reviews of "The Kids At The Club" go here
For reviews of "Profit In Your Poetry" by Butcher
Boy go here
For reviews of "Fill Up The Room" by Saturday Looks
Good To Me go here
of Antarctica Takes It!
Heartache With Hard Work
lapsing into hyperbole is a common and sometimes unfortunate feature
of blogs, but I haven't gushed in quite a while, so if you'll permit
me, today is going to be the day. The subject of my gushing is Antarctica
Takes It!, one of the best new bands I've heard in years, and their
debut record The Penguin League.
The embodiment of everything lo-fi was ever meant to be, they exude
joyfulness without pretense and feature a sound so warm it could keep
you comfortable on even the coldest of Antarctic nights. While many
sections are as basic as can be - just a boy and his guitar - others
are backed by a veritable orchestra of harmonicas, glockenspiels, strings,
bells, and dueling harmonies. How they manage to incorporate so much
while maintaining a feeling of perfect sparseness, I have no idea. But
it's a thing of delicate beauty.
I've scoured the internets to try and find out more about them, but
sadly there's not a lot out there. One comment I've run into a few times
is that the low sound quality ruins the record. I get where this is
coming from (it is VERY lo-fi), but in my opinion that is precisely
its beauty. I have no idea if it was a matter of intention or simply
having no other options, but the unfettered recording style employed
on this record is what makes it magical. Unencumbered by the bells and
whistles of production, the pure galloping joy of the music is allowed
to run free.
To provide some perspective: in a month full of great new music from
the likes of the Decemberists, the Hold Steady, Jeremy Enigk, and yes,
even the Killers, this is probably my favorite record precisely because
it has none of the pretensions, bombast, or self-aware meaningfulness
of those albums. In that respect, they remind me of the early Carissa's
Wierd, who demonstrated that hushed vocals and lo-fi recording produced
a more genuinely human product than any million dollar project ever
Basically, this record is the shy and unassuming girl with pigtails
and glasses who sits in the corner quietly reading a Harry Potter book,
but who still manages to far outshine a crowded room full of beauty
queens, intellectual superstars, and aspiring hipsters.
The best song on the record. I talked about it in my Antarctica post
a couple months ago ("At times soft and tender, at others gloriously
carefree, it careens through a number of different tones but never loses
its pure beauty. It's lo-fi as can be, but is astonishingly well-constructed."),
and it has done nothing but grow on my since then.
It tells the tale of an Antarctic expedition, which begins in peaceful
tranquility ("We traced shapes across the starry skies / And made
our way through each tender night / We heard the weary whales’
tune / And sang along neath the silver moon"), but ends in tragedy.
An attack by a giant squid, sailors sinking to the depths of the frozen
ocean, and yet somehow it retains a sense of wonderment as they exclaim
"Antarctica, you stole our hearts!"
It also contains some of the very best lyrics I've heard all year. The
line above is one example, but another I can't get over is: "We
felt the madness shake our souls / And grew our beards down to our toes."
Toss in some great imagery ("on this frosty winedark sea"
or even the opening couplet: "We stole away from the crown of flame
/ For a cold land without a name"), and you've got a classic in
The Song Is You
Like a macabre and distorted Springsteen song, this is a strangely touching
series of vignettes about the forlorn and abandoned. From a father who
mourns the loss of his son by placing the heart "in a tiny mason
jar" to a man who finds his final destiny in the burning flames,
these are far more Ray Bradbury than anything else. And yet, like Bradbury,
there is a strange pathos in their bizarreness. For all its peculiarity,
the common elements of loss and the madness of love ring true. And could
it sound more adorable? I think not.
This song takes on the theme of true love that somehow manages to find
a way. But once again, while they may deal with some traditional topics,
they have their own unique take, as exemplified by the final line: "And
all of your molecules will fall apart, but the pull of your light still
finds me." It's a rather beautiful (if totally dorky) way to think
about the strength of love. And that bounding harmonica just makes my
These three songs are probably my favorites, but every track on the
record is worth hearing. The theme of happy tunes which accompany unearthly
lyrics runs throughout the album. From the rapid urgency of "I'm
No Lover" which is surely the most pleasant song ever to contain
a line like "I would turn your lover’s bones into tiny violins
to play when you die," to "My Friend Sam Saarni" which
draws on a number of images of the living dead. And there are some slower
numbers to break up the flow, including the violin-touched "Heart
of Stone" and the lonesome farewell of "Goodbye" that
closes the album.
We'll have to see how it stands up to a few months more listening, but
right now The Penguin League is easily one of my 5 favorite records
of the year. I know they're not for everyone, but if you're into twee,
indie pop, the Field Mice, Belle and Sebastian, Page France, or anyone
like them, they may be just right for you.
Said The Gramophone
I more inclined to listen to a band when my name is thanked in the liner-notes?
I admit it: I am. Is that vain? It is. But oh, it feels great to have
my plain 'sean michaels' attached to a song like this - like a ribbon
bobby-pinned to the band's galloping heel. I've never even met these
Did I say galloping? I did! Because this here is a cavalry. On their
MySpace page they cite Belle & Sebastian, Otis Redding, the Penguin
Cafe Orchestra - but forget that. It's Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Hannibal
at their head. Listen to the exclamation of this song! The band earns
the '!'. Listen to the cannonade of percussion, the charge of clap-clap,
the hoarsening voices and the go-insane of the piano... the closing
horn fanfare like a cavalry of rainbows that the general's added "just
because we can! On, men! On on on!"
The CD's hand-painted, they're from Santa Cruz CA, they're the band
I wish I invented at summer camp.
since I started this music blog I've noticed one thing that is consistently
proven over and over again, and that's that you can't judge a book by
it's cover, or in this case, an album. The Penguin League by Antarctica
Takes It! (who are actually from Santa Cruz, quite the oppostite of
Antarctica) is probably the most "homemade" looking cd I've
ever recieved, but low and behold, it's fantastic from beginning to
Acompanied by acoustic guitar, glockespiel, horns, tambourine, accordian,
violin, cello and more, songwriter Dylan McKeever comes across as a
sort of Michael Nau in training, spinning wonderfully colorful stories
about love, weather and frozen continents, among other things. I'm interested
to see what's up the road for these guys, but they're definitely a pop
band to keep your eye on. Highly recommended for fans of Page France,
Lil' Hospital, et al.
"Antarctica", the longest running track on the album, clocking
in at 4:12, is clearly the albums the climax, and also it's biggest
success. In it's mere four minutes it moves through about 4 or 5 seperate
movements, all flowing perfectly into one another. The song opens lightly
with acoustic guitar, introducing the chilly continent and how it stole
their hearts: "We traced shapes across the starry skies, made our
way through each tender night, we heard the weary whales too, and sang
along with the silver moon, Antarctica you stole our hearts." Just
after that the song throws it into gear taking you through detours and
down back roads until you finally reach the end.
You Ain't No Picasso
yesterday Skatterbrain Matt asked me if I’d gotten a promo in
the mail today by a cool band named Antarctica Takes It!. I said I hadn’t,
and he proceeded to explain that it was one of the best albums he’d
ever been mailed, etc. Then when I actually opened my mail, I was thrilled
to discover I’d received the very same album. It’s one of
this year’s more promising debuts.
There’s something almost biblical about the lyrics on Antarctica
Take’s It!’s debut album, The Penguin League. Take away
the lo-fi recording and Page France sounding instrumentation and you’ll
find a lyrics sheet that reads like a modern day prophet’s text.
Much like a 21st century gospel writer, lead singer Dylan McKeever reveals
“I have come here to destroy everything that you held dear.”
Thankfully for us, it looks like his wrath takes the form of beautiful,
stripped-down indie pop instead of the fire and brimstone kind.
Takes It are from Santa Cruz, CA, and I just got their lovingly-handmade-packaged
homebrewed album, The Penguin League. This is dance and sing, hug your
friends, march around, kiss the girl, clap your hands (and say yeah)
kind of music. I once referred to Richmond, VA's Great White Jenkins
as "A Jake-Legged, Brokedown, Marching Symphony," and I'm
gonna christen Antarctica Takes It "A Jake-Legged, Brokedown, Marching
listen up you guys. Thanks to Matt from the wonderful Skatterbrain,
I have someone to share with you. They're called Antarctica Takes It!
and they are poppy, adorable, and very talented. For fans of Tullycraft,
Arcitecture In Helsinki, and anything good and happy. I haven't been
this excited about a new band in awhile. So, get on it, these guys are
going to get big.
reading the brief album stats (above) will give you a hint as to the
nature of this release, if you can even call it that. This, however,
doesn’t give the slightest hint about just how charming and invigorating
the music from Antarctica Takes It! is. The album can’t be found
at any retail outlets, in fact, as far as I can tell, mailing the band
$6 in an envelope is the only way to get it. And it isn’t a professionally
manufactured CD and case by any means; it is basically just a CD-R.
The sound quality too, tells the story of a DIY band. The music is incredibly
lo-fi, and the band even states on their myspace, that as they record
their next CD “this time we're using a microphone.” I can’t
be sure if this is an exaggeration or what, but it’s clear, though,
that the production values here are not quite studio quality. I can
say though, what this release lacks in audio quality, it makes up for
The CD is only ten tracks long, and clocks in at just less than 30 minutes.
The longest track and perhaps one of the best is the second to last,
“Antarctica,” and it is hardly more than 4 minutes. The
album opens up with “I’m No Lover,” which, like the
rest of the CD, is filled with lyrical gems, both clever and entertaining.
The first words you’ll hear out of Dylan McKeever, the lead singer,
are “I'm not a lover, I'm a fighter and I would burn your house
down.” As the album progresses, there is no lack of this lyrical
style, that is both humorous and meaningful.
While I don’t have a gripe with a single song on this album, I
do have three favorites. The first, “Circuits” features
harmonizing vocals, and interesting mix of instruments. The unique mix
of chimes and harmonica create a light airy atmosphere for the song.
My particular favorite, “Fog Song” has a slower, more brooding
sound to it, but it is equally lovable and endearing. It has a distinctive
marching pace, which is kept throughout by a combination of snare as
well as piano and a variety of strings.
Finally, “Antarctica” makes it to my list of most memorable
tracks. “Antarctica” is easily described as the album’s
climax, while the somber “Goodbye” is more of a polite send
off. “Antarctica” manages to cram into just 4:12 a variety
of styles that make for a rich musical experience.
