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50 Records That May or May Not Show Up on My 2009 Year-End Top 50 (in alphabetical order)

A-Trak: Infinity + 1
Ada: Adaptations - Ada Mixtape #1
Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Art Brut: Art Brut Vs. Satan
Atlas Sound: Logos
Bat for Lashes: Two Suns (long interview-- plz excuse the pompous intro)
Bibio: Ambivalence Avenue
The Boy Least Likely To: The Law of the Playground/The Best B-Sides Ever
Dan Deacon: Bromst (track review)
Deerhunter: Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP
Delorean: Ayrton Senna EP
DJ Koze: Reincarnations
DJ Quik and Kurupt: BlaQKout
DJ Sprinkles: Midtown 120 Blues
Drake: So Far Gone mixtape
The Dream: Love Vs. Money
Dum Dum Girls: Dum Dum Girls EP (track review)
El Perro Del Mar: Love Is Not Pop mini-LP (track review-- ignore the number; this was originally an unranked blog post)
Fall Out Boy: Folie a Deux
Fever Ray: Fever Ray (interview)
God Help the Girl: God Help the Girl (ABC News video review)
Japandroids: Post-Nothing (track review; live review)
Jeremy Jay: Slow Dance
jj: jj n° 2
Kurt Vile: God Is Saying This to You
Lil Boosie: Thug Passion mixtape
Major Lazer: Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do
Maxwell: BLACKsummers'night
Micachu & the Shapes: Jewellery
Morrissey: Years of Refusal (live review)
Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas: II
Neon Indian: Psychic Chasms EP
Neko Case: Middle Cyclone
Nodzzz: Nodzzz (track review)
Paper Route Gangstaz: Diplo & Benzi Present... Fear and Loathing in Hunts Vegas
Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Playboy Tre: Liquor Store Mascot mixtape
Röyksopp: Junior (track review)
Shrag: Shrag
So Cow: So Cow
Spoon: Got Nuffin EP
A Sunny Day in Glasgow: Ashes Grammar
Super Furry Animals: Dark Days/Light Years
Taken By Trees: East of Eden
TVO aka The Village Orchestra: The Dark Is Rising EP
UGK: UGK 4 Life
Various Artists: Underwaterpeoples Compilation
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It's Blitz!
Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs
Zomby: Where Were U in 92?

still very much on the fence w/ (and may still wanna vote for by year's end, who knows): Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors

also need to listen to more (among, duh, many others): Girls, Free Energy, The Rational Academy, Modest Mouse new EP, Rick Ross, the Smith Westerns, Nosaj Thing, Javelin, Pictureplane, Black Jazz Consortium, Nudge, Omar S, Dinosaur Jr., Ganglians, Avner, Future of the Left, Tim Hecker, Tiny Vipers, Ducktails, Gui Boratto, Very Best, Lake, Jay Reatard, Vivian Girls, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.



I'm so glad we don't have to introduce off-kilter, lyric-driven folk music like David Strackany's with the prefix "freak" anymore. And don't even get me started on "New Weird Americana," no matter how easily a less-sleepy blogger could probably use that as a segue into mentioning the Illinois singer/songwriter's previous collaboration with Washington, D.C.-based Jesse Elliott as These United States. The tunes Strackany played at Vaudeville Mews tonight as sole member of Paleo weren't as archaic-sounding as that band name, though his measured, reedy tenor and ingenuous yet grandiose figurative language certianly owed something to the 1960s folkies, specifically Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Even when Strackany was most backward-looking, he brought to it something whimsical and original-- "Nothin' blowin in the wind but the breeze," he sang on what might be a new song, while "Somewhere There Is a Mountain" moved from some eccentric personification that perhaps unintentionally recalled Donovan's "There Is a Mountain" to small but legitimate epiphanies like "Somewhere there is a rich man dreaming he is me." As a rule the music was slow, Strackany's left hand lingering high up the fret board to give the strums and arpeggios a distinctively pinched, twinkly sound, almost mandolin-like. His voice also wavered between the self-consciously flawed plainspeak of Jeffrey Lewis-style anti-folk (if you haven't heard him, then let's say early Beck-- but you really should check out a couple of Lewis's songs) and the more staid roots revivalism of an M. Ward. His imagery was big and simple, Biblical in a way, never saying "light-winged Dryad of the trees" when he could say "bird," and I liked how he took the time to cram his songs with extra twists and details-- one about a window with a view of the sky had a nice closing metaphor involving someone who throws stones but never watches the window break. You might wonder if Strackany is an even better self-promoter than songwriter, because he joined the likes of Podington Bear in getting himself national media attention by embarking on a super busy online recording/release schedule a couple of years ago. Then again, 365 songs in 365 days is no small feat! It's hard to imagine too many of the products from that kind of process turning out that great, but Strackany would had to have learned a few things about songwriting along the way, and it showed tonight. Definitely not for everybody, and he's not Josh Ritter yet even though he has a few of the same lyrical tics that seem to bother other critics about Ritter, but I'll keep an eye on him and am totally pleased to have seen him for five bucks on a quiet Tuesday night.

