So alright some of you could say that I’m writing about this compilation (out today via Workerbee Records) because I’m on it.  This would be fair enough to say.  You could also think that I’m writing about this compilation because my good friend Chucky here is also on this marvelous piece of downloadable ether.  This as well would be a fair judgment.

The truth is actually I’m writing about this because it a free downloadable compilation featuring Poison Control Center, Christopher the Conquered, Nate Logsdon, Land of Blood and Sunshine, The Gold Hearts, Mantis Pincers, Diamonds For Eyes, Slut River, The Golden Veins, White Flashes, Sudden and Suttle, and everybody’s least favorite band in the world The Cryogenic Strawberries.

Hell being honest with all of you, the moment that cemented my desire to start making music and distributing it locally was seeing Poison Control Center play Veshia at one of their earliest shows.  So the fact that not only am I on this compilation I’m on it with them and a bunch of the other bad assed Iowa musicians is not something that I take lightly.  This compilation is spectacular, give it a download and tell me that I’m selling you snake oil.

I’ve been winding up with a lot of really nifty tapes and CD-Rs via trades, since getting this tape-label thing going. Of particular interest at the present time are the stuff I’ve gotten from Bob Bucko Jr and his label Personal Archives, run out of Dubuque, Iowa.

One of my favorites so far has been Cowboy Funeral by Bob and two other guys collectively calling themselves Implied Consent. The tape cases are hand-painted and the tape itself is hand-markered with the band name and title showing through the unpainted parts of the case. Brief “songs” (no individual titles listed) of philosophical hilarious freestyle stream-of-consciousness lyrics with “fuckin’” used as punctuation, sometimes reminding me of Rock’s Chosen Warrior (don’t worry if you don’t catch the reference, it’s pretty local), over crude noisy semi-improvised accompaniment done on seemingly whatever instrumentation was lying around, maybe a few overdubs done later and definitely edited and fucked with as postproduction. This stuff is insanely fun. It’s what Black Cum wishes they could be if they were good.

The split between Bob’s solo incarnation “BBJr” and someone called Aisle begins with Aisle’s side, Narcotica. “crest, fallen” is a found-sound and field recording collage piece. Unrecognizable manipulated sounds, sped-up conversation, video game space sound effects, a small dog barking, various bits of music, some synthesizer playing, stitched together in a warm/cold sonic quilt. “Narcotica” starts similarly before working itself into a neat groove of soft steam engine violins and delay pedal rhythms with electronic toy rocket launches before burying them in a 4-track feedback attack in a parking garage. Bob’s side is the five-part suite Sex Funeral where each part is a short series of lone electronic sounds given pan delay and plenty of space to stretch out in, and each movement exploring a different tonal color space — distortion/feedbacky at first, then glassy spaceship synths through staticky radio, then metallic, and so on, seemingly working from harsher to mellower. It reminds me of some of those classic electronic music records from the 1960s.

Floating Cave is the name denoting yet another group made up of Bob and two other persons, and Strip the Lights was recorded live as part of the Nash Gallery opening late this April. Four improvised soundtrack-like synth and feedbacky electric guitar pieces with audible audience presence, all very atmospheric and pretty and a touch ominous besides.

You can order any of this stuff on tape via the Personal Archives Bandcamp site. Or, I acquired a few extra copies of Floating Cave and a couple other Personal Archives items for distro from Bob in trade when I was up in Dubuque with Fetal Pig last week, so if you get something from me you might end up with a bit of it. I intend to write a little something here about the rest of them soon, especially, and this is one I’m really excited about obviously, Personal Archives now has this out:

That’s right it’s a Distant Trains/BBJr split tape. Right on!

From Captcha Records comes the very nice “How to Fuck All Your Co-Workers in One Sitting” cassette released last year. The tape is a pro job with printing on the cassette shell and the whole works and sounds great. I think side A collects some of Bob’s 4-track home recordings from the 1990s. Exploratory instrumentals (“Too Long for This World” kinda feels like a “my first lap steel” exercise but it sets a great mood) with lots of direct-lined distorted guitar, skronkiness, and that great afternoon nap with the window open feel that so much great 1990s bedroom lo-fi has. The B side is more recent recordings, seemingly made for something caled Nitetrotter, that show Bob’s folk/jazz side, free-improvising off “Over the Rainbow” and “Amazing Grace” around a couple more straightforward folk numbers.

