Texas Hold’Em Lava Dome
Martial Law in Garrison Oaks
In space, sound cannot be heard with the human ear. Yet scientists at NASA have been able to use instruments aboard a spacecraft, named after Iowa physicist James Van Allen, to convert radio emissions into audible sound waves. Studying in the building named after this same physicist here in Iowa City, Texas Hold’Em Lava Dome creates their own cosmic hums on their latest LP, Martial Law in Garrison Oaks.
The five-piece consists of a self-described “Venn Diagram of brothers and physics grad school classmates,” lending explanation to the academic song titles. “Lithosphere,” “List of Birds by Flight Height” and “Contemplate the Plate Tectonic” are of note, each launching the listener into another world with ambient string instruments and distorted echoes. What I loved most about this album were the subtle parallels indicated between atmospheric forces of nature through sound. As one song would fade away with ambient chirps of birds, the next would begin with a quavering, airy guitar part that mimicked their warbles in an unpredictable way. Later in the mostly instrumental recording, far-off voices in a crowd became droned out by the lull of a lonely trumpet and soft, rhythmic percussion, causing me to imagine whistling plasma waves and hurtling comets.
Luckily for those of us who aren’t graced with knowledge of the theory of relativity, Texas Hold’Em Lava Dome is happy to do some pondering. “Contemplate the Plate Tectonic” is the only lyric-based track, and it’s a true perspective bomb, asking its listeners to consider their existence and place in the world. It manages to convey the human nature of being so concerned with one’s own life that we fail to notice the great forces –shining stars, rushing oceans, vast atomic openings — taking place all around us. That’s not to say that we don’t matter. The song concludes with a reminder for the listener: “You are not an atom / nor a sound wave strung apart / from this eternal parsec full of shining forces / but of course / you must now see.”
Martial Law in Garrison Oaks is an experimental collage of noise, with celestial cacophonies twinkling like stars marked in a constellation. Overall, the emotional overtone feels reflective, contemplative and altogether relatable to both the scholarly beholder and the imaginative spirit.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 241.