Review: Twins – Tomboys on Parade

Want to know a random thing that sucks about getting old? The oldies stations stop being oldies stations and start being “play shit from when I was a child”. Soon, it’s going to get into “play stuff from albums that I bought the day they came out”. It will be sad when it hits “play stuff from albums I actively avoided when I was in my twenties”.

But it isn’t just the constant reminder of the ever depressing march of time. I really liked when the oldies station was hits from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s because a lot of that is just perfect music. Quick songs, simple chords, and a ton to say, or at minimum something enjoyable to say. Nowadays, it is harder to find a station that’ll play Everly Brothers or Ricky Nelson or British Invasion bands except for The Who, Beatles and Stones (and even with those, you get a choice of about seven total songs, and one of them is “Who Are You”). A station where maybe Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” was the most recent song in their catalogue. I mean, I get that we live in an age where pretty much anything is available at our fingertips, but sometimes it’s nice to flip on the dial and let the radio do it’s business.

I talked a lot about this in my review of their previous album Funny Faces, but Twins really fills that niche perfectly. This album is a fine follow up to Faces. They manage to take that same aesthetic, and almost crank it up a notch. I don’t know if it’s because this is their first time on vinyl (at least I think it is) but they really channel their inner KIOA. Its a quick and sweet album. They’re romantics and they’re occasional jokesters, but in more of a finger-wagging, boys-will-be-boys way.

That may sound a bit like a dis, but believe me it isn’t. Being a throwback doesn’t mean you don’t have something new to say. There are tracks that use older production and presentation, but still manage to sound like a modern indie song. I guess it speaks to how much modern power pop really just pulls from the legends. Twins wears their influences like a badge of honor.

In keeping with the tradition of three minute pop-rock songs, I will just get to the point. This is just about as easy to listen to an album that I’ve ever heard. It is simple and beautiful and powerful and is perfect for everyone, both young and old.

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Review: Har Mar Superstar w/ Gloom Balloon and MAIDS – Des Moines Social Club 4/5/14

Har Mar Superstar. Photo by Joe Crimmings.

Har Mar Superstar. Photo by Joe Crimmings.

The best parties are the ones where you’re comfortable in your surroundings. Where you can let go of your image concerns and just have as much fun as possible. After I left the show, I ended up at a little Irish bar close to my house. Being unemployed, I generally only leave the house three or four times a week now, and usually only for about an hour at a time. Given the go ahead to take in this show by my wife, I slightly abused her permission just for the change in scenery, even if that scenery was just poorly lit and smelling of spilled beer and popcorn.

When I arrived at the bar, I sat down and ordered my usual Jameson on the rocks and looked up to catch the score of the second Final Four game between Wisconsin and Kentucky. Over in the corner, tables had been moved and a makeshift dance floor had sprung up, with several people dancing to Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie”. To my right three guys in suits were waiting for shots. The bartender poured three shots of Macallan 12, not a bad choice, but these were grown men who should’ve known better than to take a shot of a solid scotch. Then he poured in Frangelico and Drambuie. Intrigued, I butted in and asked just what the hell they thought they were doing to such a decent scotch and why they didn’t just drink like a grownup. Okay, I didn’t quite put it like that.

“Yeah, we are kind of destroying it, aren’t we. I mean we could just use regular scotch, but The Macallan just tastes the best.” one of the suited men said. He was probably near my age, mid-thirties. He was a little barrel of a man with wire framed glasses and thinning hair. His suit was nice, but a little wrinkled, like he had been sitting on the jacket for an extended period of time. He smiled a huge smile and put his arm around my shoulders, “You know, what the groom wants, tonight, he gets.” He gestured over to a guy in a black tux jacket, with his shirt halfway undone and a and untied tie draped around his neck. Standing next to him was his bride in a form fitting white gown and slight train. They were both a little older, and maybe it was a second wedding for each. Which would make sense that they just had a reception at their favorite bar. They looked really happy. Drunk, sure, but also really happy. Here they were, surrounded by family, everyone is laughing, dancing and at that moment, they had absolutely zero cares. It took me actually seeing the bride and groom to realize that everyone was having the time of their lives and that I had straight crashed a wedding reception.

I excused myself to the suited men and apologized for intruding. He kept his arm around me and sat me back down.

“Hey, stay! It’s cool. We’re all friends!” I’m not sure if he had the authority to do that. He slapped me on the back, a little bit harder than he probably intended and I raised my glass to him as the left with their despicable concoction. Looking around, there were people dancing, drinking, talking, even some singing when a song with lyrics came on. They all were having a blast. So much so, that they didn’t care that there was a dude drinking by himself in a black hoodie while all the revelry was going on.

Har Mar Superstar, Gloom Balloon and MAIDS all sort of fit this wedding reception aesthetic perfectly. The music these guys make is fun to dance to, sure, but it is more the reckless abandon in which they present themselves and their art. That’s the beauty of a wedding reception, you’re allowed to let loose, because this is family, these are friends and they’re all people who aren’t going to judge and are probably behaving the same way. All three of these acts give you the same feelings, whether it’s through presentation, charisma, music or all three.

With Har Mar Superstar and Gloom Balloon, part of it is that these guys are just so charismatic and unflinching. They both force you to believe in them and their art. Gloom Balloon is such an avant-garde presentation that sometimes you need that charisma just to not get lost in the weirdness of the video projections and samples. He forces you to believe in what he is saying and, most importantly, how he chooses to say it. His antics are so over the top and his charisma is such a force of nature, that you buy into it all.

This was the first time I have seen him perform since I listened to the album. Knowing how deep and emotional the songs were for Patrick Tape Fleming and what the lyrics have to say, to see people laughing at him spinning around and dancing and, uh, stabbing himself in the face with a screwdriver, I felt like it kind of took away from the emotional impact. However, the most interesting part of Gloom Balloon can be the dichotomy of the music versus the lyrics, the performance art aspect adds a whole other layer.

MAIDS are charismatic, sure, but they’re both subdued performers. They aren’t whirlwinds like Gloom Balloon or dynamos like Har Mar Superstar. The music is just so good, that you find yourself getting lost in the art, not necessarily the artists. The video projection of Mickey Davis and Danny Heggen’s silhouettes filled with lights, lines and letters mixed with the disco beats act just as well to get you in the mood and remind you that it is okay to dance in public. They ended with a new track, “Takes a Little Magic”, that might be the best new song I have heard this year by anyone in any genre from anywhere.

Har Mar Superstar musically was everything I expected. His backing band sounded awesome (I should note that everyone sounded great. The theater at Des Moines Social Club compacts the sound in a great way and the production was incredible). His performance, though, was way more captivating than imagined. He is a short, balding, chubby guy from Minnesota, and yet he has this animal magnetism and sex appeal that I just didn’t expect. I mean, I had heard tales of how he likes to get down to his briefs at shows (he only went topless on this occasion. His various layers on top all were peeled away, but his pants stayed on) but I sort of thought is was a performance choice, not one that made the audience go “whooo!” like he was a Chippendale. And yet, there he was, bumping and grinding and seducing despite the fact that he looked more like a sandwich artist than an R&B icon.

His songs are funky and his dance moves are great, but it is the whole package that really sells this. He is so unassuming, and yet he just pours confidence. So much so that audience members can’t help but be sucked in. His confidence makes others confident and his live shows are such a joyous party that no one feels like they don’t belong or that they can’t have the time of their lives. I almost feel bad even describing his looks in a slightly negative way, because honestly, when he performs it just doesn’t matter.

Seriously, that’s the key to having a good time, I think. Realize what doesn’t matter and disregard it and treat everyday like a wedding reception.