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.
Announced yesterday on the Afternoon Records website and all the requisite social-web outlets, Iowa’s #1 rock band The Poison Control Center have deleted their MySpace page and set up shop on bandcamp. Besides their recent 7″ and Sad Sour Future album, you can pick up digital reissues of some of their older stuff (The Go-Go Music Show mercifully excluded).
Orthodox – “Matse Avatar”
This one has definitely held up for me. Being a bit new to the band but loving these two songs so much, I’ve gone and checked out some of their previous material and they do a really intriguing mix of doom and jazz with some medieval folk overtones, and on some of their stuff they go all-out acoustic with string bass and trumpet. Their name has a delightful irony to it as they seem to piss off a lot of purists. How could I possibly not love a band like that?
Samuel Locke-Ward & The Boo-Hoos/Mumfords split 7″
The relatively straightforward loud rock tunes of the Boo-Hoos side has needed a little time to grow on me, but I’m starting to catch myself humming “When It’s Gone It’s Gone” at idle moments. Sam has definitely assembled a crack band, too. Check out Rachel Feldman’s bass lines! And I still love this Mumford’s song.
Poison Control Center – Sad Sour Future
One of this year’s most important albums for Iowa music fans. I think the last real “breakout” Iowa band was probably Modern Life Is War (at least if you follow the hardcore scene — I didn’t realize how big they had gotten until I started noticing them name-dropped in unexpected corners of the Web) but now in 2010 we have Davenport’s Mondo Drag and these guys both releasing a strong album, playing some big shows, and working the road hard. Of the two, PCC definitely get more press in central Iowa (Mondo Drag got as much as a slightly puzzled mention on the We Hate Music podcast last week), and they have a long history here and mountains of well-deserved love and respect. What criticism Sad Sour Future draws seems to be for its length, but there isn’t a bum song on it. 17 songs in 71 minutes just reflects the firehose of creativity that these guys are. The curse-side of this blessing is that it’s hard to name a standout song or three in the midst of such a big slab of consistently fine material. Also I wonder whether the music scene is yet ready for an updating of Pavementesque slacker guitars and mid-period Flaming Lips whimsy — a lot of the core audience for that kind of thing is grown-up, settled-down, and has a hard time making it out to the rock clubs for anything less than ’90s heroes reunited. Will today’s indie kids hear this as something new or something old? Hopefully they hear is for what it is, something awesome.
Olde Growth s/t
I missed out on the limited edition of 100 CDs this two-man psychedelic doom band self-released this year but did grab a download while they were still giving them out and am looking forward to Meteor City putting it out next year. Will probably write a little more about it then.
It’s True! s/t
One of my top albums of the year by a Midwest band, maybe by any band, this CD out of Omaha deserves as much accolades on artistry alone as does Sad Sour Future. Heard it playing between sets at the Mews recently and wanted to shout to the crowd to quiet down for a couple minutes to listen. I didn’t mention it in my earlier article, but at times Adam Hawkins’s voice reminds me George Michael in his prime, and it works awesomely (see “What Have I Done?”). Last I heard, Hawkins moved to Ames, so I’m guessing this lineup is over. Hopefully he hooks up with a new crew and makes another record this good.
Cathedral – The Guessing Game
Another album of possibly excessive length, this was actually my introduction to these doom-metal stalwarts, and it may not be the best album for that, given how much has been made of the incorporation of early 70s prog-rock influences as a new element to the sound. The progressive melodies and mellotrons work beautifully on the instrumental title track, “Death of an Anarchist,” “Cats, Incense, Candles & Wine,” and a few other tracks, but the transitions between metal chug and odd-meter marimbas on “Funeral of Dreams” still feel clunky. Said track, coming early in the album, also suffers from another of the album’s downfalls, which is the occasional presence of some rather corny lyrics, especially when Lee Dorian goes for the simplistic attacks on the sociopolitical establishment and Christianity. But then again, these work toward the same everyman appeal that doom metal so often builds on, that got my attention the first time I heard a St. Vitus album. Still, I often find myself moving on before this track is up, forgetting how I’d be rewarded if I stuck it out. The band displays very accomplished musicianship and writing, both on the proggy bits and when they are in their wheelhouse of ominous crunchy riffage. Predominantly clean vocals and a lot of very catchy riffs and melodies give the album some pop appeal; in a better world, the ode to Edwige Fenech (I had to Google for the reference, to be honest) “Edwige’s Eyes” would be a radio hit. But there’s a good measure of heaviness and appealingly “difficult” moments like “The Running Man,” which revisits the pounding of King Crimson’s classic “21st Century Schizoid Man” then builds into a noise rave-up. Generally though, Cathedral have gone beyond mere riffing and dark atmosphere to write songs, which is something I really enjoy hearing in a heavy album.