It seems as if the chief complaint about this release is the low quality
of the recording. However, if you can set aside any instances of audiophilia,
you will find a delightful and sincere release that is both interesting
and easy to listen to. I am very excited to hear what is coming next
from Antarctica Takes It!, and I hope after reading this, and hearing
the album, that you are too.
that flies by the seat of its pants can sometimes eclipse its more polished
cousins for sheer excitement. And so it came to pass that ‘I’m
No Lover’ by Antarctica Takes It! has gotten me into a lather
over the last few days for its beat up vinyl stylings. By all accounts
the Santa Cruz’s bands debut album ‘The Penguin League’
was recorded using some sort of analog device that was prevalent in
the mid seventies. So, it might not sheen like a Beirut canvass but
the brass and genuine mayhem in this 90-second wonder is enough to give
palpitations of delight to those in awe of real music. ATI! are currently
recording new material for a second album even though their debut only
came out in mid summer. This time they’ve ditched the scratchy
tape and upgraded their recording gear so let’s hope the studio
tricks don’t destroy their inner treats.
Of The Midwestern Housewives
only heard the songs these guys have up on their myspace but I already
know I love them. As the nor’easter rages outside my office’s
windows today these pop gems are warming my heart. Can’t recommend
them highly enough!
Shimmering and playful. Unassuming and untamed. Antarctica Takes It!
Is probably one of the best bands you have never heard. The songs are
bright and bubbly. The lyrics are epic and sung with the sweet school
boy vocals. The songs are filled with glockenspiels, violins, ukuleles,
trumpets, and accordions. Production is rough, but that is to be expected
in most self-released albums. The Penguin League is a valiant first
effort. I do believe it is the perfect album to accompany the last of
summer’s warmth or a car ride to nowhere in search of the brightest
fall foliage. Antarctica Takes It! has taken the number one spot in
this week’s album rotation.
things sold this song to me. 1) I have been obsessed with the South
Pole since I was a kid. 2) It's a geek love song about sending signals
across the circuitry/little tiny lights blinking randomly. Quite possibly
the most beautiful geek love song ever.
Takes It! self-released their debut CD-R The Penguin League eons ago
in internet time-- way back in 2006-- so "New Music" might
seem like a case of mislabeling as blatant as putting a "Latin"
genre tag on a Los Campesinos! mp3. Despite some favorable blog mentions,
however, the lo-fi Santa Cruz, Calif. indie-pop outfit's songs won't
have been available in proper album form until their forthcoming release
on How Does It Feel to Be Loved?, the UK club night turned record label
that gave us 2006's winsome The Kids at the Club compilation. The new
edition of The Penguin League was remastered in London, but album highlight
"Circuits" thankfully hasn't gone south, retaining the demo
version's warm heart and ramshackle charm.
Early Belle and Sebastian is an obvious influence, but rather than take
Stuart Murdoch's chamber-pop confections and simply polish them up,
22-year-old songwriter Dylan McKeever achieves a similar effect through
his own devices: piano, cello, glockenspiel, accordion, harmonica, female
backing vocals, and eccentric percussion, all captured through a laptop's
shitty internal microphone. Like Fujiya & Miyagi's fantastic "Collarbone",
"Circuits" connects the knee bone to the thigh bone, here
not as a route to fake-Japanese absurdity, but as an innocent expression
of wonderment at even existing at all. It's also a shy come-on to a
love the narrator has lost or, just as likely, hasn't met yet: "See
the spark ignite with electricity/ I know there's light inside of you,
inside of me," McKeever murmurs. OK, so it's not quite "The
State I Am In". But that'd be stretching the definition of "New
Music" pretty far, don't you think?
Alex Loves You And Your Silly Pop Songs
though it's quite late on a Saturday night and I'm just about ready
to collapse into bed, I just had to write about Antarctica Takes It!
Yes, yes, I've done the "how twee are you?" quiz, and subsequently
receive all those fantastically jealous email updates from How Does
It Feel To Be Loved? each week, which is how I found out about these
guys. You see, their record "The Penguin League" was originally
released in 2006, but the lovely Ian in London is making their record
known to the masses by releasing it on his own HDIF label. Nice chap,
So apart from looking all hip and cute and whimsical by posing with
white tights and cellos and trumpets and scarves and such, they sound
hip and cute and whimsical to boot. Have a listen to "Circuits"
- it's so sparkly, with its boy-girl harmonies, handclaps and xylophones,
that it's hard not to love it, despite my description making it sound
like your twee nightmare. I can envisage a film clip to this made on
super 8, with sprinkles of snowflakes on suburban trees, with everyone
rugged up in mittens, woollen hats and black-rimmed glasses. Okay, enough
of the extreme twee descriptors. They've managed to use about as many
instruments as they can to produce "Circuits", and, to their
credit, they've made it all sound honest, unpretentious and just very
At first I was worried they would fall into the same league as Los Campesinos!,
what with their shared exclamation marks and comparisons to Belle &
Sebastian and Sufjan Stevens, but Antarctica Takes It! have won me over,
for sure. Now, where's my scarf and winter coat?
Pop Tarts Suck Toasted
me an exclamation point in a band name usually indicates twee music,
and here that pretty much rings true. A quirky, romantic song with a
bouncy beat, "Circuits" is my first introduction to Antarctica
Takes It! and so far I like what I'm hearing. It's a cute tune, and
I think fans of The Boy Least Likely To and Architecture in Helsinki
will really dig this one.
fourth full-length release on the How Does It Feel To Be Loved? label
may have arrived without any great fanfare, but it has been a long time
in the making. The Penguin League was self-released on CD-R by the band
back in 2006, but remained relatively unknown until HDIF stepped in
to offer it a wider audience.
The album was recorded by 22-year-old Dylan McKeever and his band onto
a friend's laptop, relying solely on the computer's built-in microphone.
The lo-fi approach seems to have been borne out of necessity, but the
results are pleasing. The Penguin League sounds both rich and slightly
ramshackle, a difficult combination to pull off. The production never
detracts from the quality of the songs, and there's no shortage of songwriting
talent on display.
The ten tracks contained here are apparently the first McKeever has
ever written, but they sound anything but amateurish. He cites early
Belle and Sebastian as an influence, and while the similarity is there,
the band has managed to create its own distinct sound with its first
release in much the same way as B&S did with Tigermilk.
The album opens with 'I'm No Lover', a 90-second burst of trumpets and
galloping drums that starts with the lines, "I'm not a lover, I'm
a fighter/And I will eat your children alive". Never has a song
about violent retribution sounded so sweet. The second song, 'Circuits',
is a slightly nerdy but beautifully-executed love song. The instrumentation
takes more of a back seat and McKeever's voice comes to the fore, sounding
not unlike Fred Thomas of Saturday Looks Good To Me.
From there on, the album continues to fluctuate between Decemberists-style
tales of death and mortality, and plaintive songs about heartbreak and
longing from afar. 'Davenport Coast' is probably the best example of
the latter, all bittersweet lyrics and vocal harmonies undercut with
a desperately sad cello part. There is one instrumental on the album,
'Flightless Birds', wh ich rattles along at a great pace, sounding like
a Californian indie kid's take on The Life Aquatic soundtrack.
The standout track, however, is left until second-last. 'Antarctica'
is a paean to a continent that clearly fascinates the singer and is
probably the most uplifting song here, the handclaps and harmonies never
Not a long album by any standard, The Penguin League's ten songs are
over in less than half an hour. In that time, however, the listener
is taken on a journey across frozen tundra, through distant forests
and over harbours shrouded in fog. McKeever has created his own slightly
incongruous universe in much the same way as Zach Condon did with Beirut,
and the album hangs together as a whole that should be listened to from
start to finish.
In summary, I'm hard-pressed to say anything bad about this album. Fans
of any of the bands I've mentioned should love it as much as I do.
Takes It! have restored what faith there is left in what it means to
be an indie(pendent) band: their debut album ‘The Penguin League’
was originally recorded unfettered onto a friends laptop and released
back in 2006 to the tune of $6 that had to be sent direct to the band.
The results of their humbling DIY attitude unfortunately fell upon deaf
ears, despite the obvious underground critical acclaim of many puritans.
The four piece, from Santa Cruz, remain somewhat of an enigma: procreated
as a bedroom band by the prodigious talents of 22-year-old Dylan McKeever,
the album’s full debut is intended for release February 11th (via
How Does It Feel To Be Loved? Records). Aurally the result is a more
polished radio-friendly sound, yet it still manages to maintain its
infatuation and manifesto with the simplicity of its origin. The result:
an incredibly charming and animated lo-fi debut of virginal purity.
The album as a body of work exudes an exultingly warm essence with the
subtleties of uniquely stripped-down instrumentations that conjure a
veritable orchestra of folk pop pleasures. Stand out tracks such as
'Antarctica' and 'Circuits' float celestially between accordions and
ukuleles for a brooding sense of pragmatism.
It is the sheer lack of modern day pretence and pomposity that could
have been forced upon it in accordance with major label requirements
and pressures that make it so free and unassumingly listenable, allowing
them to sit comfortably amongst the likes of an early Belle and Sebastian
and Beirut. (4/5)
a physical and poetic statement, Dylan McKeever's opening expression
to the world in this, his debut album, ranks as one of the more disturbing
in the already-fucked-up twee canon: "I'm not a lover I'm a fighter
/ I will burn your house down / I will eat your children alive."
It's certainly a few steps left of "Wouldn't it be nice if we were
older". But the trick of disguising the most disgusting of sordid
intimations by making it happy and adding a ramshackle orchestral arrangement
has been done more times than Ulrika, so how's this one going to stand
out? Why shouldn't we shrug our shoulders at McKeever and slap him about
the chops for telling us about something he probably won't be able to
go through with?
Oh, the same reason as all the rest of them - Charm. Holy hell it's
saccharine and lamentable and depressing and beautiful and cloying and
the references to sandwich fillings certainly don't help but by CHRIST!
Does it make you love the record more than you thought were going to!
The self-conscious mini-epic centrepiece (tucked in at the end) 'Antarctica'
is unrelentingly positive, with a sped-up Decemberists aesthetic that
Belle & Sebastian weren't bothered enough to create and the completely
lovable refrain "Antarctica, you stole our hearts". It might
not be a completely successful robbery, but most of the gang got out
alive. While you're listening to this song, incidentally, look at the
cover and play the Wes Anderson film "The Life Aquatic" in
your head. It fits, doesn’t it?
McKeever's truest talent lies in the melters, in the songs that slope
quietly into the corner and die a noble but tragic death in the corner.
'Heart Of Stone' is childlike in it's approach to melody, but utterly
adult in its dynamic execution, sweetly mirroring its deliberately crude
lyrics and their real gravity.
