The story of The Bassturd, otherwise known as Dan Butler, starts out a bit similar to that of Coolzey: a kid from rural Iowa who began making a name for himself rapping and making music in Iowa City. I believe they make have both been members of the jokester rap crew The Sucka MCs at some point. The most recent chapter is also similar, in that it involves a successful Kickstarter campaign to press up his latest release, The Dark Side Of The Turd. The two are presently tourmates along with Samuel Locke-Ward and Joe Jack Talcum on an aforementioned tour that hits Iowa City at The Blue Moose on June 17 (my birthday, by the way) and Des Moines at Vaudeville Mews on June 18 (if you think I’d miss it, you’re nuts). Copies of this CD will probably be for sale at the merch table.
But while Zach shows little sign of quitting or slowing down soon, Dan made the announcement at least as early as the start of the Kickstarter campaign a few months ago that The Dark Side Of The Turd would be The Bassturd’s final album, and that the tour now newly underway would be The Bassturd’s final tour. Whether this means that he is quitting the music game entirely, or that Dan Butler is merely retiring The Bassturd as a concept, is at this time unknown. Certainly enough people care: the Kickstarter campaign reached its modest $1000 goal with startling quickness, prompting Dan to add additional goodies to the package — including a split 7″ with Joe Jack Talcum to be given to all backers — if a new goal of $2500 was reached. Which it was. Indeed, the premiums were almost outrageous — $15+ backers also received a CD-R of 14 additional songs and a song written especially for them about a topic of their choosing — giving The Bassturd 79 new songs to come up with (I don’t think I’ve written 79 songs in my life). The 29 finished so far are among the already huge amount of material to be found at The Bassturd’s bandcamp page. Certain backers were to receive a complete Bassturd discography in physical formats, of which the majority was released on CD-R — including the series of 20 EPs made from 2005 to 2008, out-of-print material including the The Bangler CD, and possibly such early material as the first Bassturd recording I personally ever heard, Live From Your Mom’s Bedroom, featuring his more famous one-time roommate and friend Wesley Willis on a live recording of “You’re A Fucking Asshole.” Hinting that Dan may in fact planning on giving up music for good, some of the upper-level Kickstarter prizes were items of his musical equipment. But maybe he’s just looking to replace those with some new stuff.
In case it hasn’t become clear already, The Bassturd’s prolificacy is astounding. The 24 albums and EPs on the Bandcamp page probably only constitute about half, if that, of his total output over a history beginning in the mid 1990s. So, how does one explain The Bassturd to anyone who isn’t already familiar? One might reference Atom & His Package or other sonically-rich synth-driven solo artists as Self or Spookey Ruben, but those are just the easy comparisons. The Bassturd is an artist quite unlike any other, a one-man wall of sound seemingly inspired by Devo, Ween, and Zappa, who sometimes raps and sometimes plays accordion, is often uproariously funny, and comes with enough strings of blinking Christmas lights and miscellaneous cheap light-up accessories seemingly acquired at various truck stops and Spencer’s Gifts locations that clubs frequently cut the house lights entirely when he plays. When I first saw The Bassturd, it was around 1998 and he was performing in the basement at an Iowa City house party singing on-the-spot improvised songs with his accordion, working from topic suggestions solicited from the partygoers, keeping the whole room laughing with his quick-thinking wit. In those days he put out some goofy homemade cassette albums, and later expanded his performing setup to include a Casio keyboard festooned with blinking Christmas lights. Lots more house parties and a couple moves later he landed in Austin, where he lives to this day despite often billing himself as “The Bassturd From Las Vegas, Nevada.” The freewheeling spirit of that early house gig still permeates all of his work, even if he only makes songs up on the spot at most once per set.
The Dark Side Of The Turd, like the 2008 limited (75 copies) CD-R release EVOLVE and 2000’s The Bangler CD, leans heavily toward the epic synth-pop element of The Bassturd sound that began to develop in earnest in the late 1990s. A more rap/hip hop styled track, “Fade II Beige,” was slated to be included but had to be left off the CD due to copyright issues, probably stemming from DJ N-Wee’s Pavement-sampling beat; it remains on the Bandcamp version. It’s a bit stylistically out of sync with the rest of the album anyway, but is still a fabulous track, a great populist political rap that serves to remind that The Bassturd can more than hold his own on the mic; if we’re lucky, the live show will feature he and Coolzey rapping together on something. But even without “Fade II Beige,” Dark Side is still a satiating 26 tracks in 68 minutes.
The Dark Side Of The Turd is also The Bassturd’s most overtly socially-conscious album to date, packed with lyrics dissing corporate greed, government corruption, and consumerism, possibly material worked on in connection with his supposed run for the 2012 presidential election that he just sort of stopped mentioning a year or two ago but of which still remains his tendency to refer to his fans as “patriots.” It makes for a few odd moments when the subjects do veer back into classic Bassturd silliness like on “Bean Bag” (a song about why he doesn’t own a bean bag chair even though he wishes he did) and “The Floor” (complete lyrics: “I’m bored / Let’s fuck on the floor / Like we did before”). You might suspect that the reduced emphasis on madcap laughs would make this album a less enjoyable listen than such material as “Bling Ballz” (this really is the “dark side” of the Turd, taking a more pessimistic tone than usual), but Dan’s lyrics, on those tracks that have them, still provide many memorable moments; while on the other hand, the album includes a number of instrumentals and near-instrumentals and many of the vocals are vocodered or heavily effected — on these tracks, it’s the music that gets your attention, detailed electronic compositions full of melodies that are by turns soaring or jumpy, peppered with bitcrushed noises. Perhaps it’s a hint of things to come and Dan Butler intends to orient his activities more as a composer and/or keyboardist. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. While it may not make for the ideal introduction for newcomers (I’m not sure if there even is one release that would be), The Dark Side Of The Turd is a damn fine note to go out on.