As a teenage songwriter, I have had the opportunity to listen to the music of countless other songwriters. My friend Luke is in a punk band called Gunpowder Fatty and he writes songs about nursery rhymes and
getting drunk other people getting drunk.* My friend Eva used to be in a band called Vivacious Bean Dip and now occasionally performs solo with songs on ukulele and glockenspiel about setting houses on fire and smoking blunts on Mars. My friend Kyle is in a band called Punk Rock Pizza Party. They are three rappers with a backing band of punk music and he raps about how Pizza Hut sucks and has a line that goes “f-u-c-k y-o-u / I won the fucking spelling bee, what the fuck did you do?” (He showed me the trophy he got for winning the fifth grade spelling bee at his house before the show, as well as a CD of his put out by the DIY heroes at Plan-It X Records that he recorded when he was 15.) My friend Chloe writes songs about girls who wear their favorite clothes when they’re sad, and I write songs about how nice the taste is of being kissed by someone who just drank lemon-lime soda.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that in my experience, younger and less experienced songwriters are not afraid to cross certain borders. Although earlier I gave only well-executed examples (other than maybe the one about me), this can also work out badly. I’m not going to give any examples for when it has, but believe me, I could give plenty. That’s why there are certain topics and songwriting methods that the older and more experienced songwriters I’ve heard shy away from.
Now it’s time for me to introduce the Ames High School (and just Ames in general) superstars Jaw Harp Potential. The first time I had heard them described I was in a Subway with Ames Progressive editor Nate Logsdon. He told me about how Melissa sings and plays toy piano and how he never remembers which one is Iris and which on is Charolette, but that one of them plays accordion and ukulele (Iris) and one of them plays harp and trumpet (Charlotte). After that I remember thinking, Wow I bet these guys sound really cute.
I later discovered that any cuteness coming from Jaw Harp Potential is unintentional and has little to do with their music. The first time I saw them was in February for a show that they, I, and many other Iowa bands were playing. They played around three in the afternoon and I played around two in the morning, so it was a little hard to say we were playing the same show. Anyway, after hearing about them from Nate, I was both surprised and jealous to see how musically talented Iris and Charlotte were and how talented of a vocalist and songwriter Melissa was. I was running door with my friend Luke and we were talking about them about the entire length of that show.
Anyway, they have a new album out called My Boyfriend, Your Cat. You can listen to it here! I’m going to talk about the songs now!
“You’re Alright” is one of my favorites and it’s the only song Melissa doesn’t sing on! It was written and is sung by both Iris and Charlotte. These girls are both really good singers. This song reminds me of the song “We’re Going to Be Friends” by the White Stripes, only less enthusiastic and half-hearted. It’s about hanging out with a guy who probably has a crush on you because you’re bored, and because he’s “alright,” and because you’re “kinda friends, maybe.” I love the line at the end: “Being with you is better than being lonely / maybe just maybe.”
From what I can tell, “Sad Song” is Jaw Harp Potential’s big hit. That makes a lot of sense, because it is really good. It’s about kind of wanting boys to like you, but not really caring. The chorus goes, “I don’t want to be so down anymore / but I guess I don’t really care anymore.” One would think that the combination of harp and ukulele would either just plain not work, sound really cute and unusual, or both. It actually works really well without sounding too weird. The beat is really steady and the melody is beautiful, and it meshes super well with the vocals.
For me, the surprise hit on the album is the ballad “Whenever.” It’s also the best vocal performance on the album! The toy piano or glockenspiel is really minimal and I honestly haven’t noticed it until now, but it adds a super great touch to the song that is mostly accordion-dominated. This song also features what seems to be Charlotte’s specialty of supplementary and super beautiful harp parts! Also, it has beautiful lyrics.
“Katie” is another beautiful, accordion-dominated ballad. I believe it’s about a future version of the girl on the cover! I’ve met her a couple of times and she’s very nice and very funny! But, who knows, lots of girls are named Katie. It’s a song about adoration and friendship. Again, the lyrics, accordion, harp, and vocals are all as beautiful as possible.
“Amuse Me” is the last song. While the first two songs are upbeat and the next two are slow and gorgeous, this one is somewhere in between. It’s in three-four time, which is what the accordion was made for. It’s choppy and upbeat, with a wonderful chorus and lyrically smart and well-executed verses. It’s a wonderful way to end the album, and it leaves me wanting more.
On August 18, after a benefit show for a local women’s shelter at the Space for Ames, there will be another wonderful show to celebrate the release of this album. There will be wonderful young musicians playing and also my band is playing!
Elliot Burke is a local singer/songwriter who performs as Lesbian Poetry.