Make a Mixtape, It Always Helps- 80/35 Music Festival 2014

Chris Ford and Patrick Tape Fleming of Gloom Balloon

Chris Ford and Patrick Tape Fleming of Gloom Balloon

I almost bought into it. I did. I dunno if it is my natural depression, my often weirdly intense paranoia or the fact that I spend too much time on the internet, but the somewhat harsh outcry and the excruciating six week wait between band announcements and I almost caved into a thought that I just wouldn’t like this year’s 80/35, or maybe even worse, I nearly became apathetic to it. I knew I would go, and all the good things about the festival that I have spoke of the last two years were going to happen: the community building, the resume building, the memory building would all be there. But would I care? Continue reading


80/35 Schedule – Let’s Fight the Conflicts Together

(Here is The River Monks video for “I Am A Lake” shot by the good people at DEFT.)

Last week 80/35 released their schedule. When I first read it, it seemed kind of cut and dry as to which shows I would go to, so I didn’t think the column would be necessary. But now that I have actually sat down to officially plan out my schedule, it turns out there are a few absolutely brutal conflicts. So, let’s power through this together.

Don’t have tickets to 80/35, yet? How dare you.

If you do decide to head down and just go to the free stages (which I would support because those stages are awesome), please buy your beer there and maybe an 80/35 t-shirt. Or even just donate $10 to the Greater Des Moines Music Coalition. They are a non-profit, afterall, and I would like them to continue doing this each year.

Here is the full schedule, in chronological order, for your reference. 80/35 also has an app you can download if your phone is not a bunch of garbage (Incidentally, a solid fuck off to US Cellular for changing the date of my eligibility and destroying their phone pricing model, but I’m digressing) (MS – Main Stage, KG – Kum and Go Stage, HV – Hy Vee Stage)


12:00 p.m. Brother Trucker -MS
12:00 p.m. Quick Piss –KG
12:00 p.m. M34n Str33t HV
12:45 p.m. Fury Things – KG
1:00 p.m. Fire Sale HV
1:30 p.m. Gloom Balloon – MS
1:45 p.m. Chicago Farmer – KG
2:00 p.m. TWINS HV
2:45 p.m. TREE – KG
3:15 p.m. Dawes – MS
3:00 p.m. Cirrus Minor HV
3:45 p.m. Circle of Heat – KG
4:00 p.m. Bonne Finken HV
4:45 p.m. Black Diet – KG
5:00 p.m. Best Coast – MS
5:00 p.m. GoodcaT HV
5:45 p.m. Pert Near Sandstone – KG
6:00 p.m. MAIDS HV
6:45 p.m. The Hooten Hallers – KG
6:45 p.m. Ziggy Marley – MS
7:00 p.m. Max Jury HV
8:00 p.m. Surfer Blood – KG
8:00 p.m. The River Monks HV
9:00 p.m. Conor Oberst – MS


12:00 p.m. Boy & Bear MS
12:00 p.m. Dat Dude Biggz KG
12:00 p.m. Volcano Boys HV
12:45 p.m. Har-di-Har KG
1:00 p.m. Zeta June HV
1:45 p.m. Soap KG
1:45 p.m. Raz Simone MS
2:00 p.m. Foxholes HV
2:45 p.m. Shy Boys KG
3:00 p.m. Kris Adams HV
3:15 p.m. The Envy Corps MS
3:45 p.m. Useful Jenkins KG
4:00 p.m. James Biehn HV
4:45 p.m. The Whigs KG
5:00 p.m. Parlours HV
5:00 p.m. Xavier Rudd MS
5:45 p.m. Caroline Smith KG
6:00 p.m. Aquamarine Dream Machine HV
6:45 p.m. King Fantastic KG
7:00 p.m. Holy White Hounds HV
7:00 p.m. Dr. Dog MS
8:00 p.m. Those Darlins KG
8:00 p.m. The Maytags HV
9:00 p.m. Cake MS

(I didn’t include the late night shows because sadly, I will not be in attendance for them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, if that’s what you desire.)

So let’s talk this out, and maybe we can figure this out together. It will be okay. It will all be okay.

