Now that the 2010s have started, it's time for a return to the 1990s, at least if Meteorade have anything to say about it.
Sure, local cover bands play '90s hits, but this quartet of UW undergrads have a different relationship with the era of grunge, boy bands and hip-hop feuds. For them, acts like Pavement, Cake and the Pixies are a relatively new discovery.
"I just learned what 'shoegaze' meant a week ago," admits bassist/guitarist/vocalist Ben Knollenberg, while guitarist/vocalist Nathan Schaefer claims to have just discovered the Dismemberment Plan.
Meteorade's debut album, Shaking Strangers, which will be released at the Frequency Jan. 22, highlights their process of falling head-over-heels for these musicians and others who laid the foundation for '00s indie rock. Musically, Meteorade's new songs would've sounded at home in 1996. However, they feel a bit different - in a good way.
Much '90s rock explored depression, angst and alienation, leaving listeners in a dark mood by album's end. While Meteorade's songs touch upon some related themes - epic letdowns, mindless idol-worship and being misunderstood - they tend to have a sweet aftertaste.
This could have to do with the band's knack for crafting a pop hook. "Anxiety Candidate" rocks a chord progression reminiscent of Weezer's "Say It Ain't So," explores Stone Temple Pilots territory, then adds a splendid set of harmonizing oohs recorded in the stairwell of the band's house. "Supercharged" and "Scatterbrain" blend guitar sounds from Radiohead's The Bends with the songwriting sensibilities of Built to Spill and the Beach Boys. Meanwhile, "Repeat Offender" takes up where Stephen Malkmus' Real Emotional Trash left off, with lots of big, beautiful guitar solos.
The album's sugary flavor could also come from the lovey-dovey feelings Meteorade get when imagining what the '90s were like. According to guitarist/bassist/vocalist Tom Teslik, the '90s were about doing your own thing and letting it all hang out.
"I think the culture back then was reflected in how baggy people's clothes could be," he says. "You could just be comfortable - and comfortable with who you are."
Schaefer remembers the decade as a kaleidoscope of bold, clashing colors and, to some extent, clashing attitudes.
"The other day I was looking at this old VHS tape. The people on it had these ridiculous windbreakers where all the colors clashed, yet they seemed happy," he says. Schaefer acknowledges that there was lots of grunge music about suicide, but concludes that the '90s seemed like a positive decade for a lot of people.
Drummer Krista Rasmussen offers a different perspective: "I liked how the mainstream music itself was really good in the early '90s. People got into alternative music on a larger scale, and it seems like there were a lot of people buying records and seeing shows. It's a different culture now; people don't buy records, and more people seem to stay home."
It's true: Lots of people would rather stay in, save money and play Guitar Hero than venture out to hear a new band. And many of them don't want to write songs or learn to play guitar; they just want to pretend. These days, for live acts like Meteorade, it's difficult just getting people to shut up and pay attention. As the band put it in "Postslackerism": "And for you, it's the same old cliché / Your roof's on fire, but your mind's so far away."
Where does all this leave Meteorade? Stuck in the '10s, but with plenty of good material for an album.