Ranking The Chicago International Film Festival

October 20, 2014 Leave a comment

I didn’t get to see every movie I wanted to at the 50th annual Chicago International Film Festival, but I did see a bunch of good ones. Work and travel kept me away from the mid-week screening of St. Vincent and also Birdman on Saturday night so I’ll be seeing it when it hits theaters nationwide like everyone else. Here are my rankings of what I saw as of last night’s closing ceremonies.

9. The Alley Cat
8. Two Days, One Night
7. Red Rose
6. The Last Five Years
5. Miss Julie
4. Timbuktu
3. Still
2. The Clouds Of Sils Maria
1. Force Majeure

Many thanks to everyone at the Fest for making this a great experience. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it again next year!

Britpop Renaissance

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0789.PNGI can’t decide if it’s the new re-issues of early Oasis records or the bizarre desire for nostalgia that seems to pre-occupy anyone born between 1975 and 1990, but I’ve been really in to Britpop lately. So many good records blew up in a short time and then it all just faded away into the ether. I took a look back and made a little playlist of my favorites. Blur, Oasis, and Pulp get two spots, and a special shout out for fans of The Office.

1. Oasis-Live Forever
2. Pulp-Common People
3. Blur-Parklife
4. Elastica-Connection
5. James-Laid
6. Suede-Beautiful Ones
7. Oasis-Don’t Look Back In Anger
8. The Verve-Bittersweet Symphony
9. Black Grape-Kelly’s Heroes
10. Supergrass-G Song
11. Blur-Song 2
12. Manic Street Preachers-Everything Must Go
13. Pulp-Joyriders
14. Sleeper-Inbetweener
15. Ocean Colour Scene-Sway
16. Primal Scream-Jailbird
17. Cast-Fine Time
18. Stereophonics-Handbags & Gladrags
19. Travis-Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
20. The Boo Radleys-Wake Up Boo!

The Airborne Toxic Event-Adjacent: 2 New Songs By Bands Related To TATE

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Eddie Chacon 3

On their last big tour through the States The Airborne Toxic Event brought along American Authors. The supporting acts tune “Best Day Of My Life” has been spinning 50 times a day at radio stations across this nation ever since. On the current tour, TATE is being supported by In The Valley Below. The synth-pop quartet are far more interesting for your ears, and singers Jeffrey Jacob and Angela Gail have a solid chemistry. They recently put out a video for their song “Neverminders,” which you can see below.

For a list of dates that ITVB will be opening for TATE, click here.

The Bulls - photo by Josh Giroux

In further Airborne Toxic Event-adjacent news, multi-instrumentalist Anna Bullbrook has joined forces with Marc Sallis of The Duke Spirit to form The Bulls. The duo are releasing an EP later this year or next, but you can check out their first single now. It sounds a bit like early 90’s Mazzy Starr with a quiet fury bubbling beneath.

The Rural Alberta Advantage at Metro 10/14/2014

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0767.JPGThe Rural Alberta Advantage have a habit of touring with openers from their native land that folks in the States may not have heard. They introduced me to the music of The Wooden Sky and Dan Mangan, and last night they gave Toronto rockers July Talk a big stage to unleash their balls-to-the-wall set for some new ears. With so much adrenaline pumping I was ready for frontman Peter Dreimanis to keel over at any second. They blast through songs from their self-titled debut and generally just had some fun entertaining the crowd. I would rate this set slightly higher than when I saw them at TURF this summer, but both were high quality.


The headliners took the stage a few minutes after ten and played for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Rather than focus on their newest record, Mended With Gold, they played a bunch of old stuff with some new ones thrown in here and there. I was surprised I actually liked the new songs better here than on the album. Especially the track “45/33,” which had kind of a 70’s hard rock vibe to it at Metro instead of the 90’s alternative sound I feel on Mended.

Paul Banwatt lived up to his reputation as one of the best drummers of his generation. Every song brought a violent attack on his kit and I can’t believe he doesn’t have to replace his gear every other week. Even when he’s away from the set he’s standing up pounding his sticks together so hard I thought they’d shatter and send pieces flying into the audience.


