The Vahnevants Uncover the Underbelly of Surf Rock

Think of The Vahnevants as the yang to Goldblums’ yin. Both Des Moines groups share members, and The Vahnevants churned out an excellent “answer” song to “So Glad I’m Not a Hippie,” called “What’s A Hippy Anyway?” That song is on their new cassette, “The Last Drag.” Whereas Goldblums is all taut and punchy, The Vahnevants’ songs tend to be drenched in reverb, warlbing and fluttering—like a Cramps tape flanging out on a crap tape deck.

Owing as much— or much more, really— to surf music as to garage rock, The Vahnevants subvert surf norms by trading in laconic, languid tempos. The vocals possess a drugged-out slack and project a loser cool, evidenced immediately on the opening cut, “Get Out.” Similarly, the song “The Last Drag” is “Wooly Bully” staring into a funhouse mirror.

“Alnilam” is a dark narcotic blur: the low, slurring lead vocals punctuated by prostelytizations in a higher register at the end of each turnaround. Before the song ends, we are treated to a brief elegiac coda, a smart bit of writing that elevates the whole tune. The vocals on “‘Sblood” are beautifully rendered in the red— in fact, the whole damn recording is somewhere between AM radio warmth and lo-fi distortion, and this production choice benefits the songs greatly.

“I’m Gay” sounds a bit cleaner, reminiscent of a British Invasion beat song with its solo guitar line approximating classic electric 12-string lead playing. Also, the title reminds me that I actually saw The Vahnevants play a couple months back at a gay bar. Unfortunately it was part of a festival I was also playing, and the bar served me a Jameson on the rocks that filled a beer stein (“always a double, never a cover”, the bartender cheerily told me), so my recollections of their live set are distant and diminished.

“The Last Drag” wraps up with “Spaceship!” which goes way out, adding some rotary effect to the chorus vocal, on top of the requisite reverb and echo. In the end, “The Last Drag” turns out to be a surprisingly dark listen, all ‘60s spy movie and seedy urban underbelly.

There is a ridiculous wealth of good stuff going on right now in Des Moines, and The Vahnevants and Goldblums represent polar ends of the burgeoning underground. People talk about things like David Byrne’s love for Des Moines and the corporate-underwritten festivals that dot the summer calendar, but I’ll take some solid sleaze over the city’s saccharine sheen any day.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you find yourself in or near Des Moines on October 29, you can catchThe Vahnevants and Goldblums together at Crane Artist Lofts.

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