There’s an early Peanuts where Schroeder is caught “air-conducting” by the dog, and he walks away embarrassed. Ironically, he had nothing to be embarrassed about: while most of Snoopy’s subsequent adventures were imagined, Schroeder confidently delivered virtuoso performances of everything from Beethoven and Brahms to Schubert, Chopin and Rachmaninoff, all on a toy piano through efforts cartoonist Charles Schultz later admitted were “tedious” to draw.
Peanuts provided classical music its last front in the culture war. No famous figure in the big world of sequential art has so intimately entwined music into their work as sincerely as Schultz did for decades — Decades later when Bloom County revisited the same embarrassing scenarios, Steve Dallas is caught dancing to “Billy Jean” in the shower.
This brings us to Mystery Date, the Minneapolis trio who have a new LP out this week and are the most emulate-able band in the Twin Cities. Their songs are solid air guitar material. In fact, the only reason we haven’t jammed to their last single, “You And Your Sister,” is that its not on the radio when we’re showering. Seems like the best air-guitarin’ rock and roll you’re gonna get from the radio is the Knack, the Romantics, or Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
Mystery Date is the antidote to your anxiety nobody could create something new in the guitar/bass/drums form. The ten new songs on their second album, New Noir, are surprisingly clever and catchy. Tunes like “Foreign Affairs” are better rock and roll than anything we’ve heard on KQRS in a long time. The band has picked up a lot from obscure power pop records, as well as from some of our favorite punk rock bands like the Buzzcocks, whose sound they approach on “White City.”
New Noir has more hooks than a pirate convention — its actually hard to pick out the best track. The production is sharper than on their first album, Love Collector, especially for drummer Grady Appleton, whose parts positively boom. Check out the way he and bassist Steve Spettstazer launch into the first cut on the second side, “Wouldn’t You Like to Know.” Don’t mistake this album for garage rock or lo-fi anything.
This is the first 2015 release for Piñata Records, whose three full-lengths last year were some of the Twin Cities’ best. We’ve been praising this label’s fresh approach since their first record. They’ve been breathing new life into classic American pop music from psychedelic rock (Narco States) to rhythm and blues (Southside Desire and Black Diet). Mystery Date does the same for power pop. What we love about all these bands is that none of them sound “retro,” they’re just recording new songs in familiar styles.
Lead singer Johnny Eggerman’s wry delivery is one of the best things about Mystery Date. There’s a sense of fun to all the songs on New Noir, which is a pretty essential element to good rock and roll. Because the band is a trio, there’s more pressure on Spettstazer, who rounds out the band’s arrangements really well, and also provides backing vocals. We’ve always loved songs written for a basic rock trio — one of our favorite bands of all time is the Jam, who are certainly an influence on Mystery Date. There’s a haiku-like simplicity to a good rock trio we find irresistible. We’ve been listening to New Noir a lot in the shop, and been caught a couple times air guitarin’ and singing along.