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"Meteorade: Shaking Strangers (review)"

For an album that brings such resourcefulness and variety to bright power-pop songs, Meteorade's Shaking Strangers (which the Madison band will celebrate Friday at The Frequency) has an easy time shrugging off coolness. In fact, the photo above (from an actual Sears portrait studio) might be perfectly true-to-life. Opening track "Let It Stop" brings some refreshing eagerness to anyone who's bored of hearing Doug Martsch whine or Stephen Malkmus sound aloof. Guitarist/bassist Tom Teslik's vocals jab the song up to speed with yelps about "some beat that beats my brain repeatedly."

The best guitar leads work here like they would on a Buzzcocks song, cutting against the rhythm figures and vocals with a few simple and well-chosen plucks. Meteorade doesn't play with technical wizardry here, but with enough attention to write memorable parts. The band also builds fun instrumental bridges, instead of just playing boring solos in place of verses. "Supercharged" begins as a pleasant stroll—"I am taking real steps / and each one feels the best" Teslik sings, and if he's smirking, it tastefully doesn't come through in his voice. The band snaps out of it for a little surf-rock punch-up at the end. The hooks on album-closer "Sending Me A Storm" twinkle briefly and sweetly, before releasing the song into a four-minute jam that has several energetic twists of its own.

Not that Meteorade sheds all of its youthful awkwardness on Shaking Strangers: The vocals on "Postslackerism" (among others) put a sloppy finish on otherwise solid melodies and witty lyrics: "Is the Exxon Valdez still your worst memory?" Despite these frustrations, Meteorade's four members didn't fall into the common trap of making an album before they were sure of themselves. They did it just when things were picking up.

--Scott Gordon - The Onion's AV Club

"Reviewing the Neighbors: Shaking Strangers"

Shaking Strangers, the new album by Madison rockers Meteorade, is filled with music that teeters on the edge of power pop with a mash of great hooks but very non-power pop song structures. One track is titled "Postslackerism" and that concept sums up their sound: a bit of Pavement oddness with some Pixies noisiness plus a grab bag of grunge and pop bands from all over filling up the kitchen sink. "Thick Rotten Song" blends a smooth riff with very strange lyrics ("It’s happening all over the place/sulfur swarms are covering over my face") which careens to a halt backed with nice howling harmonies.

Songs like "Sending Me a Storm," which starts muscularly and finishes in hilarious shambles, show that the band does not coast on a single style for long. "Supercharged" could easily pass for a hit single with some Radiohead poking through on the vocals and the riff. Despite these retro leanings Shaking Strangers is much more than a "spot the influence" game (although that was a fun way to listen to each track) as Meteorade creates tunes with an individual spin. Though they are self professed 90s-era fans (listing Weezer, The Pixies, The Breeders, Pavement, Beck, and The Flaming Lips as influences on their myspace page) there's a bit of early REM lurking on Shaking Strangers. Those boys from Athens didn't innovate music as much as they blended many different elements and came up with a sound that was retro as well as unique, which is what Meteorade have done with Shaking Strangers.

Meteorade release Shaking Strangers at the Frequency on Friday January 22 with openers Rescue School and Sylvia Beach. The album is available to stream at

--Aaron Scholz -

"According to Meteorade, Life Was Grand in the 1990s"

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.

--Jessica Steinhoff - The Isthmus

"Meteorade Will Quench Need to Rock"

In a student house like any other on the UW campus, four friends lounge together in their quirky and cozy living room.

The friendship between Nathan Schaefer, Krista Rasmussen, Tom Teslik and Ben Knollenberg didn’t blossom from neighboring freshmen dorm rooms or a high school clique. The close friends and members of Meteorade met through MySpace, shared classes and mutual friends. It was through a mutual love of bands such as Weezer and The Pixies that the group united back in 2007. What started as a simple jam session transformed into a unique and passionate band within days. And so, the indie-alternative band Meteorade was born.

“I think we have all changed our idea of what’s cool based on two years of playing together,” said Schaefer, a recent UW graduate who shares the vocals for the band, along with guitar and synth. “There used to be very sharp distinctions, but everyone’s music tastes have blended together.”

Playing together in Knollenberg’s basement, the band recorded demos off their laptops, channeling the alternative rock style reminiscent of 90’s bands.