M34N STR33T vs Brother Trucker vs Quick Piss – July 4 Noon

The festival kicks off with three quality bands in three different genres. M34N STR33T is a hip hop act from Omaha, Quick Piss is grimy punk and Brother Trucker is good old-fashioned rock and roll. I really like all three, but I sort of feel like I can see some version of Brother Trucker a lot this summer, so if its a three way tie, sadly they’re probably out. The remaining two are super unique and I’m having a tough time picking. I would really like to see the show with the full projection art, though, and I worry that at noon, M34N STR33T aren’t going to have that element. But Quick Piss is playing an aftershow with Surfer Blood that I hope I can go to. It’s a tough call.

WINNER – Quick Piss

Surfer Blood vs The River Monks – July 4 8pm

Three months ago and this is a no brainer. Surfer Blood are awesome and they rarely come through here, if ever. The River Monks are a local, and they get gigs, so I could miss them and not fret. It’s just that River Monks put out the album that I am listening to more than any other right now, and I sort of feel I should see them play stuff off of it. Again, Surfer Blood is playing an aftershow, so I could conceivably just go to that, but I really like Surfer Blood. Guh, this one is going to hurt.

WINNER – Surfer Blood

Raz Simone vs Foxholes – July 5 145/2pm

The hip-hop acts have all been revelations this year. TREE, King Fantastic, Dat Dude Biggz, Kris Adams and M34N STR33T all have a ton of ability. The best of the bunch might be Raz Simone, a no-nonsense writer who speaks from the heart and from the soul. Foxholes have been a revelation themselves, bursting onto the scene with a riff and a yell. Maybe the toughest call of the fest and one I will probably catch a little of both. If I have to choose one, though, I think I know which way to go.

WINNER – Foxholes

The Whigs vs Xavier Rudd – July 5 454/5pm

I normally wouldn’t be that into a guy who appeals to the jam crowd, but Xavier Rudd is different. His sound is so unique and his live show sounds incredible due to the sheer amount of instruments and sounds he makes by himself. The Whigs are getting a lot of press and they have this classic rock grind to them that makes them special. Solid choice either way.

WINNER – Xavier Rudd

King Fantastic vs Dr. Dog vs Holy White Hounds – July 5 645/7pm

Three tough choices. I will probably catch the first few minutes of King Fantastic, so that may suffice, but they are so good. At 7 both Holy White Hounds and Dr. Dog play. Every Dr. Dog song I have heard I have liked, but Holy White Hounds are really putting together an awesome live show. I regret missing their turn at GDP, so I may have to rectify that here. The problem with the whole national vs local is that the locals really go all out for 80/35, so you can’t always just say “I will catch them another time” because another time won’t be as special. This feels like a set that is going to be special. Fuck it, going with my gut.

WINNER – Dr. Dog

So Friday looks like: Quick Piss, Fury Things, Gloom Balloon, TWINS, TREE, Dawes, Bonne Finken, Best Coast, Maids, Ziggy Marley, Surfer Blood, Conor Oberst

And for Saturday: Boy & Bear, Har-di-Har, Raz Simone, Foxholes, Envy Corps, James Biehn, The Whigs, Xavier Rudd, Caroline Smith, King Fantastic, Dr. Dog, Those Darlins, Cake

Best laid plans and all that, though, right? We will see where the days take me in just under two weeks.

Review: Emily Reo, Tires, Cuddle Formation and Ramona Muse @ Des Moines Social Club

2014-06-21 20.27.45

That’s a wallet I bought from Cuddle Formation. It’s pink and has stars. On the inside is scrawled “Balance: LOL” and “PIN: 6969420”. This is my wallet now. The one I use everyday to house my driver’s license and health insurance card and such is pink and has stars and says “Balance: LOL”. I threw away my brown leather wallet and transferred all of my identification and other personal effects into this wallet. I am almost 34 years old.

I have a problem where I forget just how old I am. This has been a long-standing issue where I don’t realize just how a person of my age and responsibilities should behave. In my teens, I still collected toys. In my twenties I worried and fretted about what people I went to high school thought about me. Now, I often forget that I am in my thirties with two kids and no job. Time just moves quicker than I realize.

Here is the thing about mental age: the rest of the world just keeps right on spinning. Time refuses to stand still, even if you do. People change and expect you to have done the same. People get older, sometimes they pass, and as you age you have to realize that more and more of the people you grew up with are gone, if not physically then they are different people than they were, and you probably should grow, too. Your possessions increase and so do your responsibilities, which then means that your possessions need to change to match your responsibilities and if you remain attached to things to showcase your youth while also trying to match your responsibilities you suddenly have a house full of crap you don’t really need. Even if you want to pretend you’re still 22, the rest of the world expects you to be 34. There are certain expectations of what a mid-thirties father should probably be. He should be working towards something, and should be well on his way to getting there. He should already have a moderate amount of success and should be parlaying that success into even more success so his family doesn’t have want or need.

