So Much Fun
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So Much Fun

Iowa City, Iowa, United States | SELF

Iowa City, Iowa, United States | SELF
Band Alternative Pop


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I’ve unfortunately not gotten around to seeing Iowa City’s So Much Fun live yet, but I’m hoping to remedy that situation, because this album has a lot going for it. First of all, the band’s name: So Much Fun is about as good of a band name as you could ask for. Who doesn’t like fun? And it’s a good reminder: while the music on the album can sound cosmically epic at times, it never crosses that line of taking itself too seriously. With song titles like “Lady Captain” and “Once a Month Altruist,” it seems pretty clear the band wants you to keep at least a little bit of your tongue planted in your check. The album title, Moonraker, is one of the Roger Moore James Bond movies, back when James Bond movies made you laugh at how goofy they were. I’ll cross my fingers for “The Ballad of Hugo Drax” on So Much Fun’s follow-up.

Moonraker is a sonically dense album. There’s a lot of attention to tone and arrangement going on throughout, and lush textures abound, but there’s also a lot of drive and groove propelling the tunes. Bassist Nate Looker and drummer PJ McManus keep it moving, even during the most ambient sections, just on the fringes of trip-hop, but with more syncopation. You often can’t tell if a sound is a synthesizer or treated guitars, which is very cool – it just melts together. Like space-cheese.

Opening tune “Balaban” starts with an acoustic guitar, an urgent beat, some echoed vocals, and a Roxy Music-esque melody, with an occasional disco flavor on the bass once the tune gets hopping. It manages to be tight and yet textural at the same time. This spills over nicely into “So You Think,” which has a few pages torn out of ‘60s bubblegum pop, even including the line, “We’ve got to live like there’s tomorrow.” Sci fi synths wash in the background while guitar and bass pummel away, and the vocal wouldn’t be out of place on a Captain Beefheart record, in terms of melody and the gruffness of the delivery.

Title track “Moonraker” is a three-song suite that begins with a loping, jagged bass line before leaping into a driving riff. The drums bring things to a head before exploding into an ambient keyboard section that makes you feel like you’re on a spacewalk. Then guitar riffs rev things back into action, and we get more Bryan Ferry crooning until the drums gallop under dive-bomb guitars not unlike Radiohead’s noisiest moments.

“Deuterium Bottleneck” is a full-on ambient piece, with a treated vocal that sounds like it’s going through a megaphone in space. It’s short, and a nice bit of experimentation to clear the palette for “Lady Captain,” which has a repeated vocal line over alternating heavy/spacerock guitars, some great ear candy effects (this one in particular benefits from the headphone treatment), and one groovy-ass bass line keeping it all together.

“Velvet Joy” lets you float in the void. Angelic vocal harmonies implore, “Don’t let the distance harm you,” while some treated slide guitar that’s otherworldly pulls you across that distance.

There are times when it feels like Moonraker is a concept album. So Much Fun uses a lot of great colors when painting what feels like a space-rock album, and some of the lyrics seem to be referencing each other. But the band wisely never sacrifices songs or a chance to just rock out in the name of some greater concept. Some have referred to this album as being in the realm of prog rock, and, to be sure, these guys are great players. The actual music itself, though, is far too melodic and (dare I say it?) fun to be lumped in with the seriousness of prog.

Give this album a spin – great songs, studio experiments, a lot of ambition, and fun. A great album from an Iowa band that I hope keeps going in their own space-bound direction.

Moonraker is available at,, and on iTunes. - Ames Progressive

The early show at Public Space One got Tuesday night off to an energetic start, beginning with Ames/Iowa City band So Much Fun. After an hour of solving the band’s technical problems, lead singer Nick Miller and his megaphone feverishly galloped about the Jefferson building announcing that the show was about to begin, but not until all in listening range were front and center. Tall talk for 8:00 pm, but So Much Fun did not disappoint.

Nick Miller is a great front man, and I was very impressed by guitarist Frank Driscoll and ultra-fast drummer PJ McManus. Together, they built crescendos that reminded me of the most raucus and soaring moments of Broken Social Scene’s self-titled album, except where BSS opted to put some breathing room between the build-ups – So Much Fun just kind of keeps raising the bar. Technically they should probably get more careful with these outbursts, but with the exception of a well-intended but strange Cranberries cover toward the end of their set, the show was… a helluva lotta Fun. -

The competition to become local band So Much Fun's newest bassist was stiff. After much deliberation, the field was narrowed to two very talented and very different candidates, but band members Nick Miller, PJ McManus, and Frank Driscoll finally made a decision.

"It was between Dean Martin and ['Star Wars' character] Boba Fett," lead vocalist Miller said. "But we thought that Boba Fett would be too serious. Dean Martin's a little bit funnier."

Although the real Dean Martin won't rise from the grave anytime soon to jam with the Iowa-based band, his likeness will be present in the form of a cardboard cut-out holding a bass guitar when the band performs today at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St. The show will start at 7 p.m.; admission is $6.