Though young and delicate, Antarctica Takes It! is a delirious riot
of a pop shambles, all recorded in about five minutes with one microphone
probably under the bed. It's hateable for those in the "grow up
and stop whining that the Go-Betweens don't make records any more"
camp but if you really are sad about that, then The Penguin League will
tear strips off your innards and lick them clean to say sorry. (4/5)
Of The Midwestern Housewives - interview
while ago I wrote about Antarctica Takes It! Being the intrepid reporter
that I am, I sent them some questions:
I love the cover art for your album The Penguin League, who is that
with the penguin?
The cover art is a photo of explorer Charley Hollister and an Adelie
penguin taken by Sam Silverstein in 1967. I had originally discovered
the photo in an old National Geographic at a friend's house. I later
came into contact with Mr. Silverstein and he is quoted in the HDIFTBL
remastered version's booklet saying:
"When Charley Hollister and I learned of the discovery of Antarctica's
highest peaks we were determined to mount an expedition to climb them.
The photograph on the front of this CD booklet shows Charley playing
hide and seek with an Adeline penguin at Cape Royd's (Ernest Shackleton's
1908 base), in Antarctica, January 1967. He and I had just returned
from participating in the first ascents of Antarctica's highest peaks
and were in a very happy and carefree mood. I don't know what the penguin
thought about Charley's antics, but I never tired of them. He was a
wonderful friend. He made life fun." -Sam Silverstein.
What were your favorite albums of 07?
Jens Lekman's "Night Falls Over Kortedala" has been in my
car CD player for about 3-4 months. I still can't grasp how tight and
catchy the songs are. I got to see him play in San Francisco last December
and was really just blown away by the performance. My friend Tyler's
(who plays keyboard, horns, ukulele in ATI) band, James Rabbit completed
"Coluratura" at the very end of 2007. It's hard to describe
the sort of energy that courses through this album
One of the albums that I discovered this year was former Zombies singer
Colin Blunstone's "One Year" (although I actually picked up
the collection "Some Years"). It's full of these amazing songs
that are just Colin's ethereal voice accompanied by string orchestrations.
I think it originally came out in the early 70s?
How do you find out about new music?
Friends or music blogs usually.
What would you say your influences are music or otherwise (literature,
film, visual art, etc.)?
One of my favorite bands as a teenager was Belle & Sebastian. It
was one of the first bands that I sort of just stumbled upon and had
this revelation that great and wonderful music existed, I just had to
go out and find it. I also fell in love with Stuart Murdoch's introspective
characters and Velvet-Underground-Stephanie-Says-type third person storytelling.
"The Song is You" is about a movie that came out in 2003 called
"The Saddest Music I The World". See the movie!
If Antarctica Takes It! was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, which
turtle would you be and why?
As a kid, my favorite was always Donatello, but hopefully the band would
What do you think the biggest benefits and limitations are to working
without a label?
Record label/Club "How Does It Feel To Be Loved" recently
remastered and re-released The Penguin League and it has honestly been
a pleasure working with them. Not having a label in the States has been
nice though. There's no pressure to tour or pump out albums so I can
write and record at my own leisure. If I were more serious about selling
albums and playing shows I think a record label would be necessary.
Do you guys currently have day jobs? What are/were they?
I am working at an after-school program, Maria has a teaching job at
a Montessori School, Vanessa is a librarian in SF, and Tyler works with
disabled adults in SC county.
In your message for people buying the album, you ask for a return
address and maybe a picture or note. Have many people drawn you pictures?
What are some of your favorites?
I just recently included that message to try to encourage people. We've
gotten pictures of people's cats, doodles and drawings, and one person
sent in a picture of a hot-dog cart. It's been pretty great.
Do you have plans to tour outside of the West Coast anytime soon?
Not really. Touring and booking shows is pretty exhausting. But we're
glad to play shows if other people want to set them up.
What did Antarctica Take? In other words, what is It?
The original idea was to have Antarctica Takes It be like some kind
of frosty baseball team who wins the World Series. "It" being
the World Series. That idea kind of got lost along the way. I'm not
sure what "It" means now though, hopefully people's hearts,
or if not that maybe just their ears.
This Is Fake DIY
most people can testify with some vengeance, there's indie and there's
indie; the first one often loathed and detested for its hypocrisy and
unoriginality, the second embraced and loved for its authenticity and
creativity. Antarctica Takes It!'s debut, 'The Penguin League', is as
indie as they come.
Originally recorded on a laptop through a simple internal microphone
and sold independently for $6 in 2006 and now picked up by How Does
it Feel, the record is at times as lo-fi as Daniel Johnston, early Pavement,
or anything off the Rough Trade indie-pop compilation.
The sounds of the 'mini-orchestra' that includes violin, cello, trumpet
and accordion, beautifully battling with one another for supremacy of
the lone mic, with singer and songwriter Dylan McKeever's tentative
vocals in the background. 'My Friend Sam Saarni' presents this perfectly,
and you can feel your ears trying to distinguish between all these various
'I'm No Lover' is sort of civil war in every sense, with McKeever and
Maria Schoettler's soft vocals battling with the ominous lyrics of hate
and viciousness, which are fighting to get through this short yet beautiful
armoury of sound. It's twee, yet dark and menacing, and harks back to
'Tigermilk'-era Belle and Sebastian.
However, the music reaches moments where it is surprisingly crisp and
tight. 'Antarctica' recounts an expedition's journey into deepest Antarctica
that at first starts out sedate, explodes into colour and life, and
then culminates in an ambiguous ending that suggests death in a largely
'The Penguin League' is a quintessential indie-pop record. On the surface
it's pretty, harmless and remains true to the ethos of indie music of
being exactly that: independent, and free from initial constraints.
