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Review: The Poison Control Center – Stranger Ballet

By Max Johnson

For fans of Iowa music, The Poison Control Center require no introduction. The Des Moines based group have released 3 full-lengths and a handful of EPs full of excited indie rock. Tomorrow, July 30th, their Never-Ending Tour will take a much-deserved break after two shows at The Vaudeville Mews.

Let me cut to the chase — PCC’s newest album, Stranger Ballet, is my favorite album of 2011 (so far). The fingerprints of other excellent indie rockers are everywhere, but the band never lose themselves in their influences. It seems more like they’re honoring them. Imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery. Rather, inspiration is.

So when Devin Frank’s voice cracks in the first lines of “Torpedoes on Tuesday”, grasping at a note just out of reach, all the now-archetypical “boy making songs in his basement” are there, right there! The Elephant Six Collective, the Saddle Creek bands, the K Records bands in Dub Narcotic — all of those mythical groups of friends just making music for each other, to hear something they themselves vitally needed to hear — it’s here, too. And every second of these songs hereafter are meant to remind you of when “indie” music actually fucking meant something, when it wasn’t just another spectacle to buy into.

And when Joe Terry’s brilliant “Some Ordinary Vision” connects surreal images and phrases like a lattice, the final impact could be frightening, like The Pixies. Or melancholic, like Sebadoh. Or irreverent, like They Might Be Giants. But it’s addictive guitar squeal diversions and Terry’s joyous yelp help the song walk at the border where all three meet, delivering a literal and metaphorical road song in pop surrealism.

And when Patrick Fleming whispers wistfully through “Terminal”, his voice multi-tracked into a man talking to himself, you hear the defeat of Elliott Smith kissing between the bars or Jeff Mangum begging for time machines. The song ends suddenly when its finally looking up. When Patrick bellows his way through the next song, “Reoccurring Kind”, it’s the sound of a man enlightened, not the sound of catharsis like so many Springsteen impersonators out there.

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth (the one band not name dropped so far!) once famously said that the audience of a rock show comes to watch a band believe in themselves. The audience at a Poison Control Center show is there to watch a band believe in their audience.  After all — we are all stars, stuck in our dreams. But together, it’s the greatest movie they’ll ever see.

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