Piñata Records is our favorite local label because they have cultivated a consistent style rooted in retro sounds. Their catalog of soul, garage and pop groups puts a fresh spin on classic American forms without falling into the familiar pitfalls of revival. The label’s two latest releases are from bands we have loved seeing and hearing for years — both were included on our 2016 Live at Hymies compilation album, providing standout performances (here and here). Both albums have been available for a few weeks and have begun a regular rotation here in the record shop.
The first is Temples into Tombs, the second full-length release by Narco States. This album has already earned rave reviews from blogs with names like Faster and Louder and If It’s Too Loud…. Their heavy feature of the farfisa organ leads to inevitable, lazy comparisons to the Doors, but any connection begins and ends there. First of all, Narco States’ sound is grounded in an altogether heavier rhythm section, including bassist Nick Sampson whose key role is largely unsung throughout the praise the band has received for each of its three releases. Second, vocalist Michael MacBlane-Meyer is a far more interesting performer than Jim Morrison. The later is amusingly dismissed as “a drunken buffoon” by Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, and the former is rightfully regarded as Minneapolis’ own answer to Iggy Pop.
The new album has a more intense feel than Wicked Sun, which was released in 2014. There’s a stronger sense of the Stooges but also a wider psychedelic landscape. The tour de force performance of organist Aaron Robertson, who also engineered the recording of Temples into Tombs, doesn’t steal the show. In fact, what’s truly remarkable about their second album is how well the quintet compliment one another and how absolutely seamless the arrangements are. This is as clear in the hook-heavy garage jams “Robin Hood” or “Generation F” as it is in the album’s brooding title track, where MacBlane-Meyer’s spoken performance and Robb Lauer’s blend ancient world mysticism with the anxiety of contemporary despair.
You can check out the entire album for yourself on their Bandcamp page here.
The second new release from Piñata Records is especially welcome because the band is better represented than they were on previous recordings. The Cult of Percolation, previously performing as Mary Allen and her Percolators, has arrived with the release of Elegant Interactions Laboratory. Like Narco States, they’ve earned an enthusiastic review from Faster and Louder, whose Lord Rutledge writes in part,
I can tell you that I’ve never heard a band in my life that sounds quite like The Cult of Percolation – a Minneapolis outfit so “out there” that you just might believe this reallyis a soul band from another galaxy.
We were quick converts to the cause but found their first album proved a hard sell to the unbelievers. Like Narco States, the Cult of Percolation self-recorded their new album, but guitarist Eliot Gordon’s BBQ Laundromat Studio more effectively captured the group’s call-and-response styled vocals and his own part on Elegant Interactions Laboratory. This stands out on the catchy riff which drives “Jessica” and the lighter “Lovin A Van.” As with the Narco States alum, you can hear the whole thing on Bandcamp here.
The songs on Elegant Interactions Laboratory are written to be performed live, with backing vocals that have an old time Pentecostal revivalism and the tight arrangements of the Stax revue. The Cult’s sound, and Mary Allen’s dynamism in particular, feel almost constrained in the recording, but that’s part of the magic. The record is only a taste — for the whole thing you’ll have to make a pilgrimage and witness it for yourself.