soccer mom cover

I’ve been saying for a while that as music scenes go, Ottumwa (in conjunction with its surrounding smaller communities) is an undiscovered gem. It’s a pretty nondescript, not particularly large town that you might otherwise overlook, and yet it’s the area that gave birth to The Eggnogs and since then has brought us Samuel Locke-Ward, She Swings She Sways, North To The Future, The War I Survived, Grand Old Lady, A Well Dressed Man, and for a time contributed a drummer to The Slats. And that’s before I even get into what Andy Koettel has been up to for the past couple decades.

Andy is a kind of musician that I also am, the kind whose ever-shifting interests lead him down a wide range of artistic tangents and diverse projects. For many years he ran the Mortville label, specializing in noisecore, avant-grind, and tardcore, in conjunction with his on-again-off-again band Captain 3 Leg, one of the most artistically adventurous and most fun bands ever to appear on the noisecore-grindcore scene, who have themselves experimented extensively with electronics, instrumentals, progressive rock, and sludge, no doubt frustrating grind/metal purists to no end and reveling in any backlash it got them.

A big part of my theory on why Ottumwa grows so much good, if often overlooked, music has to do with just the kind of town it is. If you’re from a place like Ottumwa (or even Waterloo or Cedar Falls), and you stay there, then if you keep on playing music, then you have to be in it purely for the love of music itself. Because those who are looking for money or fame or respect out of it eventually move to a city that’s either bigger (NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle) or hipper (Chapel Hill, Olympia). And no disrespect to anyone who goes that route, because it’s still a hard road and you’re likely to still need that love of music to keep you motivated even then. But the people left making music in the smaller towns and cities with less of a mass-media profile are people who could really give a fuck, and as you might expect, some really interesting music can come out of that if the creative atmosphere is right. Hell, Seattle wasn’t always the Seattle we know today. Remember when the grunge blowup happened in the early ’90s, early reactions were “Seattle who?”

The Mighty Acceleratör, which also features Ottumwa math teacher and workhorse drummer Jared Merle, a.k.a. “J-Rod” a.k.a. “Grandy” a.k.a. “J. Redcorn”, who relocated to Des Moines as recently as a couple weeks ago, and Centerville guitarist, recording engineer, and Strangebird Studio proprietor Travis Atkinson who is soon to pack up his 2″ tape machine and relocate to Nashville, originally got started some years ago, then disappeared for a bit while Andy and bassist Stephen Crow went off on an instrumental doom/sludge-metal tangent with Billy Crystal Meth (not to be confused with a certain dude from Chicago who, after stumbling onto the same name, went so far as to steal a logo from one of this Billy Crystal Meth’s CD covers). Earlier this year Acceleratör reconvened, adding Atkinson and new lead vocalist Joe Brown.

So what’s The Mighty Acceleratör’s tangent? Stated quite simply it’s just good old party-hardy rock and roll. This is riffy, beer-swillin’, don’t think too hard music. It’s been described as a ’70s throwback, but really this kind of stuff has never fallen out of favor in the blue-collar towns of middle-America since that decade. If you already know of these guys and the extreme, indie, and art-rock stuff in their pasts and on their shelves, it may come as a shock to hear them working this style, and maybe even more of a shock to hear them do it this well and authentically. But for as big of music nerds as they are, these have always been a set of unpretentious dudes, and from the Soccer Mom EP and a couple live sets I’ve seen, it’s evident that they didn’t go down this route to slum it; they may love their Can and Yo La Tengo records, but their affection for this lowbrow material is equally genuine. It’s a kind of appreciation that maybe you have to be from one of those middle-America towns to really understand. Cheap beer and people you’ve been around all your life make for good times, after all. If you don’t believe me, just listen to “Shake It.”

