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.

dark side of the turd cover

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.

coolzey cover

No doubt if the profile of Zach Lint, a.k.a. Coolzey, increases, publicity will give some attention to his back-story and persona, as it’s an unusual one in the field of hip hop/rap music. A kid from a farm town north of Des Moines, Iowa who moved to Iowa City and turned himself into a DIY juggernaut as a rapper, songwriter, and rock musician, launching an independent label and adopting the DIY ethic of underground rock towards all his projects, especially his rap/hip hop work, then took to touring the country relentlessly in a van, changing his city of residence frequently while running all his own business affairs as an underground artist. Despite the relative lack of the usual adversities that similar stories play on — Zach is, after all, a healthy middle-class white kid from one of the friendliest parts of the country — it’s his work ethic, which has enabled him to build an underground career from next to nothing in resources — that inspires in a “you could do this too” kind of way, no matter who you are or what you come from.

That work ethic has a lot to fo with the story of Coolzey And The Search For Hip Hop Hearts Vol. 1: He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper. In the summer of 2010, even as he continued a hectic schedule of touring and making up the rest of his living in the remodeling business, Coolzey embarked on an impossibly ambitious project: over the 12 weeks of summer, he would complete an album of 12 songs, one per week, each based on a beat from a different DJ, and each with its own music video created in collaboration with his Public School Records partner and video producer Jason Hennesey. Each track and video was released online, right on schedule, and the album available for free download from the Free Music Archive.

And that might have been as far as the project went, but it became evident that there was demand for a hard copy. So earlier this year Zach put up a Kickstarter campaign to fund having the mixes cleaned up and the album and videos mastered and pressed to a CD-plus-DVD package; the campaign was successful and the resulting product can most likely be acquired at the merch table at dates of Coolzey’s upcoming package tour with three other heavy hitters: Joe Jack Talcum, a singer-songwriter best known as the member of The Dead Milkmen who sang on “Punk Rock Girl”; Austin-via-Iowa City rapper-singer-songwriter-composer-keyboardist-improviser-raconteur The Bassturd; and Iowa City’s maestro of the disturbing Samuel Locke-Ward. Said tour hits Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines on June 18 (and The Blue Moose in Iowa City the night before, for those of you out that way). This show promises to be amazing and you would be a fool to miss it.

There are those, and I occasionally claim to be among them, who profess to miss the fun vibe of the early rap and hip hop of the 1980s and their youth as we find ourselves now so many years deep into the tuff-guy gangsta era wherein each artist tries to appear more “hard” than the last. Perhaps some of this sentiment has latched on to the underground phenomenon where you find Coolzey, and through Coolzey I have been turned on to the likes of Rashaan Ahmad and I’m not sure if there’s a rap peanut gallery that degrades this kind of thing as “hipster rap” the way there is in the metal scene, but if so I could give a fuck about that kind of talk. At the end of the day what matters is quality, and while there may be some hearkening back to the attitudes of classic hip hop, you’d be mistaken to consider this material as merely throwback or retro, as the sounds are new and varied, and you’d be even more off the mark to pigeonhole Coolzey into “nerd rap” with some of the other outsiders, even if he does look like he would fit in with their crowd.

I can’t claim to be much of an expert on hip hop music but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Zach is a hell of a lyricist. The way he puts words together makes me as a songwriter a bit jealous. He has obviously devoted himself in a big way to honing his craft. He also manages to sound positive even when while he’s savagely dissing lesser/lazier MCs and doing it more cleverly than anyone else around. He delivers his criticisms in a way that makes him sound above the fray even as he participates in it: “If I don’t eat their lunch, they’re in the next room chumpin’ me / Sizing me up, trying to figure out the best way to get at my cheese / Here’s an idea: ask me / I wouldn’t put it past me to give it up for free / My soul is infinite, so there’s no way to outlast me.” Zach’s values and ethic as an artist and toward life itself make it to the forefront of most of his lyrics, and the philosophy he espouses is that life is too short to waste hating on others or expecting anyone to come around and hand you anything for free.

Elsewhere Zach extols the virtues of creativity and the DIY hustle and devotes an entire track, “Put Me Away,” to an extended metaphor about how he just likes to stay busy and bring joy to people any way he can, by portraying himself as some kind of all-purpose As Seen On TV helper robot. The track, like much of the album, is clever and hooky, and Zach backed up its concept in his Kickstarter campaign by offering as a premium at the $3000 level that he would come live with you for 5 days and clean your house, babysit your kids, do remodeling, or anything else you ask for (there were no takers but he definitely would have followed through). Most of the music has a laid-back feel but there are darker, more sinister tones as well, especially the spooky yet inspirational examination of human mortality “Faces Of Death” and the tough-talking “Ten WA” and “Keef.”

The variety of approaches however, does result in some moments that seem out of place and throw off the album’s overall focus. “No Reply” is an intriguing though incongruous mix of a Coolzey rap over some avant-garde electronic sounds by The Rhombus, a bit hard to follow, and while fairly enjoyable to a noise-head like myself, is likely to get the skip button treatment from most. “No Solicitations” also comes off out of place, but taken on its own terms works well, Zach portraying a dull office-drone character who we’re not sure whether to laugh at or sympathize with or both. And on some tracks the lyrics can veer disorientingly from philosophical meditations and on the human condition to political issues. But for the great majority of its running time, The Search For Hip Hop Hearts is a collection that once again showcases Coolzey as an artist capable of making you laugh, dance, and think all at the same time.

