Three New Iowa Albums You Need to Hear Now

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Person Whale, Ghost Balloon

Iowa is the most landlocked, beach-free place you can possibly imagine, so it seems fitting that when Person Whale plays surf it sounds more like a shark attack than a Sunday on the shore. Don’t step on any hypodermic needles when you trek through the band’s latest scorcher, Ghost Balloon. This new full length album from these Des Moines punks is out on a limited edition cassette being released today at Vaudeville Mews. The band throws the local scene into the mix with this decade’s garage rock revivalism that has mostly been an export from a fertile Bay Area scene typified by acts Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, Thee Oh Sees, and Shannon & the Clams. Person Whale’s take is a bit more on the vicious side of life. The two opening tracks introduce a near-blown guitar distortion that suggests metal until you hear the Ventures-esque rhythms that orients the tone more in the world of fuzzy, evil rock’n’roll. “Hinge Hippo” offers a bad-trip uptempo waltz that approximates the feeling of seeing a beautiful sunrise while stumbling home drunk. “Split Mind” slows down the tempo while proportionately cranking up the scuzz before the album throws itself back out to the sea with a final track in which psychedelic lyrical images float above an encroaching wave of pure noise. These guys turn Surfin’ USA into Drownin’ IA.

Karen Meat & the Computer, On the Couch

karen meat coverThe dangerously addictive four-song EP from Karen Meat & the Computer, On the Couch, which debuted earlier this summer on Stereogum, finds a forthcoming, precise way of delivering instantly visual lyrics over classic where-do-I-know-this-from melodies. So, how does this sound so new? I think it has something to do with the application of a complex attitude that is alternately fuck-off and poignantly vulnerable. The title track, for instance, gives us a bouncing rhythm below a lovely duet in which Brad Turk gamely complements a friend on being “pretty good at basketball” and Karen Meat responds with a complement on how he’s getting “pretty good at writing love songs.” But the sound of innocence in both their voices, paralleled by the sweet-natured backing vocals, is undercut by the devastating resolution to the chorus, sung together: “I’m regretting everything I do.” The twang in Karen’s vocal performances enhances the very country tendency toward lucid lyricism and while Brad’s crystal clear upper register reinforces the pop feeling of the synths and drum machines. Behind the scenes, John Huffman and Phil Young use live instrumentation to blend the Computer with the Meat and the overall effect is incredibly pleasing, the more so for being somehow aching and sad. The opening track captures this feeling with one of the best lines you’ll hear this year, a line I sometimes say out loud as a sentence just for fun: “I wanted you to have it all, all the things I never did, a TV on the wall, a magnet on the fridge.”

Electric Jury, The Lake

electric-jury-promo-2The blistering Ames four-piece Electric Jury has just delivered their first LP, a dense and progressive explosion that combines influences from blues, rock’n’roll, and metal to explore misanthropic themes with a touch of satire. The stand-out track “The Nihilist” channels the demented roadhouse feel of The Cramps to mockingly deliver the message that “everyone’s amazing” while the mighty riff at the center of “Rainbow Party” is enhanced by a masterful blend of guitars and synthesizers in the service of pure head-banging fury. Both songs that develop the album’s central concept of The Lake, which comes across as some type of Orwellian mind-numbing technology that makes its users more susceptible to autocratic rule (not that we’d ever carry such technology in our pockets or anything, it’s just a concept). This vision of a coming post-human landscape will be familiar to Electric Jury fans who’ve been initiated into “the demonstration” by the pleasingly robotic voice of our future ruler. That voice is here too on the seductive (and slightly comical) track “Two Minutes Hate,” encouraging our easily granted devotion to The Lake. But the album leads up the best and final track, “Contrarian,” which offers an epic rebuke to the authoritarian streak being voiced — in parody — through the disc in a monstrous fit of pure rock. Humans win again?

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Nate Logsdon is a writer, musician, and entrepreneur from Ames. His music and local culture articles have appeared in the Ames Tribune and Ames Progressive and on numerous websites and blogs. Logsdon is a founder of the Maximum Ames music company and the Iowa Music Store. He is also the owner of Cycles Recycling and the former bar manager of the rock club DG's Tap House. Logsdon writes and plays music with local band Mumford's and many other ensembles. He releases albums under his own name and others.