Truckasauras
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Truckasauras

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We've got the champagne on ice for the day the word "hipster" finally kicks the bucket. Until that day comes, though, there's no shortage of people willing to go down with the ship, criticizing indie rock fans who refuse to abide by some passé codification of the black t-shirt wearing Lou Barlow disciple that avoids fun and hip-hop with equal tenacity. These people probably already have their minds made up about Truckasauras. They might even be preparing to misuse the term "ironic" to slag off the Seattle collective. And why not: The band presumably takes its name from a "Simpsons" episode so old that most us have forgotten it. The album's title and cover evokes fellow "are they seriously serious with this kid stuff?" act The Go! Team. The video for "Fak!!!" is doctored to look like the Ultimate Warrior is fellating Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania. And to top it off, there's a track on Tea Parties, Guns & Valor named after the famed NES Konami code-- something that'd already been done to death by the time even the Deftones finally got around to it two years ago.

Truckasauras' biggest obstacle, though, is their choice of instrumentation-- Commodore 64s, decades-old software, and various 8-bit components. The trend is reaching its tipping point: Over the past few years especially, countless bands, producers, and remixers have mined these archaic electronics for laughs, gimmickry, or to amp up the kind of electro tracks that have recently run rampant on mp3 blogs. What's different about Truckasauras is that they take their cues from artists like M83 and Boards of Canada, constructing fuzzy-warm nostalgia from previously disposable parts. And while they don't quite reach the stratospheric heights of, say, Music Has the Right to Children, their task is arguably tougher. Surprisingly accessible and mellow without reverting to wan psychedelics, this record's closest sonic embodiment might actually be WALL-E. It's as cartoonish or resonant as you want it to be, often relying on little more than suggestive beeps and primitive futurism to convey a core of positivity with just enough implied melancholy to chase it down.

There's only one heel-clicking blissout, and even that retains a strong sense of momentum. Recalling the playful electro-pop of Super Furry Animals' Guerrilla, "Angels Sound Like Bottle Rockets" rides a nasal bassline while panflute-ish synths contribute interlocking counterpoints in a moment that embodies the album's M.O.-- it's deceptive headphones music with compositional depth that's evident once you realize that those Nintendo engineers weren't just fucking around. It's a groove they could ride out longer, but at the moment where it feels like the track could burst, Truckasauras drop the top and reveals quasars of chimes amidst clap-happy drum machines.

On the other side of the spectrum, "Ain't No Danbo (When He's Gone)" rattles along to an 808 pattern reminiscent of Organized Noize's strip-club bangers while a pedal steel-like effect does a lonesome whine underneath. Like anything else here, it's completely open to suggestion-- not quite instrumental hip-hop, yet too melodically focused to be considered straight-up techno. Closer "Porkwich" has an evocative melodic turn that betrays its in-jokey title, almost passing for degranulated Fennesz. And "Fak!!!" (also, questionable title aside), could easily plateau on its blocky, nearly Arabic chord change, but its hook happens when the track splinters into wildly panned darts of treble.

As Philip Sherburne wrote about "Super Copter", an astounding cover of the Airwolf theme, Truckasauras make the kind of electronic music best suited for basement parties, but as as a result, Tea Parties flows more like a mixtape than a suite. The collection's few flaws lie in its sequencing-- as the album's lone vocal track, "Hold On" is jarringly dropped between "Angels" and "Danbo". And while there's plenty of killer moments in the remix addendum, at seven tracks deep, it nearly doubles the length of the LP. In the end, though, the idea of this record as a mixtape actually strengthens it-- too often, "heart" or "human" is lazily applied only to electronic records that feature vocals or acoustic guitars, but Tea Parties, ever playful and ebullient just says, "here, hope you like it!" Those that don't might be trying too hard.

MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/teapartiesgunsnvalor
MP3: Truckasauras: Super Copter
Video: Truckasaurus: Fak!!!

- Ian Cohen, August 27, 2008
- Pitchfork Media


I have seen the future of techno, and it is Truckasauras.

Of course, that can't be true. For one thing, the Seattle outfit uses technology that's way antiquated: Roland TR-808, Sequential Circuits TOM, Commodore 64 clone, Gameboy, megaphone. No next-level, cybernautic, telekinetic future-shock shit here, just cranky circuitry and a siren switch. For another, they don't really make the boompty-boompty, four-to-the-floor, capital-t Techno that's the genre's present-day signature. (Then again, neither do Modeselektor, and they're signed to Bpitch Control, which is sehr techno indeed. Maybe, for the sake of argument, it's time once again to start using "techno" as an umbrella term for all manner of bleepy, pulsing, body-moving electronic music, whether it goes oonce oonce or not-- for starters, it would mean we could stop saying "nu rave.")

Finally-- and this is the real rub-- while Truckasauras' 8-bit mayhem is engaging, entertaining, and even kind of thrilling, it's probably not a platform that can support much in the way of a movement. Cheap, fast, and out of control, it's perfect for basement parties, though, and techno is desperately in need of more of those.

This column was going to be about Winter Music Conference, the annual dance-music festival and professional gathering held in Miami in late March. Twenty-two years old and a week long, WMC is North America's biggest electronic-music affair, boasting hundreds of events and round-the-clock partying. Musically, it's heavy on Anglo/American styles of house and trance, though recent editions have seen a steady infiltration of German techno and, this year, the whole Kitsuné/Ed Banger filter-punk, nu-rave, scuzz-disco thing. The week wasn't without its pleasures, among them Tiefschwarz's poolside sunset session, Minus' predictably solid party at Pawn Shop, Justice and Digitalism's mind-melting sets at the Fixed inferno, and Ghostly International's intimate, family-style Spectral Social. Jesse Rose's psyche-tinged Sunday-morning set was a minor revelation, as was a tight, corkscrewing minimal session from Bill Patrick, of New York's Robots crew. But Miami being Miami-- during spring break, no less-- enduring the festival is an enervating experience. In terms of the music and its presentation, there's precious little that's particularly new or surprising.

A stranger sent me a mail via MySpace asking if I'd been to "Sunday School for Drug Addicts", aka the infamous Sunday School for Degenerates party that ran from 5 in the morning til 7 in the evening, featuring a Berghain-friendly lineup of Adam Beyer, Anja Schneider, Cassy, Dan Berkson and James What, Dinky, Ellen Allien, Guido Schneider, Konrad Black, Magda, Steve Bug, et al. "Inherent sense of bathos this year," groused my correspondent, and she had a point. The thing is, one really can't go from dawn 'til dusk, right on the heels of a full night out, without copious amounts of substances. And while getting lost-- as Crosstown Rebels' mix CDs phrase it-- can make for a hell of a vacation, when the marathon becomes routine it gets depressing, the music just another chemical in the cocktail. I probably enjoyed the Sunday School party more than any other at this year's WMC, but that was in spite of the rampant decadence. In general, the vibe in Miami was rote, routine and rather beside the point: an endless succession of queues, clubs, and $14 cocktails.

Exactly one week later, in Portland, Oregon, the energy at the Truckasauras show couldn't have been more different. For starters, the party went down in the basement of a house in a quiet residential neighborhood. Mixed drinks were $2, and some of that money was reportedly going to cover gas money for the acts that had driven down from Seattle. The stage was a rickety array of card tables piled high with mysterious boxes trailing cords and wires like a disemboweled Cylon. And despite the shots of booze and bong hits being passed through the tightly packed crowd-- most of them going to the bandmembers themselves, it must be said-- the music felt self-sufficient. I don't mean to fall back on hoary old punk-rock clichés; God knows I've spent the better part of the last decade fleeing them. But the party had a refreshingly devil-may-care spirit of intimacy and naivety; you'd have sooner wrung Red Bull from a stone than find something similar in Miami.

