Are You There

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Its been more than 25 years since Peter Himmelman decided to turn his new wave band Sussman Lawrence into his backing combo and transformed himself into a solo artist, long enough that Himmelman has gotten the itch to do something collaborative again. While he is clearly the leader on the studio project Minnesota (named for his home state where the material was recorded), he created the album Are You There in tandem with writer and filmmaker David Hollander, who directed the 2009 movie Personal Effects and created the TV shows The Guardian and Heartland; Himmelman, who also composes music for movies and television, crossed paths with Hollander when he scored a few episodes of Heartland. Hollander's presence on this project is fitting, since Are You There has a very cinematic mood and feel, with the melodies creating a dark but expansive temper that's bolstered by the spare but finely detailed and evocative production. Are You There could reasonably be described as Midwest Gothic, with the lyrics full of apocalyptic imagery ("Deep Freeze"), tales of grim fate ("Death by Snakebite"), and lives gone haywire ("Ash and Chickenwire"), and the sharp dynamics of the music are a good fit, especially the wiry tones of Jake Hanson's guitar, the explosive drumming of Noah Levy, and passionate but expert vocals from Himmelman, Claire Holley, and Kristin Mooney. Are You There is a tougher and less forgiving listen than one familiar with Himmelman's solo work might expect, but it succeeds well enough on Minnesota's own terms; from a sonic standpoint, this is an ambitious and compelling work, and Himmelman's collaborators have helped him achieve something striking he might not have been able to conjure on his own. Are You There is perfect for late nights of uncertainty on the windy prairies of the Midwest, and if that's not where you happen to be physically, this music could easily take you there in your mind.

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