I’ve already given this release more paragraphs than it has songs, and so far it’s mainly been expository material, but basically if you’re capable of coming down off your high horse to just rock out, there’s no good reason not to like this EP. The playing is tight but just loose enough; the guitar riffs are catchy and Atkinson’s leads are familiar but fiery; the lyrics are packed with the kind of humor everybody in the bar can get. The opening/title track is an amusing portrait of a borderline creepy obsession with the titular character; “Mustache Foam” warns of the dangers of mixing facial hair with draft beer when it comes to attracting the ladies; “Droppin’ A Load” is an honest to goodness trucker song. When was the last time you heard of somebody writing a trucker song? It’s about fucking time.

stranger ballet cover

There probably isn’t much I need to tell you about Poison Control Center’s most recent, Stranger Ballet. After all, it’s been out on Afternoon Records since early June. I usually try not to cover the same stuff a lot of other people are. I’m actually surprised not to see more press love on this album (not that it’s been ignored either), considering how deservedly well loved and respected this band is in my area, and the amount of coverage last year’s ambitious double-album Sad Sour Future got. All the lovable qualities of this group’s scrappy indie guitar sling — big old-school pop hooks, Lips nerdery, Pat Fleming’s distinctive wail (seemingly the only guy who’s not a Danielson that can pull it off properly), songs that remind you that there’s more to these guys than the rafter-hanging, upside-down guitar solo stage antics, however fun those may be; the likeability, positivity, determination — it’s all here, in a lighter dosage, easily digested in a sitting but no less satisfying, and with a noticeable amount of growth and some fresh surprises. New elements include a couple moments of Strokesy nonchalance; a few experiments and added sonic elements that work very well: a guest vocalist or two, a dab of mellotron, and a generous helping of pedal steel all over side B; and a couple really deep moments of heart, especially in the last couple songs. Lyrical elements recur like this is a concept album: born-on date, we are all stars, etc. The unifying concept it suggests is one of the relationship versus the road. It’s a well-worn subject but PCC are really experiencing it, perhaps for the first real time, as this album grew out of months of touring following the release of Sad Sour Future, itself just the first act of a period of touring nearly all of the past year up until about last weekend — so their perspective on it is fresh and firsthand. Stranger Ballet also shows that, for as audacious as Sad Sour Future was, it was only PCC hitting their stride; they’ve probably got the chops to pull off a whole career of these albums and keep us all happy and interested for years to come, if they want to. Last year’s album was ambitious in scope, but this one is ambitious in the details, and it succeeds equally well.

The second episode of Metal Up Your Tap: Des Moines Chapter was this past Friday. It’s a pretty cool event, but it does get me thinking about what defines “metal” these days. The term seems to have gotten looser than it once was. For instance, recently the organizers seemed to be trying to get Fetal Pig to open next month’s episode being headlined by Nachtmystium. I guess Dan wasn’t into the idea. I’d have been up for it, but I’m up for a lot of crazy shit if it has to do with music. Also, by the way, kudos for snagging Nachtmystium.

Anyway there’s no disputing Druids’s doom/sludge metal cred once you hear them. I like that they switch it up with a few fast songs, which makes them more varied than the typical stonery outfit. They had a bassist this time, that was new. But welcome, since it opened things up for Luke to do more guitar solos. Some really good new songs in the set.

On second was The Mighty Acceleratör, from Ottumwa, and this is the second part of my point about the fluidity of the term “metal” these days. Acceleratör play a kind of 70s throwback riff-rock, intentionally exercising little or no Sabbath influence, with songs about drinking beer, ogling women, and driving trucks. I observed that the crowd thinned out slightly for their set, but only slightly, and the people in the place were not just respectful but actually pretty enthusiastic. Accelerator’s brand of hard rock is all fun and no bullshit, but is it metal? Well if metal fans are into it, why not? Certain metalheads will also staunchly proclaim their love of Aerosmith’s Rocks, or Rainbow, after all. Plus, Andy’s guitar tone does sound almost exactly like that on Napalm Death’s From Enslavement To Obliteration — or did, as since the show he’s purchased another amp. He also used to run one of the most extreme grindcore/noisecore labels around and brought along what’s left of his distro to the show. And, The Mighty Acceleratör’s ranks include the drummer of Grand Old Lady and A Well Dressed Man.