The Devin Dart/Bob Bucko Jr split tape from Felt Cat Tapes I’m not even going to tell you much about because it’s out of print already but it’s pretty special. Since you have the link there, you should probably explore the Felt Cat label a bit.

The Kickstarter backlash is in full effect among folks I know if my Facebook feed is anything to go on. Apparently there are bands trying to use it to do things that some people don’t think they deserve to do. Maybe I’m missing these things because I make a concerted effort not to pay attention to bands that suck. But it’s a fair question, why exactly does your pissant little band that’s barely even played out of your hometown think it has any business asking people — friends and family for the most part, probably — to fund the luxury of your getting the first thing you’ve ever recorded pressed on vinyl?

My defense has always been that the undeserving bands are much less likely to meet the goal anyway and their project won’t happen and that’s exactly how Kickstarter should work, it’s sort of a crowdsourcing of whether people think you’ve got something good to offer. I’ve contributed to a couple kickstarter campaigns for artists who I knew well of, had been around the block a while, and that I knew kicked ass. One of those campaigns began with the announcement by Dan Butler that he was retiring his musical persona The Bassturd forever. The campaign was to get the final Bassturd album released on CD. I knew that if such a CD were to exist I would want it, so I figured I’d help make its existence happen.

If you’re not familiar with The Bassturd, well I’ve written about him on this site before. He started out as a kid from Belmond, Iowa that took up residence in Iowa City and started making homemade cassette albums of funny off-the-cuff songs accompanying himself on cheap keyboards. Pretty soon he was showing up at house parties with his accordion entertaining partygoers with thoroughly improvised songs on topics suggested by said partygoers. Then he developed a musical style crossbreeding hip-hop with Devo and all sorts of other random shit to his uproarious lyrics, and built a one-man show around these songs, his keyboard, and a dizzying array of Christmas lights. Eventually he was touring his show around the country whenever he could get someone to drive him, releasing an astounding amount of recordings, writing probably thousands of songs, while constantly upgrading his keyboards and lighting over the next several years during which he moved around quite a bit then eventually landed in Austin, Texas where he resides to this day.

But what was to become of Dan’s music when he decided to hang up The Bassturd? Eventually he started letting out news of having formed a band called The Bumping Uglies. And now, wouldn’t you know it, he’s back on Kickstarter looking to get some Bumping Uglies stuff done up on vinyl. So even with a guy like Dan on board, one has to ask, this being yet another Kickstarter band by some new band out of nowhere, and one that’s currently kinda limping along in comparison to how startlingly quick Dan’s last Kickstarter project funded: should you care?

Well they were kind enough to give me a sneak peek of the album, or at least some 14 songs, on Soundcloud and this much I can tell you: if you’ve ever been a Bassturd fan, you have probably wondered to yourself at some point what he would be like with a band. Not necessarily a typical rock band lineup, but you know, a few extra instruments and a couple regular full-time collaborators to bounce shit off of. What would the result be like? The Bumping Uglies definitely answer that question, and it turns out that what you would get is plenty good, and evidences more than enough of Dan’s trademark grandiose synthesizers, and wacked sense of humor, that there is basically no reason for any Bassturd fan not to get behind this venture and get excited about the prospect of it getting an album out.

It’s not simply a carbon copy of what The Bassturd did either, though. Co-lead vocalist Mary has a strong presence in this set of tunes. Dan and Mary complement each other very well vocally, especially when they sing together, such as on “More War, Less Taxes” and the a capella gospel-folk tune “I Will Stand Here My Lord”. Her presence makes for some of the most interesting moments; a bit of toilet humor like “The Poops” might be pretty standard fare for The Bassturd but hearing a female voice engage in it with him gives it an added bit of shock and absurdity. There are fun self-referential or “theme” songs like “Uglier Than You” and “U R Ugly” and the show-closer “Packin’ Up”, a handful of energetic instrumentals, and several really funny concepts like “Brain Shop” and “Shitty Cowboy”. Somebody is playing a ukelele and a mandolin quite a bit too. I kind of wish they’d put more of the tunes up for streaming to give folks more idea what they’d be in for if they get these records, because there’s nary a dull moment in the whole set.

