So the Des Moines Music Coalition's free "Music University: Managing the Media" was last night at House of Bricks. I talked on a panel with Joe Lawler (Des Moines Register, Juice) and Michael Swanger (CityView) about ways the 25-30 or so people in the crowd could get media coverage for their music. Sort of like a CMJ or SXSW panel except on a Wednesday night in the middle of Iowa, I guess. First of all, it was totally great to meet Joe and Michael, whose work I've been reading and enjoying ever since getting to this town back in July. I suspect their advice to the musicians in the audience was probably more immediately useful than mine, if only because they write professionally about music events happening locally and I don't. My main theme, maybe kind of a brutal one, but brutally honest: The surest way to get attention from journalists is to have fans. If you're making emotional connections with people, I'm going to end up hearing about you, and I may want to write about you-- and I won't ever feel like, "Oh, maybe I'll do something nice for this band and write about them." I'll feel like I really HAVE to listen to you-- and, better yet, if your music connects with me, too, I'll feel like YOU'RE the one doing something nice for ME. So many of the e-mails I get are from new bands nobody has heard of yet hoping to get a little Internet buzz going, and I do love discovering somebody before everyone else does, but your best bet is to play live a lot, send your songs to a bunch of smaller blogs, build a fanbase. That way, it won't even matter whether or not the critics like you. John Mayer will be making the music he wants for the rest of his life, and he may never get a single Pitchfork album review. ...Anyway, that's my rant. Thanks so much to Jill Haverkamp and the DMMC for including me in this event. It was an honor, and I'm really excited Des Moines has an organization like that in the first place.

Also last night was a show by loosely San Francisco-based collective Still Flyin' at the Vaudeville Mews. I hadn't heard them, but the Poison Control Center's Patrick Tape Fleming had told me they included members of Masters of Hemisphere, Aislers Set, and Ladybug Transistor, so I was definitely in. When we got to the venue, Patrick talked to the band and told me they had a member of one of my personal favorite groups, recently defunct Australian indie-poppers the Lucksmiths, playing with them. I was dubious. "There are only three members of the Lucksmiths," I declared-- shamefully forgetting they became a quartet with the addition of guitarist Louis Richter (Midstate Orange) on their last few albums-- "and they're in Australia. There's no way one of the ACTUAL Lucksmiths is here." To which Patrick said something like, "No, man, he's right over there, let me introduce you to him." After I embarrassingly attempted to say hello to a couple of the wrong people (remember, I was still thinking this WASN'T a recognizable member of the Lucksmiths), Patrick finally pointed me in the right direction, and sure enough, there was Mark Monnone-- founding Lucksmiths bass player and current solo artist as Monnone Alone-- standing right there by the bar. To make the "small world" thing even weirder, I found out that this guy Gary back in my old neighborhood of Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, at whose house I had seen-- bear with me-- Swedish pop crooner Jens Lekman (who now lives in Australia) play a special post-concert set for fans, is a sometime member of Still Flyin'. Mark had been to that house, too. Gary wasn't there last night, though.

The crowd was small, but Still Flyin' still managed to put on a fun, energetic set. There were nine people onstage, and I didn't get a good look at how many different instruments they were playing, but I do remember they had one dude who was basically a full-time hypeman/dancer. I also remember Gabe-- the one with the mustache, the 'stache that puts my still-tentative attempt to shame-- played some trombone. Patrick had described Still Flyin' to me as sort of a white reggae band-- a twee-reggae band-- which I have to admit didn't exactly sound like the greatest thing (sorry, Matisyahu). Turns out, yeah, there's a bit of that Jamaican upswing on tracks like "Forever Dudes". More than that, though, it's just gleeful indie-pop party music, the kind of music that actually teaches the indie kids to dance again while us bloggers opine about European dance music and hip-hop from the comfort of our headphones with nary a booty-shake. Sounded sort of like LAKE or early Architecture in Helsinki to these ears, really. Which is good. Couldn't hear a lot of the words-- as a sound guy once told the PCC, "If you're trying to get some kind of life-changing point to come across with your lyrics, it ain't happening"-- but as usual at these kinds of shows, it didn't really matter. It probably helped that three of us each bought a round of shots for the band. I remember Mark and I had one of those great, rambling conversations afterward about Australian music. He likes (and has played with some of!) the same Australian bands that I like: Crayon Fields, Sly Hats, Guy Blackman, the Twerps. He also mentioned a few bands I didn't know and will check out: The Motifs, Milk Teddy, and Sleepy Township. Neither of us cares for the Temper Trap. Thanks to Fong's for the chicken and broccoli slice right before closing time, and my apologies to the empty planter on Fourth St. in front of the Lift or someplace like that, I can't really remember, you know how we do.



