The Selfish Gene
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The Selfish Gene

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"Madison's The Selfish Gene Set to Release Second Album"

Madison's The Selfish Gene is back at it. The winners of the 2006 MAMA for Best Overall Artist are releasing their second album, entitled The Grand Masquerade, on May 1. According to the band, the album was loosely developed around the Orwellian concepts of deception, false identity, and doublespeak. While it hasn't been difficult to find albums attempting to make political and sociological statements over the past few years, it was quite impressive to hear a local band pull it off so well. The album doesn't take cheap shots at our leaders or organizations who have often made themselves easy (although deserving) targets; it takes more of an intellectual storytelling approach.

The first full length track, "Weight of Light", opens the album in this style. The track addresses the doublespeak often pushed to the public ear, while the title and first stanza seem to present an interesting metaphor an to an individual's act of shutting out the truth. The next track ("Overboard") continues the theme by telling a story of a "mission" that, despite good intentions, is taken over the edge. Hence the title. It wouldn't be difficult to draw a parallel to a number of current events. Clearly, the lyrical content of the album is original and thought-provoking.

By starting with the lyrics, I don't mean to ignore the musical quality of the album. It's excellent. The instrumentals in the two opening tracks discussed above will also grab your attention. "Weight of Light" does so largely with an edgy guitar intro, while "Overboard" has a more poppy feel and a rhythm that will stick in your head. There are several other musically interesting tracks, including "Archipelagos" which opens with a keyboard part similar to the famous "Baba O'Reilly" intro and quickly moves into a percussion-intensive rhythm that lays the foundation for the track.

However, I found "Evolver" the most interesting track musically. The track combines a traditional piano with plugged-in guitar riffs and a unique bass line that produce what I can best describe as a mysterious feel. What do I mean by that? I felt like I was listening to a Bond theme song done right (no offense, Mr. Cornell).

I (somewhat purposely) didn't discuss the two tracks from the album that the band has posted on their MySpace page. Sample "Autopilot" and "Bad About It" there. - - 4/12/07

"CD Review: The Grand Masquerade"

You can hear a lot of the ’60s and ’70s in the Selfish Gene’s new opus. On the prog side, there are plenty of references to Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd. Indeed, as successive tracks build a choppy narrative about a world defined by paranoia, frustration and fear of impending chaos, Floyd’s rock opera The Wall looms large. On the pop side, ELO and the Kinks (especially Ray Davies’ mock-jaunty dance-all tunes) are obvious touchstones, with the hyper-arranged “Autopilot” sounding like Jeff Lynne had a hand in both its composition and execution in the studio.

To be honest, it’s hard to know how seriously the Selfish Gene take the glossiest material on The Grand Masquerade. The ELO stuff could all be a put-on. But it’s plain they had fun getting all the studio sheen just right, and fellow studio rats are sure to get a kick out of the production. In any case, the album’s high prog moments are more enjoyable. These guys just have a knack for putting over the most bombastic of musical statements. The chunky prog-guitar feature “Overboard” is a case in point. I couldn’t tell you exactly why it doesn’t get snagged on desperately cerebral lines like “Ignore the subtle subtext/It’s just a machination/Of all the deeds they dared you/To settle it under the table.” It just doesn’t.

The Grand Masquerade is an impressive piece of work. Sure it’s grandiose — even pompous — at points. Yes, it’s unapologetically retro. On the other hand, it’s never run-of-the-mill, and it’s never short on ideas. To my mind those are achievements worth saluting.
- Isthmus - Tom Laskin - 4/12/07

"The Selfish Gene"

There is a lot of Britt Daniels and Spoon in The Selfish Gene. Throw in some 60s/70s Brit-rock/pop and some early 90s influence and you pretty much have it. Those are all good things in my book. - My Old Kentucky Blog - 4/23/07

"The Selfish Gene"

The Selfish Gene quickly sets itself apart by combining a few rather unlikely things - catchy pop melodies, prog-rock sensibilities, and three part vocal harmonies. Not to mention the fact that their new record, The Grand Masquerade, is thematically focused around "Orwellian concepts of deception, false identity and doublespeak".

And the most amazing thing about all of that? It absolutely does not suck. For as many ways as a band incorporating those elements could go totally wrong, The Selfish Gene simply never does. A track like "Autopilot" (off the new record) captures them at their best - it's bouncy without being lightweight, smart without being pretentious; I feel very comfortable saying that The Selfish Gene is the single best band in the world named after a Richard Dawkins book. - Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands - 4/24/07

"The Selfish Gene: Self-Defeating Human Beings"