That’s the dream, right? Or at least that’s my dream. To be as aged as the rest of the world sees me and needs me to be so my family can always be taken care of. I suppose the real dream is that the world just leaves me be and I can somehow co-exist with what I want to be and what I have to be to make sure my family is always taken care of, but the sad reality is that you need to have some sort of conformity. I need to give up the some of the trappings of youth and just get with the program. To grow and understand just what my position in life should be, but I often fall back into the trap of immaturity. I feel like once I realize that I am an adult and also how to be an adult I can then go be an adult.

It’s thoughts like that that lead you to going to shows with the fight of being in your thirties but wanting to behave like you’re in your mid-twenties. You overcompensate. You go with the thought that you can experience art, but you end up networking. You go with the idea that you can write things like:

“Cuddle Formation has a sound that differs from their band name. To me, I expected bouncy, peppy and happy. Maybe even cartoony. But it turns out it is weird, ambient and slightly dark. Also, beautiful as Cuddle Formation plays with noise, sound and light in a way that brings out a pulchritude that you wouldn’t expect. Maybe just an appreciation and joy of beauty that can bring people together. Maybe they’ll even embrace because of it. Huh, I guess Cuddle Formation is apt, afterall.”

And actually get swept up in that thought and not just write it. (It’s true, by the way.)

Instead, you spend a whole lot of time analyzing why you’re there and not trying to find a job and being insular when you should appreciate what you have in front of you. You end up envying Ramona Muse because of the freedom and confidence she exudes and then almost cursing her for the same things because you are no longer young and free and are super jealous. You end up missing a dynamic talent like Emily Reo so you can talk to someone who could potentially impact your career aspirations, whatever they may be. You worry that Tires is going to destroy your hearing instead of being excited that Tires is going to destroy your hearing (thanks to legendary and award-winning Iowa concert goer Andrew Smith for giving me an extra pair of ear plugs. They were needed.) You have constant internal debates as to whether the money for cover, beers and one accidental over-priced bourbon (C’mon, Bulliet is like the same price per bottle as Jameson, no way it should be four dollars more per glass) could’ve been better spent on things like toilet paper and applesauce. Then sometimes after consuming those drinks your brain revolts with this being old bullshit and you buy a pink wallet with cartoon stars. LOL.

It is the balance that needs to be achieved. Aging is fine, and should be understood and accepted, but not at a complete loss of what makes you you. If I could offer one piece of advice to a graduating class it would be, “Live in the now, appreciate the then and anticipate what will be.” But this mindset doesn’t happen immediately. It has to be developed, cultured and nurtured. If you push too quickly into it, you buy a wallet that is pink and has stars and says “6969420” instead of household goods so you can rage against what the world needs you to be in the silliest way possible.

I woke the next day completely embarrassed by my purchase, but I realize now that there has to be that balance. That I still have a little bit of that immaturity to me while trying to improve. So, I’m going to keep it as my wallet. I wanted that wallet, so I have that wallet. It will be my link to the past as I move toward the future. A reminder of the person I was and the person I am and the person I will be. I did end up scribbling over the inside stuff, because I am for sure too old to have a wallet that says “6969420”.

On Professionalism Featuring The Giving Tree Band and Twins

Twins at Vaudeville Mews - 5-15-14

Twins at Vaudeville Mews – 5-15-14

I got my first taste of the “business” side of the scene back in 2008. For a couple of years, I was booking shows for the Des Moines Social Club and I pretty much knew about a quarter of what I should’ve in order to be truly successful. When the first official space opened on Locust Ave, I booked mostly locals, but occasionally I would get a request from a touring band, and I did my best to be accommodating. I was hamstrung a bit by running a space that was trying not to do a cover charge and also by having a small room looking for more of a coffee shop vibe. The touring bands had to take a guarantee (but I always felt we were more than fair in what we offered) and sometimes had to play to crowds who were more interested in hanging out than they were the bands. It was an uncomfortable vibe at times, but I feel like most of the bands enjoyed themselves. At minimum they were happy to get a paycheck and almost always played well. Except once.