Get in on this thing:

So there are these two albums of tunes I wrote and home-recorded a few years back and released on CD-R — that is to say, I made a few CD-R copies, but didn’t receive much interest in them and mostly ended up giving them away to people who didn’t ask for them and didn’t want them. I put the name Chuck Hoffman on the covers; I took on the name Distant Trains later, in 2010, in order to avoid confusion with various other people named Chuck Hoffman or Charles Hoffman, as well as for its psychological effects, which I needed at the time, of freeing me to new creative approaches by pretending this was a new band/project.

Here’s Title Of Photograph: Filled With Dread In Los Angeles. The material on it was recorded on my Yamaha cassette 8-track intermittently over a period from 2003 to 2008 in Waterloo, Iowa, first in my old trailer then later in that basement and garage of my house on Kingsley. The majority of people to end up with CD-R copies were people I rudely and unsolocitedly gave them to while I was on tour in July 2008 playing bass for Samuel Locke-Ward.

And here’s The Small Slate-Colored Thing. Most of it was recorded in that garage at Kingsley in the spring and summer of ’08. After I moved to Des Moines I put the finishing touches on it and mixed it and made a few CD-Rs that no one seemed to want.

There’s also a third album I put up on bandcamp that’s a collection of stuff that was left over at around the time I took on the name Distant Trains. It’s got some pretty interesting tunes and sounds on it too. The recording dates range from ’03 to ’10. Gabe W especially digs this one.

Of late, however, I’ve begin to consider these earlier releases as part of the whole Distant Trains continuum. Stylistically they don’t fit so much with the more experimental or noise-oriented tendencies of recent Distant Trains stuff (which is kinda just picking up on some approaches from my even earlier project Flight Attendants) — rather, these are one-man indie rock albums with some noise and industrial influences, but in that way they’re very much along the lines of Distant Trains’s Teen Lust album, which I have gotten some very good reactions to (and still have a goodly number of cassette copies of by the way, you should get one if you don’t have it). Pat at Lava Church says he loves it. And anyway I’ve declared Distant Trains to be open-ended in a genre or style sense, really just an overall identity for music I make primarily by myself, whatever it sounds like, and whether it has verses and choruses or doesn’t.

Here’s Teen Lust, by the way:

Anyway… here’s what I’m on about: something I’ve got to thinking about lately, and which I am posting this in order to try to gague interest in, is whether anyone would take an interest in a new release of this stuff. Hypothetically if I rebranded this stuff as Distant Trains albums and re-issued it on cassette or CD-R, would anyone want them? Or is just downloading these good enough for y’all? Or does nobody really give much of a crap about them at all? Post a comment.

Happy Fathersbirthday to me! Blush-inducing paragraphs on Distant Trains, Fetal Pig, and Molting today over at The One True Dead Angel. And that Ron Anderson/Robert L. Pepper/David Tamura/Philippe Petit joint he talks about at the top? I totally concur, that thing jams. Highly recommend it.

Might have a split tape with somebody coming out on Bob Bucko Jr’s Personal Archives label. I was hoping to get the spot opposite I Like You Go Home, but as it turns out Aural Resuscitation Unit deservedly got that honor. I bet that tape will rule, I want one. But now it will be a surprise who I end up on the flip side of!

I did a “Musician Dads” interview for QRD and a crazy in-depth discussion of Minnesota Is Uncivilized for Gajoob.

Hal McGee is doing a series of cassette compilations called Connection Cassette. The first one has a pretty cool Distant Trains noise track on it that I barely even remember recording. There are three out, the fourth in the works, the first two are also on Hal’s bandcamp but I’m still trying to find a link to help you get them on tape. I hope to collect ’em all, like Pokemon.

Ira Rat is going to be on this Iowa Unsigned radio show tonight talking about Neon Lushell. Stupid site doesn’t say what time it comes on though, or it’s buried somewhere. Maybe you should just tune to 105.1 and leave it on all day.

We have a couple really great new releases in the works, too: Mascara returns on a split with Consciousness Prism, and we’ve got something from the incomparable Raven. And a couple other things possible and an idea or two I’m kicking around.