Heaving Mass, from Chicago, gave us a solid set of heavy head-nodding midtempo power-trio doom riffage reminiscent of Crowbar and a little bit of Sleep but also with a bit of that southern feel. This was definitely shaping up to be MUYT’s “doom edition.” They also have the flyest looking t-shirts I’ve ever seen offered at a $10 price point, a gorgeous multi-color design, and if you bought one you got their CD free.

Finally, Skin Of Earth was the big surprise to me. I’m told they’re local but had never heard of them before, but heard people tell me things like “last time I saw these guys it was eight years ago.” They brought their own lighting in the form of one low-wattage floor lamp, providing an ambience that transformed the Mews into a basement show. They played epic, crushing instrumentals with lots of apocalyptic atmosphere. I’m kind of a sucker for this type of thing. That whole supposed post-rock/metal hybrid that gets called “post-metal”, I guess, but I got the feeling these guys didn’t set out to start a “post-metal band” so much as they got together and started playing/writing and this is just what came out. Anyway I don’t know what kind of scene these guys play in but I want in on it.

I’m also long overdue to write a little something about the Joe Jack Talcum show. Zach was looking a little worse for the wear many days into a tour plagued with automotive breakdowns and injuries. He did a more rock-focused one-man Coolzey set with a lot of guitar including a couple nice blues-inflected numbers, and brought up a couple of his tourmates for his classic “Old Machine.” Dan B claimed he was tired too but you definitely couldn’t tell it from The Bassturd’s set. The Samuel Locke-Ward Lo-Fi Spectacular featured Jeff Mannix on guitar, Zach on bass (which I have to say, he can really play the hell out of!) and a drum machine.

Christopher The Conquered took the unorthodox route of performing in the Mews’s foyer on an upright piano, accompanied only by Kate Kennedy on saxophone. It was an unusually low-key and intimate performance for a CtC show but went over well with those who were around for it, having a very piano-bar vibe. I was worried however as it seemed like the crowd had thinned out a lot and I really wanted Joe Jack to have a good crowd to play for.

Fortunately, such a crowd appeared. I don’t know if they started filtering in from the DJ set just ending at the Mews’s outdoor “PBR Bar” or what, but suddenly there were a lot of people around rocking out to Joe Jack Talcum And The Powders. The Powders, made up of Sam Locke-Ward on keys, Grace Locke-Ward on drums, and Rachel Feldman on bass, make a darn fine backup band for both Joe Jack’s post-Dead Milkmen tunes and the Dead Milkmen covers sprinkled into the set, some requested by the audience. In response to one showgoer’s shouts for “Nutrition,” the band gave it an off-the-cuff shot having never played it before. If they messed it up any, none of the people shouting along seemed to mind.

After the main JJT/Powders set, Joe Jack stuck around onstage for two solo acoustic encores of requests of Dead Milkmen songs, and seemed to be having a good time. It was overall one of the more fun shows I’ve been to in a while.

Distant Trains – Underwater Ghost Choir by centipedefarmer

I’ve been revisiting my old Flight Attendants approach of sound-collage-based music lately, including going so far as to use remnants of old Flight Attendants tapes as part of the collage itself. Metacollage if you will. I came up with this piece the other day and I’m pretty happy with it. To be included on some future Distant Trains release, I’m sure.

The Old Bending River cover

A few weeks ago in an article related to the Joe Jack Talcum/Samuel Locke Ward/The Bassturd/Coolzey tour, I referred to Samuel Locke-Ward as a “troubadour of the troubling.” Something bugged me about that phrase the moment I typed it. Later I realized that I was cribbing it from an old show poster I’d seen on the wall in Sam’s house, where the wording was “Iowa City’s troubling troubador” — but referring not to Sam, but to Ed Gray. Yep, Ed Gray is the original “troubling troubadour” of our fair state.

A veteran of the avant-folk end of the lo-fi home-taping scene, predating the notion of “new weird America,” Ed Gray built a reputation through sparse cassette recordings interspersing poetic folky tunes with tape manipulation and noise, and live performances in which he would be equally likely, depending on his mood or his perception of the crowd’s response, to assault you with several minutes of feedback, or to lull you with one of his gentle though dark ballads (and equally capable of both by means of playing a nylon-string acoustic guitar with a pickup through an amplifier with a fuzz pedal in between).

The first time I heard a Richard Buckner record I thought I was hearing some new Ed Gray joint that I hadn’t known about. The two men have a similar tone and depth to their voices and some similar melodic mannerisms to their writing. Ed, however, reaches into his upper range more often, and brings along an extra element of mayhem, straying willfully off-key when it suits the expression of the song; and then of course there’s his aforementioned love of the noise. In the height of the ’00s alt-country craze Ed began showing signs of letting his songwriting step out from behind the tape hiss, fleshing out his sound with fuller instrumentation and production on the gorgeous Fresh Coat On The Powder Keg 7″ EP in 2005 and an excellent full-length called The Late Gray Ed Great that followed in short order, of which Kent Williams wrote quite appropriately in Little Village, “It’s a joy to hear folk make such a racket.” The Americana feel of both is unmistakable but Ed worked in enough dissonance on the full-length to stand out from the pack. At points the noisy elements felt grafted-on, not yet fully integrated in Ed’s sound, but the poetry of the tear-jerker songs wins you over.

Whether The Old Bending River represents the completion of that sought-for integration of song and noise I’m not sure. There simply seems to be less noise on it, limited to just enough fuzzed-up electric guitar to keep things appreciably raw, but on the song end this album shines. It sounds as if Ed may have arrived at a fully realized sound that feels right and comfortable to him, and he comes off both more relaxed and livelier than on the tense downtrip of Late Gray. The songs are less tear-jerker and more impressionist, haunted, even raucous at points, with his superb lyrics always a clear highlight. For all the dark imagery, Ed sounds like he’s having a good time making this record.

A couple of tunes — the waltz-stomp “Samson” and the finale “Cold Cold Man” — will remind you a bit of Tom Waits — right down to the hushed spoken vocal over spooky organ that the latter opens with and its wailing sax solo courtesy of Pete Balistrieri. The picked electric bass used throughout the album initially felt out of place on those songs that pull from old-time roots, but I got over it in realizing that it serves to remind that these are modern songs, not merely retreads of well-worn tropes, and thus using a stand-up bass instead would be a bit too obvious, almost hokey, for an Ed Gray record. That point is made even more strongly with “The Old Saw Blade,” which, while pure folk in its structure and melody, derives an important aspect of its atmosphere from distorted power chords and pick scrapes. “Chafe” and “Away” stand up (or sway) with the best of the kind of alt-country ballads they sound like drinking buddies with. While it’s probably unintentional that the title of “Egg Timer Man” seems to reference Mike Watt’s newest work, it’s curious how Watt-like Ed’s vocal sounds on it, and it wouldn’t seem out-of-place if found nestled among the mellower moments of Contemplating The Engine Room. “Bone”, the album’s epic, works a dark, gnarly blues-scale riff for a good long time before building it into the kind of multi-part three-chord ramble that I love Magnolia Electric Company for. But for all the references I can make, on The Old Bending River, Ed Gray just sounds like Ed Gray, except even better than I was accustomed to.

Possibly his best, and likely his most accessible work so far (but there are still a couple of his old cassette releases I’ve never heard), The Old Bending River asserts Ed Gray’s rightful place, overdue perhaps, among Iowa’s finest musical craftsmen. Ed is experienced and at the top of his game here, and backed up by an ensemble that sounds like it’s made up of people who are just as much loyal longtime fans as collaborators. As good as it is, I wouldn’t put it past him to keep on and surpass it yet. But I’m mighty glad not to have missed it.

