle third of the US that lies between the East and the West. In terms of the blog, it's good old alternative/indie music that originates from Midwestern acts. For whatever reason (boredom? too many cornfields?), the US Midwest was - and continues to be - a very fertile ground for aspiring indierockers.

Today we feature a wonderful album from a lesser-known Midwestern postpunk act, Arcwelder. Hailing from Minneapolis (postpunk hotbed of acts such as Hüsker Dü, Replacements, Soul Asylum, Jayhawks, etc), Arcwelder is from the "third wave" of the Minneapolis punk scene, having started in the late 1980s and continuing through today.

With melodies galore, sub-Bob Mould vocals, blistering guitars, and just damn good songwriting, the album we feature below was Arcwelder's first "mass market" release - mass market in that it wasn't just put out on a tiny regional label, but instead on Chicago superindie stalwart Touch and Go - granddaddy to many indie labels itself.

Produced by Brian Paulson, Arcwelder's third full-length LP Pull is stellar - just hear it for yourself below. And allow me to quote some random reviewer on amazon:
This is no question one of the best indie/alt rock albums of the early 90s. I rank it up there with Superchunk's Foolish, Seam's The Problem With Me, Nirvana's Nevermind, and Pavement's Crooked Rain Crooked Rain. There must be something in the water in the Twin Cities, because Arcwelder have picked up where the Replacements and Hüsker Dü left off. With the Graber brothers (Bill and Rob) switching back and forth on guitar and bass, and drummer Scott Macdonald sharing vocal duties with Bill, Arcwelder mixes it up a little yet maintains a consistent post-punk, melodic power. Songs "Truth" and "Raleigh" are as good as any anthem in the power-pop canon. "And Then Again" is a heartfelt, nostalgic gem and my personal favorite. "Criminal" adds a wonderful rhythmic twist to plow ahead, while the subtle piano solo on "Finish My Song" makes me think of an overcast Minneapolis winter day. The album overall maintains a certain gloomy edge, but there is too much hope, potential and excellent songwriting to become bogged down in a quagmire. If you feel that indie rock is dying (as I do), go get this CD -- it will recapture the past glory.
(I plan to feature at least two of the above-mentioned albums in later blog posts - the author is spot on with his comparisons here.)

And from Trouser Press:
Like the sizzle of hot sparks hitting cold metal, Minneapolis' Arcwelder splatters impassioned vocals over a chilling backdrop. There's a frayed fury that lingers behind even the strongest hooks, the same tension-building mix that in the past has proven explosive for bands like Naked Raygun and Hüsker Dü, to which Arcwelder has most often been compared. With vibrant melodies that jump out of penetrating grooves, Arcwelder's albums also tend toward more subdued soundscapes. If the Hüsker match doesn't always apply, Arcwelder's singing does owe something to Bob Mould's disaffected tone. Drummer Scott Macdonald and guitarist Bill Graber share vocal duties — sometimes harmonizing, but often taking on differing melodies.

Completed by brother Rob Graber (bass/guitar), the trio debuted in 1988 as Tilt-a-Whirl and released its first album, This, under that moniker two years later. But the manufacturers of the carnival ride threatened to sue, and Tilt-a-Whirl became Arcwelder.

Armed with such terse pop constructions as "Raleigh" and "Remember to Forget," Pull again hits with harsh Big Blackened aggression and rhythms that churn and grind. A few tracks slow the pace, yet still seethe with anguish: see "What Did You Call It That For." Though the repetition of lyrics and riffs gets monotonous, the vocal interplay adds a caustic beauty to the basic melodies of "Finish My Song," "Lahabim" and "And Then Again."

Your humble author has seen this band at least twice that he can remember. Once in Chicago, opening up for Tar at the legendary Lounge Ax in 1995 for Tar's last-ever gig, and once in Minneapolis in 1999 at the 400 Bar. Both shows were terrific and if they ever make their way to where I reside currently, you can bet I'll see 'em again.

So on with it.....


(1993 Touch and Go Records TG108CD)

01 Truth
02 What Did You Call It That For?
03 And Then Again
04 It's A Wonderful Lie
05 Raleigh
06 Cranberry Sauce
07 Criminal
08 Will When You Won't
09 Remember To Forget
10 Lahabim
11 Just Not Moving
12 Finish My Song
13 You

nota bene: this LP is still available worldwide on Touch and Go. So buy it and support this fantastic band.


  1. Having only just ripped this and listened in its entirety after posting the blog entry, I realized there are a couple dropouts here and there, only on 2 tracks that I've noticed so far - and even then very minute. It's actually a rather common thing for CDs of this era on Touch and Go - many early 90s Touch and Go CDs exhibit similar very brief dropouts when ripped. Sorry about it - it doesn't detract from the listening experience at all, and if I turn up a non-blippy variant I'll certainly update the fileset.