by Rob van Alstyne
If my dreams had a soundtrack I’d want the Flavor Crystals to score it. A local quartet whose every slow motion tremolo-guitar-clang and airy vocal refrain feels like a visit from an indie-rock lullaby master, the Flavor Crystals make music ideally suited to soothe you through long nights—with the occasional menacing bit of feedback just to keep you on your toes. Their debut album, On Plastic, comes after years of false starts and lineup changes since the core of Josh Richardson (vocals/guitar) and Nat Stensland (guitar / bass) started making music together in St. Cloud during the ‘90s.
Download an mp3 the Flavor Crystal’s song “Sheep.”
guess we’ve been together with this lineup for something like three years
now,” offers Richardson on the telephone shortly before the band’s
slated to get in the van for a weekend gig up in Duluth. “We’ve
been playing for a long time but there’s been a lot of different phases
and changes in style. Finally I think we’re at a point where we’re
all really happy with it. For a long time there we were just kind of finding
our way and playing, like, four shows a year.”
The arrival of guitarist/bass player Danny Miller and his unique playing style
helped finally bring the band into focus. “Dan’s left handed and
he plays with his guitar flipped over so that the high strings are on the top.
It’s a pretty strange style and I’ve found that it’s helped
me a lot as a musician and forced me to play more intuitively. Normally I would
fall into the trap of watching the other person’s hands and trying to
see what they’re doing musically, but with Dan I just have to react to
the sound of it—if I tried following his hands I would get completely
On Plastic is a record defined by its open spaces and lazy-eyed beauty:
The languid, effects-treated guitar lines that briefly intertwine before floating
away from one another and back into the ether on the gently lolling “Underwater
Art”; Richardson’s Grandaddy-esque lilt mumbling disconnected images
before the guitars lift off into space on “Sheep”; The propulsive
drums that hold everything together during the album’s most cacophonous
moments on “Poblano.” There’s plenty of the classic shoegazer
guitar swirl at work here and although Richardson cops to loving both Ride and
My Bloody Valentine, he is perplexed that his own group draws such comparisons—but
there’s also an underlying pop sensibility those groups frequently lacked.
“We’re pretty democratic about how the songs turn out,” says
Richardson. “A lot of the songs on the album came out of improvisation
sessions that we just recorded and then went and listened back to later. We
sort of just tried to take what we thought was cool about those improvs and
then rein them in a little and make sure everyone’s part is being heard.
With a lot of groups like ours there tends to be one player whose presence is
really dominant; we worked hard to avoid that. Sometimes we play too loud and
are hard on our own ears; I think to really get anywhere at some point you have
to turn it down a little bit and listen to each other. We struggle when we can’t
hear each other. A lot of the songs (and I think some of the better moments)
are when we’re listening to each other and responding in the moment to
what the other person is playing. Our drummer is amazing: if you listen to the
record closely you can hear how the rhythms kind of ebb and flow. It’s
not very precise but that’s somewhat intentional. It’s almost going
for more of a jazzy flow. Some of the record sounds a bit off the cuff.”
how off the cuff the record sounds at points—there’s plenty of out-of-left-field
clatter during the moodier moments—the album actually took months to complete.
“We recorded it all ourselves in Nat’s studio,” explains Richardson.
“We wanted to capture kind of a performance feel and a cohesive sound.
We had done a lot of recording in the past that sounded very tracked and was
pretty heavy into the studio experimentation side of things. With this it was
basically all a live take, I just had to go back and re-record some vocals.
It was an immense struggle to finish the record and it never would have been
completed if Christian Fritz [whose local label MPLS LTD. ended up releasing
the album] hadn’t come around. He set up a CD release show and that made
us finally finish it. There are still things about the record that drive me
up the wall when I listen to it.”
Richardson needn’t be so hard on himself and the rest of the Flavor Crystals
crew. On Plastic makes a fine addition to the Twin Cities scene, particularly
since there are very few other local acts tilling the space rock fields from
which the Flavor Crystals yield their hummably hypnotic harvest. “I think
when we’ve played a good show we’ve always gotten some new fans
and met some people who really liked it,” says Richardson of the group’s
early forays into becoming a part of the live local music scene after years
spent making music at home. “People either get it or don’t: the
people who do are really into it, the people looking to shake their booty at
the bar don’t really like it.”
The Flavor Crystals play on Tue., Oct. 11 at the 7th Street Entry with TBA.
9 p.m. $5. 21+. 701 First Ave. N., Mpls. 612-338-8388.
To find out more about The Flavor Crystals visit their
official website at
Head on over to our mp3 page to download hundreds of tunes, including the Flavor
Crystal’s song “Sheep.”