The only other E H I thing I have in my collection apart from one track each on the Shroud comp and the Three Bean Salad comp and his section of a three-way split CD Brian Noring sent me a short time ago is one side of this cassette.

E H I’s half of this is “noisier” than Under The Rails, involving more effects and tape manipulation applied to Casio sounds, and it’s a good listen.

As for Aphasia, probably the most interesting thing about it is the crazy personal history of Adam Gadahn in the years after this, what with joining Al Qaida and all. His side of this split is more musically interesting than his earlier work Delirium: 7 Hallucinatory Interludes (the contents of which now comprise Music Of A Terrorist, downloadable here) but that’s still not saying much. I personally find Aphasia’s material to be illustrative of a problematic element of the noise tape scene where you could get away with taking pretty much any sound, however artless, and just running it through a mess of distortion. Gadahn’s chief instrument here appears to be either a distortion pedal or tape saturation, in conjunction with general tedium. Where you can identify instruments, they’re employed clumsily; other parts sound like random mouth noises made into a microphone. It’s worth considering, however, that he was probably all of 16 when he made this stuff. Plus, it’s of historical interest.

Under The Rails cover

I’ve written a bit here about the renewed interest I’ve been experiencing of late in the people and sounds of the 1990s home-tape/lo-fi/music/noise(core) scene and as it turns out I’m not alone. Social media has brought me back into contact with many of its key people and bunches of them are still making interesting music or noise to this day. Brian Noring himself seems to mostly stay out of that stuff, but a Facebook group called The F.D.R. Recordings and Brian Noring Tribute Page, set up to disseminate and exchange information, discussion, and reminiscences on the music of Brian Noring, has lately shown signs of sprouting a resurgence of mail-based trading in the homemade experimental musical arts. In that sprit, even though I have a lot of my own output (and some merely related to me by friendship) available online (such as on my bandcamp page and the Ragman Records Archive) I am strongly considering re-issuing certain items on CD-R for mail-order/trade.

So here’s a file of mp3s from an old tape that I actually have gotten permission, for a change, to share here at the Farm, since I had already whipped up the 256Kbps files for my own personal use: a classic 1995 cassette release by some-say-legendary Des Moines home-recording/lo-fi/noise artist Brian Noring, one of many he created and released under the name E H I on his F.D.R. Recordings tape label. Brian, via a 1993 issue of a zine he did called Friends Of The Draft Resistance are primarily responsible for my adventures into the tape scene and noisecore everything related to that.

The music itself is some of the best lo-fi postindustrial music to come about in ye olde tape scene, ranging from harsh distortion noise to a kind of Casio take on industrial electronica. Check it out.

Just out, this compilation that I have a track on that kinda marks my return to the 4-track. I haven’t got around to listening to any of it yet myself but am looking forward to doing just that. Please to be checking it out.

So this supposed metal band from Canada came down, on the latest of several DIY tours, promoting their fourth proper album. And they come to Des Moines, spend the whole show dicking around on their laptops and ignoring people, intro their set with “let’s get this shit over with” then put out a video on their tour blog wherein they slag on Iowa, insult the opening bands and bitch about the paltry size of crowd they had to play for and how they sold no merch and made next to no money. OK, these guys were jerks, but their complaining did get me thinking, because the real surprise to me was that after how many years playing music and touring, they weren’t already so used to having bum shows that they wouldn’t just let it roll off their backs and move on, and instead made a bitchy video about it. Because playing for 6 people and making no money is, let’s be completely honest, not at all an unusual thing to have happen when you’re an indie-level band. Most bands find this out pretty quick and learn to take it in stride and develop a little perspective; after all, if you’re playing your cards right, there should eventually be enough good shows to make it all worthwhile.