“The decade you grew up in has a big impact on you,” Schaefer said. “You just can’t say you’re a ‘rock band’ now.”

Teslik, now a UW senior, added, “If you turn on the rock radio stations, it’s Nickelback—or the twelve bands that sound like Nickelback.”

One problem the band faces today in the post millennium music scene is the inevitable conotations behind the “alternative indie” band, which has proven frustrating in trying to make a name for themself. And while the band claims they “don’t sound like a Wes Anderson movie soundtrack,” they pride themselves in being musicians whose purpose is to play their instruments without distracting gimmicks or elaborate show tricks.

Often compared to bands such as Pavement, Stereolab and Built to Spill, the band’s sharp vocals, impressive variety of guitar riffs and refreshing lyrics on Shaking Strangers shows the dedication and diligence the group put into their debut album.

Over time, as music tastes and individual styles melded, the band channeled some of their favorite artists as inspiration. Knollenberg, a UW senior who plays guitar, bass and trumpet, in addition to vocals, incorporates a more broody, metal sound with favorite bands like Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Meshuggah and Jimi Hendrix. Rasmussen, a UW senior majoring in Religious Studies and Languages and Cultures of Asia enjoys a “garage band” sound with favorites The Kinks, The Sonics and Supercharger.

Having played over 70 shows in and around Wisconsin, the members of Meteorade are now comfortable as performers and certainly enjoy having fun with one other on stage. Whether watching fans enjoy homemade cupcakes made with love by Rasmussen, or making their audience jump rope as a massive group, they enjoy adding a personal aspect to their performances.

“We’re not angry or bad-ass,” Schaefer said. “We don’t encourage people to elbow each other in the face. We’re just there to make good music.”

And good music they will make at their album release show, Friday at 10 p.m. at The Frequency. One of their favorite venues to play at — SO to owner Darwin Sampson, who Meteorade describes as “the real deal” — their excitement and anticipation for this show is sure to bounce off the walls and seep into the audience. The friends’ pride and excitement surrounding the release of their debut album, Shaking Strangers, is irrefutable.

Unfortunately, the band has found that many students tend not to branch out into the greater Madison area.

“We do have a pretty hard time getting students outside of the group of people we know to come out places,” Schaefer said. “I think people would enjoy it a lot if they went out and hit Capital Square every now and then.”

So Madisonians, come jam out and support a fellow UW student generated band whose energy and love for music will make for a great performance.

Meteorade will perform at their album release show on Friday, January 22 at 10 p.m. at The Frequency.

--Natalie Sandy - The Badger Herald

"MadTracks: "Thinking About You" by Meteorade"

Don’t talk to Meteorade about love. Well, at least not Nathan Schaefer. The guitarist for the local pop-rock five-piece has got a grudge against love songs.

“A lot of mainstream pop music today is really redundant; love songs have been beaten into the ground,” says Schaefer, who also sings and writes songs for the band. “Real-life situations are usually more complicated and can involve a mixture of feelings, so I like songs that capture that.”

While this perspective makes the 20-something sound like a bit of a sage, it doesn’t make songwriting very easy. Once the Pandora’s Box of political issues and psychological theories has been pried open, a pop song becomes much more than a catchy melody. It’s a public statement of the band’s beliefs, and as most of us with strong opinions know, this is likely to rub someone the wrong way or, at the very least, confuse the heck out of those expecting bubble gum.

Schafer unleashed these challenges early in his career as a songwriter, beginning a few years ago with the lyrics to “Thinking About You,” a meditation on infatuation that includes a pithy statement about global warming.

“The overall theme of the song is that I viewed thinking about the girl all the time as an inconvenience instead of a blessing,” he says. “I tried to make fun of a lot of the standard love-song clichés such as ‘You’re a star’ and ‘You’re the sun,’ but the lyrics don’t all make sense. That’s probably my fault for listening to weird music.”

This “weird” music is largely ’90s indie rock. Meteorade calls bands such as Weezer, Cake and the Pixies their main influences. While this isn’t unusual for a band composed of 35-year-olds, Meteorade’s members, all of whom are UW students, weren’t even in preschool when Doolittle was released, so perhaps this fascination is somewhat unconventional.

Though they may be ’90s revivalists, Meteorade’s not married to a 100% retro sound. The band recently revamped “Thinking About You” to include the accordion-like sounds of a blow-organ in the chorus, a move more fit for a Beirut album than a Cracker cassette tape.