Anybody see Gomez tonight? Anybody going to Gogol Bordello tomorrow?


"Do You Realize?" is to Oklahoma City acid casualties as "All My Friends" is to Downtown disco-punks

Column today in the Des Moines Register about Iowa transplants. "I learned a long time ago that newcomers must endure a waiting period before voicing strong opinions," Marc Hansen writes. "As in, 'How about living here awhile before telling us what we should do or think?'" And then he REALLY hits home: "Sophisticates from the bigger cities arrive with moving vans full of misconceptions and uninformed opinions." It's a nice column that actually turns out to be about a guy who wants Iowans to listen more to their non-native neighbors. Hansen also wrote a column recently called "Thugs from Chicago in Iowa? Fact or fiction?", which I was ready to read skeptically. It's a smart, appropriately and refreshingly modest, inquisitive piece on race relations and the relationships between the historically high-crime Chicago and sleepy ol'-- except for that guy who got beaten and stabbed almost to death around my block, or the guy who stabbed his mother, or the July 4 brawl that claimed two Des Moines women's lives, or the tragic shooting of a high school football coach-- Des Moines.

I can't help sometimes expressing strong opinions, but as a New Yorker for five years and a Chicagoan for almost five before that, I've been surprised how busy Des Moines has kept me since I landed in town just about three weeks ago. Part of the whole appeal for me of moving here from Brooklyn was the idea that suddenly I'd have more free time to sit around and read and listen to records, because hey, that's what I really like to do. Instead I've constantly been doing stuff, whether trying new restaurants and bars or going to the 80/35 music festival or checking out some really good live acts at Vaudeville Mews and Des Moines Social Club. And I still haven't been to all the other places around town where I'll end up seeing bands! Also, yeah, sometimes I'm working a little bit. So, in the interest of brevity and saving time for non-blogging activities, I'm summing up an insane amount of activity in a single post.

The Pitchfork Music Festival was a blast for me last weekend, probably more fun for me musically than last year's and with more good friends to catch up with too. And a new baby to hang out with, although she also got to hang out with Wu-Tang Clan's GZA. Didn't have electricity or hot water, but that wasn't my always insanely gracious host's fault. How do you get tobacco juice stains on a ceiling? Yo La Tengo and Built to Spill sounded great the first night, the former playing what sounded like a pretty varied set (including stuff from the most recent album, which I feel like I loved more than everybody else) and Built to Spill getting a little Dead-ier than I had even expected, never seen either band before (!!!). Lindstrom did his classic "I Feel Space" and just generally killed, space-disco-wise (somebody mentioned "Miami Vice" music man Jann Hammer), and Ponytail were a high-energy baby-talking highlight with a great drummer (Mrs. Des Noise: "Is it the same nonsense every time? She's OK, right?") (yes), and Wavves was better than expected, still a strange and bound-to-backfire vibe of entitlement around many of these new lo-fi ppl though. On Sunday, DJ /rupture (did I capitalize that right?) stopped sounding like a curator to me (Brian Howe's phrase?) and started a globetrotting dance party, Japandroids' set was this year's Art Brut look-at-us-we're-a-great-new-band-and-this-is-our-moment moment at least from right to the stage left of the mosh pit behind a guy handing out gum and a girl who was darn generous with her water bottle full of vodka, and Flaming Lips did the confetti and the balloons and the wacky video display and the great great psych-pop swooners (not exactly following the "Write the Night" fan-voting rules, but all the better for it)-- set was too short, if anything, a deal with the city I guess but all for the best. Had always found Frightened Rabbit a little Counting Crow-ish, but his voice isn't his fault and their set-- no banjos, unlike on the album!-- was much better than I expected. M83, Black Lips, etc. also sounded good from afar.