My work continues to be busy, so I haven’t been writing a lot here, but I do manage to find time to post various links of interest to the Centipede Farm Facebook page. I figured I should pop in here quick and talk about music things I’ve been to or done lately. Leah and I went to see The Black Keys at the Val Air with busted AC, the place was packed and probably 110 degrees. I looked like I’d been in some kind of sweat-filled dunk tank. They played wonderfully though. I’ve seen some bands tend to play their songs faster live than they sound on record; the Black Keys, at least that night, played things a little bit slower, which I think suited the atmosphere of the sweltering August night. It was pretty rock and roll.
I saw the diva of mom-glam Leslie Hall, with her band Leslie And The Ly’s, bring their celebration of all things snazzy to a rainy Tuesday morning at the Iowa State Fair. Considering the weather and the early hour, they drew a respectable crowd and really pulled out all the stops when it came to silly props and between-song skits. Hanging quilts, a giant cat, and a tractor called Glitter Plow. Grace plays drums, the only live instrument they use in the show, as everything else is on a laptop other than vocals, and I can’t stress enough the level of skill it takes to be able to stay on beat with something prerecorded like that. Grace kicks ass. They’ll be at something called Inglert in Iowa City on September 16.
We did two Why Make Clocks shows this past weekend, and there were actually people at them. Saturday night’s show was at Vaudeville Mews with Noah’s Ark With A Spaceship, a great band we previously met and played with in Omaha where they’re from. They make a loud raucous guitar-noise-pop sound that I’d place in the lineage of Swervedriver. They’re on Slumber Party Records where they’re labelmates with Thunder Power and Outlaw Con Bandana among others. We got to hang out with them some before and after the show as well, and they are a fun bunch of cats. Some variation on what used to be called The Chatty Cathys opened, a group of young fellows making a Pavementy kind of racket, and they were quite enjoyable. In between was another very youthful outfit (14 to 16 years old, I believe), The Seed Of Something, which involves Dan’s wife Kim’s son Jasper and is also currently sharing drummer Will Tarbox with Why Make Clocks while they look for another. They’re really good and we’d like to see them keep at it, so if you know a kid around Des Moines who plays drums well and likes driving indie rock sounds, get in touch.
The following night both Why Make Clocks and The Seed Of Something played a double-birthday-party show at Des Moines Social Club along with The Atudes, Christopher The Conquered, and Poison Control Center. The birthdays in question were of our very own Dan, and of Pat from PCC, both of which were on Monday. Everyone put on a great show, though the sound in the Black Box Theater room of the DMSC was as usual a bit off. Friendly vibes abounded. PCC continue their “Never Ending Tour” tonight at The Slowdown in Omaha, and tomorrow night at The Lift in Dubuque , then a whole bunch of other places. I’d suggest checking the lengthy list of dates listed on their MySpace because chances are if you’re reading this, you’ll have an opportunity or two to see them in the next few months.
Finally, just last night, we did the second-ever show of the reunited Fetal Pig, opening up for the amazing Mahogany Frog from Winnipeg. MF first came to our attention when Why Make Clocks ended up playing with them at Big V’s in St. Paul. We liked them a lot and told them to get in touch if they ever thought of coming to play in Des Moines. They do mostly instrumental psychedelic prog-rock epics with lots of keyboards. It’s partly a recreation of prog circa ’72, but also very modern; I caught a lot about their set that I think fans of stuff like Battles would get into. Hell, anybody can get into stuff this good. While they were playing I kept thinking to myself they might be the best band in the universe.
Leah got me a bag of gummy centipedes!
80/35 Festival just finished up, it was pretty cool. I debated with myself whether to write anything about it at all since everyone else is bound to, and anyway I probably missed a lot of stuff. This was my second 80/35, and the first I had main-stage tickets for. One thing I think is cool about 80/35 is that even if you can’t muster the cash for tickets, there’s still a lot of stuff to see: there are free stages; no tickets are needed to hang around the various vendor tents; one such tent, that of Yellowbrock magazine, hosted some acoustic performances, including Poison Control Center and Des Moines’ own American Idol contestant, this past season’s Katelyn Epperly, with her pre-Idol bandmate Nick Frampton, the duo now known as Katelyn & The Bruises. Plus Des Moines Social Club, located right nest door to the second stage, puts some bands on for free in their Sideshow Lounge area. This year’s “third” stage had a new emphasis on electronica, DJs, and hip-hop. I didn’t catch much of that, but the second stage featured no lesser lights than Califone, William Elliott Whitmore, and local rising stars Canby, Christopher The Conquered, and Cashes Rivers. This is a pretty cool time to be a music fan in Des Moines.
However, I must admit that a combination of factors kept me from seeing a lot of stuff:
- being still in the process of unpacking from our recent move, not to mention still recovering from said move, in the sore-and-tired department
- having an 18-month-old, which requires certain preparations and/or accommodations
- being rather down on social activity in general of late, and pretty much hating people overall
- having pretty much no idea who any of the third-stage hip-hoppers were, and hence whether any of them held any interest for me
- weather that alternated between oppressive heat and humidity, and rain
Most of what I turned up for was the main-stage acts, which this year were just too compelling for me to pass up. Related to that last item, my favorite moments of the festival both directly involved rain:
- A gentle rain that begin falling, as if on cue, precisely as Yo La Tengo hit the final chord of their final number “Pass The Hatchet”
- The Walkmen soldiering on through their set in a driving cloudburst, even as the water shorted out their organ, a very appreciative crowd cheering them on
It was great to see Yo La Tengo with Leah. In a way, Yo La Tengo is kind of “our band” in the way some couples have an “our song.” Before we were dating she hadn’t heard them, and I like to think she fell for me when I played Electr-O-Pura for her. Then, in November 1997 when we had been dating about four and a half months, I got her to go see them with me at Gabe’s in Iowa City, something that’s one of our most special memories of our relationship. I was super glad that this time our 18-month-old son Wesley got to share the experience with us.
Right after Yo La Tengo I did catch half of William Elliott Whitmore’s country-soul stylings. He made shout-outs to Why Make Clocks and Ed Gray.
And I must say that I am glad I caught The Walkmen’s set. I kinda-sort liked them before, based on several really beautiful moments on Bows & Arrows I found when I got it a few years ago, but other parts of that album, and much of their first, Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone (boy, if that isn’t a title I’ve really related to a few times), coming off as so languid as to be nearly shapeless, left me a bit unsure. Their most lovably shambolic qualities were definitely in effect yesterday, but I think that the appreciativeness of the crowd made it difficult for them to maintain a properly cool indie-rocker disinterested facade, and they were revealed to be guys who really love and care about what they’re doing. Their floatier numbers somehow made a bit more sense live, but maybe it was just the mood of the overcast day. In short, they were pretty awesome. The newer numbers, that I recognized by how little I recognized them, sounded even better than some of the material from the first two albums that I knew. So I’m looking to pick me up a copy of You & Me once I’m slightly less broke-ass.
I had to go out alone for Spoon, and it wasn’t as fun to be there by myself. I ran into some friends and ended up mostly chatting with them instead of watching the band, as there was such a heavy crowd that it was hard to get a good view of the stage. The problem with big shows is how big they are. Spoon sounded great, though, with kudos due to the sound crew. The band played several of my favorite of their songs, and I thought it was cool how they brought along a big ol’ horn section. The horns even did riffs that on album were done on guitars. The dubby effects on the vocals that they used so much on Transference were thrown in all over the place during their set.
I didn’t bother sticking around for Modest Mouse on the second night, I was pretty much burned out at that point and just wanted to lay around.
Anyway, good festival, et cetera.
Just so you know, in case you weren’t there. Metromix has some photos. I’m on the left in #14.
I got there just in time for Wolves In The Attic and they were a definite highlight of the evening, way more exciting in person than I’d come to expect from some YouTube video I saw of them once. When I first moved to Des Moines I got them confused with Wolves In The Throne Room for a while because I wasn’t familiar with either but both names seemed to be floating across my radar regularly at the time. Turns out I ended up liking both. In some ways they aren’t that different — both seem to present an intense level of energy and a formidable racket of guitar texture. Wolves In The Attic, rather than a black metal band oriented around nature, sound something more like Swervedriver on overdrive.
Christopher The Conquered was intense in their dramatic testimonial kind of way, every bit as raucous and fun as their set at Gross Domestic Product. The Mynabirds, in from Omaha, were pretty pleasant, especially in the vocal department. There’s a fair bit of buzz around them but I can’t help thinking they might kinda disappear in the sheer mass of similar indie-folk outfits in their hometown.
I don’t have to tell you Poison Control Center put on a wild, raucous, super-fun show, because they’re remarkably consistent in that regard. They were joined by a horn section borrowed from Christopher The Conquered, and from what I’ve heard, were likewise joined onstage by just about everybody in the venue at the end according to Dan (Why Make Clocks), who reports that he was among the throng playing a tambourine, but by that time I’d gotten really tired and made my way home.
PCC is touring the US epically this year in support of this new CD, which is called Sad Sour Future. I haven’t given it a good full listen yet but I’m expecting it to meet all expectations.
UPDATE: for a more detailed account, probably more insightful than my terse reportage, check out Marc Hogan’s bit over at Des Noise.