A friend recently posed a question on their Facebook page: what is your favorite rock band in Des Moines? The answers received were a crushingly disappointing mixture of defunct acts, cover bands (oh so many cover bands) and, of course, Slipknot.
On the other side of that coin, there are a small number of bands in town who somehow always manage to be recipients of an amount of praise and admiration that is inordinate compared to their output and, frankly, talent level. Both of these situations vex me, and for exactly the same reason.
That reason lies somewhere in the middle of these two groups, like the dead space in a shitty Euler diagram: the subset of bands in town who receive barely a fraction of the attention they deserve, while being worthy of every column inch or glowing word of praise they get. Near the top of that heap, lay Tires, who find themselves releasing their debut LP this weekend at Vaudeville Mews.
The thing that makes Tires so good -- the thing that makes this album such a vital piece of Des Moines' 2017 musical landscape -- are the two men who serve as the band's longest serving members: Phil Young and Jordan Mayland. Both men, it can be said without an ounce of hyperbole or obsequiousness, are among the very best in the state at what they do.
Mayland is some kind of musical savant who can seemingly play any instrument he trips over, and has the uncanny ability to change up his style at will, making him one of the most versatile musicians in the 515. As for his fellow founding member, I have gone so far as to call Phil Young a genius in print before, and I remain unapologetic about using such a designation, nor will I hesitate to use it again. Young is responsible for writing most of Tires' earliest output, and is the driving force behind everything the band will release to the public come Saturday. More than perhaps anything else Tires brings to the table, it is Young's seemingly effortless creativity that separates them from the pack, and makes everything they do worth your time.
Not to be forgotten, Chris Marshall (guitar, drums) and Cory Wendel (bass) serve as the unwavering backbone upon which Mayland and Young hang their dressing. The work that Marshall and Wendel do serves the dual purpose of both fleshing out Tires' sound, turning it into something focused and heavy and real; and providing the structure within which their bandmates' creativity can dance and dive, always insuring that the band doesn't collapse under the enormous weight of its own ambitious aims.
But enough of that! What of the actual album? To steal a line from the late John Randolph, "It's a beaut, Clark. It's a beaut."
In their bio, Tires describes themselves as experimental noise, which I suppose is true, in the same humble way that the Eiffel Tower is a collection of girders. What Tires manages to do with their wall of sound is something that elevates the finished product above the fray of conventional genre designations and returns it to The People: I am fully convinced that you could walk this album into a room full of jazz enthusiasts, or metal heads, or bro-country douche-guzzlers, and they would like it. No, it might not make any of their list of favorite albums of all time, but there is something within the album's alchemy that makes it irresistibly, undeniably good.
There's nary a discernible word anywhere on the album, and purely instrumental works can often have a hard time being anything other than background music. Something to put on while you're doing the dishes or folding your clothes. And, in truth, it takes Tires a hot minute to get themselves warmed up here. The opening track is a slow burn, building for just a shade over half its 2:54 run time before hitting you with the good stuff. But track two comes out of the gate hard, giving new listeners their first, fully realized taste of what Tires is all about when they're really firing on all cylinders.
If there's a weak point to be side eye-ingly looked at, it's the two track stretch that comes immediately afterward. Track three is an unbalanced, heavily back-loaded affair that nonetheless manages to win you over by its conclusion, while track four is easily the most unfocused track on the album, and never really feels like it grabs you in the way it should. The track starts strong, before sputtering and losing the path, eventually kind of shrugging its shoulders and giving way to the next song.
Track six (there is no track five) could win an award for "song you were sure was actually the theme from a quickly cancelled '80s television show." Full of happily soaring guitar hooks and synthed beeps and boops, track six serves as a palate cleansing oasis between the tracks that bookend it, which are both much more technically dense and heavier in both sound and emotion.
From this point forward, Tires damns the torpedoes, and takes off at full tilt. Track seven hits you like a blistering sucker punch, with Marshall's guitar and Wendel's bass joining forces to overwhelm you in a way that feels remarkably alive. The track has a vaguely "Knights of Cydonia" feel to it, stands as the most visceral track on the album.
Track eight continues in a very similar vein as the one that preceded it, keeping the heat turned up with solid guitar and drum work, before giving way to track nine which has the good sense to give you a bit of a breather. Slow and much more deliberate, the track nine might stand as the best example of the sometimes perfect blending of Young's synth work with the other members' more traditional instruments, and is also home to Mayland's best drum work on the album. Not the flashiest or most memorable track on the album, nine is nevertheless my personal favorite.
Tracks 10 and 11 are a triumphant end to an album that will very likely find its way onto a ton of "years best" lists 11 months from now. The latter track especially serving as a tremendous example of what Tires wants most to be--what it can be, even if only in brief, glorious spurts. If you have a friend who hasn't heard Tires (and let's be honest, you do), it is track 11 that will win them over.
What we are left with, at the end of it all, is an important album in the grand scheme of Iowa music. There are other acts in town who have inexplicably remained conductors of the hypetrain and continue to gain attention despite not doing anything of genuine note. But if you want the best, clearest look at the level of talent and creativity that Iowa has at its disposal, it's to be found here, in acts like Tires or Annalibera or Druids. For a long while, the purest, most distilled version of that ability could be found in Annalibera's "Nevermind I Love You." But now, it can also be seen here. What Tires has produced here is more than just a debut LP. It's beautiful and scattered and eclectic and at times wildly self-indulgent and gloriously bombastic. It's an album that is beautifully polished, yet unashamed of its niggling flaws.
But most importantly, it's something akin to what Chris Ford created with "I'm Giving Up On Rock n Roll," or Maxilla Blue's "Maxilla Blue, Vol 3," or Bright Giant's "Kings & Queens of Air." What Tires has created, is a transformative experience.
Tires plays their LP release show at Vaudeville Mews on Saturday, February 4, at 8 p.m. $7