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McNally Smith College of Music Alum Zach Hanson Sparks With The Laarks

2009 may be out of here, but Amazon.com recently identified a host of 2009 albums that music fans may have overlooked. Among them is one by McNally Smith alumnus and bass player Zach Hanson, who graduated from McNally Smith in 2008 with an AAS Degree in Recording Technology.

An Exaltation of Laarks,” the debut album for Hanson and his band, Laarks, was just released on the California Indie label Absolutely Kosher Records on November 3rd and will be coming to vinyl in mid-January. But the global heavyweight ecommerce site slots it at Number 18 of 100 undiscovered gems on its list, “Best of Music 2009: Outstanding ’09 Albums You Might Have Missed.

Among the raves the band is getting for their work are these two:

”Irresistible….Laarks high drama electro-pop prominently features innumerable tasty keyboard textures, aggressively shifting rhythms and taut guitar work. Those still hoping against hope that Ben Gibbard gets around to making another Postal Service album sometime this decade might be better served by checking out Laarks, who may lack PS’ beats per minute but provide nearly as compelling a fusion of organic and electronic rock textures.” (Reveille Magazine.)

and

“An Exaltation of Laarks … boasts both bracing immediacy (in the slightly strangled tenor of frontman Ian Jacoby and the barbed-wire tones of guitarist Kyle Flater) and well-mannered melodies (Jacoby’s tasteful keyboard textures and Brian Moen’s dynamic, precise drumming)…it’s easy to envision …massive success if the right breaks come their way.” (City Pages.)

Hanson says that the band’s Eau Claire, Wisconsin location is an ideal environment in which to make Laarks music: “Certain environs are more suited to the discharge of electricity, but Laarks have found conductors in a wide range of places – spanning state and even continental divides – while basing out of pastoral indie-rock hotbed Eau Claire, WI. And if dragging your feet across the carpet makes for a visible spark, Laarks have taken extra time and care – shuffling their proverbial feet across a thick shag over the course of two years – in amply charging their debut record An Exaltation of Laarks with enough jolt to terminate an arrhythmia.”

The McNally Smith alumnus says the record “isn’t so much a laudation of the band as it is a summons to experience the exuberance and passion of finely crafted pop songs executed with contagious energy, and in stunning fidelity (especially considering the band did it themselves, from two-inch tape to the album art).”

Group members say Laarks was born to fill a void. Singer, songwriter and keyboard player Ian Jacoby and drummer Brian Moen began collaborating after the dissolution of previous projects (most notably Moen who drummed with Amateur Love and DeYarmond Edison, which spawned bands Bon Iver and Megafaun).

As old friends emigrated south (and then to northern hunting cabins, but that’s another story…), Jacoby and Moen began crafting songs together in a cold, damp Wisconsin basement, eventually enlisting Kyle Flater to play guitar and additional keys, and Hanson to play bass. Space heaters vied with ungrounded vintage Sears-brand Silvertone amplification for power strip slots, and foreheads did battle with the underside of floor beams.

The album recording began in March 2007 when Hanson, then a student and not yet a band member, recorded Moen and his 70-year old drum kit to tape at McNally Smith School of Music, with the help of friend Eric Rykal. It was converted into ones and zeros, and Moen spent the next year or more recording everyone else, piece-by-piece, bit-by-bit, often re-tracking parts due to his ever-evolving experience. “Recording rigs were assembled and disassembled; gear was borrowed from friends like Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) or bought and sold on eBay (Moen is a Power Seller) to follow whatever creative paths Laarks lighted upon,” Hanson notes.

Then Moen was invited to be the touring drummer for Montreal’s Land of Talk on their European tour, where he subsequently mixed the Laarks on the road. For six months, Moen slid virtual sliders, twiddled knobs and hard panned tracks while backstage, in the van and in hotels across Europe. Once his role in Land of Talk ended, Moen finished mixing at his home in Saint Paul. Hanson followed with his own mastering work.

The end result “is a record full of melodic hooks embedded in indie rock mini-epics, with raucous crescendos and climaxes of textures pinned between pauses and composed reflection.” It’s the sound of a band that is markedly assured in its debut effort, delightfully void of irony and with a maelstrom of reference points. “The result,” notes Hanson wryly, “is some of the most vigorous, fervent electrifying pop music on any side of the Chippewa River. Brace yourselves for An Exaltation of Laarks.

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