Many-Trick Ponies: Satellite Heart, January 7 at RIBCO Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 03 January 2012 10:12

Satellite Heart. Photo by Shannon Colgan.

If you attend a Satellite Heart show – such as January 7’s at RIBCO – two of the songs you might hear are “Rock N’ Troll” (“Fighting dragons / Killing marauders / Doing things that we thought that we’d never do”) and “Pizza Party” (“Even Saddam Hussein like[s] pizza”). Both are irresistibly dumb; the first could be a Spinal Tap cover, and the second could have come from Flight of the Conchords.

Yet before you think that the Quad Cities-based quartet is a joke band, or a one- or two-trick pony, make sure to check out Satellite Heart’s full-length studio debut, Become the New, when it’s released in late January. It does include the aforementioned live-show staples, but it’s also a roughly vibrant rock record filled with hooks and charm aplenty.

Featuring six tracks the band hasn’t previously made available on its SoundCloud page and new recordings of five songs, Become the New never quite transcends its compositional method. Lead singer Jacob Ruefer explained in an interview that Satellite Heart does virtually no songwriting prep for rehearsals; the material springs from jams, with lyrics added later. So the songs on the album are relatively straightforward guitar rock, bursting out in mature form drawn from the primary riffs. While there might be little development within each song and few surprises, every track is distinct and boasts a solid, unpretentious core.

The band’s casual process culls out inferior material, Ruefer said: “We write a lot of songs and drop a lot of songs. So if we play them [live] or record them, we’re pretty proud of them. ... If we don’t get a song in an hour or two and like it, we don’t stick with it. We’ve written entire songs and forgotten them a week later. It’s definitely all on-the-spot, and it has to be good enough for us to remember it the next day.”

The title track stands out here, the churning, fuzzy lead guitar contrasted with Ruefer’s probing singing – controlled yet expressive. But the song really soars in its pared-away break – when those primary elements give way to bass, drums, and eventually background singing over subdued guitars. The album was recorded by the Post Mortems’ Devin Kirby-Hansen, and he and the band find a proper balance between the massed ensemble sound and instrumental separation; each part’s individual and collective purpose is clear. And the prominence of Tyler Willhite’s bass is refreshing, given lead-instrument duties on several tracks.

Other highlights include “Trace the Skies” and “King Me” – both of which sound effortlessly majestic and bold. “Part Time Wolf,” which Reufer said recalls Modest Mouse, also sounds in its structure, sound, and vocal delivery like a really good imitation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers at their poppy peak.

Ghost Town Choir, Before the Echo

Monmouth, Illinois’ Ghost Town Choir is one of the opening acts for Satellite Heart’s January 7 RIBCO show, and the group’s tuneful Before the Echo album is at once atmospheric and aggressive, like some combination of the Church, Guided by Voices, and the Smithereens. The gigantically emotional and lush “A Seat with the Sinners” is followed by the patiently building power pop of “Ladder to the Moon.” The opening of “Your Secret’s Safe” has a Sonic Youth vibe. There’s some country twang thrown in there, too, on “Back & Forth,” along with pastoral folk on the title track. And that’s followed by the cock rock of “Throw Your Hand.”

The production, for an unsigned band, is startlingly rich and expansive, but as you might gather from the previous paragraph, this is a band in search of not merely an independent identity but an identity at all. The album feels scattershot rather than coherently diverse.

It’s hard not to admire the breadth and skill of Before the Echo, and the quartet shows serious promise, ambition, and range. But those qualities, at least here, are mostly nascent, waiting for an overarching vision.

Satellite Heart will perform on Saturday, January 7, at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue in Rock Island). The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and also features the Blushing Gun and Ghost Town Choir. Cover is $4.

Satellite Heart will also perform with the Post Mortems and Break-Up Art on Saturday, January 28, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue in Rock Island). Doors for the all-ages show open at 8 p.m., and admission is $5.

For more information on Satellite Heart, visit

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