If you must buy only one album this year that has both mandolin and atonal homemade instruments made out of odd pieces of metal on it, make it this one. If you caught the Jephthah’s Daughter four-song CD-R on Eh? you knew that Ember was headed in an ever richer, more distinctive direction to embrace her unique qualities as an artist and personality, and The Sewing Room feels like the fully realized arrival of an honest and very real artistic vision from this enigmatic, hard-working folk singer-songwriter playing sultry, bucolic cowgirl-swing-meets-chanteuse songs informed by peculiar life experiences and a unique mystical take on obscure corners of the Bible. Longtime drummer Gary Foster and an all-star cast of friends turn in top-notch, tastefully restrained performances lending color and shading while keeping Ember’s enviable vocal and acoustic guitar skills and evocative songs firmly in focus. Release date is set for the end of this month or the start of July perhaps, and can be picked up from Single Girl Married Girl, or pre-order the 100-copy special edition in handmade art booklets right now (reports are they’re going fast) from Edible Onion. (Disclaimer: we’re friendly and I’ve played some bass for her a couple times. Hell, a lot of artists I write about here are folks I know.)

I’m pretty sure the first time I saw Dylan Sires was this show in Cedar Falls that I had come out to see The Wheelers several years ago. It was at this somewhat scuzzy bar off College Hill that basically never had live music except for maybe once every few years someone would talk them into letting a couple bands play on their dance floor one night, usually on hot summer nights when the students were away like this particular night was. I think the band I saw Dylan fronting that night might have been The Venom Electric. They took me by surprise with the maturity of their pop sensibilities for having popped up out of the blue on this smalltown indie-punk scene with these strangely well developed melodic songs like it weren’t no thang. I think I wound up at a poorly-lit house party in Waterloo afterwards. The whole night was a surreal mix of beauty, curiosity, longing, and mystery, and memorable for its odd mix of friendship and interesting strangers, and various unfamiliar situations. Something about that night stuck with me ever since like a puzzle I was trying to solve.

Later on Dylan joined his cousins, brothers Joel and Harper Sires, in their band The Teddy Boys, expanding their already excellent and well-appreciated four-piece into an unwieldy, raucous, and awesome triple-guitarist/lead-singer/songwriter lineup, while still keeping The Venom Electric going. This was the lineup I got to spend two madly fun-filled weeks in July 2008 as tourmates with while playing bass for Samuel Locke-Ward. All of the Sireses are crazy great songwriters and all-around great dudes, apparently having grown up all obsessively listening to the same Beatles records together and all genetically blessed with spiffy falsettos, but Dylan always stood out a bit for having several of the best tunes, arguably the cleanest vocal chops, and dashing looks besides. I git to hang out with them on a couple other occasions before I came to Des Moines and near as I can tell they just live music constantly. It’s been inspiring to know them, and naturally I was a little bummed out to discover that The Teddy Boys had faded out, with no accompanying news of them being up to any new projects until just recently.

So I was glad to find out that Dylan was back in the game on a solo-artist basis and Long Over is every bit as infectious and urbane and hopeless-romantic as I could have expected, packed with irresistably gooey harmonies, post-Big Star hooks, emotional swells, a couple generous dollops of tropical vibes, colorful instrumentation, and just enough of a seasoning of cool studio effects, fashioned into a set of poignant and cautiously optimistic songs the last couple of which turn a couple shades darker and more ponderous. It’s hard to even highlight specific songs here what with the consistency with which they all hang together, but basically, Dylan’s songs, and this album, feel like that delightfully strange summer night when I first saw him sing. Summer is upon us again and it’s exactly the time you need this album.

Dylan Sires, fronting a power trio rounded out by two former Teddy Boys drummers calling themselves “Dylan Sires and the Neighbors”, popped into Vaudeville Mews on a Tuesday night a few weeks ago and treated a respectable Tuesday night audience to sparse, clean, suavely rocking renditions of a bunch of these songs. They were great and I hope they come back again soon because you should probably go see them.

Meanwhile Joel and Harper, with their new band Twins, a bass-less trio, also visited our fair city, just the night before last, to play at The Gas Lamp. Their thing is a bit grittier and more lackadaisical but every bit as enjoyable, to me anyway. They have no recordings out but if they were to whip together some basement 4-track shit I would put it out as one of my usual small runs of cassette tapes on Centipede Farm Tapes in a minute. Well, once I get a couple more boxes of blank tapes ordered up, and right after the mascara/Consciousness prism split that’s in the works, but yeah, if they read this they can consider that an invitation. Then they could at least have something to sell at gigs.