I booked a band from somewhere in the Midwest. I want to say Minneapolis. Might’ve been Madison. If I were better at holding grudges, I would remember. They were to play at 9pm. At 9pm there were three people in the bar. They decided not to play. This blew my mind. While I wasn’t happy with the turnout, we did what we could. Sometimes things just go south. It’s not like their paycheck was tied to the door. They were getting their money whether there were 3 or 300. I mean, I get it. I have access to my traffic numbers and my heart sinks a little bit when I click on a piece I am proud of and see how many (or rather how few) have actually read it. But sometimes you just have to make art for the sake of making art.

Now, I understand that writing and performing are two different things, but I think that’s what held me back for so long. I feel (or at least hope) that I have stopped writing for the attention it brings and started just writing. Sometimes, I half-ass things, but that’s because I half-ass things. It’s who I am. But here I am, half drunk on bad scotch, writing about two shows I saw two weeks ago, just so that I can write. No one needs my take on these shows at this point, but I just want to write about them. Even if the people who do read it hate it, so what, I wrote something.

I think that’s why I had such an enjoyable time catching both Twins at Vaudeville Mews and The Giving Tree Band at Wooly’s, because while there were some obvious differences: the size of venue, a “hometown” (Twins are from Cedar Falls, but whatever, they’re from here) show versus being on tour, etc., both bands did something that I respect beyond just being solid musicians. They performed. They proved that sometimes when you believe in what you’re doing and the art you’re making, it doesn’t matter if there are 50 of your friends crowded up front singing along, or 50 people who like your band, but not enough to stand anywhere near that stage.

My night actually started at Wooly’s. The Giving Tree Band were slated to go on at 7, but at a quarter after, they hadn’t. Now, I understand that this is a common occurrence, but standing around in a venue that holds 800 with 1/100th of that actually in attendance made me feel really awkward. I felt bad that a quality touring band was going to play to such a sparse crowd and worried that the show wasn’t going to be able to overcome the lack of crowd. So, I did what any coward would do. I left. I decided that I didn’t need to talk about the Giving Tree Band. So, I hauled ass the 10-ish blocks just in time to catch Twins at Vaudeville Mews.

All ages shows are such hit and miss sometimes, with shows starting at 5, there has to be at least a portion of the population that see such an early start time and just bail. Twins had a solid crowd. Not a sellout or anything, but a solid crowd. Most importantly they were an engaged crowd. The people that came to the show came to see them and to be a part of their live show. Twins fed off of that, bantering with the crowd whenever they could. It doesn’t hurt that Twins might be the best live band in the state. I would say they are the best live band from the UNI area (funny enough is that the only other band that I think touches them from that area is Dylan Sires and Neighbors, and they’re all from the same family. Well, I thought it was funny…)

While the rest of the band holds their own and the quartet are an in sync power pop machine, the live show is driven by the manic antics of Joel Sires. He twirls and spins and his expressive face is captivating. Whether he is singing or simply as back up, he still seems to lose himself in the performance. They played for about an hour, mostly tracks off their newest album Tomboys on Parade, and with time to spare they hit some of my favorites off of their seemingly criminally ignored first album Funny Faces.

After Twins set, I was able to run back across the river to Wooly’s to catch at least part of the Giving Tree Band. Sadly, the room hadn’t filled up much more than when I left, with maybe three dozen people total. Maybe even more egregious was that all of those people chose to sit at the tables towards the back of the room, so there was a fifty foot divide between band and audience. At one point, I went to the front and leaned on the stage, but after a few seconds, I again felt super awkward being in such an empty room. I have been at small shows before and I have been to shows by myself before, but when it is a room the size of Wooly’s, it is really noticeable just how alone you are. I began to drift through the room, a bit lost and distracted. When I finally settled I noticed two things: there were guys at the back of the room who likely paid money to go to a live show and then played cribbage, which seems pretty assholy to me, and Giving Tree Band weren’t fazed at all.

I would’ve figured the lack of vibe in the room itself would be noticeable, and maybe it was at the beginning of the set, but by the time I caught them, they were in a solid groove. Their art and their music and maybe just a groove of being veteran performers carried them through. Their music is roots-rock and really fun. In a different timeline, they’re Avett Brothers popular, as they really hit that same harmony and charm while playing bounce-able, enjoyable music.