RAA’s set was solid, but I feel like some of the energy they displayed in 2009-2010 has faded. Even my favorite songs “Don’t Haunt This Place” and “Drain The Blood” felt muddled and tossed off, as if years of playing these tunes at show after show have caused the band to resent them.

I will say Nils seemed more relaxed and talked to the audience quite a bit. His tale of renting a cabin in northern Ontario that he was sure he would be murdered in was pretty funny. Amy seemed nervous/excited every time she spoke, a bit like Mary Catherine Gallagher on Saturday Night Live.

Highlights of the show, for me, were a very pretty version of “North Star,” a great take on “Tornado ’87,” and Amy and Paul sharing percussion work on the sticks during “Rush Apart.”

The tour continues for 30 more dates, which you can find here. July Talk will continue to open for the US and UK shows so get there early.

K Flay at JBTV 10/13/2014

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_0705.JPGWatching the ascent of K Flay has been pretty gratifying. I first spotted the rapper/producer in an opening slot for Passion Pit a few years ago. Sadly, while I’ve been happy to watch her career grow, I hadn’t seen her live again until today.

It was a quick six song set in the afternoon at JBTV Studios featuring tracks from her new record Life As A Dog. The album is her best yet, and seeing her perform today I could tell there’s been a lot of growth and gained confidence.

I really liked the sound with a live drummer. Last time I saw her she stood behind a laptop. Having the drummer allows her to be more involved in the performing aspect and connect with the audience. The drummer, Nicholas Suhr, is also pretty sick on the sticks.

Pick up a copy of Life As A Dog here.

The Rural Alberta Advantage-Mended With Gold

October 13, 2014 1 comment


Have you listened to The Rural Alberta Advantage‘s previous two records? If so, you pretty much know what to expect on their latest release, Mended With Gold. Since 2009 they haven’t exactly set out on an experimental journey of sound. Not that they need to. Hometowns is a perfectly crafted record and Departing honored that commitment to excellence. They’ve certainly got the niche they’ve found all to themselves, but I think it would be nice if they stepped outside it sometime.

Mended With Gold isn’t a bad album by any means. Really my only trouble with it is the overly familiar design of the songs. Take any of these tunes and switch them with something from their other albums and I doubt it would make a noticeable difference. The only exception being that the drumming by Paul Banwatt is amped up even more here, which I’ve already seen a great deal of praise for in other reviews. It’s true, this record is certainly a showcase for Paul, but I don’t think that adds much to the music as a whole.

Even though there isn’t anything new here, the album isn’t boring. The harmonies between Nils and Amy still sound great. Their use of loud/soft/loud dynamics still make for an interesting listen overall, and the phrasing and line delivery by Nils is top notch.

If you’ve never heard the band before, I wouldn’t start here. Go back to the beginning and listen to their first record and then move forward. If you’re a fan, you’re gonna dig Mended With Gold regardless of what I say. They usually put on a great live show, so I’m looking forward to catching their set at Metro tomorrow night. Tickets are still available here.

CIFF Capsule Review: The Alley Cat

October 13, 2014 1 comment


Every year the Chicago International Film Festival tries to highlight some local talent throughout their week-long run. This year, one of those films is Marie Ulrich’s The Alley CatIf that term sounds familiar, it’s because bike messengers have been doing races under that name for years. Ulrich’s film follows Jasper as she participates in her first race which turns in to the longest night of her life. We meet other bike messengers along the way as they all compete for bragging rights in downtown Chicago.

This is Ulrich’s first feature, and she creates more fully realized characters and drama than you find in most Hollywood fare. The shots of characters biking through the streets of the Windy City prove that Chicago can be just as cinematic as New York or Toronto. Jenny Strubin, in her debut as a feature lead, gives a fine performance as a woman trying hard to rebuild her life.

The first 45 minutes of the film go by quickly, mostly following the action of the race while giving every character a little moment or two. The final third slows down, as emotion takes over and starts to break Jasper down. There’s a slight hiccup in tone, but Ulrich sets it back on track quickly, and the movie has a satisfying conclusion.

You can see The Alley Cat in Chicago on October 18th, 20th, and 21st. Ulrich will be in attendance, along with editor Eric Houtz and producer Kathryn Henderson. Tickets can be found here.


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