I do my best to bring some sort of A/V quality whenever I review shows for the site. I tend to record one song per show that I go to, assuming that it’s ok with security. That means that I did NOT record anything when I saw Prince at City Winery-he is not down with people recording at his concerts. It definitely helps get the word out about local talent that people may not have heard, and for the bigger shows its just fun to let people who couldn’t make it get a glimpse of what it was like. These are my ten favorites from 2013, a mix of local and national acts. If you enjoy them, you can check out the rest of my videos on my Youtube page.
10. Briar Rabbit-Crooked Teeth at Schubas
9. Ben Folds Five-Philosophy/Do It Anyway at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion
8. Molehill-I Hope You’re Happy at Metro
7. Smith Westerns-3AM Spiritual at Schubas
6. The Oarsman-Flying Trapeze at Lincoln Hall
5. Justin Timberlake & Jay Z-Tunnel Vision/Jigga Who at Soldier Field
4. Fort Frances-Nothing Compares 2 U at Lincoln Hall
3. Bedroom Sons-My Blood, pt 3 at Empty Bottle
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs-Runaway at Summerfest
1. Conor Oberst & The Felice Brothers-White Limo at Way Over Yonder Fest
This year I was forced into a more active role in the visual media department of Music.Defined. Kari, who took the majority of the pics for us in 2011 and 2012, had to be out of town a lot so I ended up taking pictures at a lot of shows I normally wouldn’t have. Hopefully she’ll be able to shoot more often in 2014, as I think she’s a better photographer than I am. That said, my “mass quantity theory” of shooting shows seems to have garnered some decent results. These 10 photos might not actually be my “best” shots, but they are my favorites. I don’t know enough about photography to really say which ones are best. If you’re a professional photographer and want to pore over my albums and let me know, just check out our Facebook page where you can find all the pics that I’ve taken and most of Kari’s pics as well.
Anyway, here they are, starting with number 10 (much like a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man, you can embiggen each pic by clicking on it):
I’m not one to read other music websites. I don’t know why, but since I started writing myself I felt the need to separate myself from everything else so that my opinions and thoughts are completely my own. So, other than reading a review on Pitchfork just so I can take some snooty jabs at it on Twitter, I really don’t look at anything else. That isn’t to say I don’t know they exist, I’m certainly aware of the hundreds of websites dedicated to music in the Chicago area. I say all this because I’m as shocked as you are that I’m promoting an event that another website is putting on. I’ve heard Windy City Rock does good work though (and my interactions with the writers there, though brief, have always been very nice) and the money is going to a great place called Intuit: The Center For Intuitive And Outsider Art.
Intuit has been around for over 20 years, housed in the River West neighborhood. As the only American non-profit dedicated solely to self-taught and outsider art, the group is critical in supporting the creative people who like to think outside the box. Their permanent collection alone includes 1,100 pieces of art, and they have much more to offer. On top of exhibiting sculptures and paintings you won’t see anywhere else, they also offer classes that cover photography, poetry, as well as arts like drawing and sculpture.
If giving money to a great cause isn’t your jam, how about just paying $8 to see some great bands, to hell with where the money goes? If that sounds more like a good time then you’re in luck because Windy City Rock has put together a cool lineup of experimental groups to rock Empty Bottle.
Crown Larks play a whirring kind of psych-rock and drone made even more interesting by Lorraine Bailey’s flute and clarinet additions. You can check out their 7-track album Catalytic Conversion on Bandcamp.
I just watched a live video of Mako Sica playing at Permanent Records back in 2009, and that is one crazy stage show. Just watching those guys contort and force their instruments into sounds they don’t normally make is a lot of fun.
DJPTSD is a group featuring members of ONO, a performance/art rock group that’s been in Chicago for a few decades now and the original members show no sign of slowing down.
The final act set to play Sunday is The Humminbird, one of Chicago Reader’s Best of 2013. Muyassar Kurdi is the brain behind the songs (and Beyond The Orchard‘s sole player), but she’s found the collaborative spirit and is now working with some other musicians to add to the sound.
Honestly, it’s not like you have anything better to do on Sunday night anyway. Plus it’s the holidays! Don’t you want to get in the spirit early and help out a great cause? Be at Empty Bottle at 7pm on the 8th with your $8 in hand (as long as you’re 21 or older). Make sure you say hi to the Windy City Rock team and thank them for putting together such a lovely evening.
For all those who feel that the guitar/drum duo has been done to death, I ask that you leave your pre-determined negativity at the door. Slim Wray’s new LP Sack Lunch is exactly the kind of aggressive blues rock that 2013 has been missing. This Brooklyn-based pair have given us a new reason to believe this format can work, and in the process made the best album in the genre since The White Stripes’ Elephant.
The single, “Bear,” came out a while back. I don’t remember when exactly, but as soon as I heard it I started looking forward to hearing the full album. It’s one of those songs you just want to listen to all day. Imagine Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” minus the obvious desire for commercial success and adulation. Howzr’s guitar solo at the midway point is incendiary and even in the short burst he shows you how talented he is.
It was actually the song that follows the single on the album, “House Of D,” that convinced me that these guys are for real. It’s got an old-timey feel, a modern campfire tale complete with harmonica train whistles. The instruments take a back seat and allow the story to unfold clearly. They paint some vivid imagery, like: “I said hey Officer I didn’t maim, rape, or steal. He said ‘Not my problem so sit very still.’ I’m eating cheese off stale bread, pass all meals I won’t use the can. When you spend a second night in a cell, you know it’s for real.”
Slim Wray almost gets into punk territory on “Strychnine.” It’s a mile-a-minute run with Chris Moran sprinting to keep time on the drums while Howzr’s guitar drives through sputters and fits of fuzzy noise and screaming wails. It’s a bit different than the rest of the album, but it doesn’t get too far out of the sonic environment they created earlier on the album. If anything it keeps the listener on their toes and doesn’t allow any level of comfortability.
It’s been a year of playing it safe and bands trying to find where they fit in the marketplace, so it’s nice to hear music that just goes balls to the wall without caring who the audience is. If you make good music, people will find it. You can find Sack Lunch on iTunes and Amazon, as well as your local record store.
Currently only three shows are listed on their website, but I’m sure more will be added after the new year. If you’re in New York City you can catch them at Mercury Lounge on December 23rd. If you’d like more info on the band, hit up their Facebook page.
Between being holed up in the hospital and the Thanksgiving break, I got more than a little behind. That’s why today I’m writing about a single that was released on November 12th by Toronto-based band Newsmen. A lot of times I’ll just let something like this slip by and just tweet something about it with a link, but I wanted to do a real post about this one because I really dig the A side of this single. I don’t really know much about the band other than two of the guys are brothers-all I really need to know is “Can they play?” and with “Grand Tracadie” they’ve answered a resounding yes.
The song kicks off with a chorus of echoing voices singing “When the old die and I understand” before launching into the first verse. It’s a perfect, attention-grabbing start that feels like it could have been recorded by some unknown late-70′s garage band strung out on the Stones and Big Star records. The lead guitar plucks along and you can feel every note in the center of your brain while the bass line swims along your ear canal like Mark Spitz going for the gold (in keeping with the 70′s theme). Towards the end of the song that guitar that had been feeling it’s way through just explodes into a fuzzy whirlwind that rises above everything else and a battle ensues as the vocalist tries to sing over the noise.
The B-side, “Covehead,” is not quite at the same level as “Grand Tracadie,” but it’s not bad. I actually think the vocal performance on this one is a bit better. The harmonies are great, and the verses are sung a bit more clear. I really like the final line of the “Covehead,” which gets repeated twice: “Explain the past, that element boiling us in our skeletons. It’s melting down my hands.” The delivery is perfect. If the whole song had been like that, it may have been even better than the A-side.
You can pick up a copy of this release on Bandcamp for the low, low price of whatever you feel like paying. While you’re there you can also pick up a copy of their EP Wild History, which came out at the beginning of the year. I don’t see any live dates listed, but I assume if you live around the Toronto area you will probably have an opportunity to see them play at some point. Check out the Newsmen’s Facebook page and Like them to get any updates about shows or upcoming releases. It sounds like they plan on keeping pretty busy in the new year, so we shouldn’t have to wait long for more music!
Gloom Balloon-You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster/Fix The Sunshine Pts 1-7 (An Ode To Bill Doss)
After over a decade doing somersaults across stages as one fourth of The Poison Control Center, Patrick Tape-Fleming has taken a deeper look inward on his new project, Gloom Balloon. The loud guitars and screaming are gone (mostly), making room for a more subtle balance of musical experimentation and sincere songwriting. The album is broken into two halves-the first a crazy exploration through musical genres, the second a heartfelt tribute to Tape-Fleming’s friend and musical hero Bill Doss of The Olivia Tremor Control. Even with two wildly different approaches, the album works as a whole. And it’s one of the best records I’ve heard all year.
While Tape-Fleming is the driving force of Gloom Balloon, he’s not alone. He’s enlisted Chris Ford of Christopher The Conquered as co-producer, and H.D. Harmsen (whose album Papoose is another 2013 gem) helped with string arrangements that pop up all over both halves of the record. Together they’ve created a really interesting sonic palate that has led me to describe it to friends as Conor Oberst meets Herbie Hancock and Melvin Van Peebles.
You may have heard a little bit from Gloom Balloon earlier this year when they released a 7″ that was featured on Spin.com. That song, “She Was The One That Got Away,” does not appear on the new album. It did, however, give a good bit of insight into what Gloom Balloon’s full-length would sound like. A hip-hop beat lays the foundation, but Tape-Fleming and Ford fill the rest with horns and sweet harmonies as Patrick rap/sings the verses.
That one is backed with “The Science Of Love Minus Harry Harlow,” which features Bob Nastanovich of Pavement on drums. Nastanovich lives in Des Moines now, and he’s taken quite an interest in a lot of the local music being made there. This song is more of a funk jam. It’s got trumpets, sax, some auto-tuned synth, and short drops of spoken word. If Beck and Stevie Wonder ever made a song together, it might sound something like this.
You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster kicks off with some gorgeous strings that leads into a deep bass hit followed by some very nuanced percussion work. The strings give way to a whirring synthesizer sounds before Tape-Fleming rejoins to lay claim to being “the luckiest fucking fool in this town.” It’s a totally different tone than what we got with the initial single, but it still shares a lot of sonic qualities, and works as a great intro to the rest of the album.
I love the track that shares its name with the band. “Gloom Balloon” features some of Tape-Fleming’s best songwriting to date, and the first line can almost sum up the whole first half of the album: “You don’t have to be alone to feel alone, it’s so true.” I love the blending of classical strings and horns with electronic beats, but here it works better than anywhere else on the record. And the way it blends into the title track is a great feat of editing.
The opening of the second half of the album is a dark tunnel of noise that somehow works even though it doesn’t seem like it should. Squeaking saxophones and trumpets over a synchronous live drum and electronic beat create almost too much noise for your mind to process. In the end, “Will C., You, Cut Me Like A Matisse” is a perfect set up for the even more experimental songs to come.
As much as I love all the weirdness and crazy stuff that goes on throughout the album, it’s really “Fix The Sunshine” that ties the whole thing up, and it’s a straight-ahead acoustic pop song. It’s such perfect tribute to Doss and his lasting legacy in the music world. Tape-Fleming sings, “You can leave it, all behind: your possessions, your soul, but your songs I’ll keep with mine. And even if I never, ever, ever heard one of them again, I would still have them memorized cause I considered you a friend. I’ll say it again, If I could fix the sunshine, you know I’d try. And all the children in the world are one day going to die. And so Will, You and I.”
Hopefully I haven’t spoiled much of the record for you. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times and I still find something new every time. You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Disaster/Fix The Sunshine comes out December 3rd according to Maximum Ames Records website, but you can pre-order now, which I would highly recommend. Albums like this don’t come around every day, and we need to cherish them when they do. So buy a copy for yourself and buy ten more for your friends.
The first thing that caught my attention about Heyward Howkins was his voice. A perfect balance between Antony Hegarty and Roy Orbison that gives the songs a bit of classic rock and post-modernism at the same time. My first time through the record I focused almost entirely on the vocals, unable to really pay any attention to anything else going on. They’ve done a nice job of pushing Howkins way out in front of everything else, it would have been such a waste to bury his voice underneath the other instruments.
Of course, there’s more going on that just singing on Be Frank, Furness. It’s actually a very well put-together record featuring some great drumming by Erik Schmidt (particularly on “Cut & Corral”). Most of the songs follow a kind of slow burn formula that gives the album a constant that makes it a comfortable listen. It’s something you can very easily get lost in if you allow yourself, which I do recommend doing.
This is the second full-length from Heyward Howkins, and if it’s an indicator of things to come, I definitely think you should keep your ears open for anything he does in the future. If you’re a fan of songwriters like Pete Droge or Matthew Sweet, you’ll dig what Howkins is doing. You can pick up Be Frank, Furness as a digital download for $8 or a limited edition vinyl for $12 on Bandcamp.