Still, I wonder if there’s something we can do to help this situation. I don’t want to see things get to a point where only the independently affluent or lucky are able to get by as musicians. Already we’ve hit a point where it seems like one can be serious about one’s music, or have a family, but not both. So many talented people are driven to write songs and record them and play them in front of people but see themselves as stuck just playing hometown gigs at the same venue over and over until they die. But that’s the macro-level view of the problem. At a smaller level where we might be able to do something, we have to ask: how can we make gigs work out better for the musicians?

Often times we’re so used to the way we do something being just “the way to do it” that it doesn’t occur to us that the formula might be out of whack for our situation. And the formula I’m talking about in this case is: schedule some bands to play on a given night; charge people some money to get into the venue; use that money to pay the sound man, the door man who you hired to collect said money, and then maybe, if there’s anything left, the bands. Never mind that the door man and sound man are working for you part-time, and live just around the way where there’s food waiting for them in their refrigerator — whereas the bands have hundreds of miles to drive by tomorrow, have just lugged hundreds of pounds of equipment into and out of your establishment and probably haven’t eaten all day. Yeah, shit, where did we go wrong with this plan?

I think this formula was developed under a set of assumptions that don’t hold up under scrutiny. Those assumptions are: any band you book is already well known enough that people in your town are chomping at the bit to see them; and they have money pouring in from records being sold at stores all over the country. This comes from the layman’s view of the music business, where as soon as you see guitars, you immediately free-associate to all the trappings of the rock-star mythos. This thinking probably works if you’re booking a big venue in a big city that brings in big bands. It’s a fallacy that I’ve seen happen in other kinds of businesses as well: the idea that because your small business aspires to be a big business, then the proper way for you to conduct business is to imitate what the big boys do that seems to be working for them.

Here’s some numbers I’m completely pulling out of my ass but that I suspect are not far from the truth: 99.9% of people have not heard of 99.9% of bands. And given a random person A and person B, of the .01% of musical acts currently in action that A has heard of, there is no telling how little the .01% that B has heard of overlaps A’s. Now take that set and find its intersection with the set of bands sending press kits to your little venue and you’re extremely lucky if have more than zero. So relying on people coming to your venue because they want to see the bands is pretty stupid unless you’re booking big-time acts. There just aren’t going to be that many people in it for most bands. And trying to increase turnout by cramming more bands onto the bill doesn’t help; it just hurts the overall quality of the show.

I’m going to propose something radical here: let’s get rid of the cover charge. You ask me, “then how am I going to pay the bands?” Newsflash, genius: you’re not paying them now. I’ve seen so many people turn away at the door of a venue simply because there’s a cover. People don’t want to part with $7 just for the privilege of walking into a place to hang out and have a beer just because some joe shmoe they never heard of is on the stage. It’s not because they’re lame-asses, they’re just acting rationally: they have no idea if they’ll like the music or not, and if they don’t, they’ll have wasted money that could have gone toward a couple more beers, and there’s another bar next door that they don’t have to pay to get into where they know that even if they don’t like what’s playing on the jukebox, they can ignore it easily because it won’t be as loud. On the other hand, if you could get them into your venue, you can be pretty sure that they’re going to buy drinks, and there’s at least an outside chance they’ll enjoy the band enough to buy merch from them (provided it’s reasonably priced; if the band’s trying to get $20 for a 7″ and no one’s biting, that’s their own idiocy hurting them).

What I’m saying is, it doesn’t make sense to expect all your potential patrons to be showing up because of the bands. You’ll still get those people showing up, but that’s a small group of people who are already pretty plugged-in to the indie music scene. How many of those people there are in your city is up to you to figure out because if music is part of your business plan you should probably be paying attention to that kind of thing. What makes more sense to me in most cases is to bet on people’s curiosity: “oh this place has live music tonight? Wonder if it’s any good.” Save the cover/ticket charge for the acts that warrant it — which acts those are, again, depends on your community; I think the rest of the time it would pay off better for everyone if you just let people come in and check it out.

