When they emerged in 1986, Trip Shakespeare were wholly unlike their Minneapolis contemporaries. Their ebullient art rock was extremely literate and melodic with complex harmonies, freewheeling guitar solos, and a heady Northern romanticism that was at odds with the grim post-hardcore of Hüsker Dü or the shambling, earthy roots rock of the Replacements. With their fanciful ghost tales, amorous odes, and power pop leanings, they eschewed the serious tone of Midwestern alt-rock at the time, opting instead for a bit of opulence and creative whimsy. Their 1986 debut Applehead Man is their lone release as a trio, with guitarist Matt Wilson handling all the lead vocal duties and bassist John Munson lending his distinctive baritone to the harmonies. It also introduced the the band's unique rhythmic element, which was largely influenced by drummer Elaine Harris' unconventional stand-up kit, which used no pedals, requiring her to play using only her hands. Recorded at Minneapolis' humble Gark Studio, Applehead Man splits the difference between low-budget murk and lo-fi mystique, flirting with greatness but often a little green behind the ears. The clever musicianship and creative aura that would surround them throughout their career is absolutely present on standouts like the epic title track and the sublime Fab Four nod "Beatle." Wilson's inventive songwriting style and lyrical guitar work also feel highly developed, but the collective confidence and unified vision heard on subsequent Trip Shakespeare releases hadn't quite emerged yet. Shortly after the album's release, Matt's older brother Dan Wilson was convinced to return home from San Francisco to join Trip Shakespeare, greatly augmenting their sound and ushering in their prime years.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger