Dark Pines, Skye Carrasco — 2011
I only got to see Skye Carrasco play live a handful of times, but she blew me away as a performer and musician. After catching her once or twice here in Ames, I was at the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City (where Skye lived at the time), and saw that she was playing. My wife and I eagerly went to check out her show, which was above a record store in a fairly DIY space. The show did not disappoint, and afterwards, I was fortunate enough to speak with her and fan-gush a little, and she gave me this tape. It’s one of my treasured possessions. Outside of the beautiful design that makes each tape unique, the music is just incredible.
Skye Carrasco is a violinist and a singer, and she excels at both, creating haunting melodies. On Dark Pines, she layers violin parts, with staccato plucks mixed in with long, searing bowed passages that sometimes resemble feedback, but classical feedback. Her melodies are otherworldly, in the vein of Bjork, Kate Bush, or Joni Mitchell, and they transport you to a different world. And, even though there’s several layers of things moving in and out of each other at any given time, the entire album is also very sparse, each part doing exactly what it was designed to do, then receding to let the other parts work their magic.
Standout tracks include “Eleanor” and “The Moon And You,” but you could literally pick anything on this one and be in awe. Dark Pines manages to dwell in that rare gray area that encompasses experimental and traditional (classical) music, while never yielding completely to either.
In a nice touch, on Skye’s Bandcamp page, the tracklisting for this tape release is recreated, and you can only listen to Side A and B in their entirety, as the artist originally intended.
Entropy, Nostromo — 2015
Nostromo is a Des Moines-based experimental rock band that should be much more well known than it is. I picked this one up at a noise festival expecting a pure noise album (Nostromo wasn’t playing the fest, I just haunt a lot of merch tables). I got that, but a lot more. Every song on their 2015 cassette release, Entropy, is chock full of killer orchestrated riffs and bombastic drums, but the guitar effects and arrangements will, at the drop of a pin, take you somewhere completely different and interesting. Vocalist Kaylee Rae Timmerman’s wailing alternately shreds and transcends (and provides a melodic sensibility to the songs that is often surprising for music this heavy).
This tape is one I like to crank up with the windows down on a warm summer day, much like I’ve done with Black Sabbath on countless occasions, especially when the band ascends the tunes continually upward, like they do on the song “Carbide Heart.”
Raw and noisy, but always with a sense of control, Entropy is a heavy little gem with just enough weirdness in it to stand out from your average metal band.
JAC EP, Jack Lion — 2014
I don’t think I’ve ever heard or seen a band quite like Jack Lion in Iowa. They’re jazz-influenced, but electronic, and improvise, but there’s always a sense of structure. At any given time, there’s something really cool going on rhythmically, between the funky driving drums and/or samples and the bass and/or synth lines. Jack Lion blurs the lines between jazz and techno, landing somewhere near post rock, but within a stone’s throw of fusion. Those are a lot of heady genres to be dipping toes in, but the band does so with little seeming effort, and, in fact, makes it sound pretty fun.
I first saw Jack Lion at a show in Ames, at DG’s Tap House, and was just floored that I was hearing so much music come out of just three people. And how often do you get to see a band where trumpet melodies are the main focus?
At the end of the show, I picked up their only release at the time, JAC EP (which you can listen to on Bandcamp), and was mostly just struck by how short it seemed. I wanted more.
The band has had a couple more releases since this, and they’re all worth checking out, but this one has a special space in my heart, that place where you see a show that blew your mind, and got to take home a small remembrance of it, so that you could listen to it and try to recreate that night over and over again.