What I think was most evident about both Twins and The Giving Tree Band is that they seem like the type of bands that just love to make music. That the art itself is what drives them. I have seen Twins and The Giving Tree Band play to big crowds before, and it doesn’t seem like their style or ability changes much in front of a packed house or just a roomful of friends or an empty room full of people sitting yards away. I am a little embarrassed by the turnout for The Giving Tree Band and I hope they are willing to give Des Moines another shot, and I hope Des Moines gives them one, as well. Their energy and ability seems really up the alley of many people in Des Moines, if they could just get in front of the right audience. They might be the perfect band for a Simon Estes Amphitheater type show as their jam tendencies would speak well to the outdoor showcase (they played 80/35 in 2010, so they have played that type of show to that type of audience).

Back in 2011 I saw a band I really liked with like five other people. They were awesome. I put them as one of my favorite performances of the year in my year end column and one of the five other people gave me guff for it simply because there were only five people. I just felt like they were extra special that night. It’s just a special feeling when the great ones hit a high level, and you know that it is for themselves as much as the audience.

Premiere: End the Wrld featuring Adrien Daller – I Don’t Have Anything

(Photo by Cody Osen)

Last year, I was introduced to End the Wrld, a project of Des Moines producer/musician Phil Young. End the Wrld’s first track, “5 to 9”, feautres vocals from Anna Gebhart and is this delightful disco-meets-Lady-Gaga-meets-Queer-Eye’s-theme-song-meets-the third-level-of-Double-Dragon track that kind of astounded me and made me very happy. One track in, and I got very excited for the future of this project.

It took a long 7 months for the second End the Wrld track to surface, this time a more modern dream-pop track with Gebhart and Dustin Kniffen providing vocals. While nowhere near the dicso blitz of “5 to 9”, the track is beautiful and a worthy successor. 7 months, though. That’s just not fair.

Luckily, End the Wrld let a little less time pass to release the third track, “I Don’t Have Anything”. “I Don’t Have Anything” is another disco track (produced by Young, but also featuring Jordan Mayland and Cory Wendel) in the same vein as “5 to 9”, but Adrien Daller (of Trouble Lights) gives it her own lyrical spin. For such a happy, bouncing track, it is actually kind of a sad story being told. The contrast of this Moroder-esque music with a tale of damaged love is a really neat, and surprisingly deep for such a sugary piece of business.

I’m really excited that I get to debut this track. I am also happy to say that they plan to perform the track live on Saturday, May 10th at the grand opening of the Des Moines Social Club’s permanent home at 900 Mulberry (an event that also features Dustin Smith and the Sunday Silos, Land of Blood and Sunshine and a keynote address by David Byrne). So click the track and share this with as many people as possible. Maybe if enough of us show how much we like it, new tracks will be released at a greater clip.

Review: Lesbian Poetry – Self-Titled


My time as a shut-in has not been going well. I lost my job two months ago and I sort of assumed with all of my new free time I would be able to really dive headfirst into this whole writing thing. Maybe I could improve my editing skills a bit and really put some effort into what I was doing. What has happened is I dove headfirst into hitting refresh on my Facebook page for new posts to appear, 1980’s professional wrestling and trying to figure out why my one year old is crying.

All of of this laziness and lack of adult interaction has driven me a bit mad. I find myself increasingly angry towards things of little consequence. My most recent anger has been towards internet commenters being rude towards things I care about, and even things I don’t necessarily. Here is an example: Lazerfest recently announced that they are changing venues from the outdoor space in Boone to Wells Fargo Arena. With just 12 days to go, this has put some people in a bind. I understand that changing travel plans can be a nightmare, and people have the right to be upset. I just don’t understand what the point of going to the comments section of an article about their move and complaining accomplishes.

What angers me the most, however, is the people who comment with something along the lines of “I wasn’t going to this crap festival because the lineup sucks and if your (because they seemingly always use the wrong “you’re/your”) going your stupid and deserve to be screwed. lol (because they always put “lol” at the end).” I just don’t get what sense of pleasure people get by going onto a public forum and stating that you don’t like what other people like. That you’re somehow a better human because you don’t like Queens of the Stone Age. I mean, I don’t like Theory of a Deadman but other than a poor joke on my Facebook, I don’t go around blasting those who do, especially in an open, public forum where you’re obviously just looking to pick an internet fight.

