20 MINUTE LOOP | SONGS PRAISING THE MUTANT RACE | S/R | FEB. 24TH, 2017
Twenty years of 20 Minute Loop will be celebrated on February 24th, 2017 with the release of Songs Praising The Mutant Race, the San Francisco-based band’s first album in over eight years, an achievement marked not only by gray hair, ringing ears and creaky knees, but a shit-ton of songs, stories and shows.
Formed by Greg Giles (vocals, guitar) in 1997, andjoined by Kelly Atkins (vocals, keyboards, flute) shortly thereafter, this core duo follows-up the release of five albums, with their sixth, and arguably most passionate, recording yet. The seemingly permanent shelving of 20 Minute Loop due to impossible scheduling, newborn children, and brain-rotting graduate studies, has now given way to Songs Praising The Mutant Race, which offers up stripped down and reinvented versions of ten favorites from the 20 Minute Loop catalog, one cover song, and one never-before-released tune. The record proves that bands may die, but songs don’t. The collection breathes with both the wisdom of age, and renewal.
Inspired by the reactions of longtime fans at a series of intimate house concerts that 20 Minute Loop performed upon initially reforming in 2014, Songs Praising The Mutant Race finds the group recording as a trio in very similar circumstances: live in the room at Ninth Street Opus studios in Berkeley. It’s one of those longtime fans who has become a co-conspirator. Avowed 20 Minute Loop loyalist, Kevin Seal – “I like Radiohead more than 20 Minute Loop, and that’s basically it,” he jokes – sat in on piano and vocals for the living room shows, and has now joined in on the reinvention of these tunes in the studio.
“This is a band with a devoted following, and their fans wouldn’t let them go away,” Seal says. “‘Back by popular demand’ is usually nothing more than a threadbare cliché, but this band’s return really feels like a persistent request from their listeners. I’m still pinching myself that they invited me along.”
In re-imagining, re-arranging, ironing out, and stitching this material back together, the band wanted the songs to shine without being burdened by too much production. Here we have the songs and singers laid bare, accompanied by overdubs from mostly acoustic instruments, including viola, trumpet, flute, accordion, wineglass organ, and more. The result is a perfect depiction of the vibe from one of the living room concerts that inspired the record, with the band’s visceral lyrics and accompanying tempos taking on a woozy, syrupy overtone that makes these songs feel fresh. Sonically, these new versions focus on the vocal interplay between Giles and Atkins, who sound more like they were born to sing together than ever before.
“Singing with Greg has been the single most important musical relationship of my life,” Atkins explains. “It truly feels like ‘coming home’ for me. The nimble instinct that you have after singing with someone for 20 years is a once-in-a-lifetime treasure.”
That special vocal combination is especially affecting on the album’s opening number and first single “Mercury Vapor,” about which Atkins explains, “The re-do of this song includes Caitlin Tabancay Austin adding a third harmony, which absolutely brings the song to life. It’s frenetic, neurotic and makes me feel like I have a nervous tic every time I sing it – but in a good way.”
The song’s dark lyrics written by Giles (“I don’t care if I die, if I wind up dead”) belie the catchy, country hop of the tune.
“I don’t know why this song has a country hop to it,” Giles says, “but let’s just say 20 Minute Loop has always enjoyed mixing jubilant music with lyrical fatalism. I guess we're syncopating tones, sweet and sour, joy and loneliness, truck axles and eiderdown.”
As a band that came about and went away in the age of the Compact Disc, 20 Minute Loop is very excited for Songs Praising The Mutant Race to be its first album issued on vinyl, and they are doing it with style. In addition to the usual formats, fans can purchase a beautiful vinyl edition of the album with a jacket illustrated by Sara Lautman, whose work has previously appeared in The New Yorker, The Believer, The Pitchfork Review, The Awl, and other publications.
A hometown sneak peek of the record is also on tap, as 20 Minute Loop is scheduled to play tunes from Songs Praising The Mutant Race as part of Noise Pop 25 at San Francisco’s Swedish American Hall on February 21st.
Songs Praising The Mutant Race by 20 Minute Loop is scheduled for release on February 24th, 2017. The album’s lead single “Mercury Vapor” is streaming now.
- 2/21/2017: San Francisco, CA @ Swedish American Hall (NoisePop 25)
- 2/3/2017: San Francisco-based duo 20 Minute Loop celebrates 20 years of making music with “Songs Praising The Mutant Race” on 2/24, its first album in eight years.
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