Sonically inspired by my trip to the Minneapolis Noise Fest, the cassette version of this, of which 12 will be made, has 45 minutes of microcassette recordings made at said fest on side B. I already have plans to send the first 3 tapes to 3 noise artists who were at said fest, and any other who performed there who sees this and contacts me can have one free for the asking. Anyone else who wants one, send me four bucks on PayPal or Dwolla or offer a compelling trade. Or, of course, you can get the download version right now for $0 or best offer.

Samuel Locke Ward/Toby Goodshank split 7″ Three short lo-fi tunes each from two anti-folk heroes. First, Sam’s trademark mix of soaring melodies with dark humor and violent revenge fantasies, accompanied here with violin and saxophone. Actually, it starts out with what seems like a really sweet song, at least at first, “Bliss Blue Skies,” but Sam usually doesn’t sing this sort of thing wthout a slightly exaggerated yet masterful air of sarcasm. “The Top” will definitely stick with you after spinning this record. The flip makes for quite a contrast: Toby Goodshank, who if you’re not familiar with the name came to prominence in The Moldy Peaches, brings a much gentler approach, I would even call it “chill.” The minimally-instrumented songs take you to lazy late-summer bonfire parties on the beach with your best buds, with just enough specks of dark weirdness to keep it relateable. The closer “Virgo Song” especially fits this description and is the laid-back high point of the record.

Dead Milkmen The King In Yellow The heralded return of the Dead Milkmen may not be an unmitigated triumph, at least not in my ears — Joe Jack Talcum’s output outside of this band in 2011 surpasses it in quality for me; it’s taken me a few listens to find what I really like in The King In Yellow — but there is something there.

Mostly, I think the album starts out awkwardly. The first track is a two-parter, beginning with the album’s title song, a surfy guitar instrumental in the vein of classic Dead Milkmen B-side “Vince Lombardi Service Center”, which then segues into a sort of rowdy black-humorous Irish folk number, specifically a cover of Raymond Calvert’s “The Ballad of William Bloat”. Next, in “Fauxhemia”, Rodney Anonymous muses about how he just doesn’t get Norah Jones. Is she still popular? Did he write this song in 2004? I kind of get what he’s expressing — he feels out of touch with his liberal middle-aged peers and their safe, wannabe-intellectual, bourgious Stuff White People Like interests — but the complaint seems nonetheless petty and a bit curmudgeonly, and is grafted incongruously onto a total non-sequitur of a chorus, a wacko rant about a “300-pound psychic baby,” an image that on its own feels rather Dead-Milkmen-by-the-numbers. “She’s Affected” comes off similarly petty — I think we can all point to someone we know that’s like the character he’s describing, but if there’s anything that’s become nearly as tiresome as pretentious twits, it’s people bitching about pretentious twits. In “Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song” Rodney throws a jab at child beauty pageants, disclaiming “yes, I know they’re an easy target.” Well actually, Rodney picks on a whole lot of easy targets on The King In Yellow.

But once you get to or past “Meaningless Upbeat”, which is track 4, the next several songs aren’t half bad. “Hangman” hilariously envisions the traditional kids’ game brought to life as a game show where the contestants literally get hanged, with spooky theremin to boot. “13th Century Boy” is pretty clever and “Commodify Your Dissent” is dead on in its criticism of mass-media’s co-opting of dissidence. “Can’t Relax” is another damn fine Joe Jack tune. There are still a number of lyrical headscratchers and awkwardly dated references; in “Some Young Guy,” Joe Jack’s portrayal of a secretly depraved older man stalking a younger man for eventual murder, the protagonist tells us of his target, “he’s not a rocker, he’s not a mod.” Are there mods and rockers anymore? And if there are, is it realistic for this character to be concerned with them? It’s unclear whether or not “Solvents (For Home and Industry)” is intended with outrage at the chemical industry or just as a funny story or what.