Any thoughts on this out there? Am I missing something big here? Am I crazy?

samuel locke-ward/joe jack talcum cover

This article wraps up a trilogy highlighting recent releases by four artists who are touring together at this very moment: Joe Jack Talcum, Samuel Locke-Ward, Coolzey, and The Bassturd. This show hits The Blue Moose in Iowa City this Friday night and The Vaudeville Mews here in Des Moines on Saturday night.

Joe Jack Talcum’s main claim to fame is having been a member of The Dead Milkmen. Not just any member: on certain songs he was the lead singer. One of those certain songs just happened to be their biggest hit, “Punk Rock Girl.” One of those songs that a huge chunk of my generation remembers with fond smiles and can probably sing to you verbatim on request. That’s a big bullet point to have on your résumé. But it’s also the kind of thing that for an artist can become a big item of baggage you end up trying to struggle out from under to get people to pay attention to what you’re doing now. Maybe with The Dead Milkmen reformed with a new album out, it’s not a problem. But even before that, Joe Jack Talcum had already started asserting a new concept for himself, and a string of recent collaborations and tours with no less a road-warrior than Iowa City’s troubador of the troubling Samuel Locke Ward seems to have a bit to do with it, Sam lending Joe Jack the rhythm section of his crack backing band The Boo-Hoos with himself joining in on keys, under the name The Powders.

To judge by this record, Joe Jack Talcum’s recent material is really good. Part of what makes it work so well might be hearing the same voice that delivered “Punk Rock Girl” (largely unchanged, but perhaps a bit more consistently on-key) taking on a richer emotional palette and more grown-up subject matter that we can relate to in the present. Joe Jack spends these songs searching for [answer](, happiness, and understanding, coping with loneliness and confusion over the phase of life he finds himself reaching and the world he finds himself reaching it in. There’s an almost Johnathan Richman kind of innocence, even when the skies get grey as on “Head To Toe” and the poignant “Smoke & Mirrors,” but most especially on side-closer “Come Ride My Funny Car,” wherein he attempts to lure a woman away from hanging out at the bar to come with him instead, through the charm of a 60’s beach-rock groove and lyrics like “to the top of the yeah yeah go go star” — silly, yet seriously committed to fun. Throughout the six songs, the Powders do much more than merely follow him through the changes, navigating the swells and dynamics of the songs with extraordinary sensitivity and working in some very [nice]( instrumental passages.

One of the neat things about a split LP is that it’s kind of like getting two EPs. Especially since the format lends itself to playing whichever side you’re in the mood for. The moods of these two sides are very different indeed, making it a record you could pull out often. All the more surprising if you take into account that much of the band lineup is identical on both sides, modulo a couple guitarists. The versatile engineering of Luke Tweedy at Flat Black Studios, where both sides were recorded last October (reportedly in one very quick, very live session), certainly doesn’t hurt.

If Joe Jack’s side of the record is a pick-me-up for rainy days, Sam’s side is another kind of mood enhancer, one you’d use to prepare for either a night of fucking shit up or a day when you have shit to do and may need to push some fuckers out of your way to do it. Though the songwriter and lead vocalist, with The Boo-Hoos, Sam seems to be operating chiefly as instigator to a project of rocking out as hard as possible, with his vocals sometimes pushed almost to the background, and as usual for him taking on various taunting falsettos and bellows. As interesting and welcome as it is to see Sam working in a loud rock format again, it was a bit harder to really get on the split 7″ with Mumfords, but the project seems to have really come into its own here. The seven quick songs showcase the band with a big guitar sound and sweaty rock and roll energy, reminiscent of The Pixies’ swan-song album Trompe Le Monde but with more satirical lyrics. Sam presents a Luddite alternate history in “This Edison Nightmare,” presents warfare as a dance craze in “Do The Pinewood Box,” and looks back fondly on some sort of riot on the infectious “Fine Was The Night.” Joe Jack Talcum guests on keyboards, harmonica, or additional vocals on a few of the songs.

I’m struggling for a good wrap-up paragraph that doesn’t just boil down to “this thing sounds really great” so I’ll just reiterate my suggestion that you go see these guys on this tour.