While the blow-organ worked out well in the end, it posed some of those real-life problems -- the kind that inspire Schafer -- during a recent recording session at Madison Media Institute. Krista Rasmussen, who plays synthesizer for the band, knew how to play the keys of the instrument but didn’t have enough hot air to sustain the sound. The debacle led to some impromptu teamwork by the band.

“I ended up blowing air into the instrument while she played the chords,” says bassist Tom Teslik, who also shares guitar, singing and songwriting duties with Schafer. “Every student engineer came and watched and laughed, and one person even took pictures.”

An MP3 of “Thinking About You” is available in the related downloads at right. More songs by the group can be listened to on its MySpace page. Meteorade performs a show with One For The Team and Those Green Eyes on Tuesday, November 25 at The Annex.

--Jessica Steinhoff - The Isthmus

"Class Acts: UW-Madison Bands are Back in a Big Way"

UW-Madison students Quincy Harrison and Cliff Grefe were profiled in USA Today last December for a song they wrote in the basement of their Langdon Street fraternity house.

Harrison, 20, and Grefe, 19, didn't get national press for breaking musical ground. They'd barely begun performing together as Zooniversity months earlier. The raps and beats were simple on their debut single, "Coastie Song (What's a Coastie?)."

But their lyrical depiction of a campus stereotype was starkly unfiltered, and for some, offensively so. In this telling, Coasties aren't just coeds from New York. Zooniversity portrays Coasties as young Jewish women who drink Starbucks, don North Face and Ugg fashions, and freely spend "Daddy's money."

"Coastie Song" has solicited about 200,000 views and listens across YouTube, MySpace and other websites. That number is similar to the online exposure a national indie rock hit typically gets.

Here in Madison, "Coastie Song" is heralding what could be the most important local music story developing this year. After a relatively quiet period, the UW-Madison music scene is on the rise. Undergraduate bands are playing more local stages, and to a degree unseen in decades, live-music venues are operating on or near State Street.

A single event highlights this trend on Friday, March 12. Three increasingly influential student bands will share a bill at the Pub, 552 State St.: the Nod, the Choons and Meteorade.

It's an event that defies entrenched local music norms. For years, Madison's most active live music venues have resided in the near east (High Noon Saloon) or near west (Annex). But along with longstanding campus venues like the Memorial Union Rathskeller, a growing number of commercial spaces for local and touring bands are now a short walk from Library Mall, including the Pub, Opa, Samba Brazilian Grill, the Orpheum and Majestic theaters, the Frequency, Brocach and the Argus.

In a series of interviews, student musicians and academic student services staff suggested the cause of this campus music revival: Changes in technology have emboldened a new generation of undergraduates to more broadly participate in creating music. And as more students create music, they seek venues near campus to play.

"We're on an upswing now," says WSUM general manager Dave Black. "The DIY nature of media makes it more natural for this generation to think, 'I can make my own music.'"

"How we record music is pretty cool," says Zooniversity's Grefe. "We have a studio in our [fraternity] house that we made from scratch right as summer was ending. We have the software, keyboard, microphone and everything all in the room. We also soundproofed the room with egg cartons and mattresses we found on the street that other people didn't want."

Brett Newski fronts the Nod, one of the most successful campus bands of the past few years. Newski says the new wave of UW bands seeks closer venues for the most practical of reasons: "When you're a young band you usually don't have a car to transport your gear." Having venues near campus, he says, "makes it that much easier for us."

'Everything happens online'

Last year, Majestic Theatre co-owner Matt Gerding began hosting Wisconsin Union Directorate shows in his venue to try to bridge the musical divide between campus and community. He hires student interns and makes it his business to keep current on new musical trends. He says it's clear that more college students are making music nationwide. "They're creating a huge following completely on their own."

Last month, the Majestic presented Mike Posner, a Duke University student who Gerding says created a buzz for himself on YouTube, Facebook and MySpace without any radio support or a major label.

"The show sold out in advance," says Gerding. "It's amazing. Artists like Owl City and Pretty Lights have had a similar story. They create music with new technology and develop hype with a very limited amount of classic promotional models."

John Sprangers, 22, plays guitar and keys in the Choons, one of the UW-Madison rock bands scheduled to play the Pub on March 12. "I use a home recording program to flesh out the parts," he says. "With a midi keyboard and a guitar, I can record all of the tracks — drum parts and keys — in pretty short order, and I can use the program to make sheet music and tabs. With this material, the band can be playing new original songs very quickly."

Sprangers says it isn't just changes in the availability of recording equipment that has helped fuel the Choons' initial success. "We benefit tremendously from social media," he says. "Even though we're just getting our bearings locally, our front man has communicated through Twitter with people as far away as Australia who like our music.

Sprangers says the Choons use social media to find venues and advertise their shows and merchandise. "Everything happens online except for the shows themselves," he says.

The Choons are among a wave of current campus rock bands and artists that includes the pop-rock of Meteorade, the bluesy rock of Dirty Jive, the funky sounds of the Bombshelters, the rootsy pop of Anna Wang and the acoustic folk-rock of P.C. Allen. These acts build on the success of student electro-jammers Steez and the quirky high-energy sound of the Nod.

A growing number of music-related student organizations are among the hundreds of campus clubs, according to Eric Knueve, interim director of the Center for Leadership and Involvement. That includes a cappella groups like MadHatters, the redcoated, necktied young men who do dramatic interpretations of pop hits like Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars." The group increasingly uses YouTube as an outlet for reaching audiences.

Gerding believes national success stories of home recording artists like Adam Young, who performs as Owl City, have motivated students to try to compose their own songs. Owl City's "Fireflies" became a number-one Billboard single in 2009 and has generated album sales exceeding two million copies so far.

"I think students and young people see these artists come out of nowhere and develop these huge followings by making music with all kinds of new recording technology, and they think, 'Hey, I can do this, too,'" says Gerding.

"I think the Ramones probably inspired more kids to form bands than any other artist in history because they made great music that was really simple to play," he says. "Kids are being similarly inspired by artists like Owl City who make music that is just as simple and easy and can be made in a dorm room with nothing more than a laptop."

Change you can trust?

The rapid changes in recording technology and social media may be sparking an explosion in UW campus bands, but it's also leaving some student musicians unsure of what platforms they can rely on to endure.

Nathan Schaefer, 22, is a guitarist and vocalist in Meteorade. "I'm not sure that everything has settled down and found its niche yet," he says. "When MySpace first launched, it was very convenient to use. You could browse all local bands in an area by giving it a zip code. That was how we learned more about the Madison scene when we moved here, and how we found bands to contact when booking shows."

But Schaefer says MySpace has started feeling more corporate. "The ability to find local bands is gone," he says. "Instead they shove 'top music' charts in your face."

Concerns about the new platforms lead some student musicians back to more traditional methods of recording and distribution.

For the Choons, home technology is used to develop songs, but not to burn them into their final form. "We've been doing the recordings we sell and put our names behind at Full Spectrum Studios in Fond du Lac, with a producer," says Sprangers. "It's part DIY and part paying a pro."

Truth be told, Schaefer's trust in technology doesn't run deep. "I think, overall, our generation came of age right when everything was changing," he says. "I heard good stuff on the radio when I was in grade school, and the idea of using the Internet to find music seemed strange until I was in high school. Our drummer Krista was big into her local punk scene. She read print zines and ordered albums from her favorite labels using snail mail."

But it's harder to find reliable outlets for learning about music, he says. "Most of us still have a friend we trust to find new bands and show them to us."

For most students, the advantages of the new media outweigh the uncertainties. "It's a lot easier to find great music today," says Sprangers of the Choons. "When I go to [the review aggregating site] Metacritic, I know any band scoring above an 80 is bound to have a very interesting album."

In high school, Sprangers didn't know much about indie music because no radio station played it. "But now I can log onto Pitchfork from wherever I am and find out about great music a little outside the mainstream."

Do-it-yourself memories

College is about having unforgettable experiences, and that's what's happening in the UW music scene revival.

Brandon Beebe, guitarist and vocalist for the Bombshelters, vividly recalls a show at the Ram Head Ratskeller, a recently closed venue that operated on North Henry Street. There was, he says, "just the feeling of being underground in that hedonistic place with a huge pit of people dancing in a euphoric, sweaty mess in front of you, and both familiar and unfamiliar faces surrounding you on either side of the stage with huge grins and fists pumping. You'd look back into the hazy blackness and see endless bodies that you know are packed to the back walls with a line out the door. Knowing that you are supplying this entire place with one of the best nights they've had all year. And feeling, if only for the night, like a real rock star — I'll never forget it."

The Nod's Brett Newski says that rock's new independent work ethic suits college students like him just fine.

"We do everything ourselves," he says. "We really pound the pavement to reach the ears. It's a do-it-yourself era with recording, promoting and booking. No one can afford a roadie to change their strings. We should probably just call the new record DIY."

He says the Nod rents an old, dirty rock 'n' roll basement under a liquor store. "It's cheap rent, and we get a discount for mopping the floor and taking out the trash each month. Love it."

Given the higher profile of undergraduate bands and music groups, more high-impact student recordings are bound to help steer the direction of Madison's music scene, on and off campus.

Zooniversity has already released a follow-up to "Coastie Song." It's a rap serenade to Chancellor Biddy Martin and features the singing of MadHatter Sam Petricca. The three-minute single finds fraternity brothers "Beef" and "Quincy" professing romantic adulation for Martin, who is a lesbian. Like "Coastie Song," "My Biddy" is sure to be taken as funny by some, offensive by others.

Like it or not, it's thoroughly collegiate. I have a hunch a lot of Madison music will be in the decade ahead.

Merlyn's headlined last great burst of campus-area live music

Not since the days of Ronald Reagan and Rubik's Cube has a high-profile rock nightclub operated on State Street. From 1979 to 1983, a venue called Merlyn's brought live music to the campus area. The now-legendary club operated at 311 State St., and the Replacements, R.E.M., U2 and the Police all played there.

Owners Serge and Delila Ledwith hosted plenty of local music, too. And the local bands from that era — Spooner and the Appliances-SFB among them — loom large in Madison music history.

"At its best, Merlyn's was much more than a nightclub. It was an idea," says Delila Ledwith, who now practices employment civil rights law in Texas.

Merlyn's nostalgia runs deep online. On Facebook, the group Merlyn's Living Music Club has more than 200 members and serves as a scrapbook for the former venue.

At Isthmus' Forum, the thread Memories of Merlyn's began in 2007. "Merlyn's was a golden moment in Madison's musical development," wrote Newlow in a post that includes the following memories: "Climbing the wall to sneak into the X show; U2 trashing my friend Amy's apartment after their gig."

With live music in revival on campus and State Street, will another Merlyn's rise again?

--Rich Albertoni - The Isthmus


Shaking Strangers - full debut LP - January 22, 2010

Spatial Integrity (4 Song EP) - January 2008



Meteorade doesn't want to be the most cutting-edge or important band in rock history. Meteorade's talent lies in its ability to create smart indie pop/rock songs that (according to The Onion's AV Club) are full of "resourcefulness and variety" as well as "refreshing eagerness." The band's diverse set of influences is apparent in its mixture of pop hooks with instrumental jams; as said by another reviewer, Meteorade's songs "do not coast on a single style for long."

Meteorade is made up of four music geeks from Madison, Wisconsin. All are classically-trained multi-instrumentalists, and all met and started playing together in 2007 after meeting each other through the University of Wisconsin. Meteorade's sound has been compared to bands like Pavement, Built to Spill, (old) Weezer, and Cake, and the band's favorite artists also include Pedro the Lion, John Frusciante, Elliott Smith, Failure, garage rock like the Kinks, and Dr. Dre.

Over the past two years, Meteorade has played over 80 gigs in three states, been featured on student radio, received positive reviews in various Madison publications, and split the bill with popular national and regional touring acts. Meteorade has always believed that music comes before image and gimmickry, and the four members of Meteorade look to the openness and fun spirit of certain 90's and 00's indie rock bands for inspiration while maintaining their creativity and freedom.

Meteorade released its debut album, Shaking Strangers, on January 22, 2010 after recording and releasing two EPs on a smaller scale. Shaking Strangers shows Meteorade's growth as a band and its venture into more collaborative territory: pop hooks are complemented by instrumental jams, and the full spectrum of Meteorade's sound, made possible by three different singer-songwriters, can be heard on the album. Meteorade has never been about any one thing: it's the band's diversity of influences and ability to change sounds at a moment's notice that keeps the act fun and interesting. But don't take our word for it: listen!