Bill Gates will single-handedly spearhead the Heaven 17 revival.

Here at Des Noise, I don't really do interviews. I already have a bunch of writing I'm assigned to do, some of which I ostensibly do mainly because it's fun, so when I'm writing for this completely unprofessional blog (hmm, that doesn't sound right, does it?) I like to stay as far away from news cycles and PR ridiculousness as possible. Jonathan Richman once said the day being a musician started to feel like work, he'd quit-- he never has-- and I hope I can be that way about music writing, too.

But I made an exception when I heard the Mountain Goats were coming to Iowa City and main man John Darnielle would be available for interviews. If you're not familiar with the longtime singer and songwriter's many albums, some great discoveries await you; from his early days recording with just a boombox, to his increasingly orchestrated recent work, Darnielle excels at highly literary (not in that boring wanna-be-Bob-Dylan way) and emotionally complex songs that will stick with you a lifetime-- or at least about seven years, which is how long they've lasted me since I first got into his music. Darnielle used to live in Ames, and he once described his recording style in those days as not lo-fi but "bi-fi"-- I wonder if that's where Poison Control Center's Patrick Tape Fleming, also of Ames, got the name for his now-defunct record label? (Patrick, let me know in the comments...)

Sounds kind of dumb when I say it but it's true.

Anyway, the Mountain Goats play the Blue Moose Taphouse in Iowa City with New York fuzz-poppers the Beets on June 12. Their 2009 album, The Life of the World to Come, titles its songs after Bible verses, and includes some of my favorite entries in the (by now sprawling) MGs catalogue; also check out John's book on Black Sabbath's Master of Reality for the 33 1/3 series. And his Last Plane to Jakarta blog. Oh, and his message board comments on R. Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)" are legendary, too. So I decided to revive my previously short-lived Five Questions With... feature, and John was kind enough to e-mail me his responses on Iowa, the Beets, CocoRosie, health insurance, and cultivating a strong local music scene. (I asked one extra question just in case, so-- bonus!)



It was worth it to feel like this. 

So last night Love of Everything played an early show at the Vaudeville Mews. They played Wichita the night before, and apparently that show was a surprise highlight of the Chicago duo's brief tour in support of new album Best in Tensions. A "two for the price of one" drink special will do that, I guess, even on a Sunday night. They weren't so lucky here, drink-wise, but a lot of the all-ages crowd stuck around after the local bands, and their reward came in the form of a short but sweet set: Bobby Burg making with the naive-punk punning and friendly banter as drummer Elisse La Roche beat out simple rhythms and smiled back at him. Their husband-wife dynamic made them look a bit like Matt and Kim, if Matt dressed more like Sufjan Stevens. Oh, and they actually did the tennis ball thing! (As seen in the video above.)

Only your mother laughed as I apologized for being.

Burg has been involved with a bunch of Chicago bands-- Joan of Arc, Chin Up Chin Up, Vacations, that whole community-- and he first caught my ear six years ago with Total Eclipse of the Heart, which suffered the misfortune of being reviewed (with effusive praise!) by me. His sound has changed a bit since then, with a sensibly lo-fi screen of distortion over Burg's high, vulnerable vocals, and the addition of La Roche on drums. But I'd actually been thinking about that older record recently even before I knew Love of Everything (a) had a new album out or (b) were coming to Des Moines. One of my favorite-- albeit in a modest, personal way, the kind of thing you feel weird pitching to quasi-objective arbiters of taste like Pitchfork-- discoveries this year has been a Southern California singer/songwriter who records as Nicole Kidman. He has put out a couple of CD-Rs on Bridgetown Records, and his voice is a lot like how Burg's used to sound, his  rudimentary arrangements a lot like Burg's, too. (Daniel Johnston is another decent comparison). Release-wise, a particular favorite is 20 Years Old and No Boyfriend, a tape of songs about Nicole Kidman movies, plus a cover of Kidman hubby Keith Urban. Also see if you can find "I'm in Love With a Jehova's Witness". But the tracks on the MySpace page should be a great introduction either way.

Coming up this week: some semblance of a Des Noise summer concert preview. Woo.



The kids are on fire in the bedroom.

In a recent Tumblr post, one of my online pals, the talented musician and music writer Douglas Martin, reminded readers of an old Calvin & Hobbes comic strip that was particularly astute on the subject of shock value in music. Calvin & Hobbes holds a place close to my heart for way more reasons than I can probably articulate right now; probably a big part of it is the way Bill Watterson was able to do something so imaginative, singular, and emotionally resonant and also succeed commercially, and then walk away when he felt like he was being made to compromise too much. Like a lot of people, I once had to spend some scary times in a hospital, and I remember a head specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center telling a 13-year-old me and my parents about all kinds of gruesome things they might have to do with me, including possibly cutting me open or else risking some kind of cerebral explosion years down the line (fortunately none of this happened and the dude just had really awful bedside manner); at some point he and I were able to bond over a reference to Calvin & Hobbes, the only human connection in our entire scary conversation. Earlier, my friends when I was in elementary school all used to read Calvin & Hobbes, too, and we would draw our own characters, envision our own universes in between playing kickball or trading baseball cards. So my love of Calvin & Hobbes might have something to do with all that stuff, too.

According to the Des Moines Register, a record 25,000 fans went to Lazerfest in Indianola on Sunday to see Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, and Godsmack (although it sounds like the crowd had thinned out a bit by Godsmack). No matter how you feel about the acts involved, if you care about live music in the Des Moines area, that's awesome, and huge kudos to the people who put the event together. In a really interesting interview with the Register's Joe Lawler, Cooper basically brags about what this Watterson strip decries, putting a hip postmodern self-awareness on being a typical golf-loving Arizona Republican who occasionally, like a carnie finding his mark (and these days in some of the same venues, probably, right?) gets earnest young kids to part with their heard-earned money to see him do his best PT Barnum: "Jim Morrison trying to be Jim Morrison all the time is what killed him. Why not leave that character on stage? That's what allows me to be married, have kids and coach Little League baseball. When I get on stage, I play a character that's nothing like me: an arrogant, over-the-top, egotistical villain. That's what makes it fun. I'm sure Anthony Hopkins feels the same about Hannibal Lecter." Whatever, it's all show business. But it's nice when that rare talent like Watterson can entertain you and tell you something true, too. Beauty is truth, and vice versa, etc., and all that.

I doubt many people at Lazerfest experienced anything as heavy as they would've felt standing in front of the speaker for the The Twilight Sad's set at Vaudeville Mews on Tuesday night. I thought there was another opener on before them, so a friend had to text me during the first song, and in my rush to get over there I forgot to grab earplugs. I vividly remember squinting because of the gale-force distortion, which doesn't even really make sense. The Twilight Sad are a band from Scotland, and their name almost describes what they're like, if you can use some imagination: jet-engine guitar effects and wobbling vibrato evoking My Bloody Valentine (that pink Loveless cover looks sort of like a pretty sunset, right?), plus a whole lot of sad in the form of lead singer James Graham, who burrs barely comprehensible (to American-accented ears) lyrics about adolescent pain and adult drunken anguish, often while closing his eyes. The Twilight Sad have two albums out now, 2007's Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and 2009's Forget the Night Ahead, and they played songs from both of them; here's something I wrote about them in 2006. Not that many people were there yet, and I suppose if you didn't know the songs it would've been hard to figure out what Graham was getting at over the racket, but somehow I'd never seen the band live before, and I was pleased to see they could make the same sound happen onstage. Only louder.

Japan's Mono were the headliners, and they gave the 95 or so paid attendees their 15 dollars' worth with a 90-minute set of brooding, dynamics-driven post-rock instrumentals. In general I might not be the go-to guy to go around critiquing post-rock-- when Mark Richardson and I went to a festival together, he was the one who got to write about Mogwai-- and I was running low on sleep at this point, so it doesn't say much that my attention was lagging from time to time. Mono were as intently focused on their instruments as classical musicians, and they seemed as expert, too, shifting from hushed to cacophonous in ornate bursts of melody, their long hair flapping in the air. Good stuff, but at the same time it reminded me that local instrumental rockers the Autumn Project are pretty damn great at this type of thing, too.

An ear-splitting shoegaze-emo-folk band from Scotland and a galactically epic instrumental band from Japan-- not bad for a Tuesday night in Des Moines. I'll try to figure out what this all has to do with Calvin & Hobbes some other time, sorry. (I'll try to post updated concert dates tomorrow, too-- the Mountain Goats are coming to Iowa City!-- but for now, check the previous post.)



 Wednesday night with Harlem.

In a Pitchfork review last month of Hippies, the Matador debut by Austin three-piece Harlem, writer David Bevan notes, "You might say they rub some people the wrong way." I guess you could say I used to be one of those people. It wasn't anything in particular about the band's music, which struck me as reasonably OK scuzzed-out rock'n'roll. Just call it the Harlem Shakes rule: When an otherwise harmless, presumably non-black band names itself after a famous African-American neighborhood, I sort of preemptively get annoyed with them for trying to shock me or whatever. I want to ignore them, to avoid giving them the satisfaction. Is that weird?

I know there is something evil under your pretty face.

The thing with Harlem, though-- as multiple listens to Hippies quickly reveal-- is they're actually pretty skilled purveyors of noisy, catchy, Nuggets-y um nuggets. If you like bands like the Black Lips or the Smith-Westerns, and I do, it's pretty hard to imagine you not liking these guys, too. I remember not really feeling "Friendly Ghost" when I first heard it, but unlike a lot of other bands working in this sort of lo-fi garage-rock space, Harlem make sure their songs are as hummable as they are rickety-sounding. So by the zillionth time I checked out the song, I had all but forgotten initially making fun of something or other about its lyrics, and I just wanted to shout along. See also: "Be Your Baby," "Gay Human Bones," etc.

Wednesday night at the Vaudeville Mews, Harlem maybe weren't the tightest of all bands-- a couple of visits to the bar may have had something to do with that, and who could blame them?-- but they put on a really fun show. I know that's not some kind of deep insight or anything, but that's all I've got for now. The rock show was awesome. The Vaudeville Mews was a genie in a bottle, and this time, Harlem rubbed people the right way. (If you're still with me after that horrendous sentence, then please come back anytime, dudes.)

Rock'n'roll rock'n'roll rock'n'roll rock'n'roll.

Locals the Jitz opened, their bassist bare-chested, and put on a typically rousing set of good-times cars/girls/rock'n'roll rock'n'roll. Thanks for playing "Ingersoll Booze" as requested, fellas.

Other upcoming Des Moines shows, basically just reprised from my last post, after the jump.



This is our new calling card.

For a lot of people in central Iowa, the big weekend for live music this spring in Des Moines happened last month. Elton John played Wells Fargo Arena on a Friday night. AC/DC followed on Saturday. The same night, Ani DiFranco hit Hoyt Sherman.

For me, the weekend that had been circled-- mentally, at least-- on my calendar for ages in advance was the one that just passed. Local heroes the Poison Control Center played their album release party at the Vaudeville Mews on Friday night, joined by Des Moines up-and-comers Christopher the Conquered, Wolves in the Attic and Derek Lambert, plus critically acclaimed Saddle Creek folk-poppers the Mynabirds. Scott Yoshimura of another successful local band, the Envy Corps, played the album release party for his new outfit, Canby (previously known as Menlo), on Saturday night, again at the Vaude, accompanied by the debut performance of Golden Veins (a new band featuring members of locals Beati Paolo), plus a set by Omaha's Skypiper. If you came downtown for the year's first farmers' market and didn't stick around for the late show, you missed out.