AHHH!!! AHHHHHH!!!!!! Des Moines is nice because I can be a fanboy here and not feel self-conscious about it, which is harder to do sometimes than you'd think. Japandroids came to the Vaudeville Mews for the first time last night. I'd been looking forward to it for months, and it definitely helped get me excited about making the move-- hey, if they can book one of my favorite new bands of the year before there's even a record out in the U.S. yet, this place is gonna be awesome, right?-- almost as soon as the virtual ink was dry on my "Young Hearts Spark Fire" track review. Opening locals Wolves in the Attic sound like early Sonic Youth, as observed to me by the guy who recorded them, the Poison Control Center's Patrick Tape Fleming. Except unlike many bands that would meet that description, they were remarkably tight and practiced, too, especially catching my attention with a blistering instrumental and a real energetic thrasher right before the end. About to listen to their album, which comes packaged in a book (I got The Expectant Father). Met Ryan from another local band, too, Beati Paoli, whose historical references and literary air put me in mind of pre-Hazards of Love Decemberists, only more electrified and voluble (I heard that Stone Roses quote, man!). Japandroids did their thing and it did well, despite a relatively small Monday-night-on-a-band's-first-time-through-town crowd and the fact that they were planning on driving toward Denver that night after the show: two dudes, a wind machine, anthemically synchronized guitar-drum pyrotechnics, sweating hearts and sparking fires and boys leaving town and staying crazy forever together and some new stuff I didn't recognize, too. There's a more 1990s Lollapalooza-style grind to them that's not in a lot of stuff I like, something that makes them more guy-oriented (could be the name), but I actually pretty much enjoy near-head-banging when it's to music like this. Their first driving album of the night was going to be Master of Puppets. EDIT: They did their cover of McLusky's hilarious and awesome "To Hell With Good Intentions," too, pretty faithful except with more "whoa-ohs," amazing hair.

Oh, and I told them "great set at Pitchfork" when they first walked into the building... they thanked me and apologetically said they had expected Des Moines to be a "shithole"-- "no offense" (none taken, esp. because they explained it could just be because it's a place you've never been before, so far from home in Vancouver). Drummer Dave Prowse (!) seemed to be digging Wolves in the Attic. So anyway, all this leads to them dedicating "Young Hearts Spark Fire" to the guy who saw 'em the night before in Chicago, i.e. me. Without knowing I was a Pitchfork writer-- who had reviewed that very track! Weird coincidence, and very fun. I bought a white vinyl album and a T-shirt.

Maybe Paleo (sort of Neutral Milk Hotel meets an M. Ward or Iron & Wine, on first cursory MySpace listens) tonight? We'll see when I can get my actual work done. Also want to see the Iowa Cubs this week sometime, and have great Chicago/Brooklyn friends coming to visit. Also, also: Gomez tonight at People's, Gogol Bordello tomorrow night, Derek Lambert working sound. So like I said, there's more going on than you might know about. I haven't been here long enough to say if it will last me through the winter, but it should be fun either way.



David Cook's publicist never got back to me. So what else did I have to do, I figured than quaff a $1.25 beer on the patio at the Miller High Life Lounge, scarf down a Thai chicken pizza at Fong's in my ongoing effort to hang out wherever that Adrien Brody dude chills around here (not that I've seen his movies or would've even recognized him if he hadn't been pointed out to me that one time), and check out Friend of Des Noise and all-around nice dude Patrick Tape Fleming of the Poison Control Center playing a solo show over at the Des Moines Social Club. Wasn't sure what to expect, indie rock dudes strumming their acoustic guitars by themselves aren't always great entertainment, but I was sort of blown away by his band's acrobatic psych-pop singalongs at Vaudeville Mews a couple of weeks ago, so I figured why not come out and show some support?

Look, dudes. Quickly becoming biased as all get-out here-- like I said, Friend of Des Noise-- but I have seen a lot of guys with guitars, OK? Patrick was in Jonathan Richman, Jens Lekman, Gruff Rhys territory: managing to entertain a potentially tough crowd generously, daringly, and thoroughly.

Musta been only a few dozen people there, tops. There had been a fancy dinner function, $75 a plate, a bellydancer with a birthday cake on her head. Des Moines Social Club is arguably the place in Des Moines most reminiscent of Brooklyn-- art exhibits, theater modeled after the one on 1st Ave. in Manhattan, casual vibe at the bar, free live music. This used to be the Howard Dean campaign headquarters in 2004; in 2008, it was Barack Obama's. Before Patrick took the stage, a woman with a nice voice and her band were doing Fiona Apple and Sara Bareilles (sp? On phone!) piano stuff. Pretty good, but more in the background.

One minute I was talking to Patrick about how ballsy the Strokes had seemed back in 2001, or how Lou Barlow can kind of be a dick but for some reason that just makes us come back for more, or whether Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips likes to be called Steve (he didn't). The next minute Patrick was at the microphone debating whether to unplug and play in the crowd, saying he wasn't gonna tell everyone to "shut the fuck up," noting he'd played to crowds before that needed to "shut the fuck up," trying to gauge whether the $75-plate crowd wanted to participate or ignore him. Of course, he jumped right into where everybody was sitting. No mic, no amp, just shouting himself hoarse getting them invested in the songs. It helped that a few friends were there, too, including sometime PCC drummer Christopher the Conquered. In that kind of environment, people actually need to understand what you're singing, the songs actually need to go somewhere-- and you need the superhuman awareness that can only be developed through countless hours performing in front of people, so you remember to involve the woman who wants something "danceable" (she got to dance) as well as the guy who adds to your factoid about Toto backing MJ on Thriller by mentioning they did Dune too (thanked at least twice, asked his name). Sure, Patrick forgot words, and he didn't really know the bridge to Tom Petty's "American Girl"-- the sole cover, a good choice because it brought some departing $75-platers back and Patrick happened to have a friend there who sings it-- but he was also impossible to ignore. He revealed stuff about himself, his family, and well-known TV pitchmen that I'd feel like I was intruding upon if I posted it here. He scrambled around rooms, jumped on tables, did the splits. And all to make a roomful of mostly strangers with no prior interest in his music focus on the songs: simple, catchy, colorful, with top-of-his-lungs vocals, lots of personal detail, and communal themes (love, a maybe Buddhist-inspired sense of modest tranquillity). He asked us to sing along, and pretty soon I think even some of the $75-platers did. One refrain, which I love for being so true and unpretentious but also for performing a spectacular feat by removing mortality and extreme anguish from the realm of the sacred or profane and bringing 'em right back into our dang absurd human comedy: "Love/ Love is the answer/ Until you get cancer/ Then you're lying...dying... dead." Show was free, all merch proceeds to DM Social Club.

On road to Pitchfork festival in Chicago as I type this-- more soon! And thanks for letting me ramble.



If your fingers fall on the wrong place on the keyboard after a long day at work and you accidentally type "poppryd" instead of "poppets", Google gives you only four results. It also asks, "Did you mean: poppyd". Which actually gets you 33,900 results, mostly thanks to a self-proclaimed "Dustin Hoffman lover" named Poppy D. But now if you search for "poppyrd" or "poppyd", you'll see this post, too. I can already feel the sense of satisfaction I will experience when I check the insane traffic numbers, the next time I remember how to check that sort of thing, which I haven't done yet so I'm assuming I have more than a billion happy customers served like the butter Michael Jackson.

Poppets are a two-piece band from Gothenburg, Sweden, which seems to be where all the bands I write about come from anymore, so I figured I should check 'em out when they came through Vaudeville Mews last night. With only a handful of 7" and cassette releases to their name on labels like Sacramento's Plastic Idol and Austria's Bachelor, they do noisy lo-fi melodic pop-punk about Jack the Ripper-philes and people who're crampin' their style, oh yeah, like it's 1977 and they're hoping to get a post on punk rarities blogs (see: Killed By Death) about ohhhh 32 years from now. Didn't really sound much different live than on MySpace except for standard stuff like not being able to hear the lyrics as well, guitar problem (quickly and gracefully handled by borrowing a guitar from the opener, to whom I'd already like to apologize for some bad-look joke tweets), etc. Just a couple of slender Swedes, Magnus and Lina, staring straight ahead and shouting back and forth and bashing out three chords and reclaiming someone else's nostalgia in a way that's still weirdly fascinating to me-- what prompts young people to go out and start a punk band now that it's tradition, you know? Would've been more fun if there were 12 rows bopping along heedlessly in front instead of maybe two, but it was a Tuesday. I'd see 'em again just to find out if they broaden their steez into a Love Is All kind of thing or stick to their guns ('slong as it isn't Phil Spector's gun) like the Ramones.



I may or may not come to regret missing Boys Like Girls at People's tonight, but instead I met up with family and friends and saw what there was to see at the Valley Junction farmer's market. A pretty controversial drunken throwdown, you know. Bob's Garage Band were there playing covers of the Allman Brothers, Brooks & Dunn, Steely Dan, and others. Line-dancing definitely ensued during the Brooks & Dunn cover. Later, enjoyed pizza at the VFW Hall to the strains of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. The two-year-old we met at the farmer's market seemed to think Bob's Garage Band were pretty OK. She never quite warmed up to me, though.


For some reason I closed my eyes. You couldn't see a thing, anyway. But you could hear the voices-- raucous, ecstatic, doomed-- floating from the 200-some crowd and bouncing off venue walls virgin to cigarette smoke. "Dubya dubya ay-ay-ay," we called out. That's not the secret incantantion behind Karl Rove's political black magic, but the answer to a crossword-puzzle clue in the quietest song Josh Ritter played last night, "The Temptation of Adam". From underrated 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, the song is a gentle acoustic ballad-- a friend who remains a Ritter skeptic once described it as standard "coffeehouse" stuff-- about a man and a woman who find love in a nuclear missile silo, tempting the man to push the button and stay down there with his beloved forever. "'What five letters spell apocalypse?' she asked me," the Idaho-born, New York-based folk-rocker had just finished singing, in a plaintive, plains-y tenor. Before the song, he had asked the crew at Vaudeville Mews to kill the lights. But if someone took a flash photo at that very moment, I'll bet you my vinyl copy of Blood on the Tracks that Ritter was grinning. He almost always is.

Ritter and his four-piece band, recognizable by their handlebar-mustachioed bass player and Stetson(?)-hatted guitarist, don't play many venues this small anymore. The last time I saw them they were in Central Park backed by the New York Pops, doing a set heavy on slow songs for an audience of wine-sipping Upper East Side picnickers who got in for free. But the first time I saw Ritter, in late 2002 or early 2003, was at a place a lot like this: a small-ish venue called Schubas, in Chicago. He was by himself in those days, and I was there with one of my best friends from college, drinking Sierra Nevada and having our minds blown. Last night's show couldn't match the first-impression dynamism of that night, especially because the setlist left out moralistic rumbler "Harrisburg" (a personal fave from that era), but it was about as close as you could get sans a time machine. For a packed house at the Mews, Ritter and the band romped through 19 barnstorming songs rich with crunching guitar, pealing Wulitzer, and a couple of hundred years of American myths and imagery.

Critics, myself included, tend to praise Ritter for his torrential, almost Biblical lyrics, but some of the best lyrics he ever wrote aren't even words. Case in point: "Kathleen", a poignantly romantic roots-rocker from 2003's Hello Starling, in which anyone who's new to Ritter's metaphors about the Northern Lights can still fill the room joining in on his perfectly timed "Whoa-oh-oh-whoa-oh"s. Plenty of people did know the words, however, and they weren't afraid to sing or clap along, adding a nice, communal spirit from churning opener "Mind's Eye" to encore finale "Empty Heart"(both from The Historical Conquests). As for time machines, we got "Me & Jiggs", a classic about carefree Saturday nights and their fleetingness, from 2002's The Golden Age of Radio, and also "Lillian, Egypt", from 2006's The Animal Years, with some onstage juggling to match the song's melodramatic silent-movie themes. "Thanks for coming back," someone shouted, as Ritter was playing the Buddy Holly-ish new-love rock & roller "Right Moves", again from his most recent album.

Ritter also played some promising new songs, which continued his trend toward broader stylistic variation without leaving behind his familiar American folklore tropes. One was piano-based and something of a waltz; the lyrics mentioned both New York and Iowa (yay). "There ain't nothin' new about the world," Ritter sang on another, sludgier song with a lumbering bass groove-- I think that one might be called "Black Hole". Probably my favorite of the newer songs was slower but full-sounding, with Ritter on electric guitar and singing about the Southern Pacific Railroad. "Remember me to Roxyanne," he beseeched. Anybody who somehow wandered into the show without knowing any of Ritter's songs, old or new, might have recognized a couple of covers: Ritter worked a snippet of the Beatles' insipid calypso-tinged "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" into The Historical Conquests secret weapon "Rumors", actually a fun touch, and he opened up his encore with his gorgeous solo version of Bruce Springsteen's "The River", marred only by some drunken burps and chatter from over my shoulder. I'm no Springsteen fan, but even I have gotta recognize "The River"; Ritter's version is soft and appropriately pained.

Des Moines was seeing Ritter at what must feel like a strange place in his career. His last couple of albums have been on corporate labels or their imprints, and he has played on national TV, so he's not exactly an unknown anymore, and he's too earnest and rootsy for most of the novelty-seeking hipster crowd, anyway. At the same time, he's not exactly a household name, and whoever decides what gets played on radio stations these days seems to have blown it by not making "Right Moves" bigger than whatever that latest awful Rob Thomas jam is. Another friend complained to me once about Ritter repeating some stage patter at multiple shows-- a forgivable offense for a touring musician, of course, but also always kind of a bummer-- but last night he was ready with real Des Moines reminiscences about the "High Life Tavern," fishing in the Raccoon River, and a local waitress recognizing him as being in "the Fifteen Dollar Band." What if he never gets the critical and popular recognition he deserves? What if he plays the Mews again the next time he comes to Des Moines, and the next, and the Central Park shows start turning back into Bowery Ballroom shows start turning back into Mercury Lounge shows? I don't know. But Josh Ritter's songs are stuck in my head, and he's coming to the chorus now.



"My suggestion for improving the music scene around here: Go to more shows!!!"

Before I arrived in Des Moines, a little more than a week ago now, I asked a few people involved in the local music scene "five questions" just to find out what I should expect. Derek Lambert makes indie folk music influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan and Elliott Smith, and he has an EP out on Barely Bias Records called The Forest Floor. He's also a sound engineer at the Vaudeville Mews, which is where I managed to catch his set opening for the Poison Control Center. In fact, you just might be able to catch a glimpse of him jumping onstage in this great video of the PCC rocking out with Pavement's Bob Nastanovich to finish the night.

Anyway, I forgot to post my e-mail conversation with Derek until now. A transcript follows. Hope to see you at the Mews tonight for Josh Ritter!

1. I've been listening to your MySpace, and it sounds like you have a nice little lo-fi folk thing going on-- I notice you mention people like Iron & Wine and Leonard Cohen as influences. What have you been up to lately musically? Anything new we should be looking forward to? (Sorry, I guess that's two questions.)

DL: Currently, I've just been playing and recording by myself (I recorded my first 8 song EP on a four-track tape recorder in my basement), but I have plans to possibly get a band together for some shows and maybe some recording, hopefully by the end of the summer/fall. Right now, I've been messing around with a few new songs, so hopefully I can gain some momentum soon and get another album's worth written.

2. More generally, what's the Des Moines music scene like?

DL: The Des Moines music scene... it's all over the place. Working at the Vaudeville Mews, I see a ton of different styles of music every night, and some do better than others, but overall, there is a pretty decent energy building around music in Des Moines. At times in the past, I've definitely thought that the music scene was lacking around here, but there are some really great bands and people contributing a lot right now, in all styles of music.... and since I am the type of person that appreciates good music in any form, I think that Des Moines is a pretty great place for music.

3. What are your favorite shows coming up this summer?

DL: Gogol Bordello, July 22nd @ Peoples
Gaiden Gadema's CD Release, July 24th @ Vaudeville Mews
Theodore, July 30th @ Vaudeville Mews
The Daredevil Christopher Wright, August 13th @ Vaudeville Mews

4. Any other local bands we should be watching?

DL: Oh man, there are a ton of local bands to watch. The Poison Control Center, Tyborn Jig, Druids, Gabe Cordova, Maxilla Blue... just a few favorites that immediately come to mind.

5. What would you change or improve about what's going on musically in Des Moines?

DL: My suggestion for improving the music scene around here: Go to more shows!!! Some of the best bands that I've ever seen have been playing to some of the smallest crowds. If you are a music fan in Des Moines, go to the website of one of the local venues (Vaudeville Mews, Peoples, House of Bricks) and just click around and listen to some of the bands that are coming through in the near future. I GUARANTEE that no matter what kind of music you are into, you will find something good. Then, whatever you find that you like, show up and support it so that these places can continue to bring in quality acts. Okay, one more suggestion, this one is for local bands... promote your shows! A lot of bands around here are great at promoting shows and getting people to come out and have fun, but there are also a large number of bands that are lacking in this area. If you are a local band opening a show for a touring band that doesn't have a huge draw, it is YOUR job to bring out your friends, family, whoever you can convince to show up and shell out 5 bucks to see some music. This will also strengthen the overall music scene around here and keep great music coming back to our city.



It finally feels like summer today. Too bad it's the day after not only Independence Day, but also Des Moines' biggest independent-minded music festival: the 2nd annual 80/35. I left Brooklyn to move to Des Moines exactly one week ago, so I missed Iowa's heat waves earlier this season-- I was too busy enjoying gray day after gray day en route to what meteorologists at Penn. State have called New York City's second-wettest June on record. Nobody I've met is more weather-minded than Iowans, however: Just ask my wife to read the Doppler radar for you sometime. Despite two unseasonably damp, chilly days this Fourth of July weekend, Des Moines music lovers joined with national acts ranging from Public Enemy and Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks to Broken Social Scene and Ben Harper to help make what I managed to see of 80/35 a success in almost every way.

Every way, I'm nervous we'll find out, except one. The Des Moines Music Coalition estimated Friday night's attendance at 4,500, Juice writer Joe Lawler reports in the Des Moines Register. The festival needs paid attendance of no fewer than 12,000 for both days to avoid losing money, Lawler notes. I haven't seen definitive totals yet, but organizers estimated Saturday's paid and unpaid attendance (there were two free stages) at 12,000, as Kyle Munson reports in this morning's Register. Does that mean Friday night's figure included unpaid attendees, too? I don't know yet whether the festival hit the magic number it needed to break even, but it will have been sort of miraculous even if it did-- this is only the second installment of an indie-oriented music festival, after all, in a recession year and on a rain-soaked weekend. UPDATE: Lawler reports total estimated paid attendance of 12,000, apparently meeting the break-even point, although beer sales declined.