For 25 years, Yo La Tengo have weathered the slings and arrows of indie fortune like pretty much nobody other than Sonic Youth. When the once technically inept Hoboken, N.J., rockers found themselves among the last formerly underground bands of their generation still standing at the turn of the millennium-- years after the grunge-rock gold rush-- they aged with amazing grace on 2000's cozy And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. When their next album, 2003's relatively sleepy Summer Sun, turned out to be a rare critical dud for the group (co-founded by former music critic Ira Kaplan), they turned around and released a sprawling, omnivorous monster, 2006's 75-minute I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass-- one of the best albums many critics presumably didn't make enough time to hear repeatedly in full. Now, once again, Yo La Tengo are in a weird spot. On Friday, I read an article by a likeable young woman who held them up as the quintessential example of a band that some sinister cabal of creepy music critics constantly hypes-- then acknowledged she can't help loving Yo La Tengo anyway. The same day, in response, another pro music critic tweeted that he finds the group "boring." Yo La Tengo don't have the new-car smell of your Vampire Weekends or Grizzly Bears, but they've built up too much institutional credibility for liking them to be an edgy or unpredictable stance; they're almost definitely never going to lose their devoted cult following, but their chances for Album of the Year-size acclaim have probably passed, and they're not the Flaming Lips. What's a band to do?

Popular Songs, like I Am Not Afraid of You... before it, synthesizes a range of influences-- psych, Motown, etc.-- into another set of worthwhile additions to the Yo La Tengo songbook. It's not going to grab a whole lot of attention, but if you listen to it with open ears, it's hard to imagine too many people not liking it. Before Friday's show at the Slowdown in Omaha, I had seen the band twice before, though I wouldn't really count either: The first was when they were playing their instrumental film soundtrack album in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, and the second was at the Pitchfork festival over the summer, except I had just gotten into town and spent way too much of the set talking to much-missed friends. D'oh. Friday also marked my first visit to the Slowdown, a venue co-founded a couple of years ago by Saddle Creek label dudes Jason Kulbel and Robb Nansel. What a place to see a show: Clear sightlines from anywhere, free coolers of water, and much more importantly, astonishingly great acoustics. When Yo La Tengo opened the show with 15 minutes of instrumental noise-skronk (Popular Songs closer "And the Glitter is Gone"), you could actually hear what was going on, not just that it was loud. When they broke things up in the middle of the set by bringing drummer Georgia Hubley to the front of the stage for a few acoustic songs, you could hear every nuance in their urgent whispers. ...At other shows, how much are my ears usually missing? With a setlist that demanded audience attention from the opening feedback, Yo La Tengo put on a captivating set, whether inspiring a little crowd shimmying with the boogie-ing "Periodically Triple or Double", playing old favorites like "Autumn Sweater" and "Sugarcube", or blasting off into noisy epics like "More Stars Than There Are in Heaven" (the source of this post's title quote). I was pretty tired at points, having slept too little the previous night, and I wasn't really feeling the Moby Grape cover (apparently Yo La Tengo are covering a song by someone from every city they play, and I guess the Grape had Omaha connects), but I was definitely never bored. I guess that makes me another creepy music critic.

And then, to top it all off, it snowed. Thanks, Nebraska!



I've still been going to shows, I just haven't been finding much I needed blog-length posts to tell you about.

For my random brain spatterings, there's Twitter. To highlight recent articles, blog posts, or songs of interest, there's Tumblr. And then there's all the stuff I've been writing for work, whether as a business journalist or as a reviewer over at Pitchfork.

That doesn't mean there haven't been fun things going in Des Moines-- hopefully you didn't miss 'em-- and that doesn't mean there aren't still fun things coming up!

First, let's look ahead. Turns out my fall concert preview was premature and left out some great shows.

Catchy, clever, slightly yelpy Alabama garage-poppers Thomas Function (above) play tonight at Vaudeville Mews, and I would highly recommend that anyone who isn't seeing Miley Cyrus or Gwar/Lamb of God go check this out. They share a label with So Cow, who released one of my favorite albums of the year, and they should be a great time.

Local piano-pop heroes Christopher the Conquered have a few shows coming up. First is the free CD release party for new album You're Gonna Glow in the Dark, coming Oct. 10 at Ames Progressive with Patrick Tape Fleming, who also recorded the album. Christopher the Conquered come back to the Mews again Oct. 17 with the Atudes, Andrew Fish, and Nuclear Rodeo. They play Scented Vinyl at Mars Cafe on Oct. 26. Then come a couple of Iowa shows outside the Des Moines area before they return to the Mews with Des Noise favorites the Poison Control Center, plus Atudes, New Bodies, Bradley Unit, and Coax from Chuckanut. If you're curious about local music, you should put at least one of these shows on your calendar, because these guys are some of our best and brightest.

On Oct. 13, indie website Daytrotter swoops into Johnston with its Barnstorming Tour. The lineup, featuring up-and-comers Suckers and Paleo, looks pretty good! Here's the info: 6pm -- Johnston, Iowa: BARN SHOW #4: The Simpson Barn, 6169 Northglenn Dr. (Performing -- Dawes, Christopher Denny, Suckers, Snowblink, Paleo)

Also Oct. 13, though, shoegaze pop group Ringo Deathstarr plays Vaudeville Mews. Hmm. I'm also really into their locally based openers, Wolves in the Attic. (Deep Sleep Waltzing opens, too, but I haven't heard that band yet.)