While the band has existed in its current form for only a few years, Miller and drummer McManus began playing together in the sixth grade, channeling their musical talents into the typical middle-school fare of such grunge rock as Nirvana and even a bit of funk. The duo even managed to snag a few first-rate gigs.

"We did a talent show, and we had a gig on the back of a truck bed for this thing called Fall Fest," UI student Miller said. "It was pretty awesome. This deacon at a Catholic church compared us to the Beatles."

In high school, guitarist Driscoll joined the pair, and the three of them began playing on and off until recently, when the band members took a leap and decided to release their first album and begin their first tour.

With a name such as So Much Fun, the members think it's necessary to ensure that the performances were just that. The group's shows are full of high energy and usually involve Miller running around the stage singing into a megaphone while McManus uses bass bombs, a technique usually reserved for hip-hop and metal, in an effort to shake up the audience.

Even the band's costumes add to the entertainment, with Driscoll and Miller dressed in sparkly, colorful spandex pants and mismatching shirts. Miller credits the their unique, theatrical stage presence to a Japanese punk band they once performed with, Peelander-Z.

"They did this thing called human bowling," Miller said. "The guitarist had a cordless guitar so that he could run around, and the other two guys dressed up as bowling pins. He'd just run into them and knock them over."

The band members find it somewhat difficult to describe the type of music they play, but Driscoll calls it a mix of "rock and psychedelic pop," with a sound similar to the band the Flaming Lips. So Much Fun is also known for mixing ambience influences into its music.

Even though the group hasn't made it big yet, that doesn't mean the members haven't experienced compliments and accolades. McManus remembers a fan spending more than 10 minutes praising him for his drumming skills.

"He literally wouldn't let me get in a word edgewise," he said. "It was pretty funny and very flattering."

But what really makes the guys happy is when other musicians, especially touring ones, praise their music.

"They hear a lot of shows, and they're probably completely burned out on music," Miller said. "So when they say 'awesome' or 'great job,' it means a lot. You know that they actually mean it."
- Daily Iowan

This great review can be seen in print. A scanned copy found here: - Little Village Magazine

As soon as an organ bubbles into existence and waltzes down the back of a slaphappy guitar riff in Moonraker’s opener, you realize that So Much Fun isn’t going to waste time with subtleties. “Balaban” is a statement—a call-to-arms for pure unabashed movement.

Nothing else on So Much Fun’s debut reaches the saccharine highs of the album opener, but that’s because the band explores decidedly non-pop territory for the majority of their 30-minute debut. “Moonraker pt. 1” is more prog than pop—with a vicious demonstration of rhythm and speed from drummer PJ MacManus at the center.

“Lady Captain”—the most sonically ambitious track on the album—encapsulates the musical dynamic of So Much Fun. A slick, descending bass line finds room between jungle beats and splashy high hats as Frank Driscoll paints a nebulous backdrop with his reverb. On top of the entire sonic pile is Nick Miller. His voice soars—think S.C.I.E.N.C.E.-era Brandon Boyd – as he asks, “Keep them and hold them. Do I do?”

So Much Fun doesn’t bank on a particular genre or influence throughout Moonraker because the trio from Iowa City seems too eager to sort through their creative grab bag before settling. The final track on the album – “Once a Month Altruist”—surprises by oscillating between breezy, beach bum cool and sing-a-long kegger bravado.

“Psych pop freakness” is how the band describes their work. But by affirming that, I would be selling them short. For a young group brimming with this many ideas, it’s more about the promise and possibilities than anything else.
- Des Moines Music Coalition


"Moonraker" (2010)

"Balaban" featured on:
KRUI 89.7
Capitol 106.3
WVKC 90.7
KDPS 88.1

"Lady Captain" Featured on:
New Rock 105.1



Cited in college newspapers as "too eager to sort through their creative grab bag before settling" So Much Fun is recognized as a sonically ambitious group pushing boundaries while maintaining the accessibility of popular music. They have been noted for their attention to tone, arrangement, and deep space ambience which melts their music together, according to one newspaper, like "space-cheese." Think of it as a dance party on Mars.

The union of vicious timing and speed from drummer PJ McManus, with Nick Miller's Roxie Music/Captain Beefheart vocal melodies, and Frank Driscoll's nebulous wall-of-sound-guitar, creates something along the lines of Flaming Lips meets Johnny Greenwood meets Boards of Canada meets Tony Danza's Tapdance Extravaganza.
As childhood friends, the three spent their adolescence walking different musical paths: McManus gained respect as a technically advanced young drummer in the Des Moines metal scene, Driscoll accompanied alternative rock projects, and Miller took to classical guitar and jazz.
The combination of their influences is what makes So Much Fun.

The group released "Moonraker" in July of 2010, and followed it with a Midwest/East Coast tour. The tour received personal praise from well known musicians such as Alejandro Escovedo.

The group is currently working on their second release, and planning to follow it with an extensive tour.