Tobias Jesso Jr-Goon

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If I’m being honest, I had no idea who Tobias Jesso was until the Pitchfork lineup was released a couple weeks ago. I looked at everyone playing, made a list of those I didn’t know, and went about checking out their music. Jesso is the only one that really took me by surprise. He’s got a rich, intoxicating voice that harkens back to 70’s singer/songwriters like Harry Nilsson and Jim Croce. Oddly, I also hear a little Peter Beckett (lead singer of Player) in there too. It’s just a gorgeous tone that flows perfectly through all 12 tracks of Goon.

There is a modern comparison one could make, and that’s Christopher Owens (Ed.Note: and now that I’m thinking of it, Nik Freitas). I’m not sure if that’s real, or just because JR White is one of the producers on the album and that’s the sound he goes for. Jesso also gets production help from The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, and chart-topping producer Ariel Reichstand. Add in a drum cameo from Danielle Haim and you’ve got quite a pedigree for someone’s first album.

The talent shines through, and Jesso wins you over even if you try to fight against it. There’s something about the heartfelt delivery of these mostly simple and honest lyrics that is quite endearing. The sparseness of his piano and voice on the record really draws the listener in, making already intimate music into something more. That emptiness also makes the big moments on the record, like the heavy beats and strings on “Crocodile Tears,” all the more exciting.

It’s hard to believe that playing the piano is just something Jesso started doing in his free time after moving back home to Vancouver following a bad breakup in LA. At the same time, it makes perfect sense with these songs. And if he were some kind of virtuoso the record would feel much different, most likely for the worse. Listen to how perfectly the piano and vocals go together in this Take Away Show from La Blogotheque:

There’s still a couple weeks before Goon comes out, so you have plenty of time to get acquainted with Tobias Jesso before you pick up your copy. This is one of those albums you’ll want to get right away so that in four or five months when your friends start talking about him you can say “Oh I’ve had that record since it came out! Where’ve you been?” It trades bangers for beauty, and there aren’t enough artists doing that today.

Go check out his show if you’re on the east or west coast. He starts in Toronto on March 22nd and heads out to Europe in May. You can find all his dates here. And you can pre-order a copy of Goon here.

Ezra Furman-“Restless Year”

My love and admiration for Ezra Furman is well-documented in these digital pages, so no need to get into that again. Quite simply, he’s the best American lyricist working today and it’s not close. Just this morning he announced he’s signed with Bella Union (Flaming Lips, Beach House) and released the first single off the new Ezra Furman & The Boy-Friends album due this summer.

Restless Year” isn’t really like anything else we’ve heard from Furman since splitting from The Harpoons. It almost sounds like Jim Morrison leading Bow Wow Wow through Dead Milkmen covers, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Despite some of the morbid lyrics, it actually feels kind of sunny compared to songs like “I Wanna Destroy Myself” or “Tell Em All To Go To Hell.”

Listening to Furman’s voice always brings a smile to my face, but that smile turns into a sort of maniacal glee when he delivers lines like “Death is my former employer. Death is my own Tom Sawyer. Death waits for me to destroy her. I never wanna die and I never grow older.”

If this single doesn’t get you excited for a new album, I don’t know what will. Before the record drops you can catch the band at Subterannean in Chicago. Tickets here for the April 8 show.

SxSw Send-off For Chicago Bands At Bottom Lounge 3/7/2015

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There’s a party going down at Bottom Lounge this Saturday, and it’s gonna be a great time. 4 Chicago bands will be playing their last sets in town before heading down to Austin, TX for the South By Southwest music festival. Molehill will be headlining the night, and they’ll be joined by some of my favorite acts: The Future Laureates, Vintage Blue, and Steve Stone.

I actually tried to set up almost the same lineup for a show I put together at The Empty Bottle, but schedules weren’t working out for us. Vintage Blue and The Future Laureates have played together once or twice, so really this show is just getting the gang together for one last score. I’m glad they booked this in a venue as big as Bottom Lounge, because each of these groups have a very large following in the area, and I’m hoping I walk into a packed house.

I sat down with Trevor and Peter from Molehill yesterday at Longman & Eagle in Logan Square. The food was delicious, but I was more interested in the conversation we were having. I recorded the whole thing and put it up so everyone can hear.

I’ve posted interviews with Vintage Blue and The Future Laureates as well, but those were both done quite a while ago, so they won’t tell you much about the bands today. The Future Laureates put out a great EP last year called Here And Now. Vintage Blue also released an EP, No Going Back, which builds on their strong debut full-length Strike The Mics. Steve Stone, the opener and one heck of a guitar player, has a new release coming out this spring. He just released a new single in January.

Tickets are going fast, so go get yours now by following this link! Only $10 for all this great music!

Brothers In Yarn-The Musical Book Club

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Have you ever been a part of a book club? I don’t mean Oprah’s Book Club where a tyrant tells you a book to read and then they’re the only one to talk. I mean like a real community-style book club where ideas can be shared and talked about over the course of, say, a month. I think it could be fun, but I’m such a slow reader (and always have been) that I think I’d feel bad about holding people back from moving on to the next book while I try to finish. However, if it was a book club where there would be new music from a great songwriter at the end of every month I might be more motivated.

Brothers In Yarn delivers on this splendid idea. Shawn Fogel, singer and songwriter behind Golden Bloom, started the project at the beginning of the year as a way to get over a case of writer’s block. The club began with a timeless classic, Roald Dahl’s “Matilda,”  and released the song “A Million Tiny Arms.”  The book for February was John Darnielle’s “Wolf In White Van.” The song that resulted from The Mountain Goats frontman’s debut novel is a dark and brooding rocker. The lyrics don’t disappoint, feeling very much in touch with Darnielle’s often morbid words.