Omaha's Little Brazil hits the Mews on Oct. 18, with Weatherbox, Bright Giant, and the Chatty Cathys. I'm told they've played Des Moines a few times before, so there should be a good crowd for this one. (The doors open at 5 p.m., show starts at 5:30. It's all ages and $7.00.)

Oct. 25, South Dakota folk-poppers We Have Hooks for Hands play the Mews. They're on Minneapolis-based Afternoon Records, same label as the Poison Control Center.

And on Oct. 28, you should go check out... uhm, me. I'm honored and really excited to be a part of a panel being held by the Greater Des Moines Music Coalition at 7 p.m. at the House of Bricks. Jill Haverkamp, marketing and PR co-chair of the DMMC, will be the moderator. For me, it'll finally be a chance to meet Jill, CityView critic Michael Swanger, and Juice/Register critic Joe Lawler for the first time, and to hear some questions from locals who share my interest in music. For you, well, here's the panel description:

Exploring the best ways to approach reporters and bloggers to get coverage for your band. Panelists will discuss how to stand out amongst the clutter, their process in deciding what to cover, and the ins and outs of being a music journalist in the new music industry. The discussion will also expand upon press kits, biographies, pitch letters, and general media relations techniques.
What's more, Grant Hart of Husker Du is playing the Mews on Nov. 5, and I hear local band Why Make Clocks' Chuck Hoffman may be opening.

Also, Old Crow Medicine Show plays Nov. 6 at Hoyt Sherman. I don't know their music very well-- they're a little bit on the jammier side of my tastes-- but a friend burned me some tracks a few years ago, and they should be a good time.

Don't forget the Meat Puppets are coming to the Mews on Nov. 8. Why Make Clocks is definitely opening for that one. Bob Schneider will be there Nov. 10, and Modern Skirts, who put on a good show at 80/35, will be there Nov. 17. Folkie Ellis Paul, whose "Did I Ever Know You" was on a good mix CD I got once in college, comes Dec. 4.

Even further ahead, country-pop darling Taylor Swift will be headlining at Wells Fargo Arena on May 6, 2010.

Another country star, Brad Paisley, comes to Wells Fargo on Jan. 15. If that weren't Mrs. Des Noise's birthday, I might be tempted to see if I could finagle a way to go for opener Miranda Lambert (Justin Moore also opens). But though I may be dumb, I'm not THAT dumb.

Me, I'm roadtripping to Omaha tonight for one of my favorite veteran bands, Yo La Tengo.
In case you missed it, New York magazine had a great profile on the band last month. Mrs. Des Noise and I used one of their songs as our going-down-the-aisle music at our wedding a couple of years ago up at Jester Park; I wrote something about the song for Pitchfork's "Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s" list, which you can read (#182) while listening to the song here.

Last night we went to see Maya Angelou speak at Drake University. She started by singing a snippet of an old spiritual about a "rainbow in the clouds." At first I wasn't sure what was going on, but then she brilliantly incorporated that theme into her entire speech, relating it to events in her life and closing by singing a bit of the song again. She was hilarious and wise, like a grandmother who has seen it all and is going to share some life lessons with you. She could've chosen to speak on some intellectual topic, or to wax political-- her interview in the Des Moines Register defined courage as "defending the defenseless"-- but with her background of accomplishments, she didn't need to. Instead, she shared a message that even the preteen sitting behind us could probably appreciate, about how there can be hope in darkness (a rainbow in the clouds), and how we every one of us can make a profound difference in someone's lives-- even if we don't know it.

I've been to a few other fun music-type things lately, including Christopher at the Conquered at the Mews, Austin May at Scented Vinyl, indie-folk group Menlo and rappers Maxila Blue at the Dogtown Festival (apologies to Beati Paoli-- I didn't mean to miss your set, it's just that dinner took longer than expected), and the Rural Albert Advantage with the Love of Language and Pink Kodiak at the Mews. Oh, and I did some successful record shopping at ZZZ Records, too: Picked up some old Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, Harry Nilsson, Fleetwood Mac, Sylvester, Jan Hammer, Slade, New Order, and George Carlin, along with the new Jim Guthrie LP and a couple of personal favorites I should've already owned on vinyl (Belle and Sebastian's Tigermilk and If You're Feeling Sinister).

Other notable recent musical goings-on:

Sian Alice Group canceled. So did Skee-Lo. No, you can't wish for infinite wishes.

The John & Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park! I love it. Totally proud to have this in our city.

On a sadder note, longtime local rock'n'roll radio DJ Dic Youngs died at 68. I never heard him, but it sounds like he made a great contribution to music and culture in this city, and he will be missed.

So: What else is coming up? What am I forgetting? I always blank on something.