What was most surprising about the band's set was that despite the vintage gear-- and notwithstanding an accompanying video sourced from professional wrestling, monster truck rallies, B-movies, and Airwolf-- kitsch largely fell by the wayside. Grounded in chest-caving 808 patterns drawing on dancehall, electro, and techno, their songs packed a rhythmic punch too often missing from the campier side of electro-pop and nu-rave. And no matter how sonically flimsy the 8-bit synths, they managed to layer them in dense tone clusters and rich counterpoints buzzing with harmonics. (Quite a few of their track - Pitchfork Media


Just after midnight this past Saturday, Truckasauras slipped their van into the KFC parking lot on Capitol Hill. Down the block, at 10th Avenue and East Pike Street, Tyler Swan set his drum kit up against a fire hydrant, Ryan Trudell plugged his Game Boy into a battery-powered amp, and Adam Swan readied his melodica. "Street Truck," a portable, semiacoustic version of Truckasauras, began to play. As people spilled out of the clubs at closing time, a crowd formed to watch the bleep-hop trio under the streetlight's bronze halogen glow.

Even without live drums—the band usually play with an array of drum machines, synths, Game Boy, and fourth member Dan Bordon on video projections—Truckasauras are a live band. Trudell is a master of the Nanoloop, a German sequencer program for the Game Boy. Tyler Swan programs beats with a real drummer's feel. These guys do more than hit a start button, cross faders, and let loops cycle. They play their gear like instruments, improvising and feeding off each other. Knobs are tweaked and buttons are pushed. There are hands and eyes on the machines, brains making decisions based on what they hear.

The Street Truck performance was a stunt to celebrate and showcase Truckasauras's new album, Tea Parties, Guns, and Valor, a joint release on Brooklyn's semiannual Journal of Popular Noise and Seattle's own Fourthcity.

Seventeen tracks appear on the release—nine original Truckasauras cuts, a cover of the Airwolf theme called "Super Copter," and seven remixes by DJs and producers including Plan B, Jerry Abstract, Copy, and DJ Collage.

The record has been finished and shelved for much of the past year. In that time, Truckasauras's 8-bit party rocking has generated quite a buzz. They've struck a chord, or a Korg to put it more accurately. Their shows and their fan base have gotten bigger, but they're still the same dudes as always: self-proclaimed gear nerds who get as live as they possibly can.

"I don't think much has changed because of the hype," says Adam Swan. "We're basically just getting better shows, playing shit like Sasquatch! and the Block Party rather than the Baltic Room and grimy house parties. The festivals are exposing us to a wider array of people beyond the small community that attends electronic shows in Seattle."

Sasquatch! saw Truckasauras bring their beats, their family, and their Maker's Mark to the rock-festival crowd. Titties were called for. Some were shown. It was stupid, supersized American fun. Sequenced analog gear and tits—people either eat it up or don't get it at all.

"We're still just doing our thing, making beats, drinking beer, and having fun," says Adam Swan.

All this for a band that's really a side project. Truckasauras's "real" band is Foscil, an electro-acoustic blend of horns, synths, drums, Rhodes, and guitar. Trudell explains, "Tea Parties, Guns, and Valor represents the past couple years of doing the Truck thing. Since it's a side project, the recording was slow going. We recorded to half-inch eight-track reel-to-reel, then mixed it down to DAT. Adam engineered it."

"All the songs are pretty much live," says Adam Swan. "We left in the imperfections and didn't do overdubs."

The first track they laid down was "Porkwich" which is just the drum machines, a Commodore 64, and the Game Boy. There's a slurred electro gurgle on a fat-ass beat. "Fak!!!" shows off a TB-303 synth in a Phantom of the Nintendo Opera. The last piece of gear that was added was a FutureRetro Mobius sequencer. It sends CV signals out, which allowed the SH-101 synth from Foscil to be incorporated. In "Howie C," the 101 is the main sequenced synth that plays throughout the track. The song starts with oddly dropped clicks and the 101 sounding off foghorn squirms. The 808 claps snares, a jungle beat falls, then the song turns inside out and a bulging 16th fuzz-bass runs over shades of ice-synth into a wall of cathode static.