But underneath, there's a moving, at times dark, at times gloomy, at
times stirring and joyous sentiment; it's a play on emotions, and you're
never sure where to go with it. 'The Penguin League' could well be the
start of something rather special for Antarctica Takes It!, and you'd
be utterly stupid to ignore it. (4/5)
lo-fi, and there's lo-fi; and then there's Antarctica Takes It!. Dylan
McKeever, a student at the University of California's Santa Cruz outpost,
recorded this - his first batch of songs - directly into the condenser
mic in a mate's laptop. After finishing it in 2006, McKeever didn't
press up any CDs, instead mailing CDRs to anyone who sent him $6 in
the post. If that makes you think you know exactly what "The Penguin
League" is going to sound like, you're probably about half right.
McKeever and band mates Vanessa Waring, Maria Schoettler and Tyler Martin
certainly sound like they've enjoyed one or two Belle & Sebastian
albums. And it's not just the recording that could best be described
as ramshackle - McKeever's vocals, perhaps as a result of neophyte insecurity,
are wont to skate right through the fence that separates untutored charm
from off-key wailing. So far, it sounds like the sort of thing only
the anorak-clad (non-)masses could get hot under their quilted collars
about: but there is a lavish ambition coursing through this 29-minute
album that ensures it will resonate beyond the insular world of indie-pop.
There's an instinctive invention here that works - the way un-rock instruments
like glockenspiel, Band Of Holy Joy-ish accordion, trumpet and ukulele
are thrown down like eccentric crazy paving has an exhilarating panache.
And while it's hardly groundbreaking, there's much to applaud about
the kind of iron-fist-in-velvet-glove songwriting that puts lyrics like
"I have come here to destroy everything you hold dear" over
a cheerily melodious opener ("I'm No Lover") that suggests
nothing but blue skies and good cheer.
It's also a concept album, in part: this newly available British edition
boasts a sleeve with a note and photos from a 1960s Antarctic explorer,
and one song, "Antarctica" - at a shade over four minutes,
something of an epic - is a joyous hymn to the frozen continent. "Flightless
Birds", an instrumental, also fits the theme, while the artwork
and the band name conspire to lend those fizzing cymbals and sibilant
percussion sounds an appropriately icy particularity.
These are intricate, complex and often very beautiful songs, and this
is a very fine album; though it is tantalisingly short of the even better
one you know McKeever - still only 22 - will one day manage to make.
anybody with a passing interest in US indie-pop and they will tell you
that lo-fi is back in a big way. For some bands that means fantastically
mangled noise-pop. But for Dylan McKeever – the 22-year-old band-leader
of Antarctica Takes It! – it means recording your wistful compositions
directly onto a laptop via its internal microphone.
The Californian quartet craft an expansive record, which glistens thanks
to the impressive arsenal of instruments employed on these 10 tracks,
where strings and horns jostle for attention alongside glockenspiels,
accordions and keys. Such uplifting, exuberant pop has garnered comparisons
with acts such as Belle & Sebastian, Sufjan Stevens and the Decemberists,
but the four-piece have a gently disarming outlook all of their own.
Despite the wintry name and imagery, the opening duo of I’m No
Lover and Circuits instead highlight an effortlessly sunny disposition
in their bouncy, melodious efforts; although this masks some incredibly
dark lyrical images on the former, such as “I will turn your lover’s
bones into violins to play when you die.” Accompanied by sprightly
horns, “sugar-coating” is a bit of an understatement.
At times elegiac, the shimmering folk-pop and gorgeous harmonies on
The Penguin League are a joy to behold. What it lacks in production
values it more than makes up for with heart and euphoric melodies, not
least on the deliriously bouncy Antarctica; stylistically, the album’s
centre-piece, despite chronologically being the penultimate track. This
astonishing debut hints at great things to come – bittersweet,
soft-focus pop rarely sounds so good. (4/5)
may hail from California but, as their name suggests, their folk pop
sound coudn’t be further from the west coast’s sun-kissed
sound. They have a nice line in teaming manic bandstand cheer with brutally
bitter, lonely lyrics and, despite recording this lo-fi debut on a mate’s
laptop, it’s a richly ambitious offering, saturated with cellos,
glockenspiels, accordions and then some. (4/5)
not the extremely cutesy, for sweetness can be deceptive. Antarctica
Takes It! drizzle it on, with their ukuleles and Belle & Sebastian
whimper. Except then you notice they’re singing “I will
burn your house down/I will eat your children alive” or telling
tales of a skeleton “in a suit of human skin”. (7/10)
you get over the fact this album seems to have been recorded direct
to wax cylinder in a mud hut using microphones made of tin cans and
percussion fashioned from grannies’ teeth, Antarctica Takes It!
reveal themselves to be a thoroughly decent bunch. There’s no
escaping it, though: “The Penguin League” is so twee it
nigh on comes with a free cardigan and hairslide set. Echoes of Herman
Dune rattle through the delightful harmonised skiffle of “Circuits”,
while the sensitive horn-punctured jangle-pop of “The Song Is
You” is Belle & Sebastian all over – and there’s
bugger all wrong with either of these things. While unlikely to impress
the Hawley Arms massive, this Santa Cruz quartet have charm by the bucketload.
