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REVIEW: Iowa artists pack a punch on new albums

REVIEW: Iowa artists pack a punch on new albums

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'Looking for Mantra' 

No Good Deed

No Good Deed’s "Looking for a Mantra" sounds like a greatest hits or anthology collection put out by a band that has accumulated years of experience and material. The versatility of the album probably comes from the two decades of experience each musician brings to the Des Moines band.

The album features 13 tracks of high-energy rock with post-punk and hard rock flavors. In that variety, there are sounds of 1980s and 1990s hard rock to pop-sounding tracks like "If I Confess" and "Frank Sinatra."

Much like Cedar Valley bands House of Large Sizes and the Mittens, No Good Deed are what some people might call old-timers (all of the members are older than 40) who have stayed true to loud, fast rock 'n' roll while resisting grunge and other dreary sounding trends from the 1990s.

"Feeling Better" epitomizes this with layered, fuzzy sounding guitars and harmony vocals, while "Back in Time" almost sounds like it could be from No Good Deed’s quasi-metal phase (though they haven't had one). The similarity in sound from these veteran rockers isn’t just a coincidence. Lead singer Rob Reeves, a Waterloo native, went to University of Northern Iowa and recalls catching performances by House of Large Sizes.

The album was produced on the cheap and recorded it in the group’s practice space. Guitarist Doug Hansen mixed and engineered the tracks. However, the sound holds its own when compared to expensive productions from groups of similar genres. "Looking for a Mantra" shows exactly how good, energetic musicians with decent amplifiers do more to create a solid rock album than expensive post production ever does.

'The Human Condition'

Austin Taft

Austin Taft’s new solo album, "The Human Condition," is a departure from his usual harder, heavy rock sound from the Austin Taft soundtrack. Almost entirely acoustic, the album showcases Taft’s technical proficiency on guitar. The strings ring bright and repeated refrains riffs and picking ring clearly.

Taft’s distinct, emotional voice is recognizable for those familiar with his other projects. Taft pours his art into his lyrics, both in penning them and belting them out. His inflections range from thin and reedy to roaring. The music is equally full of dynamic changes to emphasize the emotional punch Taft works to deliver.

Touches of keys add to the record to pull it back from being too moody. In "Moving Day," keys add a light playful riff. In "Ultimatum," they add an orchestral swell and in "Superheroes," the layered keys and drums briefly depart from the guitar-riff driven songs that make up most of the rest of the album.

Taft, of Cedar Falls, embraces a vintage 1990s sound. His lyrics are weighty, full of dichotomy and metaphors that aren’t always easy to understand. What is clear is his heart is in this work.

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