If you’re hoping for another Big Lizard or even Beelzebubba, you might be a bit disappointed in The King In Yellow. None of it’s quite as funny or even just bizarre in the way you might expect from this venerable institution if you’re familiar mainly with their most revered work. You do, however, get the sensationalized portrayals of society in decline and references chosen for shock value tossed loosely about. Loyal fans won’t find anything to turn them off. The King In Yellow aims for a balance of the social commentary the Dead Milkmen tried for in their Hollywood Records period and their distinctive skewed Weekly World News-infected worldview and sense of humor, and doesn’t miss the mark by quite as far as they have at times in the past.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats Blood Lust “I was born a wicked man, no hopes or dreams / I get my kicks from torturing and screams,” explains the harmonzed falsetto, half-buried in the mix, that will lead us through Blood Lust, at its entrance in opening track “I’ll Cut You Down” (following an ambient intro featuring, seemingly apropos of nothing, a TV switching channels). Thus is introduced the album’s central concept, a diaristic account of the doings of a serial killer who imprisons and tortures his exclusively female victims, this story delivered to a heavy retro acid-rock musical setting. This album made a bit of a splash in doom/stoner/retro metal circles in 2011 after coming literally out of nowhere, specifically, a backwoods England sort of nowhere, leaving the band and associates scrambling to fill unexpected demand from the small pressing. It was recorded on an old tape machine in a crumbling old barn and it sounds that way, all blown-out and in the red. In digital format this lends the charm of a scratchy old record played on your old turntable, but I have to wonder whether it’s even listenable on vinyl for people with less than high-end gear. At a few points the songs feel a bit samey, relying heavily on that swingy acid-blues rhythm, so that it can be hard to remember just which track some of its many memorable hooks actually came from, but those hooks are definitely there and will find you at later moments. Everything grooves hard and feature some seriously badass guitar riffs and leads and several very tasteful uses of keyboards. It’s not hard to see why this made a few year-end lists.

Admiral Browning Battle Stations Uh-oh, instrumental prog-metal jams with fusiony jazz inflections. But Admiral Browning emphasize texture, mood, melody, and badass riffs rather than wankery, yet the agile playing still impresses. This jams hard, has a lot going for it, and pretty cool cover design too. Very cool.

Captain Three Leg Monkey and the Blue Jay EP One of C3L’s many interesting diversions from grindcore. The homebrew recording M.O. of Andy Koettel and crew, and the rawness of some of the musicianship involved, gives these diversions a charming amateurism that’s an enjoyable quality in this set of three goofy ramblin’ blues-rock tunes. Probably not essential, but good fun, and fuck it, it’s free.

Pennyhawk Another Layer By now this release is rendered obsolete by the recently released Sisterbones which includes at least some, if not all, of these songs (possibly same recordings even). This material definitely deserved a slicker presentation when these CD-Rs surfaced because Kate Kennedy’s folkishly inclined songs and wisecracking lyrics are more than good enough to keep up with the Ames boys she’s usually found in proximity to.

The one time I met Twelve Canons main-man Jim DuRocher in person, I was in Iowa City to play trumpet as part of a dozen-piece all-star lineup backing up Samuel Locke-Ward for a set for the 2008 Mission Creek Festival. The lineup included Rachel Feldmann (Lipstick Homicide) on double bass, Ross Meyer (Rusty Buckets) and Grace Locke-Ward on drums, Alex Body on keyboards, sax-man Pete Balistrieri, Brian Boelman on trombone, and some other folks I hardly know, plus Sam of course, and Jim, who played one of those long-necked banjos that looks like it’s supposed to have a dancing skeleton playing it. We’d had a couple rehersals before that but I didn’t recall seeing Jim at those. As we drove ’round to Jim’s apartment to pick him up, Sam kept telling me, “you’ve got to get some stuff from Jim’s band Twelve Canons, it is awesome.” And indeed they ended up hooking me up with copies of the Volume One/Volume Two and Volume Three: Holy, Holy, Holy CD-Rs. Back at Sam’s place a bunch of us pitched in cutting out and assembling CD-R covers for Sam’s merch. Jim found a bottle of whiskey in a cupboard and invited me to join him in a drink or three. We probably polished off the bottle, and got to chatting. I got hyper-drunk-mouth and ended up later outside the gig trying to convince Jim that he had formerly lived in Cedar Falls because I thought he looked really familiar. He didn’t recall having lived there, and in fact he probably never did, but I think I had him wondering. Anyway, it’s a good memory, I really liked the guy and really liked the Twelve Canons stuff once I got back home and gave it a listen. I ended up keeping up on Twelve Canons, a project established for the purpose of making “evil, evil folk music,” via the internet.

