THE CACTUS BLOSSOMS
Blood Harmony. Whether it’s The Beach Boys, Bee Gees or First Aid Kit, that sibling vocal blend is the secret sauce in some of the most spine-tingling moments in popular music. The Cactus Blossoms – Minneapolis-based brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey – offer compelling evidence that this tradition is alive and well, with a deceptively unadorned musical approach that offers “creative turns of phrase, gorgeous harmonies, and an ageless sound” (NPR All Things Considered), not to mention spine tingles aplenty.
Their 2016 debut You’re Dreaming, a stunning and transporting collection of original songs, earned high praise from Rolling Stone and Vice Noisey, tour stints with Kacey Musgraves and Lucius, and a perfectly cast performance on the third season of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Now their unlikely rise continues with new album Easy Way, to be released on their own label Walkie Talkie Records.
While many bands would have been content to stick with the winning formula of their debut, the Blossoms refused to repeat themselves. If You’re Dreaming celebrated their vintage country and rock influences, Easy Way reveals a songwriting style that has changed, evolved, and gotten more modern. Dan Auerbach, another artist who knows from bedrock influences, co-wrote two songs on the album. “Dan’s love for songwriting was inspiring, just the kick in the pants we needed to start writing again after being on the road,” says Page.
The brothers’ decision to produce the new album themselves no doubt led to the new sound. “We wanted the freedom to experiment with our own weird ideas,” says Jack, “We used to joke that the working title album should be Expensive Demos.” As they crisscrossed the nation on tour, the brothers would stop through Alex Hall’s Reliable Recorders studio in Chicago to chase the new sound they were after. The result joins together what would otherwise be distant corners of the American songbook. Both the traditional twang of Chicago pedal steel guitarist Joel Paterson (Devil in a Woodpile, The Western Elstons) and the primal wail of free jazz saxophonist Michael Lewis (Bon Iver, Andrew Bird) are at home on the album. Just as they did with their debut, the brothers found a voice all their own.
Singer, songwriter, guitarist and drummer Holly Hansen created Zoo Animal in Minneapolis, after moving to the city from the small town of Cokato, MN, where she grew up in a conservative Christian household. The band’s debut recording, Young Blood, came out in 2008 and included standout songs like “Black and Gold” and “Hold Tongue.” It was mixed in monophonic and showcased Holly’s introspective approach, combining elements of indie, grunge and minimalism. The band toured nationally, building a dedicated audience.
The second album, Zoo Animal, was cut in 2010. Hansen produced it. “We tracked 15 songs in two days. We tracked it live on a two-inch tape machine, in 20 degree weather, in a large unused theater in downtown Minneapolis.” She made Departure (2012), blending acoustic and electronic textures for a contemplative exploration of her shifting worldview. The EP’s tracks include ‘Out in the Ocean’ and ‘Black and Charred,’ investigations of Hansen’s evolving consciousness and her struggle with her fading Christian beliefs.
Hansen continued to write songs and make music after Departure, but now, with the help of Waxploitation Records, she’s ready to put a cap on the Zoo Animal story. “It’s never too soon, and it’s never too late, to re-release great music that might have been missed the first time around,” says Waxploitation founder Jeff Antebi. Complete Recordings collects all her Zoo Animal masters, including six tunes she’s cut in the past five years. “I’m really proud of Zoo Animal,” she says. “The people I played with are incredible musicians. I treasure the time we spent together, but I don’t relate to the songs the way I used to. They feel more like old friends. The music changed as Zoo Animal progressed; we got a lot more rock and roll as a band. That’s why we’re releasing ‘Gravedigger’ as the first new single, and the last Zoo Animal record.”