BLAHA is the solo project of Mike Blaha from intense Minneapolis surf-psych band The Blind Shake. His new album The Art of Not (Wet Bridge Records) is like watching someone's brain slowly clench into a fist as the tension builds between catchy pop songs and dark, sonic obsessions. The project erupted after a buildup of over 100 songs that fit less and less as Blind Shake songs given the lone gunman vibe and increased use of melody and dynamics. Now BLAHA has bloomed into a four-piece touring band, featuring current Karl TeBeast on drums, Dylan Rosen on guitar, and Allison Gunderson on bass.

You’d think being in one of the best rock bands in the Twin Cities would be enough of a creative outlet for Mike Blaha. But the Blind Shake guitarist/vocalist formed the fiery garage-rock side project Blaha earlier this year while his other band took a breather. Blaha has already put out two full-length albums, two EPs, and a handful of singles, and just returned from a successful East Coast road trip. “The more I write, the more ideas I have for the next song,” Blaha says. “My approach is that the current song I’m working on is the true song, the rest were all either failures, colossal failures, or reasonable tracks. But this next song will solve everything!”

Much of Blaha’s material started out as experiments on his 8-track reel-to-reel, with Neil Weir at Blue Bell Knoll and Jon Airis at Terminal NYC later helping Mike get the desired depth of sound. Then he enlisted a cracking band to help bring his solo project to life on the road: guitarist Dylan Rosen (France Camp), bassist Allison Gunderson (McVicker), and drummer Noah Paster (Ripper). “Playing with this group helps me filter through which songs work live and which ones only work with the trickery of the studio,” Blaha says.

A music scene veteran who’s worked the door at First Ave, the Entry, Turf Club, and Amsterdam, while rocking just about every stage in town in the process, Blaha plays music for the love of it, and that passion comes through every time he performs. As for his current creative streak, Blaha is too humble to say it comes down to inspiration. He’s got a far more philosophical take. “Something has changed in my brain recently where I notice that everything equates to frequency,” Blaha explains. “Color, people’s attitudes, the vibrations of trees when you cut them—it’s all frequency.”

And that same frequency pulses at the very heart of his combustible but catchy new sound. “I think music is the same as it always was and always will be, because it’s just the manipulation of the vibrations of the universe,” Blaha says. “Great bands can wash away all the sins of the terrible ones in one night’s work. It’s like a nice forest fire that clears the way for new growth. Music is not symbolic of nature. It is nature.”

Erik Thompson for City Pages Picked to Click 2017 (#7)