Drowned In Sound
acts sketch a line between love and hate quite as finely as Belle &
Sebastian. For some, the quaint Glaswegian twee-troupe are vanguards
of ambrosial, bookworm-riddled melodies; the kind of band that reciprocates
the embrace of it’s corduroy-clad following with a warm, paternal
hug and a piping hot cup of whipped-cream topped cocoa. Yet for others,
Stuart Murdoch and his sickly-sweet compadres amount to little more
than church-attending bedwetters with a nauseating penchant for passionless,
florally-designed jingle-jangling. There’s little scope for middle
ground: it’s either resolute adulation or inherent loathing.
Following the proper release of debut long-player The Penguin Line,
Santa Cruz-dwelling quartet Antarctica Takes It! will invariably accentuate
the fissure between such uncompromising bipolarity. Bursting seams with
a clutter of rink-a-dink rhythms and cosy fireside strumming, it’s
a Litmus test that subconsciously plots positions on the musical stratosphere;
an unassuming aural barometer of the cute and the curt; or, to put it
coarsely, a record that will turn you on or turn you limper than Fred
By gleefully enduring the entirety of this excursion into indie-pop’s
enchanting realms you’ve bought yourself a handmade (of course)
ticket to a dreamland where I’m From Barcelona and Camera Obscura
skip, giggle and make merry in dew-soaked pastures. But if gnashers
are found grinding the moment frontman Drew McKeever unconvincingly
declares “I’m not a lover, I'm a fighter” over tin-pot
opener ‘I’m No Lover’’s frisky mariachi sway
then the proceeding thirty minutes will ensure a few straw-ingested
meals and a trip to the orthodontist wont be too far away.
Make no mistake, Antarctica Takes It! have little desire to alter perceptions
– ‘Flightless Birds’’ perky, mandolin-infused
tropicalia appeals only to the most fey of souls – but underneath
the innately childish charm and marshmallow toasting exterior lurks
an ear for intricate melody. The sheer scale of tracks like the delightfully
twinkle-toed ‘Circuits’ and equally acrobatic ‘The
Song Is You’ stupefies enough to bypass dismissive thoughts of
vanilla-coated feebleness. A kaleidoscopic jamboree of jaunty guitar,
brushing percussion and proud, protruding horns, each track pours the
lemon-fresh zest of summer into frost-bitten hearts like a gushing waterfall
Of course, this relentless swathe of tweeish jubilance can grate on
even the most optimistic of lugholes and when incredulously dizzy sing-a-long
‘My Friend Sam Saarni’ flutters it’s wings the result
is so painfully sappy it makes Tilly & The Wall seem like boisterous
playground bullies. Yet the cascading furore of instrumentation emanating
from penultimate track ‘Antarctica’ sheers away this woollen
lull as it's bristling up-tempo saunter supersedes the hushed introduction
with a giddy, harmonic alignment of both verve and vigour that belies
the group's initially coy demeanour.
Sound familiar? Well, much like the inaugural offering of a certain
Scottish ensemble, The Penguin Line may be a record to cherish in years
to come – it just depends on which side of the divide you choose
to stand. (7/10)
This Is Fake DIY - interview
Antarctica Takes It! could be one of this year’s great discoveries,
although it’s been a long time coming. Recorded through a simple
laptop and available independently since 2006, The Penguin League, a
mixture of Tigermilk-era Belle and Sebastian and Beirut, has finally
been picked up by London indie-pop label How Does it Feel to be Loved;
and is out on the 11th February. Here, lead singer and songwriter Dylan
McKeever talks about discovering his singing voice, his artistic strife,
and having a former explorer set a rather unusual first…
I read that before recording The Penguin League, you'd never recorded
your singing voice before. How long did it take before you became confident
It did take awhile before I became comfortable with my singing voice.
All through high-school I was always the drummer in bands and hadn't
considered singing or playing other instruments, or songwriting for
that matter. The songs [on the album] are the first songs I've ever
written or sang or recorded or anything. This includes (apparently/at-times-regrettably)
lyrics that I had written when I was a teenager.
The album has been available independently for a while. How did
it feel (excuse the unintentional pun) to be approached by How Does
it Feel To Be Loved?
I was actually a little unsure at first. I liked the idea of keeping
things simple and wasn't sure how a label would effect things. Working
with HDIF has been great, however. They’ve has been very patient
and understanding in helping set up the release.
Describe your fellow band-mates.
Vanessa (cello, violin) is working on becoming a children's book author.
She has made a couple of books when we were in school together that
were pretty amazing. Maria (vocals) is usually making little craft things
or cooking. Tyler (keys, horns, vocals) has a sort of wild energy about
him. When we lived together, we tried writing and recording a song everyday
for a couple of weeks under the name The Golden Band. Tyler recently
released a very great album under his original band James Rabbit called
Coluratura at the very end of last year.
How did Dr. Samuel Silverstein take to the idea of being the first
Antarctic explorer to write sleeve-notes for an album? And importantly,
what does he think of the record?
Dr Silverstein took the photograph that's features as the album art.
I discovered it in an old magazine while we were recording the album
and thought it would make a great cover. About a year later, HDIF and
I tracked down Dr. Silverstein and he was happy to contribute. I haven't
heard his opinion about the album yet but it was very exciting to be
able to connect the picture with the actual person who took it and have
his insight in the album notes. All he asked for were 10 copies of the
album to give to his friends.
What have you found yourselves listening to at the moment?
Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala; Panda Bear – Person
Pitch; Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfá & João Gilberto
– Black Orpheus; Colin Blunstone – One Year; James Rabbit
How do you anticipate 2008? Do you think this could be the year
your hard-work pays off?