The Selfish Gene have wedged into a fractured phenotype. The guitars on their debut album's opener, "Seeds We Sow," have English prog written all over 'em. So do the shifting beat and brooding bass line of the hooky Pink Floyd analog "The Night Rolls Over and Buries All." But these accomplished locals also have a more direct guitar-pop side that's all about sprightly chording and highly arranged vocal harmonies (see, for example, the craftily structured "Prince Anthony" and country-tinged mind-warps like "Mind for Minutia" and the 10-minute-plus "So It Goes"). Are they Wilco with a strong case of Anglophilia? Radiohead with a heck of a lot more discipline? I don't know and I don't care. Yeah, at times the Selfish Gene's influences may be a little too obvious, and, sure it's a dead certainty that the fragile lead vocal style they often favor will keep some listeners at bay, but there's no denying that these guys write memorable music - and execute it with aplomb. I look forward to their future work. So should you.
- The Isthmus

"CD Review: Self-Defeating Human Beings"

It’s rare that an album comes along that is as immediately likeable and impressive as Self-Defeating Human Beings. From the summery opening strains of “Seeds We Sow,” it’s clear that this is no ordinary rock outfit. Progressive music is making its way back into the mainstream whether it’s industrial, techno, or all forms of rock. This time around, it’s not about virtuosos in glittering capes ripping off classical standards, or bloated song structures meant to show off technical prowess as much as they are intended to move the listener emotionally.

Conventional song structures get boring, and every once in a while musical composition at large has to be willfully re-invented in order to develop new, more interesting trends. This time it’s about intriguing structures that don’t follow the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-verse-chorus formula while maintaining the independent spirit. The Selfish Gene is riding that wave with indie-rock bands like Built to Spill, Flaming Lips, and to a lesser degree, Wilco and Mars Volta. It’s all about left turns and boy, do we need a few of those.

So much is going on in these songs that it’s difficult to boil down into a few paragraphs but let’s consider the vocals first. None of the aforementioned bands would exist without the pioneering of pop music brought about by the Beach Boys and the Beatles. The Selfish Gene employ similar ample harmonies and, although a few of the tracks sound as if they could have used an additional take or two, the ambition they put into the vocal aspect of the songs is admirable. The band is also capable of reproducing these tracks live & even embellishing what you hear on disc with increased fervor. Bassist Eric Andraska is responsible for a lot of the higher harmonies & this dude can sing. Guitarist Matt Allen wrote a majority of the songs on Self Defeating… and his voice has a more more laid-back, Midwestern nature. It lends the band an earthy element, even while they’re channeling King Crimson on “Spaceshifter,” one of the album’s highlights that benefits greatly from the full-toned saxophone of P’Elvis’s Chris Maddox.

The Selfish Gene are able to shift moods in mid-stream without losing the identity of the song and this may be their truest achievement. “Spaceshifter” is a perfect example of this quality; a song with no real chorus and a three-part middle section. It’s totally linear but contains several melodic hooks and that’s what makes it all work for the Selfish Gene. “Through Your Eyes” is a complex piece of social commentary and like many of the songs, even when there is a chorus it has two distinctly different parts to it.

If “Spaceshifter” is linear then the album’s centerpiece, “So It Goes,” an eleven-minute epic, is a bold line from here to Pluto. Breezy chords in a Wilco style with French spoken dialogue open this exceptional track. It possesses an Americana feel with richly beautiful acoustic tones but shifts dramatically with Maddox again contributing some defining sax lines. You’d expect the song to return after that but instead it makes another turn into a wildly climactic instrumental build with feedback, sirens, power chords and sax depicting what could only be the chaos that will likely accompany the apocalypse. Suddenly we’re in the clear with a chunky guitar vamp and then a 180-degree turn to spacey, arpeggiated chords and rhythmic, harmonized laughter. Quite a ride, but then the song bleeds into the next track so seamlessly that it’s barely noticeable.

Self-Defeating Human Beings stops just short of being a concept album but then these young musicians in the Selfish Gene are capable of much more than an album concept. This is a concept band, one of those rare breeds that is living their music. - Rick's Cafe

"The Year 2005 in Review"

Rick's Picks: #1 The Selfish Gene - Self-Defeating Human Beings. "The fact that their live show sounds even better than this diverse collection of songs is eclipsed only by the fact that they perform it to films like Koyaanisqatsi." - Top 5 of '05 - Rick's Cafe /

" - Artist of the Day"

Artist of the Day - May 16th, 2007

Who? Natives of Madison, Wisconsin, where three of the band members initially rubbed elbows at University of Wisconsin in 1998, Michael Weber (guitar/keyboard/vocals), Matt Allen (guitar/vocals) and Eric Andraska (bass/vocals) got hooked up with drummer Mark Marsh and doled out a few EPs before self-releasing their debut, Self-Defeating Human Beings in 2005. Their sophomore effort, The Grand Masquerade is slated for fall.

What's the Deal? Like how a gene is rich with assorted genetic materials, the band's sound is a composite of influences ranging from as far back as ELO to the more modern Spoon. A splash of nostalgic '60s harmonies graces "Autopilot," where a metaphoric spaceship reference gives the song a layered texture, while electronic sparkles pave the way for grunge on "Archipelagos." The Selfish Gene lighten the mood on "Fist Fed Up" and "Overboard," which gracefully swing from one musical segment to another, a tactic used throughout The Grand Masquerade.