I think my favorite line is the one that the title comes from, and also leads the song to its epic finale: “Left with nothing but our own defenses, to make our way across the cruel terrain. Simple math and it’s consequences, frozen bodies on the Kansas plain.” As the last lyric leaves Fogel’s mouth, other voices rise up almost like a church choir. The music in this final passage speaks volumes, and could easily work as it’s own instrumental song.

Yesterday the book for March was announced, and it’s “Confessions Of An Economic Hitman” by John Perkins. Sounds like an interesting read, so if you want to pick up a copy and get involved with discussion about it via the Brothers In Yarn book club you can find it here. If not, you’ll still get to hear a new song by Fogel at the end of March (and every month!).

Shilpa Ray Releases Make Up EP Ahead Of US Tour

February 26, 2015 Leave a comment

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The pairing of Lou Reed and Dinah Washington covers may seem like an odd selection for an EP to some (including myself), but in the hands of Shilpa Ray it makes all the sense in the world. The singer turns both into timeless jazz standards with a brassy voice perfect for the Broadway stage. Both are a far cry from the sounds on Ray’s debut album, It’s All Self Fellatio. Whether these tracks offer any insight into the full-length coming in May, I have no idea. One thing is certain, the musicianship will be top notch.

You may know Ray from other projects. It took me a while to place where I remembered that name, and then it hit me: Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers. I’d seen the band’s name in a magazine at some point and it stuck with me (as great names tend to do). I’d never listened to any of the music, though, and finding out one of Ray’s projects was singing backup for Nick Cave didn’t make me too excited. Glad I decided to follow through, because this is one of those voices you never forget. Like, if this EP came out ten years ago, and some radio station played the cover of “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes,” everyone would have bought the album at Starbucks and Norah Jones would be strung out in a gutter somewhere.

I’ve never been a huge Lou Reed fan, but I can’t deny Transformer is a great record. The songs are so iconic, and the sound so specific to Lou, that covering any track seems like a terribly undesirable task. What Ray does with “Make Up” is impressive on a lot of levels. Not only remaining true to the spirit of the tune, but also giving it a different, dreamy vibe is something not many could accomplish.

Shilpa Ray will be heading down to South by Southwest along with every other band in the world in a couple weeks. Before that a few live dates are on the books, including a show in Chicago on March 4th at Burlington Bar (info here). You can download a copy of Make Up on the Northern Spy Records bandcamp page.

BRONCHO hitting Lincoln Hall on tour with The Growlers

February 25, 2015 Leave a comment

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By anyone’s standards BRONCHO had a pretty great 2014. It started with having one of their songs used in an episode of the HBO series “Girls,” followed by the release of their well-received sophomore album Just Enough Hip To Be Woman. They toured voraciously, building their fan base with their energetic sets. But that wasn’t enough for this Norman, OK-based group, so they’re making 2015 even better.

Billy Idol invited the band to open for him in the US through January and February. Hot on the heels of those shows, BRONCHO will be opening for The Growlers  around the midwest before heading to NYC for 5 shows at Baby’s All Right. Two great tours before spring arrives, festival dates, and a tour of the west coast are all on the books so there’s no reason to miss them.

For a full list of tour dates check out the bands website. They’ll be here in Chicago Friday and Saturday, February 27th and 28th, at Lincoln Hall.

of Montreal-Aureate Gloom

February 24, 2015 Leave a comment

IMG_3010Since the release of 2010’s False Priest I’ve been listening to people say of Montreal lost whatever magic they had left. It was their tenth album, so maybe time finally caught up with the band. That would be a valid point of it weren’t completely wrong. False Priest is one of their strongest records to date, and a nice change of pace that continued on Paralytic Stalks. Lousy With Sylvianbriar was another great entry in the discography, so there’s at least three records since of Montreal “lost it” that are actually really good.

And now there’s Aureate Gloom, the 13th studio album for a band that’s never received significant radio play and came closest to the cultural zeitgeist via an Outback Steakhouse commercial. They must be doing something right. On this new release they get almost EVERYTHING right.

I don’t buy a ton of music, and I very rarely buy something without listening to it first. I heard the single “Bassem Sabry” and halfway through the track I was on Polyvinyl’s website checking out limited edition vinyl. I think Aureate Gloom will be the one that brings back fans that are mad every record doesn’t sound like Satanic Panic In The Attic. It doesn’t rely on funk and R&B like Priest, or 60’s pop like Lousy.

There is something inherently compelling about Kevin Barnes as a musical performer. The way he writes and delivers songs is completely unique-his voice will be stuck in your head for days repeating lines like “I was amazed by how husky your singing voice was.” And that’s a tune he barely even sings! He’s just talking and I’ve literally walked around for weeks with “Our Riotous Defects” stuck on a loop in my brain.

Barnes always makes odd references to things I don’t understand right away. On the song “Virgilian Lots” he sings “Just as the twin volcanoes on Cuauhnãhuac, we were once stable. So sad I must bury every thought of you before it shows its teeth. Now I amuse myself with nativious forms of Virgilian Lots, like your neo-feminist divinations.”

What? Volcanoes where? Is Virgilian Lots like Big Lots? Barnes never talks down to his listeners, but he doesn’t make it easy either. I prefer that to the watered-down lowest common denominator words most artists use.

The problem with a band that’s been putting out music for 20 years is that most people have already made up their mind about liking the music. You have to be cautious going through life like that, because you may have heard one of Montreal record that isn’t anything like Aureate Gloom, and then you’re missing out on great music and it’s your own fault. Keep your ears open because you may just hear something you like.

As with most new releases, a tour is going along with of Montreal’s new album, and they are hitting the road with Deerhoof. Check out their site for full details.

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