Iowa Music You Gotta Hear:  ‘Dream On’ by TWINS

101134804_342061003425902_8355098802595561472_nTWINS, the longstanding Cedar Valley rock band with a reputation for electrifying  power pop, took a hard turn on their latest album, Dream On. Or, rather, a softer turn.

And principal songwriter Joel Sires says it was all by design.

The new nine-song collection, officially released on June 5, dials down the electricity while pushing Sires’ acoustic guitar and lyrics to the forefront. The songs retain the hooky melodic sense of previous TWINS efforts, and the arrangements are still lush and atmospheric. But the new approach showcases a vulnerability that may have been overshadowed by the bombast of the old TWINS. The result is a delicate and sometimes haunting album that draws the listener closer, like a whisper you have to strain to hear.

“I wrote a good majority of the record alone on my acoustic and I figured the songs just translated better with the acoustic being sort of the backbone of the recorded versions,” Sires told Rock Roads. “I also specifically wanted it in the songs to make it as hard of a turn as possible from our last record, “Square America.”

“Buffalo Snow,” the first single released from the album, accurately previews what listeners can expect from much of the record. A carefully plucked figure on an acoustic guitar does most of the lifting on the introduction while the rhythm section — Luke Sires on drums and Devin Ferguson on bass — remains tastefully restrained throughout. Toby Sires’ lead guitar enriches the atmosphere without stepping on the vocal. An organ, played by newcomer Ben Randall, thickens the sound and adds warmth.

“I just wanna be your vapor trail/Follow you around like a tail,” Sires sings. 

The theme of life’s impermanence pops up again and again on the album. Sires’ lyrics make use of fleeting imagery like shooting stars and fresh-fallen snow. Blink and you’ll miss it. Or, at least, blink and it won’t be the same as it was before. The delicate arrangements enhance the ethereal, misty nature of the songwriting.

“Reminds Me of the Rose” is perhaps the high point of the album, featuring rich harmonies and a dynamic structure that climaxes with Sires chanting “You remind me of the rose” as the instruments swell around him. The song urges the listener to slow down and appreciate the miraculous beauty of the everyday, which, like the rose, never lasts long. 

Flashes of the old TWINS shine through the wintry clouds at various junctures. “So Far Gone,” the second single released ahead of the album’s debut, features a Stonsey groove that’s reinforced by an overdriven anti-solo. “Passenger,” a bouncy slice of pop rock with a singalong chorus and lyrics about “hangin’ round a burger shack,” recalls previous TWINS efforts as well.   

TWINS recorded the album at Chandler Limited in Shell Rock. Recording close to home allowed the band to stretch out and take their time, though Sires said the band worked to preserve a live feel as much as possible. 

“We have polished off the rough edges on previous records, and I knew this time I didn’t want to do that at all, if possible,” Sires said. “Because that’s the type of band we are. Sort of like Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang if they had a garage band.”

Dream On will be available on streaming services on June 5. Pre-order a physical copy on the TWINS Bandcamp page.


Iowa music you gotta hear: Miss Christine’s ‘Conversion’

Christine Moad, the songwriter, singer and bassist for Miss Christine

Time, Christine Moad knew, was of the essence.

Moad, the creative force and bassist for power-pop outfit Miss Christine, decided she needed to record her album quickly in February 2018. Taking time to agonize over every tiny detail could derail the entire project, she reasoned, and keep her songs from ever seeing an official release. So she gathered some charts and demos of her songs and showed them to a group of musicians who had never heard them before.

The band arranged and recorded each song in the studio, quickly turning out the 12 tracks that would form Miss Christine’s latest album, Conversion, released earlier this summer.

“I’m a perfectionist and knew this was the only way I could record my album without getting too much in my head,” Moad said via email. “This approach was terrifying but so rewarding.”

Moad said she hopes the creative energy unleashed when she and the band members figured out the arrangements would saturate the recordings. The approach allows the listener to discover the songs alongside the musicians.

“My idea is that music is most powerful when it’s first created,” she said.

Moad is an Iowa native. She grew up near Allison but moved away at 17 to study electric bass performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. From there, she moved to Nashville, where she found work as a session and touring bassist. But Moad moved back to Iowa when she decided it was time to focus on her own compositions, and she currently lives on a farm near Iowa City.

“I found myself at a crossroads and decided I wanted to do my own music,” she said when discussing her return to her home state. “I moved back to Iowa to finish writing my album and do some self reflection. It has been great to reconnect to my roots and enjoy the beauty of Iowa.”

Despite the compressed recording process, the songs on Conversion don’t sound hurried or sloppy. Rather, they feature a diverse range of instrumentation and textures. Album opener “Be Present” crackles with delightfully punky guitar tones and horn swells, while the title track strikes a more dramatic tone with somber keys and ominously whispered background vocals. Breakup song “Without You” dials up an r&b-inspired groove and guitar part and a big-time singalong chorus.

The album covers a lot of lyrical ground as well. Numbers like “Be Present” and “The Millennial Paradigm” take on social and philosophical topics of relevance to modern life. “Green Walls, Red Trim” and “Without You” are more character based. “Nightmare In the Daytime,” in which the narrator finally works up the courage to confront a manipulator, contains some scorchingly cathartic kiss-off lyrics.

“But I can see right through it to the root of your lies,” Moad sings on one of the catchiest choruses of the entire album. “You’re a horrible person with the worst disguise.”

Miss Christine is wrapping up an East Coast tour and will almost certainly play some gigs closer to home in the near future. In the meantime, stream Conversion and check out Miss Christine’s website for official music videos for album tracks “Conversion,” “Entitled” and “Skinny Jeans.”

Iowa music you gotta hear: Crystal City’s ‘Three-Dimensionality’

3dimensionalityCrystal City throws a lot at the listener on their new album Three-Dimensionality.

The album’s 12 tracks experiment with crunchy rockabilly, dreamy jazz, sugary pop and even some power balladry along the way. But songwriter Dave Helmer’s creative vision combines with the band’s live energy to tie the songs together into a cohesive listening experience. The result is a dynamic and ambitious rock album that’s well worth your time.

“See Thru,” the album’s closing track, best illustrates the impressive ambition on display throughout Three-Dimensionality. The song begins with stark piano chords that give way to a funky R&B groove for a couple verses before the song soars to a jazzy guitar-driven crescendo that crashes into an ethereal fadeout in the closing seconds. Crystal City packs all that dynamism into a dense and intoxicating four-and-a-half minutes, making it the longest track on the album. Other standout tracks include forceful rocker “All Gone South” and the blissfully infectious pop tune “You in the Morning.”

Crystal City’s most distinct sonic hallmark is the way Helmer’s gruff vocals, which remind me of Mark Knopfler, mix with those of bandmate Sam Drella. At some points, Drella sounds as if she’s singing the same melodies as Helmer, giving tracks added thickness and urgency. At other points, Drella sings harmonies that add color and nuance, reinforcing the multi-dimensionality hinted at in the album’s title. Drella’s harmonies elevate the material, particularly on “Cigarettes for Breakfast,” where her “ooohs” during the verse call the to mind Kim and Kelley Deal of the Breeders.

Helmer’s lyrics often center on down-and-out characters facing up to difficult circumstances. “I ain’t got a dollar in the bank/I ain’t got a gallon in the tank,” Helmer and Drella sing on the title track. But the relentless energy of the songs inspires hope and motivation.

“I want this album to make people feel good and energized,” Helmer said in an interview. “We touch on a lot of themes people deal with on a regular basis, so I want people to feel like they’re not alone.”

This is the third album from the Iowa City-based band, following 2014’s Change and 2017’s Bartenderly. Helmer said the band recorded a handful of the album’s tracks in his home studio, while the rest were recorded at Flat Black Studios outside Iowa City. Engineer Luke Tweedy mixed the entire album, expertly handling the various configurations and approaches Crystal City utilized for the record.

Three-Dimensionality will sweep you up in its intense energy, precise musicianship and sheer ambition. The album is streaming online and is available on vinyl through Crystal City’s Bandcamp page. Crystal City will perform at the Mill in Iowa City on May 18 and at the 80/35 Music Festival in Des Moines on July 13.

Crystal City’s Sam Drella and Dave Helmer