It’s New to Elliot: as suggested by Kurtis Schaffer

Kurtis and I probably first officially met in the student center at Des Moines Area Community College — where dreams thrive, or also where dreams go to slowly die due to disinterest and laziness. We would hang there between classes, eating cheeseballs and wondering what we were going to do with our lives. Through those hang sessions, we decided to start booking DIY shows together. Since we now had a “production company,” we called it Represent Your Shit — inspired by a Lil Jon song (look, it was 2003, you gotta understand). We booked shows at Hairy Marys, House of Bricks and a couple house venues. We brought great bands like Coliseum, Breather Resist, Ed Gein, Lords and tons of other awesome hardcore/metal/punk bands that only about 30 or 40 people wanted to see. Our small turnouts were expected, but did eventually grind us down to the point where we both agreed that booking shows just kinda wasn’t that worth it. But I don’t regret a single one we booked —we brought cool bands for cool people.

These days, Kurtis is a blue-collar working man with two great kids. We don’t see each other as much as we should, so I’m publicly declaring that we need to hang out more. Let’s eat cheeseballs or something.

Jim Croce — You Don’t Mess Around With Jim

Still trying to shake off the baggage of punk snobbery, I think I never previously dug into Jim Croce because I was too hung up on how I assume he was perceived during his time: as a friendly AM Radio guy who played cloying acoustic rock that didn’t dare rock the boat. And this might be a somewhat accurate picture of the guy, but it doesn’t mean he sucked just because he was a soft folk rocker at the same time The MC5 and The Stooges were melting people’s brains.

Jim Croce is not revered just because he died young in a plane crash. He is revered because he was a unique presence at a time when very few were unique. Yes, his songs are conventionally pleasant with their bright acoustic tones, but his words and arrangements reveal much deeper ideas. His playful songs like the title track and “Hard Time Losin’ Man” show a wicked sense of humor, but it’s the more emotional songs that really strike at the core. Everyone knows “Time in a Bottle,” and everyone should know it because it is phenomenal. I can’t think of many other pop songs that make a simple declaration of love sound so poetic and profound. And the melody that accompanies that declaration…sheesh. The guy was special. And I just read that right after he died in that crash, his wife received a letter he had written saying he had decided to quit music so he could stay at home and write short stories. Just thought y’all needed a totally not-depressing story to warm your heart during these horrible times!

My Opinion: 7/10

Nicole Dollanganger — Natural Born Losers

I hate looking at that record cover up there. People in leather masks are a guaranteed way to creep me the hell out. But after a listen to this record, that seems like the expressed purpose of Nicole Dollanganger. This lady is dark. She might sing with a sweet, lilting falsetto much of the time, but her lyrics paint a picture that’s the opposite of sweet. Dollanganger sings about sex, BDSM, self-harm and other types of bright, sunshiney topics like those. On “Mean” she sings, “There’s nothing you can do to me that I wouldn’t do to myself.” That statement speaks volumes without saying much. Whether it’s just an act or not, Dollanganger is certainly taking a bold, off-putting stance by confronting such disturbing subjects. And she has no interest in making herself cute — in another song, she sings, “My bedroom smells like rotting food, and I guess so do I.” OKAY THEN. Behind all this is a minimalist backdrop of quietly strummed electric guitar, swelling reverb and the occasional percussion. She relies on similar dramatic chord sequences throughout, but it never really loses the effect. I was truly struck by this record, if only because it made me feel things I don’t usually feel while listening to music. I’d say that’s the mark of something special.

My Opinion: 8/10

Townes Van Zandt — Townes Van Zandt

This is like a toned-down, more dry and beige version of that Jim Croce record. Townes Van Zandt is a name I’ve often heard but never looked into, and I’m not sure that I’ll be motivated to find much more of him after this. He definitely had talent, and I can tell that I should be moved by the lyrics and hard-luck vibe of his songs, but I think it’s Van Zandt’s plainness that stops me from really loving this. If we’re still comparing him to Croce, he didn’t have a fraction of the personality and the wit that Croce did, even if you’re just taking their voices as examples. Van Zandt doesn’t put a lot of soul into his words, but again, it’s not like he’s a total bore. “Waiting Around to Die” hits the hardest, and it has its moments here and there. This record is fine! Sorry, Kurtis, but it is nothing more than fine. I don’t have time in my life for “fine.” I need “fantastic” (ooh, I just stumbled upon a great title for my new The Secret-inspired self-help book).

My Opinion: 6/10

M. Akers — Whitest Hunters, Blackest Hearts

Taking its title from a so-so Clint Eastwood movie, this is an instrumental tour-de-force of painfully 80’s soundtrack scores created by Portland dude M. Akers. I say “painfully” because I have an aversion to most 80’s movies that are very much of their era. I think the 80’s was one of the worst times in American history for basically everything, but definitely for the way things looked and sounded. Ugh, we were so off-base in that decade (except for me and most of my friends being born, that was cool). Akers is undeniably good at reproducing the sounds of that era — the booming Casio drums and piercing synths do produce a chilling effect, which is the purpose of this record: Akers says it “depicts a gruesome world of killers for hire.” This is always my problem when someone makes instrumental music and then says it means something: does it? I can record my 9-month old girl slamming her toy on the floor for three minutes, and then tell you it signifies the struggles of women trying to earn the same wage as men. Would that statement be less true than saying a bunch of scary 80’s sounds represent cocaine-using hitmen?

My Opinon: 5/10

Bolt Thrower — Realm of Chaos

With a name like Bolt Thrower, I thought I was getting some Iron Maiden-ish power metal, but this is NOT that. It turns out to be a lot of my least favorite elements of metal: grindcore blast beats, clunky un-catchy riffs and a vocal style that’s too low and raspy to be enjoyable. It chugs and cooks at times and I like it for a few seconds, but it is very much the same thing over and over again, and it’s a same thing that I cannot fully endorse. Also, the record cover is somehow affiliated with the fantasy board game Warhammer 40,000, and now it makes sense why Kurtis likes this, because he is into that type of stuff that I will never, ever understand. But like I always say: all of us are into at least one thing that deserves to be ridiculed.

My Opinion: 5/10

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