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If We Stayed Alive
When Ryan Olcott, songwriter and frontman of Twin Cities’ iconic indie rock band 12 Rods, found unfinished Rods demos during lockdown, he was surprised. When he realized they were good, he was shocked. He quickly set to finishing and recording the compositions, which became If We Stayed Alive, the first 12 Rods album in twenty-one years. “These are songs that I forgot about,” he explains, “but upon finding them, I thought, ‘Wow, these are actually okay.’” That was the easy part. Reacquainting himself with twenty-year-removed craft and technique took some getting used to -- some parts longer than others. He recorded all the instruments in a week, but vocals took a bit longer. “Oh my god!” he laughs, “it took a couple days to get my voice back with that range and that power, but I could do it.” Any cobwebs that needed dusting are long gone. If We Stayed Alive is everything longtime fans have wanted, and the perfect introduction to what some called “America’s Radiohead" and what others have called one of the best indie bands of the ‘90s.
Despite these songs being written twenty-two years ago, their sound, themes, mood are evergreen. Lead single, pop nugget “My Year (This Is Going To Be),” is both the appropriate ticket to a new era and a souvenir of the past, gussied up in self-awareness, humor, and perhaps the faintest bit of hope. “Cause with all my calculations/Everything looks so, so clear/This is going to be my year.” Which of us didn’t watch the dawn of 2020 thinking the same, only to have confused stellar light with nuclear flash? Everything magnetic in vintage Rods -- pitch-perfect, Beach Boys-esque harmonies, clean, rhythmic guitar, grooving bass, steady drums -- and that clear, plaintive voice invoking our deepest, silliest wish: that everything’s going to be okay.
And that’s only one of the album’s seven bangers. From album opener “All I Can Think About,” with its subdued inner monologue musings that meander from world-weary to awestruck, to the grunge-indebted “Comfortable Situation,” to the smooth, loungey “The Beating,” it’s clear that Olcott isn’t just picking up where he left off, but having fun while doing it.
“To be honest,” Olcott says, “I think it’s the best material I’ve had to offer so far.” If you had asked me a few years ago whether the reunion 12 Rods album could be their best, I don’t know how I would have answered. But if you had shown me videos of UFOs cruising the globe and told me an Air Force general didn’t rule out extraterrestrial responsibility, I would have called shenanigans on that. 2023 is weird as hell. And it’s about to get weirder. What else can I say? It’s 12 Rods. It’s new. It’s everything we’ve waited for.
by Ryan Olcott at the Carleton Lofts in St. Paul, MN shortly between 2021-22.
Recorded, mixed and mastered in Digital Performer 24bit / 88.2k
Drums recorded downstairs on a Yamaha MT8X cassette with Sony F mics aimed at a pre-Export, 4-piece Pearl kit with composite shells & thick Evans heads.