The normal thing to do is make a wanking motion and move on with your day. For whatever reason, I can’t let this shit go. I often type up long-winded screeds in response to jerks, but I almost always delete them because I know they won’t change anyone’s mind. Then that bugs me because I feel helpless towards these people. Then the helplessness seeps deeper into me and it’s just, ugh.

What does any of this have to do with Lesbian Poetry? Nothing, I guess, except that it might be the perfect album to chase away the pain of petty foibles. There is just something about Lesbian Poetry that just makes insignificant things just that.

Some bands and artists are presented in a way that they overcome pettiness and bring sheer beauty to the proceedings with their arrangements and their presentation. The pure scope, much like the electric feeling of a thunderstorm or the rushing waves of the ocean, makes that which doesn’t matter slide.

That isn’t Lesbian Poetry. They attack the overwhelming feeling of everyday life in a different, maybe more substantial way. Gone are the trappings of production and in it’s place is honesty, simplicity and a different sort of ability. An ability to tell a story. An ability to let you get lost for a moment in the words of someone else and a clear understanding about what songwriting can be when stripped down to its most simple form.

Lesbian Poetry is a simple band with a simple sound, but they aren’t simple people. What I like most about them is that the overall vibe and confidence they exude. It isn’t about being the greatest performer or the greatest musician, it is about telling their stories in their way with little regards towards what the outside world might think.

What separates this album from others is that it isn’t just a simple DIY album made on very little money because that was the only resources. It is an album presented in a DIY, low budget way because that is the best way to present it. So, it is that confidence that rings through whether it is the wonderful “Trolleys and Limousines” or the spoken word/acapella coming out tale “Joe and I”. I think “Joe and I” might be the best track to show my theory. It is obviously the simplest track, being that it is presented with no musical accompaniment, but is told with such confidence that I was spellbound.

That’s what makes Lesbian Poetry, both the band and album, so intriguing. It is the confidence to be yourself, to present your art and to be one with your life. Comfortable in their own life, their own skin and their own art. So comfortable that it makes you wonder why you cared so much about petty things to begin with.

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.

Gloom Balloon, Mumford’s and Why Change Matters


I don’t like change. It makes me feel weird. It is part of why 2013 has been such a rough year for me. It is not just the bad things that have happened (and bad things have happened), it is that even the really good things have resulted in my life being completely different than what it was and that throws me in a tailspin, too. Its like I can’t handle change and I can’t accept the way things are. My brain is awesome.

Laziness is a big reason why I have kept much of my life stagnant for so long, but it is also just a desire for normalcy. It is that normalcy that let’s me know, even if things aren’t good, at least to know what to expect. That fear of the unknown, of somehow things getting worse, forced me to keep things into a gross and unacceptable normalcy; one that sucked the life completely out of me and made my life worse for my family. After much procrastination, I left the career I had simply accepted yet loathed and finally moved on to something different. It has been hard. I didn’t expect the learning curve to be so sharp. I think I have been more stressed with learning something new than I ever was by being in a miserable job that I knew I could do well, but, you know, hated.

Fear of change might also be why I fought having kids. Being responsible for two lives, making sure they’re fed and they’re clothed and bathed and kept warm, is instinctual and primal. It is also really fucking hard. Not just the physical and emotional drain loving these two beautiful idiots puts on you. I have to make big changes in my ways to make sure their lives are as easy as I can possibly make it. I have to put away all of the selfish stuff about myself aside and, dammit, I thrived on selfish stuff. I lived for it. I have a hard time turning that off. It is that acceptance that life is a different from what it in April, what it was in January, what it was in 2008, and what it was in 2003 that seems to elude me sometimes. These little people needing me more than I need myself is a lesson that I have to remember.

Also, we got a puppy and I hate her, I think. She won’t poop outside and is constantly trying to make out with my baby. She is currently scratching at my arm with her sharp claws and dropping her slobbery toy on my keyboard. She is super annoying.

It seems fitting with my year of change, of new lives, of new tasks and of untimely passings, that the last two albums I will likely review in 2013 are both steeped in introspection and a startling change in tone and in presentation from what we expect. Two Iowa artists either not afraid of change, or at minimum accepting that change and doing something with it.

Mumford’s and Patrick Tape Fleming of Gloom Balloon have a long history together. They share Ames roots, and they share a record label. What they also share is an understanding that doing the same thing over and over again can be rewarding, but eventually things change. You can do two things with that change: you can ignore it and try to keep doing the same things even if you want to do something else, or you don’t love those things, or that those things aren’t available to you anymore or you can make things better.