Also, not enough has been said about the videos, which come on a second disc in this package. Writing about videos is if anything even harder than writing about music. Jason Hennesey definitely plays up the fun aspect of these songs, featuring Zach rapping with a plush puppy dog hand puppet, Grace Locke-Ward’s cats wearing graduation caps, drunken camera shenanigans, live show footage and vintage educational films. You can watch all of them on Vimeo.

I don’t know how the folks at bandcamp would feel about this if they found out, but somebody’s using the site to make downloads available of various old demos, 7″s, etc from certain now defunct eastern Iowa bands here, and it’s a treasure chest. Classic material from The Vidablue (later known as Ten Grand), Matt Davis’s pre-Vidablue band Brazil, Burmese (where’s the Bottledog! stuff, Mr. Dude?), Kita, Epileptic Cheetah, Sludgeplow, Autodramatics, The Pee-Pees, Los Marauders’ classic You Make My Cum In My Pants 7″, and a whole lot of stuff I either never or barely heard of. I love these kind of underground-musical-historical-preservation projects.

Bandcamp is catching on so fast I can hardly keep up posting here every time someone I know or know of in or near or connected to Iowa starts putting their music up there. Here are some I’ve hit upon recently but haven’t posted about before. I’ve listened to all of this stuff and it’s all good stuff or I just wouldn’t bother mentioning it.

The Cryogenic Strawberries


The Twelve Canons

Meth And Goats


Brooks Strausse

Bob Bucko Jr.

Aural Resuscitation Unit

Alex Body

The Poison Control Center

Pythias Braswell


X-Ray Mary

And here are a few that have less (as in, mostly nothing) to do with Iowa, though I think at last a couple of them work with labels from around here:


Black Tusk

Bubonic Bear

Combat Astonomy


Het Droste Effect

Look What I Did

Neon Lushell

Seventh Rule Recordings (label)

Thunder Bunny

Wreck And Reference

R. Stevie Moore



Steve Lawson (also check out his blog, I highly recommend his writings on modern music promotion and internet DIY)

Also Fetal Pig will have one up soon with our forthcoming album on it. So that will be rad.

Make It Stop cover

Make It Stop came my way via the noise tape underground. I first heard them via the inclusion of the track “Breadfuck” on the original Audio Terrorism compilation on Chaotic Noise Productions, an early incarnation of what is now CNP Records, home of such excellent noisy projects as Mutwawa, Bermuda Triangles, and Suppression. “Breadfuck” was easily my favorite track on Audio Terrorism, so I wrote the contact address listed for Make It Stop in the cover insert to see how I could get more of their stuff and told them how it reminded me of early Swans. Got back this tape and a note saying “thanks for the comparison to Swans, they rule!” and this tape became one of my all-time favorite and most-played musical possessions.

Apparently Make It Stop sent out quite a number of these, all with the same first 4 or 5 songs but the remaining content subject to some variation, sometimes including snippets from The Boredoms’ Pop Tatari. Make It Stop’s own stuff here is some great sludge-noise-rock with lo-fi 4-track production many of the tracks instrumental, other with vocals consisting of seemingly random series of spoken phrases; the conspicuous exception here being “Buzzfuck,” a sort of mystical stoner-doom tune with more traditional vocals/lyrics.

A download of a slightly different version of this tape is available over at Sluggisha but I think the sound is better on mine, which also has a couple more tracks on it. I later got a second Make It Stop tape that included the contents of their side of a split tape with Tub Of Noise, also available at Sluggisha, and which I highly recommend. Make It Stop’s tracks on it are even more trudging and fucked up, whereas Tub Of Noise is all tight, dissonant, and riffy like the best 90s AmRep/T&G style post-hardcore rock. In another twist of chronology, two of the songs from Tub Of Noise’s side were included in a mixtape that the Make It Stop folks included for me as the B side of this first Make It Stop tape; also in that mix were Breadwinner, Boil, Geezer Lake (whom I later managed to dig up two awesome full-length CDs of that I still like a lot), and Shiny Beast, which included some current member of Red Fang, who are playing here in Des Moines at House Of Bricks in a couple weeks. Perhaps I’ll put up that and some of the 2nd Make It Stop tape (which had some cool live stuff) in future posts.


Engorged With Blood cover

Among the acquisitions from my used tape trawling at the old Cedar Falls Co-Op Records was this odd little item. Obviously the cool-looking cover was a factor in the decision. Musically it’s a horny concoction of electronic drums, [nice]( grooving bass lines, gauzy washes of shoegazey guitars reminiscent of Curve evoking deep-summer heat and steam rising from grates over humidity-glistened city streets at night, and a deep-voiced lead vocalist, mixed right up front, who mostly speaks, sometimes half-sings, occasionally moans, sexually-charged lyrics like Leonard Cohen on a mix of ecstasy and painkillers. Listening to it gives me a bit of that “what if someone walked in right now” feeling like being alone watching some cheezy softcore Cinemax shit on TV — if only they had thought to work in some echoey saxophone while they were at it — but the rhythms and swirly guitar give the music some great atmosphere. Working from clues on the tape and packaging I figured out that this was a project of a guy named John Hanes, well-known in the Bay Area as a drummer who was in Romeo Void and Chrome and is still up to some pretty interesting projects to this day; he’s got a website at

ze download