Already, one Register commenter is complaining, "Am I the only one peeved that the city that is supposed to be in a budget crisis has putting money towards this event?" Probably not. But let me be the first to argue-- loudly, repeatedly, from every rooftop from the Ruan Building to Principal Park-- that a festival of this kind is worth it for Des Moines. I'm new here, and I realize it's up to you to decide whether more young opinionated dudes like me are even what you want in Des Moines, but I gotta say I would've been a lot less likely to up and buy a place here-- my wife's roots in the area (and my own ties) notwithstanding-- if not for 80/35 and the resurgence of downtown culture, dining, and nightlife it represents. I can't imagine I'll be the only person who feels that way. That's good for real estate prices and for local businesses. If Iowa wants to fight "brain drain," fun and well-run events like 80/35 are a great step toward doing it.

80/35 can be good for Des Moines' image in a different way, as well. Here's Public Enemy's Chuck D talking to Cityview's Michael Swanger: "I tell people all the time Iowa has always been one of the progressive states." Lest you think he's just kissing up to the hometown crowd, D adds: “When you tell the other 49 states, they’re like ‘huh?’ But they took notice last year [with President Barack Obama winning the Iowa Caucus].” The rap legend gave the city another sort of boost upon his arrival, delivering inspirational messages to local youths at Des Moines social-service agency Urban Dreams: "Y'all don't know how good you've got it here," the Register's Daniel P. Finney quotes him saying. Sure, D also still seems to think people are listening to "gangsta rap," and there's the whole confusing story of Flavor Flav's non-appearance. But the point remains: Des Moines doesn't have the major-league sports franchises of a Kansas City or a St. Louis. What it does have is a remarkable history on civil rights, from the landmark 1948 civil rights victory at Katz Drug Store that presaged the broader Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, to the mind-blowing heroics of shoulda-been first African-American Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Bright in 1951, right on through to being the first state to establish an African-American as a valid presidential candidate and one of only a few states to recognize the right of homosexual couples to be legally wed. In other words, Iowa gets it. A music festival is one way to showcase the state's open and accepting culture for the rest of the nation.

Last year I spent the Fourth of July in Denmark. I was lucky enough to get to cover the Roskilde music festival for Pitchfork. Roskilde is the biggest festival in Northern Europe, and the third-biggest in all of Europe; last year the performers included the likes of Radiohead, Jay-Z, My Bloody Valentine, the Chemical Brothers, the Streets, Band of Horses, Girl Talk, Cat Power, No Age, Judas Priest, Robyn, Lykke Li, Santigold, Slayer, and many many more. The festival was an amazing experience I'll never forget, characterized by a very Midwestern slogan: "Take care of each other." Of course, some differences between Scandinavia and the Midwest can never be bridged-- the drinking age, for example. But if a dedicated arts-focused community can bring so much talent such a great distance, transforming a historic little town of about 46,000 into a musical hub, then with time and hard work, there's no reason 80/35 can't go on to see its own large-scale successes. All it takes is time and hard work: Look at Bonnaroo. I'm not sure Des Moines is the right place for an event exactly like that one, but if Manchester, Tenn., can do it, I have no doubt Iowa can come up with a musical tradition of its own, in its own way.

So, 80/35. I can only really write about what I saw: For our first weekend back in Mrs. Des Noise's hometown, we had family priorities, too, as I hope you'll understand. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks were laconic but commanding on Friday night, shouting-out local boy Bob Nastanovich and alternating woolly guitar solos from latest album Real Emotional Trash with taut indie-rock crowd pleasers like Face the Truth's "Pencil Rot".... Great drumming from Janet Weiss, formerly of Sleater-Kinney and Quasi.... And on a personal note, it was just fun finally to see Malkmus play live... Still not Pavement, but what is? Philly's Man Man were another highlight-- this is the second time I've just barely not actually seen them, but their carnie-rock freakouts caused dancing even outside the pay gates (Metromix Des Moines tweeted that lead singer Honus Honus was wearing "near daisy dukes"). On one of the free stages, New York up-and-comers Cymbals Eat Guitars made their retro 1990s indie-rock sound more gnarled and aggressive than I expected, which should be a good sign for this month's Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. Omaha-based Tilly and the Wall's multicolored indie-pop performance was another favorite, inciting plenty of crowd participation despite an early set time, their powerfully cavernous drum sounds almost making up for their heavy reverb's tendency to muffle the songs. I was into Hasidic reggae guy Matisyahu when he was settling into heavy sci-fi dub grooves; less so when he was parroting "No Woman No Cry" for a song from his forthcoming album. A previously unheard discovery was Athens, Ga.-based Modern Skirts, who opened with three drummers and went on to sketch out rhythmically uptight rock terrain that reminded me of times of Spoon, Pavement (from whom their name derives), and even the harmony-laden keyboard-pop of the Zombies. As with bigger music festivals like CMJ or South by Southwest, 80/35 also sparked concerts outside the official grounds, though try as I might I couldn't catch the name of my favorite among the handful of bands I heard playing at Des Moines Social Club's Sideshow Lounge-- think it sounded like "Robert Allen Hawg"? UPDATE: It's Adam Robert Haug, notes helpful commenter Chris Ford, whose precariously perched keyboard-pop with Christopher the Conquered I also enjoyed.

