Love Songs for Lonely Monsters/Datagun, self-titled split tape — 2011
LS4LM and Datagun were two of my favorite Iowa bands of the early 2010s. They both seemed to have a lot of vision and headed their own ways. This relatively rare split tape is a nice pairing of sounds. There are three songs from LS4LM and two from Datagun (and all five songs appear on the side that starts with LS4LM).
The LS4LM side opens with “Inherent Trait” one of my favorite songs of theirs. I remember that this was a really heavy one live. “Reputation” is a punchy confrontation carried off with a sense of urgency. The song “Ganglion Sister” — featuring the twisty dual guitars of Dan Hutchison and Nick Parks — also appears on the band’s 2014 self-titled full-length album, which I’d recommend.
Amy Badger was an awesome singer with a ton of conviction and a compelling presence as a performer. She didn’t go out of her way to try to pump people up, she just radiated heat and held attention. The band played some big shows and they were killer.Its lineup was rounded out by Chris Lachky on bass and Brian Gellerman on drums — all great musicians with serious songwriting and composing chops.
Datagun was an Iowa City trio of Craig Eley, Tanner Illingworth, and Andre Perry that paired electronic beats and synths with electric guitar (and some live drums on recordings) for a heady, often somber sound from the fringes of indie pop. Their songs play out like slow-burn mini-dramas, patiently enveloping the listener in a midnight mood. Their side opens with the great track “Tony Todd” (named, I believe, after the actor who played Candyman). This track also appears on their 2012 EP Lime and I’ve always remembered by its chorus: “They watch you running away, they watch you running away, they want to make it slow, they want to make it slow….” The second song is the instrumental “Andre Prairie,” which bridges the gap between Datagun and LS4LM with a wailing guitar psych-out that seems to lead right back into the other side.
Throw the Stone, Nicholas Naioti — 2016
Naioti’s first few years living in Iowa had seen him touring with the albums Mr. Nasti and Truth Sound, which featured gripping, questioning lyrics set in expansive electroacoustic soundscapes. He sometimes played the role of party-starter in concert, but his quieter and more inquisitive side tended to stand out on his records, like in the spellbinding dream voyage “Like a Wild Animal” from Truth Sound, one of his best songs.
Then around 2016, he decided to make an album that would, as he told me at the time, embrace minimalism. It ended up being his self-recorded undiscovered classic Throw the Stone. We’ve listened to this tape over 200 times, easily, and it’s still playing well. I can’t get away from this one, it just sets a mood that I’m always in the mood for. It can blend into the air of the room if I’m reading, or it can vibrate with emotion if I give it my full attention. For months on end, it was our getting-ready-for-bed music with the kids.
The songs, set at a perfect pace for swaying, convey a resonant Americana, with shades of country rock and ‘70s singer-songwriters. Nicholas is a big fan of Neil Young and that influence really comes through here; it’s apparent that this music was written by someone who really cares and wants to connect.
Some of the best songs on the tape like “Throw the Stone” and “Summer Majick” — built upon graceful, gently melodic piano arrangements — glow with a honeyed sunset light. And “Midnight Tide” follows through after sundown: “Well I don’t know what’s outside the sky,” he sings, “but I’ll be damned if I’m not going up there tonight.”
Side two opens with the heartbreaking song “Got Into My Brain,” written by Nicholas’ friend Kevin Tillery of the band Toxic Teeth, a haunting track that explores the shameful self-alienation of committing an unaccountable act: “That’s just not like me, no that’s not me,” he sings. “Who was it then?”
The J-card folds out and contains all the lyrics, which are superb. And there’s even a sentence before each song about the circumstances in which they were written. Title track “Throw the Stone,” for instance, was “written on my 30th birthday after sobbing openly in a movie theater watching Inside Out.” These little touches reinforce the spirit of emotional openness and giving that runs through the tape.
If you like Throw the Stone, I’d also recommend Naioti’s The Runaway Tapes from 2012, for which he interviewed people around the Midwest — including Iowa — about their childhood memories of running away (or considering it) and then set the words to music for a heartfelt, searching, and unique sound collage.
Heavy Petting, Odd Pets — 2017
The lovable Des Moines power-duo Odd Pets projects neighborly goodwill while chiseling out quick, ferocious, melodious hunks of rock. Guitarist and singer Lisa Burner and drummer Andy Buch started playing music together for fun. And then continued playing music together for fun. They seem totally peaceful when they are playing: Andy with a serene smile on his face — just feeling the joy of music and rhythm — while Lisa comfort-shreds. They’re a hangout band.
The guitar-and-drums format translates well on this tape: The duo’s initial motives and intentions are preserved and the songs are concise, focused, and strong. Plus, Lisa has the low end covered with a deep, loaded guitar tone and Andy’s beats never waver. The tape flies by in efficient bursts of song with no breathing room between tracks, like a seasoned punk band’s setlist.
“Money” is one of the standout tracks for sure, and one that made an impression live as well. “Reshonduhh” rips but stays on home base. Side B opener “Brian Jones” shows the band’s rhythmic control as they walk into and out of a heavy down-stroke groove. “Milk” is a blink-and-you-missed-it punk blitz, contrasted immediately by the loping “Snakes Are Real.” And stick around till the end for the Stooges-sounding barn burner “Hell Ride.”
Heavy Petting is a frills-free blast of rock friendship, it pulls no punches but it’s not looking for a fight either. Recorded at Wabi Sound in Des Moines by Phil Young, with cover art by Rob Stephens.