Confession: When the Cloak Ox won City Pages’ Picked to Click new-band poll in 2011, I had made a last-minute decision to bump the high-wired band off my ballot. The quartet’s debut EP, “Prisen,” had certainly made a strong impression with its terse, nervous energy and arty guitar bursts. I just didn’t think the quartet of adventurous indie-rock vets would be in it for the long haul.
Two years later, the Cloak Ox has hauled out a new full-length album that has no chance of getting nixed off my year-end list of best records.
Further proof they mean business, the band members have committed themselves to a little touring behind the record, including January dates with Justin Vernon’s Volcano Choir and a short tour with California experimentalists Why? that kicks off Friday at the Fine Line.
Turns out, though, I wasn’t the only one doubting the duration of the band at first.
“That EP was a little bit of us dipping our toes in,” Cloak Ox leader Andrew Broder admitted earlier this week. “We made it in only a few days, and were very happy with the results, but we really didn’t know where we’d go from there.”
One big reason for the uncertainty was the schedules of guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker and drummer Martin Dosh, each of whom has toured full-time in recent years as Andrew Bird’s backers while also fronting their own bands (Alpha Consumer and Dosh, respectively). And, like new dad Broder, each has a family at home.
What’s more, it’s no secret that Broder became a little disenchanted with the music business after his experiences with his critically praised but largely overlooked previous band, Fog, which also featured Cloak Ox bassist Mark Erickson, with Dosh and Ylvisaker involved as auxiliary members.
“I probably tried to be realistic to a fault, curbing any expectations that any big, dazzling industry stuff might happen” with Cloak Ox, Broder said.
Ultimately, though, Broder’s low professional expectations met head on with his high musical ambitions.
“I sort of found out I’m not the kind of guy who can take music casually,” he said. “I get pretty wrapped up in it.”
You can tell how deeply wound Broder got in the songwriting on his band’s new album, “Shoot the Dog,” issued two weeks ago via co-op-like Minneapolis label Totally Gross National Product.
A clue up front this is not an album made just for kicks, “Shoot the Dog” opens with a chilling nine-minute track, “Yesterday’s Me,” which finds Broder singing in his usual opaque style about bad memories and a Ground Round waitress. That’s not even the album’s most epic track, either. The nearly eight-minute opus “Andy Broder’s Dream” comes off like a post-punk “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with roller-coastery time changes and a dramatic climax. The song is now a showpiece for the band.
On the shorter side, “Josephine” offers a delightfully spastic rock groove, while the single “Pigeon Lung” — in steady rotation at 89.3 the Current for a few months now — boasts a new wave-y pop sound around Television-style guitar interludes.
“Shoot the Dog” features some well-known guest singers, including TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe (“King Rope”), Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame (“A.B.’s Dream”) and Dark Dark Dark’s Nona Marie (several songs).
“There’s a lot in there about personal freedom, and trying to liberate yourself from within,” Broder said of the album’s overall theme. “A lot of the people in the songs are confined or bound to something, and there’s a lot of duality or people living parallel lives.”