Fun Fact: The Selfish Gene non-pretentiously draw influence from classic works of literature. Their moniker derives from the book The Selfish Gene penned by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, while the track "So It Goes" is inspired by the verbal crutch of Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five.


"The Grand Masquerade - CD Review"

We’re getting close to the point where we may need someone, possibly backed with the authority of the courts, to wade into the estranged pop music genre and decide who gets custody of the term “pop” once and for all. Should it be the multi-million selling, pre-
packaged artists who favor attitude over songcraft? Or should it be the indie pop bands of today, who slave away at the console creating grand, polished gems with the ambition of Brian Wilson or Phil Spector?

The gulf between the two camps gets wider and wider with each passing year, and you could put Madison’s The Selfish Gene squarely in the latter camp. Fitingly, the band’s new studio CD “The Grand Masquerade” is pretty grand, filled with overstuffed, fussed-over arrangements that are big on pounding keyboards and AM-radio guitars.

The peppy “Crashtest” bobs along a keyboards-and-drums cocktail straight out of early MTV, while opener, “Weight of Light” has a more contemporary feel, a thoughtful guitar-driven alternative rock track that nicely builds momentum. ”Evolver” is an ambitious track that puts a chewy disco center in the midst of its swirling, wordy guitar rock.

Beneath all these enjoyable elements is an undercurrent of occasional, possibly politically-motivated discontent in the lyrics, such as the line “As we walked through the wreckage, all the vultures cloud the sky,” that opens
the spare, untitled last track. That emotional depth in the songwriting only adds more weight to a memorable album that has more smarts, soul and just plain fun than most of what’s considered “pop” these days.

- Rob Thomas - Wisconsin State Journal / Capital Times - 4/26/07

"Winner Best Overall Artist"

The Selfish Gene won Best Overall Artist at the 2006 Madison Area Music Awards. - Madison Area Music Awards


The Grand Masquerade - Ruff Road Records LP 2007
Self-Defeating Human Beings - Self-Released LP 2005
The Art of Fact - Self-Released EP 2004



"It's a gene we keep receiving, self-defeating human beings."

The Selfish Gene plays a unique brand of pop rock, a sound they call thematic storytelling in a progressive rock format. Their three-part harmonies and poetic, cerebral lyrics give their music a versatile style that ranges from delicate, hummable and poppy to grandiose and intense. The band was voted Best Overall Artist at the 2006 Madison Area Music Awards and has shared the stage with such acts as The Flaming Lips, Kings of Leon, Califone, Cold War Kids, Cloud Cult, Chad VanGaalen, The Waco Brothers, Leon Russell, and Blue Oyster Cult.

"If you like Spoon, you might dig this new band The Selfish Gene." - VH1's Best Week Ever, 2007 - "Artist of the Day" - May 16th, 2007

"Songs that are both delicately introspective and explosively grand." - National Public Radio, 2007

The band's new album, The Grand Masquerade, was released on May 1st, 2007 to rave reviews, earning comparisons to Spoon, Electric Light Orchestra, Eno-era Genesis, Kinks, and the Flaming Lips. The Grand Masquerade is thematically focused around Orwellian concepts of deception, false identity and doublespeak which may come off as bleak and pretentious. But as Seattle, WA blog 'Everybody Knows, Everybody Cares' says, "for as many ways as a band incorporating those elements could go totally wrong, The Selfish Gene simply never does."

Performing Songwriter magazine said of the album, "[The Grand Masquerade] is immersed in ambition--a stunning blend of giddy, effusive melodies with a cerebral mindset ... Despite [The Selfish Gene's] precocious tendencies--sound effects, maddening shifts in tempo, synths, heady musings--their tunes remain anchored in relentless energy and easy accessibility." - Dec 2007

"A memorable album that has more smarts, soul and just plain fun than most of what's considered "pop" these days." - Wisconsin State Journal / Capital Times, 2007

"Not only one of the best releases to come out of Wisconsin, but also a pretty damn fine record compared to everything else that the industry has rolled out in 2007." - Muzzle of Bees, 2007

"The Selfish Gene turn out elegant and delicate sunshine rock that is sure to dance as lightly through your speakers as a dandelion in the summer wind." - Veritas Lux Mea, 2007

"Original and thought-provoking" - Morecowbell, 2007

"An impressive piece of prog-inspired aural cotton candy that'll turn the darkest souls into shiny, happy people." - Isthmus, 2007

A brief history...
The Selfish Gene was formed in 2003 when three college grads met veteran drummer, Mark Marsh. The band released their first album, Self-Defeating Human Beings, in March of 2005. The album was ranked #1 local album of the year by Rick's Cafe music newspaper and a Top 5 of '05 by the readers of