I was bummed enough by the lateness of Public Enemy's rain-marred appearance (um, Heet Mob? Not on the schedule) that, having seen them last year and not wanting to be responsible for everybody else there with me getting drenched on my account, I left early. (I hate that one of my favorite Iowans can now say he's been to two hip-hop shows, and yet because of performer tardiness he still hasn't actually seen one. You expect that from Mike Jones, but Chuck D?) Either way, by all accounts on Twitter it sounds like Public Enemy put on as good a show as I caught last year at Pitchfork, despite the absence of Flavor Flav. I'm not too into G. Love or Ben Harper, so I used the fact that I'm just writing about this for fun as an excuse to skip out on them. (Excuse for missing Broken Social Scene: I was hungry! Plus, if I really wanted to see them, I would have seen them before.) And I probably shouldn't write about Poison Control Center anymore, but if their noon Saturday set was anything like their free Thursday night show, it was among the festival's highlights-- like 'em live better than Cymbals Eat Guitars, that's for sure.

Final thought: Why should Omaha have a better music scene than Des Moines? (...Zoo, maybe, even airport, but actual culture? They're Cornhuskers fans, for crying out loud!!!) At this rate, pretty soon, maybe they won't.

(Photos, from top to bottom: Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Adam Robert Haug, waiting for Public Enemy.)

You can read/watch plenty more (probably much more informative) 80/35 coverage over at the
official website.



I am not a photographer... (Bob Nastanovich with the Poison Control Center)

This whole local-music-blogging thing is going to be a lot harder than I thought. In Des Moines, I want to be friends with the bands. What's happening to me?

Ames, Iowa's own the Poison Control Center pushed, cajoled, and surfed the hometown crowd into arms-splayed fun-having with exuberantly gimmicky stagecraft (a good thing!) and some super impressive indie rock singalongs during last night's free pre-80/35 party at Vaudeville Mews. I had listened to their MySpace a bit before, I have the CD, and PCC guy Pat Fleming was kind enough to do a quick interview with Des Noise last month, but I still had no idea what awaited me at the Mews. A set of new material as well as songs from the band's 2007 debut album was melodic, energetic, and uniformly strong, with lyrical themes often addressed to the audience (touring/coming-of-age song "Driving", darkly optimistic help-us-sing song "Magic Circle Symphony"). They had the propulsive squall of early Pavement with the chops to pull it off: vocals ranging from Wayne Coyne beatific to Conor Oberst cathartic, and an overall presence that would fit in easily alongside late-2000s indie rock disciples Titus Andronicus or Los Campesinos! (and would blow Tapes 'N Tapes out of the water of 10,000 lakes). Oh, plus Fleming was a genial lunatic of a showman, clambering all over stage and the crowd. Doing the splits while playing guitar in the audience. No wonder we both like Super Furry Animals.

I'm totally biased now, though, because Fleming is also a really nice dude. Ryan Foley recently tweeted a quote from UK critic Nick Kent: "If these people turned up on your doorstep, would you invite them in? If not, why are you listening to their music?" In this case, the answer to the first question is a resounding yes. So much for being a cranky old rock critic.

Local singer/songwriter Derek Lambert opened with a solid solo acoustic set of whispery and introspective lo-fi folk-- occasionally drowned out by the crowd, but I'm looking forward to seeing him play again sometime. He was also among the most awesomely amped people in a crowd full of awesomely amped people during PCC's set. I came here hoping for audiences that wouldn't be the usual arms-folded Brooklyn variety, and I wasn't disappointed. I also met Kelly from the Besties, a sadly overlooked New York indie-pop band-- she just moved from Greenpoint to North Carolina, so I guess I'm not the only one looking for a change of scenery.

Pavement's Bob Nastanovich? Repeatedly mentioned from the stage as someone who will end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? He was there, too, as promised. Between sets by Lambert and PCC, Nastanovich sat upstairs spinning records, including New Order's "Ceremony" and Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone". At the end of the night, he joined PCC for a Pavement cover-- I think it was "Conduit for Sale"? "Two States". Sounded like the Fall. Ridiculous.

After the song, Nastanovich declared, "This is the only fucking proper city in the United States of America." I obviously hope he's right. Too early for me to tell. But I can say this: I had a really, really great time last night, and so did a lot of other people.

...Anybody catch Toots and the Maytals? How was it? Also missed the fireworks over the Capitol building, though we did see the end of the ones from Principal Park. See you at 80/35 tonight!!