Sugar in the raw
- Issue 8.38
- Wed, September 20, 2006
"I remember the first time someone said they thought my music was ‘minimal’—I wasn’t sure if they were making fun of me," Mark Robinson tells me on the phone from his job. I didn’t ask him when that happened, but I’m guessing it had to be recent. Lately, people seem eager to describe as "minimal" the same things that they might once have described as—oh, I don’t know—“raw.” Like Robinson’s old band. Unrest was raw: simple, powerful and damaged without sounding marred.
These days, Robinson’s focus (aside from running the TeenBeat label all by hisself) has been Flin Flon, a band named for a small mining and smelting community in Manitoba that was formed 1.9 billion years ago through a series of aquatic volcanic explosions, and which today refers to itself as "The City Built on Rock." All of it is pretty apt. Maybe not the smelting.
The urgent post-D.C. tectonics of Robinson’s guitar, the clean-cleaving groove of Nattles’s bass and Matt Datesman’s carefully regulated disco avalanches—they all amount to sugar-sweet dance pop at its very futuristic finest: It’s pretty nasty; but, of course, it’s also quite refined. Sometimes the melodies restrain themselves to two-note twinkles; other times they scramble past each other up and down the fretboards; elsewhere (as in “Cardigan”) a single chilly chord fires off over and over, fading and repeating like a fireworks display—but it’s always rhythmic.
Everything about Flin Flon is rhythmic, right down to the dozens of three-syllable clusters that frequent the song titles of their newest record, Dixie ("Trafalgar," "Bonnie Lamb," "Cavendish," "Argyle," "Rossignol"), and are scattered and repeated through Robinson’s lyrics ("fantastic," "broken legs," "broken hearts," "distraction"—though it may be "destruction"). Not that three-syllable clusters are all that important in and of themselves—but Flin Flon’s sound could effectively be described as syllabic. Far from the dinny pigpiles of standard power trios, their songs seem more founded on complementary accents, complicated pop joinery, and beats that render passive dancing impossible.
This knack for perfect placement carries right over to Robinson’s design for the album artwork—a spread of blurry maps and charts overlaid with rows of clean white lines and knots of typography. Like the music, it’s a happy medium between total chaos and perfect order.
“I like keeping it really clean,” he says of his design work, “and I think some of that carries over to my music.”
WITH GEOFF FARINA, MMM’S LIVE ARCHIVE AND SQUIDS
/21+ $8, $11 18+