"The tracks evolved as we acquired gear," says Trudell. "We don't want to get too pigeonholed by the Game Boy label. The future for Truckasauras will be focusing more on different gear."

If Tea Parties, Guns, and Valor's sound is still decidedly old-school, the release itself is designed for right now. It's a digital album in the form of a 10-by-10-inch full-color glossy booklet and a download code. There is no CD or vinyl, just the code.

"It's an interesting time right now to be releasing music," says Adam Swan. "The industry is shifting and so much is still settling. We see it as an opportunity for this to be a unique release. We're big, big fans of album artwork, like Led Zeppelin III with that rotating wheel on the cover. People used to have a physical representation of the music. With MP3s and CDs, album art is being lost."

The goal with Tea Parties, Guns, and Valor was to make a piece of art worth hanging onto while getting the music to the people in the most effective way possible. Tyler Swan says, "We really wanted - The Stranger


Though Truckasauras leaves room for a great deal of humor in their work–their debut album features toasting by the decidedly un-Jamaican DJ Collage, and its booklet comes streaked in a raging Hulkamaniac font–the music they make should not be taken lightly. Sequencing an armada of old Roland electronic machinery via a circuit-bent Gameboy, Truckasauras makes abstracted instrumental hip-hop more emotional than any artists in recent memory. Alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) triumphant and melancholic, their songs throb with the cultural malaise of a 1980s childhood, recasting marathon Nintendo sessions and WWF obsession in the context of drunken, complicated adulthood.

Reviewed by Sam Mickens • August 25 2008
- Xlr8r Magazine


Discography

Tea Parties, Guns and Valor (Full length) 2008
Butter Fourthcity Compilation (1 track) 2007

"Angels Sound Like Bottle Rockets" Radio Airplay, Pitchfork

"Hold On" Pitchfork

"Fak!!!" Xlr8r

Photos

Bio

Fueled by an inhuman amount of Maker’s Mark and whatever kind of beer they can get their hands on, a bunch of self-proclaimed gear nerds have accumulated more firepower than Donald Trump. Armed with an arsenal of vintage Roland drum machines and synths, all sequenced by a modded first-gen Gameboy, Truckasauras create analog electro loops that skitter over starkly minimal drums; a sound (is it techno? is it hip-hop?) that straddles the chasm between goofiness and sincerity, and does so with aplomb. Citing influences ranging from Aphex Twin to 2 Live Crew, it’s next to impossible to pigeonhole the group into any one genre.

The Truck’s debut album, Tea Parties, Guns and Valor boasts 9 original tracks, a cover of the theme from “Airwolf,” and an array of remixes by some of the Northwest’s biggest names in electronic music: Copy, DJ Collage, and Jerry Abstract all try a hand at reworking the group’s signature sound.

The true Truck experience, however, is through their live sets. Fishing vests, trucker hats emblazoned with bald eagles, and American flags-as-capes are the fashion de rigueur for this crew, who stand in front of a projected VHS mashup of monster truck rallies, helicopter explosions, and homoerotic WWF matches. A pseudo-patriotic A/V extravaganza punctuated by megaphone squeals and synchronized (if unintentionally) head-bobbing, the foursome weave in and out of each other’s way, tweaking knobs over here, pushing buttons over there, all the while making the crowd go nuts with their quirky mix of white-trash sensibility and all-out musical mastery.

“A trio of Larry the Cable Guy devotees who would spit Skoal in your eyeball after kicking your hipster ass for no good reason.” – Chas Bowie, Portland Mercury

“I have seen the future of techno, and it is Truckasauras.” – Philip Sherbune, pitchforkmedia.com

...Bio Written by Bailee Martin