Little by little by little by little.

Put it this way: Minneapolis rapper Brother Ali, who played Sunday night, was probably the Vaude's biggest draw this weekend, but at that point, I was too exhausted to go. (So if anyone was there and wants to say how it was, please don't hesitate to comment below!)

Let's make it easier than it is.

PCC's new double LP, Sad Sour Future, is already a shoo-in for my albums of the year list, although I feel like I'm too close to the band and its music to review it professionally. It's best if you imagine it as four EPs, the way they originally conceived it-- the title is a nod to Stereolab singles collection Fab Four Suture-- and finally being able to pick up the vinyl has helped me to do just that (it also made sense when one of the members mentioned at the concert that they were inspired by the 70-minutes-plus albums of singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren). Spread across each of the four sides, you can hear four distinct types of songs: Patrick Tape Fleming's guitar-blazing classic-rock love songs, in full 1970s Electric Light Orchestra mode, as filtered through the low-budget psych sensibility of a guy who loves Elephant Six, Guided by Voices and Super Furry Animals; Devin Frank's laconic, slightly askew mini-narratives reminiscent of Pavement or Silver Jews; Joe Terry's poignant, simple and honest tunes that bring to mind Neil Young; and of course, Donald Ephraim Curtis's poppy, hook-filled numbers, including first video selection "Being Gone." Patrick mentioned to me once how each of the band members has such a different clothing style now in the album artwork. I think he was sort of wistful about it, longing for the days they were all more similar. But in my opinion, that's part of what makes PCC so great: Its members are all really interesting and cool, each in really different ways. Unlike all those bands out there with only one or two creative/dynamic members, everybody in this group writes songs-- sharp, well-crafted sing-alongs, at that. They all seem like just your average friendly Iowa dudes when you meet them-- then you see them play, or get to know Patrick's deep knowledge of basically every good rock or pop record ever, or find out about the time Joe stopped talking for a few weeks or gave the amazing impromptu speech upon winning Mews booker Ladd Askland's first annual "Man of the Year Award," or you talk to Devin about his philosophy studies at the University of Missouri, or you chat with Donald, himself a grad student at Iowa, over Twitter about, well, whatever people are twittering about that day. And-- man. Here's hoping that touring drummer David Olson, who will fill in for Donald while Donald is literally "being gone," can play an essential role of his own in the group; that's the kind of band they are.

I'm understanding how it feels
to understand.

As much as I love the record, though, what makes PCC even more special are their live shows. I've heard it said they were crazier in the early days, even before they opened for Elephant Six-ers Apples in Stereo-- like, back when they were wearing matching costumes to tie in with the idea that they were from the poison control center. I'll never know, but I do know that as many great bands as I'll probably see at 80/35, Pitchfork and wherever else this summer, I probably won't see any-- well, except maybe Robyn-- who work harder to (gasp!) actually ensure you're having a good time. I could bring along just about anybody to a PCC show and be confident they'll enjoy themselves. Friday's set at the Mews leaned more heavily on the new material, as it should have, so some of the usual crowd interaction wasn't there until triumphant finale "Magic Circle Symphony." But still, you had Devin soloing on his head, Patrick jumping off of the drum set and doing the splits, David joining Donald on auxiliary percussion, and members of Christopher the Conquered providing a horn section-- all for a ridiculous $5 ticket price (compare that to the $90 you could've spent for just one ticket to Elton or AC/DC, decades after either act's prime). Positioning myself right in front of the speaker might not have been the best call, but any long-term hearing loss was totally worth it. I'm sure PCC's show in Ames the next night with a reunited Keepers of the Carpet was even crazier, and I bet somehow they managed to top that Sunday in Iowa City, too.

 Filmmaker's dream:
Clint Curtis, Best Supporting Actor
Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival 2010

More on this weekend, plus upcoming Des Moines shows and PCC's full tour dates, after the jump: