The Welcome got together almost exactly 4 years ago, and I got into them shortly after. They’ve been through a few lineup changes and released a whole slew of EP’s since they began, and now they’re finally putting out their first full-length. Weeknights builds on all their previous music, but makes a bigger leap forward than anything they’ve done in the past.
It’s a dance-pop record disguised as arena rock. It’s louder and more aggressive than their last EP, which I thought was a step in the right direction. Here they turn it up to eleven with tasty bass riffs and screaming guitars. The vocals seem to continue the slow push toward making Sarah Johnson the primary voice, with Gehring Miller happily adding depth while slashing about on his axe.
I was a bit surprised with the opening track, “The Idle Violator.” It starts off slow and dark, with playful touches of auto-tune on Johnson’s voice. Around two minutes in the song really picks up steam with a wicked organ sound that cuts through all the surrounding noise to become the main attraction. It slows down again and ends with the same ominous anxiety it begins.
“Henrietta” is a song they released a while back. It does a pretty good job of opening up the listener to the new pathways Weeknights follows, but it doesn’t come anywhere near painting a full picture of the record. There are a handful of songs that I prefer to “Henrietta,” but it is a good starting point for a new listener.
My favorite is probably “Latest Breaking,” which reminds me a little bit of a Los Campesinos! song interpreted by a blues/funk singer. There’s a ton of fuzz and distortion that makes it interesting and also seem like the band probably had a good time putting it together. Jonah Kort kicks it off on the drums, and his beat drives the whole song from beginning to end. It gets a bit weird, so it’s nice to have that constant force as a foundation.
For me this album is sweet because they’re realizing the potential everyone who heard them a few years ago wanted them to attain. To a new listener Weeknights might just be a really good album, and that’s okay too. At not quite 40 minutes, The Welcome don’t overstay theirs. Three of the fifteen tracks come in well under a minute. They’re transitions that I don’t think the album really needs, but they don’t hurt.
You can pick up a copy of Weeknights on Friday March 7th. If you’re in the Chicago area, The Welcome will be at Township playing a release show with Exit Ghost, Brother George, and Varsity. Great lineup. Should be a great show. Grab tickets here. If you go you also receive the album for free!
Have you ever heard a song by a band and thought, “Oh man! These guys are gonna be great! I can’t believe this is their first song,” only to find out later that the band has been together for a dozen years or so? It’s hard work getting a good group together and then building up your fanbase. For most bands, success never comes. For most, having a local following is enough to be considered “successful.” I have to admit I’m a bit surprised that I never heard of Porch before I received a copy of their most recent record (released way back in October). On pedigree alone you’d think I would at least know the name.
About 20 years ago Todd Huth, founding member of Primus, started the band with Chris Frey and Dave Ayer. After an EP and self-titled LP, the band went quiet for a long time. A couple years ago they poked their head out again, and Walking Boss is a big jump back into the pool.
It starts off with an 8-minute aural endurance test. Three and half minutes of deliberate suspense-building, followed by an explosion of guitar and bass that slices through the tension to create absolute horror. The name of the song is “Heart Attack,” and it doesn’t get any more fitting than that. I was about an second away from clutching my chest as I listened, the release is so intense.
When Huth starts singing, it’s hard for me to not think of Jay Farrar heading up a metal band. That’s kind of what it reminds me of. There are long passages of Walking Boss where there are no vocals, which both helps and hurts. Huth writes good lyrics, so I wish there were more of them. At the same time, the music without his voice creates a unique atmosphere.
My favorite song on the album is the crudely named “Dickhead.” Michael Jacobs is the band’s new drummer, and he shows more restraint than most stick men in this genre. Never more apparent than here, where he provides just the right amount of splash. This time it is the word’s that I like best, though. “You took it all right out of my soul, kept on givin’, I didn’t even know. Then I found The Lord. Taught me how to forgive. Does that make everything alright? Oh won’t you tell me, you fucking dickhead.”
Walking Boss if far from a perfect album, but I don’t think anyone in rock music expects perfection. Some of the songs run a little longer than they probably need to be. I felt like the guitar work got buried in the mix a couple times. There’s an outrageous guitar solo called “Spider Attack” that really made me wish there was more material like that on the record.
That said, I have no problem recommending Walking Boss to people who like atmospheric, guitar-driven music. I hope that this isn’t the last we hear of Porch. With the talent they have, the only real obstacle is time and the resources to put music out. This record was intended to be self-distributed, so if you like it, go buy it on Bandcamp and help them out. It’s only eight bucks, and you’re probably just gonna spend that on a burrito you don’t really needanyway.
It’s been a while since I thought about We Were Promised Jetpacks in any kind of serious way. About five years ago I got a copy of These Four Walls before it was released here in the States, and I fell in love with it. There was something completely different about it, nothing else I was listening to had the subtle complexity that a song like “It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning” contains. I listened to that record pretty much constantly for a long time. I kept listening to it after In The Pit Of The Stomach came out, and eventually I guess it ran its course and I stopped and haven’t really returned to it since. I think that made last night even more special for me, because my love affair with We Were Promised Jetpacks has been rekindled one hundred percent.
I showed up early because I had heard good things about the opening group Honeyblood. I knew literally nothing about them other than they were from Scotland like WWPJ. I got right up front and was blown away by their mix of bubblegum pop and dirty grunge. When Stina Tweeddale and Shona McVicar came to the stage and I saw it was a female drum and guitar duo, I wasn’t really sure what to think. Any drum and guitar duo immediately has me skeptical, but I kept and open mind and was rewarded for it. They played a longer set than I expected, including this rocker they just released from their forthcoming self-titled album.
With the crowd sufficiently warmed and a buzz of anticipation in the air, the lights went down and WWPJ took the stage just after 9pm. I was posted up in front of guitarist Michael Palmer, and the setlist he had taped in front of him made absolutely no sense to me. They must have code names for the songs or something. I’m glad I ended up where I was, because I learned a thing or two-a lot of the guitar riffs that I attributed to lead singer Adam Thompson are actually the work of Palmer. He dazzled me all night with different tricks and pedal combinations that made all those wonderful songs come to life.
Thompson was no slouch either. It was a bit more of a frenzy at Lincoln Hall than it had been the only other time I caught the band live at Metro. Maybe they feel more comfortable on the smaller stage. For his part Adam mainly stayed in his zone, which was everywhere from his microphone to the end of the stage on his left. He’d make his way behind the keyboards while banging the lacquer off of his guitar and jump and stomp all the way back to his spot.
My favorite moment came when Adam stood back away from the mic and led the crowd in a spellbinding rendition of “Sore Thumb.” It was a great performance of a tune that puts everything they do well on full display. The interplay between aggressive guitar and drums and Thompson’s emotionally raw voice in the distance is really beautiful.
The band played some new songs from the album they just finished recording and I like what I’m hearing so far. It isn’t a monumental shift from the sound you know them for, but it is a little more funky and fun. I’m super excited to hear the rest of the record, and that’s exactly what you want (how terrible would I feel if I had to say “I heard some of the songs on the new album, and they can keep it to themselves.”)
Just last week WWPJ released a new live album taped at the E Rey in Philadelphia. If you’re a fan of the band but have never seen them live, you’ll want to check it out. It doesn’t quite capture the energy that they have live, but I don’t think anything could. They make it an amazing experience for all the fans, and it seems like the band thrives on the energy of the bouncing bodies in the crowd.
The Academy Awards are just a few days away, and with most of the winners already assumed, it’s another boring build-up to the ceremony. I’m hoping for a couple upsets-mostly a DiCaprio win over McConaughey and a June Squibb dark horse victory (maybe Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence split the votes, you never know). A big one would happen if Karen O and Spike Jonze can stop the powerhouse that is Frozen from winning best song. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and there have been a few rare instances where the better song won over the obvious choice, but they are few and far between.
Since “Lose Yourself” won Best Song a little over a decade ago, I thought that maybe it would be a turning point and change the thinking behind the award voting. It seemed to, when Three Six Mafia won a couple years later. But lately it’s just been more of the same old snoozefest songs (kudos for “Skyfall” and “Falling Slowly,” though-they deserved it). Here are 10 songs that lost out to lesser ones that should make the AMPAS members think long and hard about casting their votes next year.
10. 1965: “I Will Wait For You” lost to “The Shadow Of Your Smile.”
9.1953: “That’s Amore” lost to “Secret Love”
8. 1978: “Hopelessly Devoted To You” lost to “Last Dance”
7. 1999: “Save Me” (and “Blame Canada”) lost to “You’ll Be In My Heart”
6. 1955: “Unchained Melody” lost to “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing”
5. 1967: “Bare Necessities” lost to “Talk To The Animals”
4. 1935: “Cheek To Cheek” lost to “Lullaby Of Broadway”
3. 1973: “Live And Let Die” lost to “The Way We Were”
2. 1995: “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” lost to “Colors Of The Wind”
1. 1979: “Rainbow Connection” lost to “It Goes Like It Goes”
I think at this point we’re all pretty much agreed on the genius found in all of Beck’s albums thus far. When Pitchfork did their poll a while back for the People’s List covering the best records of the last 15 years, Beck was the only artist who got two spots in my voting-Sea Change and Midnite Vultures (of the final 200 listed, Beck’s name took up three spots). The fact that those two albums are so completely different makes me respect his work even more. He’s hit all the genres, released an album that’s just sheet music, and spent millions of Lincoln’s dollars on a Bowie cover. What is left for him to show us?
I think that’s the problem I have with Morning Phase-I don’t know what else he could do to change it up any further. I’ve always relied on his imagination to take me to places I’ve never been before, and here he’s repeating himself. If you’re a fan of Sea Change, you’re gonna love this. The sonic similarity took me a while to get over. I listened time and time again looking for something deeper, but I never found it.
The real problem is that Morning Phase is still a really good record. Hundreds of artists have taken up the style that Beck used on Sea Change, but no one has ever done it as well as he. I currently have this listed as my third best album of the year, and that makes me kind of mad. If he had focused his energy on something completely new instead of going back to the well, I have no doubt that we’d be looking at another classic. There’s nothing wrong with Morning Phase-I’m sure a lot of the mainstream critics will put it on their year-end lists. That just reaffirms how much Beck means to the world of music at large.
There are things that should be praised on the album, like the way “Cycle” opens it up with this beautiful ethereal instrumentation. “Blue Moon” was the first real glimpse we had of what the album would sound like, and it does a good job of displaying almost everything you’ll hear throughout the rest of Morning Phase. Beck’s vocals seem really strong on this record as well. Maybe taking a little time off from recording allowed his voice to recuperate from years of being in the studio and on tour.
So I love this album and I hate it. I’m disappointed that it isn’t at least a little bit different from everything else he’s done; at the same time, he’s the best at this kind of music so it’s hard to argue against it. If you’re a Beck fan, you’re gonna be buying Morning Phase regardless, so I’m not going to convince you one way or the other. Because he’s such a talented artist who has proven himself over and over again, I’m letting this one slide. I’ve heard rumors that he’ll be putting out another albums sooner than later, so I’m hoping that one is a little more out there and weird.
A couple weeks ago the Pitchfork Festival lineup was announced, and Beck will be the Friday headliner. I bought tickets almost immediately. I’ve never seen him live before, and I’m hoping he doesn’t stick too much to this new material (it doesn’t make for a great outdoor festival setlist). Now, if he wants to do an after show at Schubas and give me a ticket, then we can talk about just playing Morning Phase from start to finish.
When I saw the lineup for this year’s Dunn Dunn Fest, I was most excited about Saturday night’s show at Subterannean. I’ve been a fan of Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes since I first heard them a couple years ago, and I’ve seen them a couple times already so I know they’re great live. I picked up a used copy of Santah’s record White Noise Bed at Reckless a few months ago, and I’ve dug everything I’ve heard by them since I moved to Chicago about 4 years ago. The wild card was the headliner, Moon Taxi. I listened to their record after seeing the announcement, and their placement at the top of the bill made sense. They were just on Conan last month, Letterman in the fall, and now they were playing a little club in Chicago-it doesn’t get any better than that.
When I got to SubT at 9, I expected to be able to walk right in. The doors opened at 8:30 so the die-hards could get in and the line would be minimal. Not the case at all. I ended up at the end of the block behind about 70 or so people. Happy to see the turnout, but not so pleased that it was so cold outside. I talked to a couple guys from South Africa who had bought 8 tickets for the show and were still looking for 2 more. They weren’t having much luck and I have no idea if they found anyone willing to give up their ticket-even though they were offering triple face value. The guys in front of me were practically jumping up and down with excitement while telling everyone around us how great Moon Taxi is. You don’t see anticipation like that every day, so my own hopes for the show grew even higher.
By the time I got inside Santah was already halfway through their set and I had to fight my way forward to get a decent spot to take pictures. I ended up all the way to the left in a corner I would soon find myself stuck in for the duration of the night as fans kept pouring in to the venue. The music was good-a blend of galloping rock and folk/pop that accompanied a large mass of people drinking heavily. It wasn’t the dance-y type of tunes we’d get later on, but it was well worth showing up early.
Daniel Ellsworth and The Great Lakes set up their gear rather quickly, and I was really pleased with the warm reception they received. Some of that may have been because so much of the crowd seemed to have Nashville ties, but by the end it was all about the songs. I just reviewed their new album Kid Tiger last week (out March 4th), and it completely delivers on the promise of Civilized Man. It had been about six months or so since the last time I caught them live, and they seemed tighter than I remembered, even playing the brand new songs they haven’t had as much time with.
Ellsworth was clearly having a blast with the opportunity to introduce some new songs. Timon Lance, so unassuming in casual talks, ripped and roared through the whole set while Joel Wren and Marshall Skinner kept the groove bouncy and light so the crowd could keep their feet moving. They played my favorite song off Kid Tiger, apparently it’s the first time they’ve played it live.
Once The Great Lakes left the stage and Trevor Terndrup made an appearance, the buzz in the audience grew to a constant drone of noise. The guy in front of me not once but twice started a chant of “MOON TAXI! MOON TAXI! MOON TAXI!” The band set and after about ten minutes the band descended the spiral staircase together and launched into their raucous set with gusto. Their lighting setup was completely different than anything I’ve seen at SubT before. I’ve been there a ton of times and I was blown away by how good everything looked.
I was least familiar with them, but I felt like a couple songs into Moon Taxi’s set I had a pretty good idea of what they were about. Definitely a band that wants to have as much fun as the crowd, and seems damn determined to make sure everyone is having a good time. Trevor connects well with individuals in the audience, making lots of eye contact. At one point a girl was dancing at the very end of the stage, and he tried to make his way over to her to get down (she wasn’t paying attention and stopped when he was just short-only to be told by her friend that he was right behind her).
The guitar is definitely the main focus of the music, and between Terndrup and Spencer Thompson they have that instrument pretty well covered. They both played some great riffs, but Terndrup was the center of attention, jumping up on his gearbox to bask in the strobe lights more than a couple times.
By the end of the their set it seemed like all 400 people that packed into SubT were dancing and screaming within a 12 foot radius near the front of the stage. The band finished their final song, but the relentless fans wouldn’t let them leave. I made my way upstairs while Moon Taxi blasted into a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall.” My body was exhausted from the constant motion through three sets of music, but I felt great about the physical punishment a good night of music can dole out.
Many thanks to Donnie Biggins, who set up the Dunn Dunn Fest through Harmonica Dunn. The talent he assembled to play at four different venues over three nights was stellar, and I don’t know if anyone else in Chicago could pull it off single-handedly. This was the only show I was able to make it out for, and I can only imagine how awesome all the other events were.
Back in 2011 Daniel Ellsworth And The Great Lakes dropped their debut and immediately garnered a lot of buzz. It’s a great album and ended up landing a spot on the Amazon Editor’s Top 100 in both albums and songs for the year. You may have heard the song “Shoe Fits” at some point, and if you have you’re all the better for it. If not, go check it out after you read this.
Three years later we’re about to receive a new record from the band called Kid Tiger. It’s a more focused effort that plays like the synth-pop dream Civilized Man often hinted at. It also continues the smart strategy of not putting all the attention on Ellsworth-his name may be the headline, but this feels like the whole group was on the same page from start to finish.
A few weeks ago the band released the first single off Kid Tiger, called “Sun Goes Out.” It reminds me of what you might hear if Chicago’s own California Wives did a remix of something from Funeral. Ellsworth sings it gorgeously, hitting the higher register of his voice with ease. What really impressed me with this song is the drumming by Joel Wren. Drummers usually get overlooked, but the persistent drive he provides here is fantastic work.
My favorite track is actually the following song on Kid Tiger, “Ready Set.” Great lyrics and keys by Ellsworth: “I say could you be my lover, you say ‘I see us more as friends.’ I like it when you tell me no, girl. Feigning smiles and faking confidence. Well I know just what I want and I’m coming straight for you.” Timon Lance blasts off some tasty riffs in short bursts while delivering mostly rhythm guitar that doesn’t require a lot of flash until the last 20 seconds or so when all the restraints are lifted and they go a little crazy.
Everything on Kid Tiger is a little bit bigger than the work on Civilized Man. And it’s not like they were shying away from taking chances on their first record. They come from Nashville, but you’d never guess it by listening to them play. The song “Little Light” has more than a few moments that made me think of what a Dark Side-era Pink Floyd might sound like if they covered George Jones.
After meeting the band in 2012 and seeing them play live a couple times, I have to admit they’re some of the nicest and most talented guys I’ve had the pleasure to cover. If Kid Tiger had sucked, this would’ve been much harder to write, so I should thank them for making my job easier next time I see them. If you want to join me, they’ll be at Subterranean in Chicago on Saturday February 22nd performing with Moon Taxi and Santah as part of Dunn Dunn Fest. Tickets are still available, but they’re going fast. You can also pre-order Kid Tiger from iTunes. It’s available everywhere March 4th.