I was in a rut for the majority of 2007; hardly writing any songs and
performing less. But I've slowly been writing over the last couple of
months and we've been really happy with how the new songs are turning
out. I feel a bit more confident now working with more complicated song
structures and adding more variety in the melodies. We're aiming at
releasing the second album sometime this year, so look out!
McKeever and the band he’s put together grew up in the year long
summers of Oakland, near San Francisco. Maybe that’s why the penguin
on their album cover staring at the man wrapped up warm looks fake.
But wait. In the album’s booklet, someone called Sam Silverstein
writes ‘The photograph on the front… shows Charley playing
hide and seek with an Adelie penguin at Cape Royds (Ernest Shackleton’s
base) in Antarctica in Januaua, 1967’.
So the only fakes in the picture are the big speech bubble of the penguin
saying ‘Antarctica Takes It!’ to Mr. Silverstein and ‘The
Penguin League’ written at the bottom in the same circular childish
This album doesn’t explain what Adelie penguins are or why they
look like they were designed by Jim Henson, which, in the same situation,
is the first thing most people would do. ‘Antarctica Takes It!’
have as wide a vocabulary as the best pop bands. This begins with ‘I’m
No Lover’ where a brass section gives it a feel of young adult
easy listening and ends with ‘Goodbye’ where the lyrics
are like a teenage suicide note. These two are less than two minutes
Their longest song, 4 minutes and nineteen seconds long, is ‘Antarctica’.
McKeever sings what notes he can, which isn’t too many, and always
gives the impression he is trying for higher. ‘Antarcticcaaaaa/You
stole our hearts’. It’s second to last before ‘Goodbye’
which, after a thirty second pause and with just piano and vocals, is
more like a hidden track than an ending. ‘Antarctica’ sounds
like all the previous songs combined. The instruments being played •
violins, guitars, piano, drums, - outnumber the band. They must have
had to do dozens of takes, playing down the one microphone they claim
to own, to get it on record.
It was worth it. The tinny sound and less than muscular singing become
part of the charm of a song that is miraculous. Four Californians crammed
round a microphone in the singer’s bedroom pretending to be Shackleton’s
crew and, for all the listener will notice, pulling it off. With all
its layers, the song is the closest the band come to sounding like their
nearest relative who enjoys major success, Sufjan Stevens. Their edges
are a lot rougher. Their eccentricity is a bit less convincing. But,
whatever concessions you attach to that comparison, it’s still
a massive, massive compliment.
has never been my strong subject. I do know a couple of things though:
Antarctica is not in Santa Cruz, and Sweden is not in America. I know
that, but I wonder if Antarctica Takes It! knows it.
The Penguin League is an intriguing record; stylistically it’s
firmly planted in Northern European indie pop. If you like your pop
of the Swedish variety, you will recognise a hint of Irene and Suburban
Kids With Biblical Names. That’s no bad thing at all, as it means
that you get sensitive folk/pop, played in a slightly ramshackle manner
on glockenspiel, guitar, cello and assorted brass instruments.
The Song Is You manages to be sunny and dark at the same time, talking
of burial and mental illness with an alarming jauntiness. Flightless
Bird is a slice of instrumental pop loveliness, so twee it could be
used in an advert for kittens dressed in cardigans.
Best tracks are opener, I’m No Lover, clocking in at an efficient
one minute 34 seconds and Antarctica, which sounds a bit like the BMX
Bandits backed by a school orchestra. It is the very definition of charming,
Given that this isn’t a Pastels fanzine, I should probably warn
you that if you are not a fan of sentimental music played by earnest
young (ish) men and women in their twenties, pretending to be in their
teens, this probably isn’t the record for you. But if you stumble
through life finding beauty and pain in equal measures, buy this record
today and brighten up your lovely little world. (3.5/5)
Initially the work of singer Dylan McKeever, he's expanded from his
Santa Cruz bedroom into a proper band. Yet there's still something of
the innocent abroad in McKeever's shy, beguiling vocals like Tigermilk-era
Belle And Sebastian. Songs fly past in a dizzy whirl of glockenspiels
and ukuleles, used as well as Beirut to capture McKeever's will o' the
wisp charm. Melodies far outweigh any twee accusations. (7/10)
You'd imagine the prospect of an album recorded directly into the internal
microphone of a laptop to be a fairly dismal one: probably some lazy,
sketched-out singer-songwriter affair. That's certainly not the case
here however. Dylan McKeever's Antarctica Takes It channels an expansive
ensemble format in the vein of Sufjan Stevens, Beirut, Seabear, or Loney,
Dear configuring his sprightly, exuberant songs via strings, brass,
accordion, piano and glockenspiel, all captured by that measly laptop
mic. You could never reasonably expect this album to sound as good as
it does, but somehow it all comes together with remarkable clarity.
The Penguin League is lo-fi by necessity rather than by design, and
like all the best records faced with strict technical restrictions it's
continually fighting against them - and more often than not, winning.
Sure, you'll be wondering where all the bass went on tracks like 'Antarctica',
'Flightless Birds' and 'I'm No Lover', but that all contributes towards
this record's considerable charm. 22-year old McKeever's songwriting
comes across brilliantly, transcending the potential awkwardness of
the production. It makes you wonder what he's going to sound like when
he gets access to a proper studio. Highly recommended.
buy "The Penguin League" go here