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A Patchwork from the Past: Foxholes, February 1 at Rozz-Tox; In Rooms, January 25 at Rozz-Tox PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 22 January 2014 13:16

The Des Moines band Foxholes formed in late August 2012, and its first album is set to be released March 1. Can’t Help Myself is a surprisingly mature work, in the sense that a band this new has a clear sonic identity – rooted in late-’80s/early-’90s alternative rock – yet it doesn’t use its touchstones as crutches; the songs in no way suggest a group trying to find its feet over its first year-plus, or an ensemble beholden to its influences.

But the quartet – which will be performing its first show outside of the Des Moines and Ames areas at Rozz-Tox on February 1 – has indeed been a work in progress. And with a second full-length album planned for later this year, it’s evident that Foxholes moves quickly.

Founder and songwriter/singer/guitarist Trevor Holt said via e-mail that neither he nor bassist Jessica Villegas had played in bands before Foxholes formed. “Jessica didn’t even play bass prior to joining the band, so it took some time to figure out how to put on a good show, how to network, etc.,” Holt wrote. “Over the course of that time, we figured out what worked and what didn’t in terms of the set list and even the structure of the songs themselves. That was the biggest thing to come out of that first year – the development of the songs. Had we recorded this album a year ago, I can honestly say that it would not have been good. The sound would have been there, but it would have been an unfinished product. We really took the time to continually develop the songs ... .”

Drummer Ben Barndollar – who moved to Des Moines from the Quad Cities – said that because many of the songs were originally written prior to Foxholes coming together as a band, they’ve had the time and space to evolve. Holt “had these songs in his head for a while,” Barndollar said. “Although the band’s new, his ideas and his vision have been around for a while.”

The group describes itself on Facebook as what would result “if Pixies and the Replacements had a baby, and then that baby was dropped on its head a bunch of times,” but those cheeky references sell it short. Foxholes’ listed influences are undeniable, but the band has the conviction, creativity, and chops to own its sound and never comes across as nostalgic for the heyday of 120 Minutes – although it might make listeners pine for the era.

Holt called the band’s songs “dark, atmospheric, guitar-centric music,” and said his vision evolved from garage punk to “songs that have a bit more development and space.”

“So It Goes ... ,” for instance, is straightforward and simple jangle pop, but its use of mandolin (particularly when it’s paired with a gently moaning electric guitar and the bass) and Holt’s careful vocals (simultaneously weary and loaded with lament) are detailed and expressive. (While the album won’t be availble until its release date, you can hear its opening and closing songs at FoxholesDSM.Bandcamp.com.)

And then there’s the pleasure of a weird touch, such as the first solo of “Arizona” – where the playing sounds like it’s done on a guitar, but the tone is pure synth. It’s Kyle Folvag’s guitar, incidentally, and Holt called him “the best guitarist in Des Moines. I think I can say that ... because I consider myself the worst guitarist in Des Moines.”

The chorus of “Dirty Motels” is too nakedly reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr. in its vocals and guitars, but even that doesn’t qualify as a misstep; the refrains on that song and “Echoes” are simply too catchy to be denied.

By the time the album closes with “Minotaur” – which seems to channel the vocals of Lou Reed and Kurt Cobain in equal measure, and finally the guitar of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” – you might think Foxholes has spent a lot of time living in the past – or at least borrowing from it.

But that’s only a problem if one chooses the wrong influences, or combines them in ways that don’t work well. Foxholes has neither of those problems.

Foxholes will perform on Saturday, February 1, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island; RozzTox.com). The 9 p.m. all-ages show also includes Tambourine and TV Magic, and admission is $5.

For more information on Foxholes, visit Facebook.com/foxholesdsm.

In Rooms, January 25 at Rozz-Tox

Another Des Moines band will be performing at Rozz-Tox on January 25, but while Foxholes and In Rooms share a hometown, they sound like they come from different worlds.

Nick and Heather Leo released In Rooms’ full-length debut The Night Has Come last year, and it certainly fits the recent trend of retro-indie-pop male/female songwriting duos. It opens on light tropical notes with “Sweet Pretty” – which sounds like Tennis transplanted to the Caribbean.

But an insistent beat contrasted with gentle vocals and horns on “Wilderness” hints at the record’s casual and warm rigor – with its appropriation of stated “classic pop, Latin American folk, and reggae” influences goosed and transformed by arrangements that are rich and thoughtful without being forced or precious. On “Water Fish,” the interplay between the piano and mandolin is compelling enough, but the saxophones elevate it even further. The reggae core of “A Sweet Love” is underplayed and as a result gets subsumed by the more interesting elements of the arrangement – particularly the vocals and left-channel percussion.

One reviewer called The Night Has Come an “unassuming record, one that does not necessarily require your full attention to be enjoyed, but rewards it when given” – and that feels about right. The album is mostly sugar, and while there’s not much meat here, the sweetness is artful, and the flavors are complex and unusual when you pause to savor them.

In Rooms will perform on Saturday, January 25, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island; RozzTox.com). The 9 p.m. all-ages show also includes Brooks Strause & the Gory Details, and admission is $5.

For more information on the In Rooms, visit InRoomsMusic.com.

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