With the addition of singer/guitarist Dan Wilson (brother of founding member Matt Wilson), Trip Shakespeare hit their stride on 1988's Are You Shakespearienced? An unusual mix of jangling power pop, '70s soft rock, and arty psychedelic flourishes all caped in an eccentric Northern mysticism, the Minneapolis-based group was completely unlike anything else at the time either locally or nationally. The ambitious harmonies and artful songwriting approach introduced on their 1986 debut Applehead Man became fully realized here, as they now boasted three strong lead singers whose rich vocal blend fell somewhere between barbershop and a vaudevillian Crosby, Stills & Nash. Between the sweet, high tenors of the two Wilsons and bassist John Munson's warm baritone, they cast a captivating spell weaving tales that melded weird fantasy elements with a staunchly romantic regionalism. They were also a beast of a live band, having spent the previous two years slaying Midwestern audiences with their strong musicianship, amusing rock theatrics, and innate charisma. Like those other Wilson brothers out in California, Trip Shakespeare's attention to intricate vocal harmonies led them to hold endless rehearsals in order to capture their ambitious arrangements live, an approach they also employed on the Shakespearienced sessions. Self-produced and recorded almost entirely live in the studio, the nine songs here represent the band's untarnished vision both creatively and aesthetically. It's no surprise, then, that the album yielded several of what came to be considered their signature songs, like the riffy, harmony-stacked "Reception" and the whimsical mini rock opera "Toolmaster of Brainerd," a centerpiece of their live show. However, the track that probably best encapsulates Trip Shakespeare's strange magic is "The Lake." With its spare, dark groove and punchy call-and-response chorus, it tells the tale of an adulterous communion as witnessed by the unblinking eye of a pike in a cold, Minnesota lake. Arguably too clever for the masses, the band still managed to score an eventual deal with A&M on the strength of both this album and their highly devoted fan base.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger