Dave Cleans Out His Inbox Vol. 1 feat: Annalibera, The Wheelers, Little Ruckus, and New Member Charles

I started this blog a year and change ago with the idea that I would talk about the world of music, and some Iowa stuff. I kind of segued that into Iowa stuff, mainly because very few people gave a damn what I thought about things outside of Iowa. It has since segued further into a music themed blog where I vent my own neuroses. I kind of like what I have written here lately, but I have seemingly left behind a lot of what I set out to do with this blog originally. I guess this is a long winded way of saying I have been a little up my own ass for this last year and less up Iowa music’s ass.

I have been trying to keep up with my Des Moines Is Not Boring stuff, but I try not to cover the same band twice with that column. Since I have fallen behind on some stuff I wanted to review, and it would break a rule that I have done fairly well of keeping (Parlours and Maxilla are the only two featured bands I have done twice and Maxilla was as BumRap, so I think that counts as two different bands. So, just Parlours). Here, in one big blast, I will attempt to clean up some stuff I have missed. Plus, I have been slightly under the weather today, so this seems like a perfect lay on the couch activity.

Annalibera – EP

Annalibera has been a bit of a startling revelation on the Iowa scene in 2013. Beautiful voices, heavenly instrumentals and a ghostly vibe, Annalibera has gotten a lot of push from a lot of people for an important reason: they’re very good.

On their three song EP, Annalibera gives us a taste of what the band has to offer, and a glimpse of what could be in the future. From the live shows I have attended, they seem to have picked the three songs that stuck with me the most. “Clouds” is a beautiful duet with Ryan Stier of River Monks fame and lead singer Anna Gebhart that has hints of post-punk and new wave. I, however, think the next two tracks are going to have a serious fistfight for my favorite track of the year.

I am a crier. I cry. It happens. I am not ashamed of my visceral reactions to things. I was engrossed in “Vermillion” the first time I heard it live, and recorded, it loses nothing. I could actually feel myself choke up a bit from the beauty. Gebhart’s voice is perfect, the instrumentals are perfect. Its beautiful.

Somehow, despite “Vermillion” just wrecking me, “Battle World” might be a better song. It is slightly less subtle but the guitar work is stronger. It feels like “Battle World” is the single, and “Vermillion” is the song the deeper fans like. Like when you go to an, I dunno, Green Day concert and people pop for “Longview” but a small group of people lose their heads for “Going to Pasalacqua”. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but you’ll have to excuse me, I don’t feel well and I’ve been crying.

The Wheelers – The Wheelers

The first time I reviewed The Wheelers, I said that they were a lot more contemporary band than the 90’s bands they pointed towards as their influences. On their first full-length album, The Wheelers decided to prove me wrong by doing their best Nirvana impression. I should put best in bold…hang on… their BEST Nirvana impression. This album is truly an incredible throwback to those who listened to Nevermind and decided their favorite tracks were “Lounge Act” and “Territorial Pissings”. It is dirty and filthy and grimy and beautiful all at once. There is no wasted notes or vocal chords left unstrained. Just an incredible amount of passion and noise that I couldn’t help but listen to it three or four times in a row.

Little Ruckus – American Confetti

I have been a rather vocal supporter of Little Ruckus, and with good reason. He is chaos and control all at once. He is charming and optimistic and hard to hate, and uses his powers for good, I think. His first two albums are amongst my favorites. What I like best about those two is they seem like part one and part two of a story. Part one, We Love Evil, seems to introduce you to a guy you think is a little bit of a troublemaker, but who also wears his heart on his sleeve. The boy from the wrong side of the tracks you find yourself becoming enamored with. Part two, Tank Girl vs. Cape Girl, makes you realize you’re dealing with a someone special and someone who believes in himself and in you. So while his heart is on his sleeve, he does so because he really wants to be your friend.

American Confetti is part three. It is the celebration Little Ruckus throws you now that you’re friends. It is loud and quick and sample heavy (Dire Straits, X-Files, Britney Spears and so many more). It sneaks in the Star-Spangled Banner in the middle. It is a lot more instrumental than the prior two. Standalone, I didn’t like this album as much as the other two, but as part of an ever evolving story with Little Ruckus, it is an important and necessary step. If all he talks about is sweating and dancing, then when it comes time to sweat and dance it better be a chaotic mess of dance and sweat and this is that dance party. The usual Little Rucks stuff is in there, as is his ever present Sandwich Eating Crew, but this is certainly another step in the narrative. It makes me wonder what’s next and if maybe I am writing this story myself, or if that’s what is intended.

New Member Charles – Spooky Batches

So, I know I haven’t really spoke of New Member Charles before, but I figured four seems like a good number for Volume 1 of what may be a multiple volume series (or may just be a one volume series; I’m tricky like that). New Member Charles is fun alt-pop-rock. But it is a different type of fun than say Poison Control Center. While PCC and NMC share some similar sounds, NMC seems to be a little more mischievous. Like, where PCC sings songs about love, NMC might sing songs about blowing up mailboxes (I don’t know if they have a song about blowing up mailboxes, but it seems like they could). For instance, “Boner Party” sounds a lot like PCC, however I don’t feel like they would have a running lyric of “Fuck! Shit!”, or would they call a song “Boner Party”. They might have a song like “Rubens Paul”, but even with that one NMC brings their own panache. Like a refrain of just shouting “Cat murder!” (at least I think that’s what they’re yelling. Man, I hope that’s what they’re yelling) So yeah, it’s pretty stupid and adolescent.

But you know what? Spooky Batches holds its own. It isn’t a gimmick, it’s just silly and fun and a good way to remind yourself that art doesn’t always have to be super-serious. Like, I don’t think a NMC song is ever going to make me cry, but I’m sure it will make me laugh. Hell, “Boner Party’s” line of “Fuck! Shit! Let’s get a pizza!” get’s me every time. And that’s great that an album can make you feel okay with juvenile thoughts while also bringing excellent instrumentals and fun.

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Just Family Stuff: The 2013 80/35 Festival

The only pic I took this weekend was from Wavves set. I cashed in a favor to get backstage to see them. I left halfway through one song because its more fun to be out front.

The only pic I took this weekend was from Wavves set. I cashed in a favor to get backstage to see them. I left halfway through one song because its more fun to be out front.

Jeff Jarrett is a professional wrestler of some acclaim. He was actually an above average talent, but lots of learned people (yes you can be learned about pro wrasslin’) absolutely hated. Not in a “boo, you’re a bad guy way” (because if more people did that, he’d likely be more famous), but in a “gee, that guy is boring and I don’t feel like watching him” way. He was a world champion during WCW’s dying days, was fired from WWE on live television (For real, not storyline. Well sort of, but I will spare you the story) and started his own semi-big league organization, the often laughable but occasionally great TNA (that name is not one of their occasionally great things). I was always a fan of his because he did some great work and was often more interesting a performer than people were willing to credit, but as people who read my work often can attest, I am not always the most critical and often find things entertaining that others don’t (see: Pryde, Kitty). So while he’s not exactly a wrestling legend on par with the Stone Colds and Hulk Hogans of the world or anything, I have always been a fan. Jeff Jarrett also has maybe my favorite quote ever about his so-called sport. In an A&E Documentary that came out 15 years ago or so, he was asked why there are so many die hard fans of wrestling, and why there are so many who would be so quick to deride it. His response was (and I may be slightly paraphrasing):

“To those who love it, no explanation is needed. To those who don’t, no explanation is acceptable.”

I had been thinking about this quote for a bit in regards to 80/35. There seems to be some backlash and anger towards the event, most of it directed at the events organizers, The Greater Des Moines Music Coalition. The detractors say that DMMC could do more to ingratiate themselves into other aspects of our scene; away from just indie music or the people they’re comfortable with. They say that a lot of the same bands are repeatedly given a shot at exposure, while many others are ignored. They say that friends and confidants are helped more than they should be, in compared to the array of talent this town has. I honestly think that some of these are solid talking points and are worth further discussion (I also think some are slightly overblown). I had a long conversation with my friend Chad on that subject, where he took the side of those asking the those questions and I took the side of trying to answer them, even if we, in all reality, sit closer to the middle. But while I found myself nodding along with some of his points, I was always quick to have the back of the festival, itself.

Where I get lost in this whole discussion is that because of the perceived flaws of the DMMC, it means 80/35 is an event that is not beneficial to our community and should be flamed and ignored. That you can’t love the event, warts and all, without offending their sensibilities. It’s as if battle lines are clearly drawn, and you’re either with or against. As often with this world, it isn’t that cut and dry. I think people who hate this event, no explanation is acceptable. To those who love it, no explanation is needed. But, I’m going to do my best to offer an explanation as to why I love it.

Musically, I am unabashedly pro 80/35 and always will be. I think that this event, now in its 6th year, is what it is. It is a festival that helps the community, that uses a ton of local talent, not just on stage but also behind the scenes, and it makes bands who normally wouldn’t come to Des Moines start looking closer at our town. It probably will never be a fest for fans of metal. It will likely never be an event that everyone can agree on. But, again, at year six, I think we all know what we can expect. I don’t go to Lazerfest and get mad that Deerhunter isn’t playing or The Big Country Bash and wonder where the hell Maxilla Blue is, because I know what those events stand for. Could 80/35 bring in other genres or bring to light some metal acts? Maybe. Could there be more mainstream pop or modern country? Possibly. But I think at this point in time, we know what 80/35 stands for, warts and all. And simply enough, I like this event because it is mainly the type of music I like listening to. We are far enough down the timeline that we know what 80/35 is, musically, and may always be.

But there is more to it than just my choice in music. This event feels like home to me now. I walked down the streets and constantly saw people I know and not just know, but people who are happy to see me, even if it’s just for a quick hug or high five on our way to different stages. I mentioned this in the previous post on this site, but just getting to chat with people I don’t see as often as I should, or meet and get to know people who I have just a passing familiarity with is a big deal to me right now. Those five or so blocks one weekend out of every year all feels like home to me. I go to a stage and hear a band I love and it feels right to me. I pop in on a vendor or get some food and they’re all super nice and I overflow with civic pride. I see friends, nay, family that I love at every turn, and I just can’t ask for more.

This is an event I brought my three year old daughter and two month old son to (yes, they had ear protection) and let them enjoy the area without fear of them tripping over someone already too drunk to stand at 1pm or overly rude people. She listened to music, and played in the water, and got into a squirt gun fight in the kids zone with some awesome volunteers and ice cold water. She ate pizza. She met other kids doing the same thing. He mostly slept. It was very cool. My wife and I discussed how awesome it is going to be when they grow up and start making up their own minds on things and maybe we get to share these experiences on a whole other level. I can only hope that they want to come to this with their old man, and I get to have an experience like my friend Anne did when she hung out with her daughter and partied to Trouble Lights. I was happy to have two generations of Murphys present, but I can’t imagine how Anne felt to have her daughter be into the same things she’s into. It is my most selfish dream as a parent to be friends with my kid once we’re adults, so I felt like family just getting to share in Anne’s joy and dream about that for myself.

This was an event I was also happy to use to re-introduce this city to someone who maybe didn’t realize what it had become. My cousin and her boyfriend had just moved back from Minnesota, or in his case had just moved here for the first time ever. Having just moved back, money is tight and they were looking for something inexpensive to do. I couldn’t think of a better place than 80/35. We bounced back and forth between stages, catching bands like Water Liars and SP3. My cousin is an awesome young woman, who seems to have a great guy, so I was eager to show them what Iowa has to offer. I literally couldn’t think of a better event to show off the town. They got to be frugal, they got to have fun and I got to hang out with more of my family. I hope they had a great time, and I hope the opportunity comes where we can do it again. I hope they grow to love this city, and it loves them back.

Good families make you feel comfortable and for a lot of people, this festival is comfort. It is that cozy, familial feeling that helped give Mumford’s Nate Logsdon chutzpah enough to pop the question to his girlfriend, Trouble Lights’ Adrien Daller, live and on stage. An event where David Byrne felt comfortable enough to just wander around town, and not worry about being hounded. An event where a band on the brink of a breakout, like Dylan Sires and Neighbors, Tires or HD Harmsen or even veterans like House of Large Sizes can plan one of their best shows in front of strong crowds and do what they do best and either continue to be or grow to be respected and accepted.

I struggled for a bit to find an angle for this review, because as some may know, I don’t just like talking about the music and that’s it. I like doing a sort of “Bart’s People” thing with a lot of these pieces and talk more what it means to be human and not just what it means to be a music critic. I wanted to talk about how I thought this was the best year for hip hop in the six years its been running. Or how with St. Vincent, Prissy Clerks, Escondido, Annalibera, Trouble Lights and so many more, that this was a great year for women. But I couldn’t find the right way without just saying those things. Hell, re-reading this, I realized that I didn’t talk at all about how the bands were musically other than some passing platitudes. After putting my thoughts on the back burner, I took a break and ran into another of my friends, Anna, while waiting for Wu Tang. I tried to share some unsubstantiated rumors regarding Wu Tang with Anna (because I was waiting slightly impatiently for them to come on). She replied with simply, “Man, that just sounds like family stuff to me. They’ll be fine.” Then Wu Tang showed up (fashionably late, but they did show up) and absolutely killed with Method Man (a guy at the center of a lot of rumors) looking less like a man twenty years removed from their debut album and maybe tiring of it all and more like a man happy to be doing what he was doing and supporting his brothers. Because when you’re a family, like Wu Tang, the Murphys or 80/35, you love them, warts and all. And no explanation is needed as to why you would do so.