How Does It Feel To Be Loved?
An indiepop record label

 

For reviews of "The Kids At The Club" go here
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For reviews of "Fill Up The Room" by Saturday Looks Good To Me go here

 

Reviews of Antarctica Takes It!


Heartache With Hard Work


I know 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 could.

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.

Antarctica

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 making.

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.

Circuits

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 knees weak.

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

Am 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 kids!

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.


Skatterbrain

Ever 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 end.

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

So 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.


Catbirdseat

Antarctica 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 Symphony...On Uppers."

 



Fabulist

Alright, 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.

 

 

Audiosyncratic

Just 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 in personality.

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.


MP3 Hugger

Music 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.

Battle Of The Midwestern Housewives

I’ve 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!


 

Disenchanted Hearts Unite

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.


Wolf Lullaby

Two 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.


Pitchfork

Antarctica 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

Even 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, eh?

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 very good.

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

To 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.




Indie MP3

The 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 more prominent.
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.

 

Gigwise

Antarctica 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)

 

Artrocker

As both 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)

 

Battle Of The Midwestern Housewives - interview

A 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 be Michelangelo.

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

As 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 sounds emerging.

'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 lifeless place.

'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)


Yahoo Music

There's 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. (7/10)


Birmingham Post

Ask 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)


Sunday Express

ATI! 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)

 

 

 

 

NME

Trust 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)

 

 


The Fly

Once 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. (3.5/5)


Drowned In Sound

Few 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 Durst’s biscuits.

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 optimism.

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

California's 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 with it?
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 – Coluratura.

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!

 

Room Thirteen

Dylan 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 hand.

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 each.

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.


Narc

Geography 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, shambling pop.
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)


Teletext


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)


Boomkat

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.

 

To buy "The Penguin League" go here

 

 
HDIF site        

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

how does it feel to be loved? record label - home of butcher boy, the uk label for "fill up the room" by saturday looks good to me

 

 

 

 

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