For Mumford’s that change is in presentation, in perception and in tone. Their most well-known songs have always had something to say hidden under the rapid fire lyrics and the quick guitar and horns. But their new album almost ditches the Mumford’s we all know and love. Instead of the quick beats and manic vocals, Mumford’s is a more reflective, mature and, well, not more interesting, but a different sort of interesting. Lead singer Nate Logsdon’s time as a solo artist, both under his own name and as the androgynous Beef Cake, has helped Mumford’s become this unflinching, sentient pop machine full of reflective prose and hum-able melodies.

Stylistically divided with soulful singalongs, outlaw-country tinged ballads and introspective, slightly rambling acapella stories, Immediate Family takes on many of this generations problems and how past generations can shape the solutions to the problems, and be the cause of them. “Caster” bravely and melodically shows an acceptance and celebration of transgender people in maybe one of the most endearing and just plain wonderful singles of the year. It could’ve turned into a song where they try to show just how progressive they are, but they don’t. It’s not pandering; it’s poetry. Another track, “Family Circle”, takes a close look at how your family can shape you and each generation of your family, fractured or no, bedded by a beautiful piano riff and a sneaky violin.

This is Mumford’s most incredible work to date. Mumford’s built its name on its sweaty live shows, so to make an album this deep and poignant had better work well, and luckily for them, it works in spades.


For Gloom Balloon, it took a near-complete breakdown to make something this deep. Patrick Tape Fleming is best known as singer, guitarist and complete ball of energy in the Poison Control Center. Exuding that much energy and emotion for the better part of decade can lead a man to continually seek that endorphin high that only performing can give. When PCC decided to take a break, Tape Fleming lost that outlet and slipped into a depression. His suicidal thoughts, unhealthy malaise and loss of his hero (Olivia Tremor Control’s Bill Doss) caused him to re-examine his artistic output. This lead to Gloom Balloon, a very different project than PCC, and yet still rooted in what makes that band work.

Raw and emotional, You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster/Fix The Sunshine Pts. 1-7 (An Ode To Bill Doss) doesn’t entirely leave the PCC aesthetic behind. Most of the tracks fit into that less-than-or-equal-to 3 minute pop ditty. The presentation is so much different than the four piece, guitar-heavy PCC we all know and love. Gone are the pop rock guitars and sometimes shouty vocals. In its place are electronics and samples and saxophones and violins and a severe downturn in tempo. “Fix The Sunshine” has that same sort of PCC vibe, but the vocals and presentation changes the vibe entirely.

Take, for example, PCC’s well known oft-concert ender “Magic Circle Symphony”. The chorus is “Love. Love is the answer. Until you get cancer. Then you’re lying, dying, dead.” Somehow the music makes that repeated affirmation somewhat joyous and acceptable. Similarly, “Fix The Sunshine” has a chorus that goes “All the children in the world are one day gonna die and so will you and I” and it still feels okay, and yet I was much more reminded of mortality rather than joy. Where “Magic Circle” gives you optimism “Sunshine” seems to slap you with reality.

This has to do with the presentation of the album as a whole. Each track is deliberate and somewhat manipulative. If you pay close attention to the lyrics, you could feel one thing. If you pay attention to the instrumentals, you could feel another. Yet,you somehow understand both the instrumentals and the lyrics better because of their intricacies and occasional dichotomies. You get the joy and sadness of both mixed beautifully.

What both of these albums succeed with is an understanding that life is change. Life is maturing, growing up, letting friends move away, letting family pass on. And if you can accept that change, your life will be better for it. You will likely not be the same person you were, but you will, surely, be so much more.

I can see that change paying off. I can see it for Mumford’s, I can see it for Patrick Tape Fleming and I can see it for myself. Now rounding out of the steep learning curve, I question why I waited so long to make a change. I am still learning, improving, getting better, but I enjoy waking up in the morning more. I enjoy going to work and doing what I do. Gone, for the most part, is that anxiety of where my life is heading and how it will end. Parenting will always be a challenge, but I understand, now, that I can no longer just give a shit only about my hobbies, my activities and my social desires. Those two come first and I come after.

Hell, even the puppy is now resting comfortably at my feet instead of tongue kissing a baby or jumping on my head. Change is hard, change is scary but change is sometimes what is needed to truly succeed.

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.

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.