Sir Sly-You Haunt Me

September 18, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0371.JPGSir Sly‘s full-length has been one of my most anticipated records since I first heard their EP last year. From the very first note on that four-song release they did a great job of creating a foreboding atmosphere. Their music exists in the dark spaces that most pop songs don’t dare to venture. Whether or not You Haunt Me could live up to my expectations was a big question, and it wasn’t immediately answered.

When I saw the tracklist for this new record, I was crestfallen. Not only do they use all the tracks from the EP here, but they make up four of the first five cuts. Not since the mini-album A Balloon Called Moaning turned into The Big Roar have I been so annoyed with the recycling of music. They’re re-ordered here, and the title track breaks it up so they aren’t all in a row, but it’s still a letdown. Read more…

We Are The Willows-Dear Ms. Branstner

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment


We all look to the past for ideas and inspiration. We live in a time now where nostalgia is instantaneous, so when I heard about We Are The Willows new album I was immediately on board. Picture (Portrait) is crafted around correspondence between Peter Miller’s grandparents while his grandfather was fighting in WWII. This period, the Great War and all that, is such a huge piece of history that sometimes you need to bring it down to a two-person relationship to really understand the scope of it. The Greatest Generation was also, I think, the last truly romantic generation. For most people nowadays the idea of putting pen to paper is excruciating. And love letters? Really? A “right swipe” is about as close to Cassanova as today’s males will ever get.

So yeah, I’m fully invested in this record now. I want it to do well. Taking lines out of the letters and inserting them into the lyrics is a genius move that works because Miller sings the words with the same sweet sincerity they were written.

The full album comes out November 4th. Until then you can catch them at a few shows, including a performance at Maximum Ames Fest in Ames, Iowa on September 27th

Youngest Son-All Soul’s Day

September 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Steve Slagg has been paying his dues as a musician for a while now. I, along with many others, know him best as the keyboard player/vocalist in Chicago rock band Mooner, but he also has his own project, Youngest Son. They are wildly different as far as style and sound (though they do have one thing in common-they’re very good). I had no knowledge of Youngest Son before I got an email with their latest release, the EP All Soul’s Day attached.

There’s a lot to like in the short 25 minute collection of songs, including two covers of songs from Slagg’s full-length All Saint’s Day (“Hole In The Sky” by Allison Van Liere and “Long Year” by Lee Ketch), of which the new release is a companion piece. The compositions are all really beautifully done here, with the emphasis on piano and vocals. The masterful craftsmanship, coupled with the choice of instrumentation, brings to mind Ben Folds and Elliott Smith (though Randy Newman seems to be Steve’s preference).

The atmosphere of the record grabs you right away as “Blank Face” opens with soft and sweet piano strokes. Joined after the first verse by strings and drums, the song picks up in the middle of verse two and slows down again just as slowly providing some great dynamics that draw you in even deeper.

I think that rather than a companion piece, you could think of All Soul’s Day as a kind of sampler or mixtape. There isn’t really a narrative through it, because two of the songs are from the other record and one is an old gospel song. It doesn’t take away from the quality of work on display. In fact, I like that you get little tastes of different aspects of Youngest Son here because it makes you want to go check out the other releases.

You can stream All Soul’s Day on The Youngest Son’s website.

Chrissy-Year Of Edits

September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0368.JPGEvery once in a while I get an email from Chicago label Loose Squares with a link to new juke & footwork dance music that I would never in a million years have found on my own. It’s fun, because no one else sends me music in that genre. Calculon even landed on my best tracks of 2013 thanks to one of those links. So, I was happy to see that Loose Squares founder Chrissy Murderbot announced a new project called Year Of Edits.

Every week a new re-edit of a disco song will be released on his website, free for everyone to listen. He’s already posted the first two, and they’re both well worth the time (six minutes each). I wish more people made disco music-as bad a rap as it gets sometimes, if you like to dance you can’t do much better than Donna Summer or the Bee Gees. Thanks to Chrissy for this new endeavor. I hope he has as much fun making these edits as we have listening.

Go check out the first two edits here.

Delta Spirit-Into The Wide

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment


The first time I heard about Delta Spirit in anything but a passing comment was about six years ago. They were touring for their record Ode To Sunshine, and played a show at The M Shop in Ames where I was living at the time. I didn’t really know who they were, but the following morning I heard a report that the band’s gear had been stolen. Now that I live in Chicago, that seems very common, but at the time I was shocked that people would stoop so low. Fortunately the band was able to soldier on and maintain their faith in humanity.

Now they’re back with their first new record in a couple years, out tomorrow on Dualtone, called Into The Wide. It’s a very professional-sounding record, which works both in the band’s favor and against it. The one thing Delta Spirit is known best for is their live energy, and this album doesn’t quite capture that. On the other hand, the songs are so radio-ready that I’m sure it will garner a whole slew of new fans who somehow still discover new music over the airwaves.

Into The Wide features a lot of good songs, but my favorite is the second track “From Now On.” Following the pretty good but too Dr. Dog-ish opener, “Push It,” the album kicks into high gear with high-pitched guitar screams of Kelly Winrich’s guitar. Brandon Young’s drumming never sounds better than it does on this track, striking just the right balance of frenetic energy and restraint. The song never really takes its foot off the gas, and for the next few songs the same exuberance is present.

The final quarter of the album takes a tonal shift to a darker area. These songs put more emphasis on Matt Vasquez’s vocals and the quiet spaces in between the notes. “War Machine” is the highlight of this part of the album, which almost feels like an epilogue (but not in a bad way) following the other nine songs. The lyrics are simple but powerful: “War machine, you can’t break me, you can’t have the world I love.”

I got to hear Into The Wide on a beautiful piece of clear vinyl (2 pieces, actually), and it sounds awesome. If you have a record player, you shouldn’t buy it in any other format. You can purchase it here. The band will be on tour through November 1st in North America, hitting most of the major cities, including an evening here in Chicago at The Vic on October 11th.

Categories: Music Review

Sarah Jaffe at JBTV Studios

September 7, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0207.JPGYesterday I had the great opportunity to be part of a small audience for Sarah Jaffe’s JBTV taping. She played the night before in Chicago, opening for Astronautilus at Lincoln Hall. I couldn’t make that show. So I count myself very lucky to be able to take the trip over to the studio for an even more intimate concert.


The set consisted of seven songs, mostly from her latest album Don’t Disconnect. I’m a big fan of the new direction her music is taking. The sounds are much bigger and more complex than her previous records. The highlight, though, was a take on the new album’s title track performed without any accompaniment-just Jaffe a Capella and it was jaw-dropping.

You can see the whole concert online at JBTV’s website when they post it. You can also check out about a billion other shows while you’re there.

Charming Axe Tonight At 27 Live In Evanston

September 5, 2014 Leave a comment


Chicago’s own Charming Axe will be playing a live set tonight at 27 Live to celebrate their new covers record Gathering Days. The folk/roots trio met up at Old Town School Of Music 15 years ago, and have been playing covers and some original material together ever since. Certainly a talented group of musicians, they sound best when the voices of Rob Newhouse, Eugenia Elliott, and Hannah Hill combine to create really beautiful harmonies. The tunes range in style from appalachian hillsongs to more modern folk akin to Old Crow Medicine Show or Mumford & Sons.

The opener for tonight’s show will be another Chicago singer, Julia Klee. She is very good, so make sure you get there early! Tickets can be purchased in advance here.

If you can’t make it to this concert, Charming Axe will also be playing at the Lakeview East Art Fair on Saturday September 13th.


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