Jim DuRocher’s creaky vocals and nimble fingerpicked banjo or nylon-string classical guitar, perfectly suit the creepy themes of his lyrics. Twelve Canons songs conjure a dark, disturbing, haunted world and then pull you into it. One would be justified in being concerned about what’s inside Jim’s head. I had caught rumors here and there that he tended to drink over-much and moved from one living arrangement to another as he got thrown out of them, but when I heard a couple years later that he was in a mental institution, I actually wondered for a moment to what degree it might have been a bit of either artistic stunt or method-acting on his part. A video surfaced on YouTube of Jim performing his scary songs solo for an audience of his co-residents at the facility he was in, who are hidden in the video by large black rectangles at the bottom of the frame. “This song is about my favorite hallucination, the DT’s,” he introduces one paticular number. It’s a great document of his live performing style.

The man does have real issues, though they mainly have to do with the intense hold alcohol has on him. He has since moved among a few different facilities in Iowa, but this hasn’t stopped him from making another album with the help of an old friend from Des Moines, Justin Norman. (I didn’t even know Jim was originally from Des Moines until I read the recent Cityview article.) That album, Volume Four: Sacrifice is the first Twelve Canons release to sport a pressed disc and a glossy full-color cover.

The difference in format and packaging is matched in production. Where Volume One/Volume Two and Volume Three: Holy, Holy, Holy sounded clean but homemade, probably recorded live in somebody’s living room with Jim, Sam Gold on violin, Alex Body on keyboards and the occasional saxophone or recorder, and possibly one or two others seemingly all gathered ’round the microphones playing and singing together, Sacrifice places Jim and his guitar in front of lush, impressively detailed, but nonetheless entirely computer-constructed orchestra-in-a-box arrangements by Norman, who besides composition and sequencing is credited with bass guitar and some vocals. This has to be at least in part by necessity, as Jim can’t very well invite a group of buddies over to the institution for a jam session.

It’s quite impressive what Norman is able to do with sequencing — you hear pianos, strings, woodwinds, organs, harpsichords, bells, various sound effects and bits of percussion, all rendered realistically enough to be comparable to what admittedly little I’ve heard of Chad O’Neal’s Left Is West stuff, adding drama at almost every conceivable moment with dynamic swells, though occasionally Norman has enough sense to just let Jim and his guitar speak for themselves for a few seconds. Still the production values are a bit of a double-edged sword: the professional recording quality reveals the striking beauty of Jim’s guitar playing, but in comparison to the grittier early works, the perfect cinemascope sound and “performance” of the arrangements can come off a bit Tim Burton, especially on “High Ho”, a song about murderous hallucinatory gnomes coming after children.

It could be the clearer recording of Jim’s voice lifting a veil of mystery over the lyrics, it could be trying to compensate for the gloss, but it seems as if Jim is going for a bit less subtlety in these songs. Heck, the first line out of his mouth on the album is “let me kill you.” About as blunt and to the point as it gets. This amplifies the disturbing factor of the songs to an almost painful extent by refusing to shroud their meaning in too much abstraction, especially when it comes to the kinds of themes explored in the lecherous depravity of “Goddess Of Love”, the kidnapping tale “No Getting Out”, and especially “Daddy Longlegs”, wherein the protagonist extols the love of an incestuous father who apparently is the Devil himself. “When the Spirits Leave Me” addresses Jim’s alcoholism directly and is probably (hopefully?) the most personal song on the album, and a surprising but welcome moment of tenderness is found in the form of the two-part “The Spirit of Pregnancy and You In the Nude.”

Justin Norman marshals swirling sounds and voices into playing the part of the darkness that encroaches and closes in through the final trio of songs, beginning with a look back at better times in “Those Were the Days”, and by the end of “I Guess It’s True What They Say”, all hope is gone, crushed. In reality though, the album shows quite a lot of hope for Jim, since the fact that it exists at all is testament to his unwillingness to let his circumstances get him down or stop him from doing what he is driven to do, which is to create some of the darkest songs ever conceived. With some of his most harrowing writing yet given the most realized and accessible treatment his work has ever had in recorded form, Volume Four: Sacrifice has high hopes of drawing as many curious new visitors as possible into Jim DuRocher’s dark world.