Pretty in Pinko

Smashing the state of punk rock with Minneapolis' Soviettes.

Coca-Cola and Pop Rocks. It's a combination you taste once just to get the urban legend out of your head, and then taste repeatedly because you love the sensation. Like any candy with crackle, the Soviettes' pop-punk is youthfully buoyant, addictive, and just a little daring. Their albums—2003's The Soviettes LP, last year's LPII, and the new (you guessed it) LPIII (Fat Wreck Chords), out Tuesday, June 28—each contain 14 songs and come in Starburst hues: red, orange, and yellow, respectively. You can't have just one.

The Minneapolis-based quartet seem to make friends wherever they go. In fact, when I speak with guitarist Annie Holoien in Minneapolis, she, like her band, seems like an ambassador of Midwestern good manners. Holoien, guitarist Maren "Sturgeon" Mocosko, and bassist Susy Sharp had played in various bands around Minnesota and North Dakota and wanted to share their own experiences with relationships and politics (without the mandate their name implies). The women played with a hired-hand drummer before Danny Henry became an Archie to their Betty, Veronica, and Midge.

In 2002, Pop Riot issued the band's T.C.C.P. 7-inch, an instant hometown hit, along with a warts-and-all live show with plenty of made-you-look false starts. But there's gravitas in the Soviettes' goofiness: Their "¡Paranoia! Cha-Cha-Cha" appeared on Fat Wreck Chords' Rock Against Bush Vol. 1 last year, and one of their best tunes, "Land of Clear Blue Radio," envisions a noncommercial station playing nothing but rock and roll. LP III is a lot like their imagined format—no filler, nothing but the fast parts, every good-natured shrug concealing a "fuck you."

The Soviettes' recordscould have been recorded with guidance by Kim Fowley: quick, dirty, and out the door. "We're pretty quick [in the studio]," Holoien says. "I think all of us, especially Jacques [Wait, producer], wish we could have more time." That's one of LP III's strengths, though: Its quick-and-dirty feel bears the imprint (and breakneck speed) of '70s L.A. punk, though Holoien says the similarities are purely by osmosis—those Runaways riffs aren't intentional, she claims.

They're also quick to leave cliché to the bathroom walls and write about their own lives. Mocosko, a teacher, penned "Thinking About You" for a troubled student. Holoien's "Gotta Decide" poses a question many a twentysomething can relate to—namely, where am I? Inspired by a PBS documentary, Holoien's "Middle of the Night" is about a transsexual youth who's kicked out of the house and ends up in prostitution. Holoien's storytelling is straightforward, a single- camera shot among the busy shouting- along peppering the record. Then there's the comic relief of Henry's "(Do) The Stagger"— "a dance that isn't really a dance," Holoien explains. "People get drunk and stagger around a bit. I play the devil's advocate [in the song], like 'Are you going to stay put or party with us?'" It's safe to assume the Soviettes spend a lot of time in bars; their album art is littered with between-drink snapshots—and Holoien happens to work in one. Dealing with drunks, she's as abrupt as a Soviettes song: "I keep the conversation short and keep it moving. I don't usually give people the opportunity."

Shared vocals are a trademark of Soviettes songs, with Henry's voice like a click track from the backline, and the others sounding like they're coming straight from the quad. But you get the idea members of the Soviettes were toiling in the garage after school, not practicing human pyramids. "None of us were cheerleaders," Holoien says. "I can safely say none of us hung out with them growing up. If there's any subconscious motivator, it's probably something along the lines of the Ramones." Nevertheless, they've invited the most punk rock of sports teams, the local Roller Girls squad, into the studio for backing rounds of "Move it, bitch!" and "Move your ass or we'll crush your face!" on a song named for them. They could be speaking for the band's pop-punk fizz itself.

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The Soviettes play the Comet Tavern with Grabass Charlestons and Blank Its at 10 p.m. Sat., June 25. $5.

 
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