Band: Ezra Furman and the Harpoons Album: Mysterious Power Release Date: April 5, 2011
When I interviewed Ezra Furman in Austin a couple weeks ago, I was surprised by what a nice, unassuming young man he appeared to be. One of my biggest fears when I meet an artist for the first time is they’re going to immediately hate me. Right after that my fear is that they might use the interview as a forum to convey their hatred for Zionists (really happened to a friend of mine).
Nothing about our 20-minute conversation on and off camera made me think Ezra was anything but a good guy who happens to be a musician. He didn’t have any of the disdain for the press or quiet prickishness that sometimes goes along with prolific songwriters.
If you know the person I’m talking about, congratulations. If you don’t, it’s Ryan Adams. I use Mr. Adams here because I think he has a lot in common with Ezra Furman: They both have a ridiculous number of songs written that will most likely never see the light of day, they both write about deeply personal topics, and they’re both in a constantly frustrating battle to become Paul Westerberg.
With the new album, Mysterious Power, Ezra comes closer than either of them have before. His voice constantly going low to high, trembling. He screams with the best of them on songs like “Hard Time In a Terrible Land,” and he has the sweetness of a little cherub on the title track “Mysterious Power.”
This song is one of the best title tracks I’ve ever heard. It’s true that generally a title track is considered to be one of the, if not the, strongest tracks, but it goes one step further here. “Mysterious Power” takes the entire record and sums it up in a tad over three minutes. It touches on faith, the ability music has to raise us up, adolescent peculiarity, and happy loneliness.
Mysterious Power is an album chock-full of beautifully written songs from one of Chicago’s greatest artists. This is the third Ezra Furman album, and according to our conversation he wants to start recording again as soon as possible. I, for one, can’t wait.
▪ Ezra Furman and The Harpoons, of Chicago, will be playing a record release party on April 23 at Subterranean with Tristen and The Apache Relay. Tickets are $10.
▪ The Harpoons are: Adam Abrutyn (drums), Andrew Langer (guitar), Job Mukkada (bass) and, well, Ezra Furman (vocals).
▪ You can preview a handful of Mysterious Power tracks on the Harpoons’ Facebook page.
Band: The Mountain Goats Album: All Eternals Deck Release Date: March 29, 2011
Last week in my review of Heidi Spencer’s debut record Under Streetlight Glow, I spent a good deal of time talking about my love for all things John Darnielle. Unbeknownst to me, The Mountain Goats have a new record that came out the very same day. Makes sense, they’re playing here at The Vic tomorrow night. I should have known it wasn’t just a stroke of good fortune for me.
All Eternals Deck doesn’t play like the recent releases The Mountain Goats have put out. To use the word disjointed wouldn’t be precise, but it wouldn’t be wrong either. The album was recorded in separate sessions all in different cities. The idea was to keep things fresh and let each city inject itself into the songs. I’m not sure if they were one hundred percent successful in the execution of that plan, but what came out of those sessions is a series of good songs lacking an interlaced theme or overall narrative.
And that’s just about the worst thing I can say about this release. Darnielle’s songwriting still comes through as brutally honest and confident. His voice, too nasally for some, is unchanged and glorious. The biggest difference between All Eternals Deck and other Mountain Goats offerings is the music.
I started up with The Mountain Goats at The Sunset Tree, and have stayed with them since. I think I can easily say that a few of these new tracks are the most rocking they’ve ever done. “Estate Sale Sign” and “Great Prowling Cain” are both good examples of this.
It’s a nice change, but not something I hope is permanent. The strength of The Mountain Goats is and will always be Darnielle’s voice and words. He is the Conor Oberst of every city except Omaha after all, constantly surrounding himself with different musicians. He’s the only true member of The Mountain Goats, and I appreciate everyone else’s hard work, but they could go away and The Mountain Goats would go on without a hitch.
Despite its couple faults, I really enjoy this record. There isn’t anything as good as “This Year” or “Lion’s Teeth,” but I wouldn’t expect there to be. If you’re a fan of the band, you’re gonna like this one. Probably more than Heretic Pride or The Life of the World To Come. If you’ve never listened to The Mountain Goats, don’t start here. Pick up Tallahassee or Sunset Tree and work your way up through the years. I think you’ll find that John Darnielle is a songwriter of the greatest talent.
▪ The Mountain Goats are based in Durham, North Carolina.
▪ Their album, All Eternals Deck, is now available on iTunes.
▪ The Mountain Goats take the stage tonight at The Vic with special guest Megafun. Tickets are $19 (plus fees).
Last night at Double Door Aryk Crowder electrified the stage with his brand of soul-pop. His guitar was on fire all night, and the crowd, though standing far back from the stage, seemed to be into the sounds.
We got there early for once. Super early, actually. They hadn’t even opened the doors yet. We saw that Aryk wasn’t going to be on until 9:30, so we walked down to feast for a bite to eat. This place has amazing food. If you’re ever in that North/Milwaukee/Damen area, check it out (I had bbq salmon served with hotcakes and an avocado salsa).
After that we walked back over and talked to Aryk’s manager, Matt. Super nice guy. We still had about 10-15 before the show was starting, so we chatted about all things breakfast-related. We also talked about LOLcats, but that’s a story for another time.
Once Aryk got on stage, and played the opening licks from “Ready, Set…” it was apparent that this dude is talented. His band was keeping up with him pretty well, and everyone was tapping their feet and bobbing their heads. A couple people started dancing but stopped when they realized no one was going to join them.
After his first “Thank You” of the night, the band launched into two short songs with a nice musical segue in between, which I caught with the trusty Flip camera for your pleasure.
He played a couple songs off of his acoustic EP which just came out a week ago. Both of them were good, but they slowed things down a bit. All part of the show, of course, because after those he grabbed the next bands singer Anna Solpsis (I think) to join him on a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.”
This got the crowd back into things, and I have to say, it was a good cover. It was marred, however, by the sound system not getting the backup vocals to a level the audience could hear until near the end of the song.
Overall, I think I must stand by my initial comparison to Jonny Lang that I mentioned in my interview with Aryk. They’re both excellent guitarists who sing in a voice that makes them sound much older than they are. The live performance, as usual for an artist who plays this kind of music, is better than the recorded.
Aryk’s ability to take off on a solo and return effortlessly is one of the key ingredients in the recipe of good showmanship, and I think he already has most of those components down.
If you get the chance, check him out at one of his many upcoming shows around north Chicago and Wisconsin. If you don’t get the chance, pick up a copy of his single “Ready, Set…” or his new acoustic EP. He reminds me a lot of why I started digging the blues in the first place: that emotive power of the six-string and soulful vocals that can tear you apart just as quickly as they can get you jivin’ on the dancefloor.
▪ Upcoming shows include Rock Island Cafe in Neenah, WI on April 9th; Lock Stock And Barrel in Decatur, IL on April 23rd; and Chord on Blues in St. Charles, IL on April 29th
▪ You can pick up the single “Ready, Set…” on iTunes.
This may be the most unusual thing I’ve encountered in the months that I’ve been writing for this blog. Taking a page from the rock mythology creation guide of 70′s rockers, Soft Speaker have built an entire universe for themselves in which they exist as ex-pats making it huge in Austria in the 30′s. They’ve crafted an interesting backstory involving a milkmen society, and a cat-selling business that I find both brilliant and humorous for different reasons.
Their music could not, however, sound less Austrian. It does find some of it’s roots in the UK, though. It’s a gloomier form of pop, to be certain. I’m reminded of bands like Joy Division or Echo and the Bunnymen initially…but then the guitars. They just come at you like a bull. There is some really great work on display here, as Paul Foreman blazes through tracks like “For a Handsome Prince” and “Geronimo’s Only Defense.”
If I had to peg it down to something, and it will sound completely random and stupid, but I’m completely serious, it would be this: Joy Division meets Blue Oyster Cult, with just a hint of (insert jam band here-for my purposes I’ll say Disco Biscuits because I’ve never written that name anywhere before). I know that seems like an impossible combination, but that’s what I hear.
Normally I would not find that an appealing recipe, but the folks in Soft Speaker are talented enough to keep me listening. They’ve had the good fortune of getting good buzz from the likes of AV Club and my good personal best friend Jim DeRogatis (not true-he does like the band, we are not best friends), and I can see why.
I mentioned the guitars already, but there’s much more to it than that. The vocals are hushed-almost always. I don’t know why they chose to record it that way, but it gives the whole record a kind of mystery that would have been lost if they were brought to the forefront. It’s almost as if Nick Rocchio exists in some other dimension that we can hear but never see.
There’s a ton of atmospheric production detail to heighten an already pretty out there record, and I can’t really complain about that either. At a few points it feels like maybe something could have been cut out before mastering, but really that’s the artist’s choice, not mine. An example would be “Felician Sisters Convent.” I think the album would be just as good without it. At a little under two minutes, it doesn’t really add anything, and as an instrumental, it doesn’t seem necessary to bridge the gap between “Geronimo’s Only Defense” and “Pagen Pastimes.”
“Pagen Pastimes” may just be my favorite track on this release. Remember a while back when I did a bunch of short capsule reviews of music my friend Jeff gave me? Well this track reminds me a ton of one of the songs off Umberto’s record From The Grave. Especially the beginning, with just the fuzzy guitar and synths. Crazy spooky stuff. And the vocals really pay off on this one, because if it were left an instrumental, I probably would have thought it was a ripoff of that great Umberto album.
Again, Paul Foreman’ guitar blasts off into outerspace and stays there long enough to give Jupiter a second great red spot.
Now the hard part…do I recommend this album? Yes. It isn’t for everyone, but I think if you like flashy guitar with enough fuzz to start another precinct of the police department, you would dig it a lot. I also think that if you’re a fan of any of the bands I’ve mentioned during this review, you should give I’ll Tend Your Garden a shot.
▪ Soft Speaker is local to Chicago. The band is comprised of: Blair Douglass (Electric Bass Guitar), Nick Rocchio (Vocals, synths/organ, guitar), Joe Daley (Drums), and Paul Foreman (Guitar, vocals, synths/organ)
Two days before his big show at Double Door, Aryk Crowder and I got together at Curio to talk about his new acoustic EP, touring, and his philosophies on music. But there was a woman singing opera when we got there, so we took it to the streets. What came out of it was a good conversation, as well as my first foray into John Wells-ian directing. We covered a lot of ground, both physically and verbally, walking around the River North neighborhood. My apologies for the trains.
▪ Aryk plays at Double Door on Thursday with Anna Soltys and the Familiar, Kick the Record and Origin of Animal. Tickets are $5 (advance) or $10 (at the door). Show starts at 8:30.
The world of blogging can be a funny one sometimes. I spend an inordinant amount of time each day surfing the web for albums that are coming out or shows that are coming up in our wonderful city. When I’m not doing that, I’m listening to a record someone submitted, or preparing what I’m going to write about a band (you can probably tell this last item is what I spend the least time on). I also spend a good amount of time e-mailing publicists and managers trying to get interviews or tickets to shows.
You’d be surprised how often I get replies from people enthusiastic to work with us. You may not be so surprised by the amount of people I never hear back from. But often times there is a trade-off. Some people will give you access to something only if you take a look at something else. It’s part of the world we enjoy, so we deal with it. A lot of the time the artist or album is complete crap.
So, when I sent off my request to see The Mountain Goats on April 5th at The Vic, I wasn’t shocked when I didn’t hear anything for a while. When I did get a response, it wasn’t from the person I had contacted. Tyler was helping Andy out for The Mountain Goats tour, and he was more than happy to oblige my request. Fantastic news because I think John Darnielle is a lyrical genius. His line in the song “This Year” (off of the amazing record The Sunset Tree) that goes “Then Kathy came by and we hung out, trading swigs from the bottle all bitter and clean. Locking eyes, holding hands-Twin high maintenance machines,” is one of my favorites of the past ten or so years.
Well, Tyler had seen on our page that we were going down to SxSw, and he wanted me to check out an artist that was also going to be around, Heidi Spencer and the Rare Birds. There was no pressure, no “If you check these guys out you can go to The Mountain Goats, but if you don’t then go fuck yourself.” Nothing like that. But it’s one of those things that’s understood. So with great tentativeness, I turned on Under Streetlight Glow.
To my surprise and great delight, it turns out this record is fantastic! It exists in no particular space or time, which makes it exist in any time or space. It has a classic sensability that I find refreshing in a time where everyone wants to be new and exciting. Heidi Spencer and the Rare Birds have crafted an album that will please all music lovers for it’s simplicity and beauty.
Listening to the record this morning, I found a comparison that I think will work for a lot of people. This is the album that I wish Fiona Apple had made after her five year hiatus. Not to take anything away from Extraordinary Machine, but I’ve always thought she had a great voice for a bluesier type of music.
The mood is set for Under Streetlight Glow right off the bat with “Alibi.” The song starts with the line “No one needs to know” and continues to tell a tale of clandestine rendezvous involving two lovers unsure of themselves and each other, but ready to take on the world in the name of love. It’s set against a musical backdrop reminiscent of 1950′s-60′s pop music, and it’s hard not to imagine this track actually coming off a compilation album sandwiched between The Four Seasons and The Marvalettes.
Another comparison I was making while listening to this record, and I apologize to anyone tired of my using my own musical references to describe my feelings about this album (if you want the bare bones, I dig it and I think you should pick it up when it streets tomorrow), is Mazzy Starr’s “Fade Into You.” I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved that song when I was younger. I bought the cassette for that one song because Q101 wasn’t playing it nearly enough. I would lay in bed listening and drift off to that elegant, ethereal mix of voice and music constantly, to an almost addictive point.
I get that same kind of feeling listening to Under Streetlight Glow. There is something otherworldly about the vocals that makes it impossible to not float away with the songs. This is never more true than the track “Hibernation.” It may not be the best song on the record lyrically, but the breathy lead vocals and the sweet, haunting backing vocal by Jess Hrobar combine to give it a sound that transcends the genre of folk music or pop music and becomes simple and true and beautiful.
This may have something to do with the fact that all these songs were written as companions to Heidi Spencer’s films that she was working on in film school. There’s something about song being able to push a story forward when it is accompanied by images that is amazing to behold. Think of a great scene in a movie, and then take the music away. It’s awful. The “Sunshine of Your Love” scene in Goodfellas…take out that song, and Scorsese can’t do much but just let DeNiro stand there like a putz (kidding Marty, please don’t have me killed). But, without the aid of visuals, music can take us to places in our minds that we would otherwise never know of.
In the just under 40 minutes that Under Streetlight Glow plays, we get transported to a dark, cold Milwaukee where broken hearts are trying to mend and lonely individuals are looking back over their past and trying to move on. Album closer “Whiskey” contains the following lyrics: “I have nowhere to be, Can I come to you please?” A more yearning and desperate cry could not fit this album better.
Under Streetlight Glow comes out tomorrow, March 29th. I recommend you buy a digital copy for your iPod, and CD for your car, and a cassette or vinyl copy for your parents.
What a busy weekend it was for us. There was so much great music happening in Chicago this weekend, it almost felt like we were back in Texas for another round of SxSw fun.
We started on Friday night at Schuba’s for David McMillin of Fort Frances. He was opening for Ben Ottewell of Gomez, and anyone who was smart enough to get there early witnessed a great show.
I was a big fan of Fort Frances’ album, The Atlas, and it was nice to hear the songs stripped down to their bare bones. David’s voice shown through a little easier in this live setting, but the lack of accompaniment didn’t really change the way I heard the music. Most of Fort Frances’ songs rely heavily on the lyrics, so this solo effort was perfect.
David played a new song that I think is gonna really hit big when it comes out. I think he said it was due this summer, but don’t quote me on that. It’s called “I Had Love,” and if I were forced to compare it to something, I would say Joe Pug’s “Speak Plainly Diana.” They aren’t necessarily exact replicas, but the style that I assume will be on display for the track might fit in well with Pug’s relatively rocking song.
I didn’t get that one on video, but I did get a great version of “Ghosts of California.” I really like this song, so here’s a look at the solo version:
As if that wasn’t good enough to call it a weekend, on Saturday I hit two free shows.
Holdfast impressed me for one big reason-it was unpolished. On the record they put out, which you can stream for free, everything comes off a little bit produced. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when I hear a band, especially a young up and coming band, I don’t wanna hear a U2 record. Maybe you understand where I’m coming from, maybe not. Either way, I was happy to hear a couple mistakes and some great once-in-a-lifetime takes by everyone in the band.
The person who impressed me the most was guitarist (Brandon Hunt?). He had a slew of pedals he was working with, and they weren’t always cooperating. All the while he remained completely compelling to watch, and had a couple solos that sounded awesome.
I was a bit concerned when i realized how small the stage area was, but it actually worked to the bands advantage, I think. Due to the small space, I was able to get a pretty good video of the band before the keyboard player from Island of Misfit Toys demanded everyone scoot up close.
I stayed in back for a couple of reasons: One, I had a big heavy coat on and it was already warm enough in there. Two, someone-and I don’t know who-reeked of marijuana and I had to stand far away from them. I don’t wanna sound like a Debbie Downer, but there’s a time and place for it, and it’s not when you’re gonna be squeezed into a studio apartment-sized area with a bunch of people you don’t know.
They’re set finished up and Island of Misfit Toys started setting up. I knew that they had a large band, but I didn’t realize it was Jon Drake and The Shakes-like. I was wondering if they would be able to fit everyone up there, and they did. Just barely though.
Anthony Sanders opened up with a number that was about even between yelling and singing. He had gum in his mouth, and I was almost positive it was going to fly out of his mouth. Then he sang a line about how the front row at his shows always get spit on, so I relaxed a bit after realizing that this was a common occurence-also I wasn’t in the front row.
I kind of imagine that this show was like the early Commander Venus shows must have been. One guy who writes good songs, and a backup band that does whatever is needed to keep the spotlight on the man in the middle (apologies to Tim Kasher fans). I wasn’t overly impressed with any of it, but I didn’t hate it either. It was just a bit so-so for me.
The rest of the crowd seemed to dig it, though. It seemed that everyone around me was friends with someone in the band, so it may have just been they wanted to show their support, but they were dancing and everything. Maybe I just don’t get the appeal. That’s very possible. I’ve also never liked Andrew Bird all that much, but he’s pretty well-liked (especially here), so it happens.
I split about halfway through Island of Misfit Toys so that I could get home and eat before we headed out to the third show of the weekend, a Songwriter’s Showcase curated by Gabe Liebowitz of Dastardly, at Cafe Ballou just down the road from Empty Bottle.
It’s a nice little cafe that is just the right size for such an event. More a workshop than a show, really. Most of the people in attendance were other artists. Here is a list of the people playing:
Maren Celest of Photographers, William James of Teenage Rage, Gabe Liebowitz, Ryan Suzuka, Brendan Losch, and Julie Meckler. I believe Stan from Santah was also playing, but we had to catch our bus before the last act.
This was the 8th get together that Gabe has put together, and I think it’s great for the Chicago songwriting community to have a place where you can try out new stuff and get an honest response from peers. It seemed that pretty much everything was well-received.
My favorite song of the night was by Gabe, naturally. His ode to the state of Missouri was beautiful and true. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought of Missouri as a cold and miserable fucker, but it’s too many to count. I thought Julie Meckler was really good, too. I didn’t see the end of her set, but I caught two and a half songs, and I really enjoyed them. Ryan Suzuka’s ukulele and harmonica was also a pleasant change from the guitar strumming that accompanied most talent.
If you get a chance to check out the next Songwriter’s Showcase, get there. It’s a great way to see some fantastic Chicago artist’s playing stripped down songs, demos basically. I was certainly glad we made it out. Also, the pastries at Cafe Ballou are delicious.
With the weekend now behind me, I’m glad I can’t say things are slowing down at all. Tomorrow I’m going to check out the Intonation Music Workshop show at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park (1550 N Kingsbury). It starts at 5:30 and it’s free! Then Tuesday we have an interview with singer-songwiter Aryk Crowder, and then Thursday we’re checking out his show at Double Door. Should be a good time.
Hey guys, I just wanted to highlight a free show going on tomorrow at Saki Record Store. A couple bands that are friends of the site will be playing in the afternoon, and it should be an awesome time.
The show starts at two with Holdfast. They started out at DePaul and have an EP called Like The Sun that I told them I would have reviewed today, but obviously don’t. I have listened to it and I like it, but I haven’t given it enough spins yet to really review. Let’s just say it’s a rock record, and if you enjoy good music, you’ll probably like it. If you’re a fan of either of the next two bands, I’d say check out Holdfast.
Playing second is Island of Misfit Toys. They’ve been written up enough times that I don’t need to give you my thoughts on their release, but they seem cool. They’re working on their second piece now, and to promote it band leader Anthony Sanders is recording acoustic demos on a 4-track recorder upon request. All you have to do is send him an email asking for one, and he’ll hook you up with 9 original songs and 1 cover. You can request which songs he records for you and everything. It’s a great idea. Ezra Furman tried it with his last release, and came damn close to getting every single one of them done. I think he said 135 out of about 150 or something. Impressive.
Headlining the bill is Warm Ones. Now, if you’ve read the site here, you know that Eric and I both dig these guys. Particularly Tony Sackett’s stage presence. He just totally has that thing where you just want to watch him to see what he’s going to do next. He’s also taking part in the fantastic series Waxing Nostalgic, which I embarassed myself with yesterday.
It’s gonna be great and it’s free. Can’t argue with that. Saki is also having a Record Store Day party on April 16th that Chaperone will be playing. But more on that later.
Saki is located at 3716 W Fullerton Ave in Logan Square. The store opens at noon, the show starts at 2 and ends at 5. Come check it out. Even if you end up not enjoying the music, you can grab all those albums you’ve been putting off buying, like Josh Ritter’s So Runs The World Away.
My artist for this week didn’t have time to help us out, and that’s ok. I’ve decided to take on this behemoth myself. It’s only fair since I’ve been asking people to do it for the past month. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something about me you didn’t know (favorite food: pizza, favorite color: blue).
When I was a kid, it was all about movies for me. Even up in to my late teens, I devoured everything I could, from Scorsese and Tarantino to Walter Hill and Samuel Fuller-I didn’t watch many foreign films until later. I could watch Goodfellas on repeat for a whole day, still could if time permitted.
Music was always a part of my life, but never something that I thought about on a higher level. My father is a musician who grew up in the 60′s, so there was always a good amount of Beatles and Stones playing. Around the the time I was 15 I started getting into the blues, and he made me a bunch of cassettes to play in my car once I had my license.
Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lonnie Brooks, Howlin’ Wolf-all the greats. I’d drive around the small town of LaPorte jamming out on air guitar (while ALWAYS paying strict attention to the road) singing my heart out along with Steve Miller’s “Evil.”
A little while later I met a kid named Kyle. He said he played guitar and I thought that was cool. He was a goofy kid. He didn’t have a lot of friends, and his ability on guitar was not being used by the jazz band at our school. So we started a band called Tax Evasion.
We played blues covers like “Pride and Joy” and then “Blue on Black” by the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. I wrote a couple originals that were beyond terrible. Basically the band was a reason to listen to Kyle play guitar. The guy was amazing-and he was only 16!!
Well, as these things tend to happen we split up after a couple months together. Everyone was busy and Kyle felt like he wasn’t spending enough time focusing on his relationship with Jesus or something.
The next fall I started school at Purdue in W Lafayette, IN. A great school, no doubt, but I had little to no interest in classes. I had better things to do like play video games and go to the rec to shoot around with my friends. What I spent the most time doing was sitting in the computer lab, downloading copious amounts of music from a new thing called Napster that had shot up over the summer.
The computer labs all had T1 lines, and the amount of space allowed for each student on their servers was ridiculous. So, I’d show up and pretend to be doing some schoolwork, all the while downloading 5-10 albums at a crack and burning them to a cd.
I was downloading everything I could get my hands on. Hip-hop, rock, indie, blues. I didn’t care what it was, I just wanted to hear it. All of it.
I was at Purdue from 99-03. Not enrolled the whole time, but I was there. During that time some amazing albums were released: Bright Eyes-Lifted; or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear to The Ground, OutKast’s Stankonia, the debut of The Strokes, and White Blood Cells by the White Stripes. But we’ve made the rule of choosing one album fairly concrete by this point, so I will play the game that I’ve created.
The first time I heard the record was through the recommendation of my friend Jeremy. We kinda shared his space on the Purdue server after I dropped out. I’d go into the lab, log in as him, and go through everything he had downloaded. This was the same way I got turned on to things like The Streets and Har Mar Superstar.
Wilco was different, though. It took me to places musically that I had never been. It successfully married the brilliantly poignant lyrics by Jeff Tweedy with the ethereal soundscape created by the late Jay Bennett. The first time I heard “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” I thought it was the most bizarre, intriguing way to start an album. All throughout there are pieces of other songs from the album. A line here, a note there. It’s a brilliant piece of songwriting and producing.
Tweedy and Bennett had a contentious relationship, to say the least. I think that sometimes that kind of thing is necessary to create great music. Just look at Keith and Mick. Somehow they’ve managed to keep it together for forty years, but they’re not hanging out at each others Italian villa.
I’ve listened to YHF countless times. I’ve gone weeks where that’s the only album I listen to. The songs “War on War,” “Jesus, etc,” and “Ashes of American Flags” are maybe the best 4-5-6 lineup of any album ever made. The line “You have to learn how to die if you really wanna be alive” is maybe my favorite line in a song ever. Though, I think Jeff curbed it a bit from Red in Shawshank Redemption.
YHF opened up a lot of doors for me musically that would have otherwise been shut by my own myopic views of music. Surely I could have never enjoyed something like Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea if I didn’t first have Wilco’s masterpiece introduce me to this new world of indie music (though, to be fair, NMH did come out in ’98, I just didn’t know it at the time).
People have said some disparaging things about Wilco’s albums since YHF. As if writing another album of that quality would be easy. They are a band constantly experimenting with the formula they use to create music. Whether you like it or not doesn’t really matter to them. The only thing they are interested in is making music that excites them and keeps them wanting to make music.
I personally think that A Ghost Is Born and Sky Blue Sky are both fantastic records. They aren’t AS fantastic as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but hey, every Dylan album isn’t as good as Blonde on Blonde, ya know?
Listening to Wilco has allowed me the opportunity to hear a lot of things that I would have written off entirely otherwise. In particular, country and alt-country music. I grew up in that time when it was changing to crossover garbage, and I didn’t really think about the fact that there were bands out there staying true to the roots of the genre.
So for that, and for so many other reasons, I thank Wilco for bestowing upon us a record so complete in it’s vision and so beautiful in it’s execution that I could honestly listen to it forever and never grow weary. As a Chicagoan and as a music lover, I am forever indebted to the band that changed my life.
By Josh Terzino
If you couldn’t tell by my postings thus far, we had a great time at the festival down in Austin. Now that I’m back, and it’s not even close to spring-like, I find myself missing the mucky sweat that covered me for most of my time in Texas.
I thought I’d put together a little compilation of things that we saw down there that we haven’t shown yet. Obviously the interviews were the main draw for us, but there was so much more. If you haven’t had the chance to see any of the interviews yet, click here to find yourself in a treasure trove of information on artists like Ezra Furman, K Flay, and Dastardly-among others.
First off, I wanted to throw up these videos of Okkervil River from the Under the Radar party. I don’t know how under the radar these guys are anymore, but I think they rule. The first video is my favorite song that they do, “Unless It’s Kicks.” The second is “Our Life Is Not A Movie, But Maybe.”
After that we checked out a great set by Bhi Bhiaman. Unfortunately I did not get any video footage. I DO have some stuff from the Ritter show that followed, but it is currently in a huge file that runs 32 minutes because we just turned on the camera and let it record audio without getting the visual part of the show.
On Saturday we got up early to make it over to Chaperone‘s showcase performance at The Jackalope. This was a great show, and here’s some video evidence:
After that we went and did our interviews, which, again, you can find elsewhere. On our way back to catch Dastardly, I popped in to the bar next door to see Ezra Furman play a couple songs. I was stuck in the back, so the video that I got isn’t great. After the interview he gave me, and listening to his new record, I hardly needed any convincing anyway. Here he is playing the song “We Should Fight” with his band The Harpoons:
Then we moseyed over to the Jackalope to witness the most insanely CF’d set of the fest. Even though they didn’t get to play a real set, it was still fantastic. My favorite part of this video isn’t even the song…it’s Miles from Chaperone screaming the lyrics along with Gabe. “Sometimes I want to tryyyyyyyyyy, but most times I disappear with the blink of an eyyyyyyyyyyyye.” If I had turned the camera just a little bit you would see Shaun doing the exact same. Something about seeing the way these two bands enjoy one another is very heartwarming. I hope that all the bands in Chicago have someone they can rely on as much as these two can on one another.
By Josh Terzino
We spent a few minutes with The Jezabels from Australia. Three of the four band members were in attendance, and they were all very nice. A big thanks to them and their tour manager Dave for accommodating our needs and meeting us closer to where we needed to be for the remainder of the day.
By Josh Terzino
I just wanted to highlight this guy a bit because I had never heard of him. If any of you reading this knew of him and didn’t tell me, then shame on you!
Chcek out his website: Bhi Bhiman then watch these videos.
Over on his MySpace page, which you can link to from his website, he does a cover of one of my favorite songs-”The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen
He won’t be in Chicago anytime soon, but when he arrives, I’ll be there.
Also, this was a good way to put up some videos while I’m waiting for my stupid internet to load mine.
By Josh Terzino
The 8 minutes that this video runs are a testament to the glory that is Miles’ interviewing skills. I love the way these guys play off each other. Chaperone and Dastardly should be seriously nervous about these two starting a comedy act. Hilarious stuff.
By Josh Terzino
If you’re familiar with that Peter Finch line from the fantastic movie Network, you may get a kick out of Miles’ interview with Gabe from Dastardly following their set at The Jackelope. To understand the situation, let me explain:
Reggie’s Rock Club was throwing this showcase down here at SxSw that they had put together for Chicago bands. Chaperone led off, and it was all Chicago for seven hours. But, one band went long…WAY long. Long enough that they had to completely cancel one band’s set. Then, by the time Dastardly was to go on, they were told they would only have 15 minutes.
Now, a 15 minute set isn’t unheard of, but when you’re basically the headliner for a particular bill, you should get more than 15 minutes. And it probably wouldn’t have been so bad were the people taking over from Dastardly a band of equal or better quality, but it wasn’t. It was freaking speed metal. So, naturally Gabe was a little upset, and we used it to our benefit for the interview we had lined up for him.
I think the interview came out great. Gabe and Miles riff off each other really nicely. They should take their act on the road during breaks from their bands. I won’t spoil a lot of the jokes for you, but they involve feces and phallic imagery for the most part.
I did manage to get over to where Ezra Furman and the Harpoons were playing. I grabbed one video, which I will try to put up tomorrow. I have so many videos backlogged right now, it may take me until after we get back to Chicago.
Ezra was a fun performer. I missed the first 10 minutes of the set, but was able to catch the last four songs. He’s a really talented songwriter, and I was impressed with his stage presence. After the interview we did, I wasn’t sure how he’d be in front of a large group. Turns out he was just as good at performing. Felt kinda weird to be one of the only people in the room that knew the last song that he played, but it was a good one off his new record, Mysterious Power. If you couldn’t tell from our interview, I think you should pick it up.
After the interview we decided to head over to Central Presbyterian Church where Sharon Van Etten was playing at 8:30 and Rural Alberta Advantage at 10:30.
The church was gorgeous. Equal to St David’s, where we spent Friday night seeing Josh Ritter, maybe even nicer. Sharon Van Etten put on a so-so performance for me. She has a good voice, and a few of her songs are very well-written while others meander and never make it to a point. The two guys that she plays with, a drummer and bass player, both performed admirably. They didn’t have much to do, though.
A bizarre 12-member Christian rock band called Typhoon played between Sharon and Rural Alberta Advantage. Though I didn’t enjoy the music as much as a super religious person might, I did think that for the number of people on stage, the band was amazingly tight. They had three drummers, two violinists, a cellist, two trumpeters, and a keyboardist to go along with the rhythm and lead guitars and bass. They hail from Portland, and something about them gives me the feeling they are all related somehow.
Rural Alberta Advantage killed it at the 10:30 set. Apparently the venue was the same one they had played in 2009 as their first SxSw show, so they already had a fondness for the crowd. There was a good mix of old and new material played throughout the night. Most of the new songs played erased, for the most part, any faults I found with the new record, Departing.
Overall Saturday has been my favorite day. Even though we didn’t get to shake hands with Man-God Josh Ritter today. We got to see some great Chicago bands, as well as watch Chaperone screaming the words along with Dastardly’s “Exercises In Self Loathing.” Made me proud to be a Chicagoan seeing that much love between two bands.
Tomorrow (later today) we are interviewing White Mystery and Netherfriends. Should be a good time. AND we get to sleep in, which is awesome!!
I apologize for not putting links in to these SxSw posts. When I get back into town I’ll update these with those links like I’d normally have. It’s just that I’m trying to get these done as quickly as possible, so linking isn’t a priority. Besides, you guys (and gals) are smart. Google it if you have a question on something.
By Josh Terzino
So I’m sitting in the press suite right now, after realizing that my camera is just about out of juice and hoping to whatever it is I believe in that I can grab enough power out of this provided MacBook to last the rest of the night.
Our day started off really awesome. We headed over to The Jackelope, which is the most unsavory bar I’ve ever been inside. Chaperone was leading off the Reggie’s Showcase, and they were freaking awesome.
I don’t know if it’s the freedom of being outside the city you call home, or the streets being flooded with every kind of beer you can imagine for free, but there was something looser about the set today. Shaun Paul was screaming his head off, Miles went so crazy his guitar came unplugged and I had to grab it and hand it to him, and even Mark Sheridan was getting into things. Well, as much as Mark can.
Standing in the audience with us were members of Dastardly and Gina Bloom with her band The Congregation. Nice to see Chicago bands supporting one another, even if it means having to hang out at The Jackelope.
After that we headed over a block to do an interview with Australian quartet The Jezabels. They were minus one member for our chat, but the three that were with us were all very nice and they give a good interview.
Still kind of trying to get over the awesomeness that was Josh Ritter last night, and the fucking amazing show that Okkervil River put on in the afternoon. I looked at their website today and found out they’re touring for their new record with Titus Andronicus…and NOT stopping in Chicago!!!! I was livid. They’re playing Omaha, Minneapolis, Detroit, but not the music capital of the midwest?? I don’t know if I’ve ever been more disappointed in a band’s touring itinerary.
While the camera is charging I’m enjoying the air conditioning and free water, as well as the free MacBook I’m using. Free stuff is everywhere down here. We just hit a party that Shawn Fogel of The Golden Bloom and Neutral Uke Hotel was playing and we scored free hot sauce, some drink called iChill, and a stand for your iPhone or iPod touch.
Tonight we have some big ambitious plans, and we’ll see if they come to fruition. I’m a tad skeptical that we will accomplish everything we came down here for, but part of me thinks we will get through it. Gabe from Dastardly seems to think we will, so I’ll start looking through his rose-colored glasses.
Next door to the Jackelope Ezra Furman is playing a show that the Greenhornes are headlining. We might try to check it out since it’s right next to where we want to be. Hopefully my camera will be full by then.
Kari’s taken to shooting all our pictures in black and white. They look awesome, of course. We’ve got some really good ones. The venue Josh Ritter played last night really lent itself to being photographed.
We’re having an awesome time down here. The shuttle has been super convenient for the most part and the people here, even though there’s like a million of them, have all been really nice (except for the tech guy at the Jackalope who knocked Shaylah’s stuff on the ground and then was upset that it was in his way).
If I were to make one recommendation to anyone coming to SxSw, but not covering it for a website, would be to skip getting the wristband. It’s fairly worthless for the price that you pay. So far we’ve gone to two shows that would have cost us money if we didn’t have them. Otherwise there is so much free stuff going on that you could literally have an entire fest for free if you know someone to stay with.
Next year we will play it a bit smarter if we decide to return.
By Josh Terzino
So here are the interviews we did yesterday. The first one is conducted by Miles from Chaperone. Seriously, he did an awesome job and I hope you guys enjoy it as much as we did:
Second up, we headed over to Cedar Door to interview a really nice Canadian duo called Imaginary Cities. Went off on a bit of a tangent when we found out one half of the band is also in The Weakerthans. As you’ll remember our first installment of Waxing Nostalgic, written by Miles, was about Fallow by that very same band.
Sorry I haven’t been able to keep my promise of getting these up almost immediately, but it is a ridiculous task unless you have a headquarters in Austin. Or a hotel with internet faster than the 56K modem I had back in ’97.
Today is Chicago day. We are headed over to the Reggie’s Showcase at the Jackalope where bands like Chaperone, Dastardly, The Congregation and more will be hitting the stage.
We will be taking a short break from that venue to interview a band from Australia called The Jezabels. We also hope to get into Rusty Sparks to see Shawn Fogel of The Motion Sick and Neutral Uke Hotel perform a show at 2:30.
By Josh Terzino
So I’m sitting here at St. David’s Historical Sanctuary in Austin, Texas. We got here about an hour and a half ago, and when we arrived, Josh Ritter was doing his soundcheck. It was awesome. I mean, seriously it was like watching a whole solo set almost.
Afterward we were hanging in the foyer waiting to be allowed entrance into the stage area, and Josh Ritter appeared from the back. Impulsively I shouted his name. He may have assumed that I was a stalker (not entirely wrong), but he smiled and shook my hand anyway. He looked down and saw Kari, jaw on the floor, gazing up in awe. He gave her a big grin and lowered his hand to shake hers.
It was a moment that superfans like us never forget. He asked if we were gonna stay for the show, and I told him that because he was playing, we would stay for the whole show. He said thanks, and walked away. Headed down the stairs he looked and said, “See you guys later on.” What a great fucking guy.
Earlier in the day we did an interview conducted by Miles of Chaperone. Andrew Belle came off as a really nice guy, and Miles did a bang up job. I might have to ask him if he wants to join us full-time.
We also caught up with Canadian duo Imaginary Cities. The interview got a little noisy toward the end, but they seem like interesting folks. Their debut album Temporary Resident is available on iTunes Canada, and will be available here shortly. You can also grab it from their website.
Both those videos will be up later tonight, I hope. The internet in Austin is a funny thing.
After the interviews, we headed over to see Okkervil River. They only got to play for thirty minutes because everyone else ran long. Apparently the headlining band of a show during the day gets no say in the matter.
Regardless, they rocked. I had never seen them live, but they’ve been creeping up the ranks of my favorite bands. They played my two favorites, “Unless It’s Kicks” and “For Real.” They also played a few of the new songs, all of them awesome.
It’s so freaking hot down here. We stopped in a sports bar to watch some basketball and I had something called a Frito Pie…If you’ve ever had a Buffrito, you know how delicious that is.
That’s it for now. I’m uploading these videos at the church we are sitting in, so hopefully their internet is better than our hotels.
More at the end of the night.
By Josh Terzino
So here are the videos that I promised to have up yesterday. Again, my apologies to K Flay and Ezra. The plan was to have these up within an hour after the interviews, but sometimes the internet has a funny way of throwing a wrench into things like this.
Had a lot of fun with both of them, and I look forward to talking to Imaginary Cities at 1 and Andrew Belle with Miles at 2 today. Hopefully the internet at the Center is better than it is at the Hampton Inn (but the Hampton Inn does have free breakfast AND fresh cookies throughout the day).
Also, if you’re ever super-tired, I recommend getting about 11 hours of sleep. That’s what I got and I feel much better now.
By Josh Terzino
You know that feeling you get when you’re sick? The one where everything is super heavy and you feel like you’re moving in slow motion? That’s how I feel right now.
My fingers barely want to move enough to type these words, and my eyes can’t really see, so I apologize for any spelling mistakes.
We actually had what I think were two really good interviews. K Flay answered my questions like a champ even though I was a bit rambly (which I blame on the not sleeping). And Ezra Furman was as sweet and accommodating as one could ask. As soon as the videos are done uploading to YouTube, I will embed them up here. The internet here at the Hampton Inn is effing ridiculous. So it may be the next SxSw before that happens.
Tomorrow we have a couple cool interviews to do. A Canadian group approached us about hooking up, so we decided to play along. I’ve always considered Toronto to be the Chicago of the far north anyway. After that Miles from Chaperone will be interviewing singer/songwriter Andrew Belle.
Andrew splits time between Nashville and Chicago, and I think he’s known much better in the Nashville area than Chicago, so hopefully we can change that after you see the interview.
Still can’t believe I walked right past Josh Ritter and didn’t say anything. IDIOT!!!
Sadly, I think I’m going to fall asleep any minute. I promise I’ll do better tomorrow.
By Josh Terzino
Well, so far we are off to not the best of starts. Last night one of our cats got sick and we hung out at the Vet ER until 2:30 in the morning. Since we had to leave our apartment at 6 to catch our flight, we decided not to sleep.
The flight and all that was fine, we made it on time and everything. Once we got here, though, it was completely effed.
When we walked into the Austin Convention Center, it was fairly empty. Still is. We went into the registration area which resembled, slightly, an Abbot and Costello routine. Once we finally got our wristbands, the guy at the door to the elevator to get to Josh Ritter told us we couldn’t go up because we didn’t have the right pass. We did walk right past him though. He was chatting up some folks so we didn’t bother him. More with him tomorrow.
After waiting outside for half an hour to catch a shuttle to our hotel so we could drop off our luggage, we decided to head back in. We conned our way up into the Press Suite by dropping some names, and right now I’m waiting for K Flay to pop in for a quick interview.
It’s getting hot out here in Austin. I need a bed if I’m gonna make it through the rest of the day. Hopefully these interviews will go well and we can start turning things around.
By Josh Terzino
I’ve been working hard to get as much done before we take off for Austin Thursday, and with shows tomorrow and Tuesday night, I haven’t left myself a whole lot of time. The band Headshadow sent in their stuff a while back, and I told them I’d give it a listen. This was made fairly easy by the fact that it only includes four songs.
Another reason I wanted to do this today is because I’ve been listening to it, and I can’t get the lead track “I Don’t Want To Be In Love” out of my gord. I swear it’s a cover, but for some reason I can’t think of who sings the song I think they’re covering.
Despite that conundrum, I dig the tune quite a bit. The sound acts as a kind of time vortex for me. In their bio they list their influences as being 90′s luminaries Weezer and Nada Surf, as well as Jack White’s first offshoot, The Raconteurs. What I hear, mostly, is other bands with similar musical interests who weren’t on the level with the bands mentioned.
Headshadow appears to be most interested in a kind of punk/pop sound that reminds me of late 90′s early 00′s TRL favorites Good Charlotte or Blink-182. Now, I never liked either of those bands. Regardless of their overwhelming popularity, shitty music is what it is. These guys in Headshadow are better than that, I’m just using that genre as a comparison.
The second track, which is the title-track “Los Atlantis,” doesn’t stray far from the first one. It does have a nice R.E.M. guitar jangle at the opening that I feel is a nice touch. Beyond that, though, the song keeps in line with “I Don’t Want To Be In Love.” This song is, surprisingly, my least favorite of the four. It isn’t terrible or anything, but it tries to hard to be aggressive, and they get lost somewhere in Buckcherry country.
They don’t stay there for long, though. On the third track, “Just Bring You” they create a slow burn that touches more on 70′s era classic rock and blues. A nice variance from the rest of the EP. The guitar work on this song is really great. The format of the song allows for some flashier moves on the ax, and Chris Kayes takes full advantage of the moment.
When we get to the final track, “It Ain’t Over Yet,” we go back to the punk roots and get a song not unlike what you may hear on a NOFX album. That brand of punk/pop I really do enjoy, and this one is no different.
It’s hard to judge a band by four songs, but it’s becoming more and more popular for bands to release a full EP instead of a single, which is nice because you get more music. It’s also awful because you get enough of a taste to get a real impression, but not enough to see the whole picture.
From what I hear, I like it. Even the song I didn’t think was all that great still had enough redemptive qualities to get a pass from me. I say pick up the EP. It’s only $4. Seeing how I almost paid $16 for an Import of Erasure’s single “A Little Respect,” $4 is a steal.
Headshadow is made up of three Midwest transplants: Chris Kayes-Vocals, Guitar; Thomas Hilliard-Bass; Adam Bowling-Drums
You can purchase Los Atlantis from the band’s website for $4
April 20th Headshadow will be performing at Martyr’s and on June 18th they will be at the Abbey Pub.
My sincerest apologies to Drew. I told him I would have this by last Friday when Dastardly was playing their free show at Reggies. That concert served as a fundraiser to send some bands down to SxSw. Dastardly will be there, we will be there-it’s a perfect fit. Also, May You Never is now available on iTunes, so the timing didn’t work out too bad.
Sometime in the last twenty years or so country music took a gigantic leap backward. Certainly Shania Twain can’t be held responsible for all of it, but she’s probably the most notable culprit. After years of being a respectable musical genre, the fatcats working the books at country music record companies decided it would be better if they were more mainstream and had crossover appeal. One “Any Man of Mine” later and the genre took off like a rocket.
The guys and gals that made country music great-Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Connie Smith, Dale Evans-they couldn’t be too pleased with the direction the form has taken.
But there is hope, Chicago. Dastardly has put out an EP that is wholly new and original, while paying solemn tribute to the forbearers of the genre. Maybe they don’t even consider this country music. Perhaps they just call it indie because that’s the hip thing to do. But let me tell all you beautiful people, it’s country music, and it’s fucking brilliant.
Now, there are a lot of bands who have sort of kicked off this true country music revival over the past few years. Mumford & Sons is the most popular right now (ESPN was using “Little Lion Man” in a commercial, so I know they’re popular. I also realized The Zutons were the biggest band in the world when Fox Sports used the song ”Pressure Point” during a NFC Conference Championship commercial). The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, even one of my favorites The Felice Brothers have been bringing it back slowly and surely. Bluegrass music, especially, has seen a huge rise in popularity, mainly due to a lot of British bands and legendary American comedians (just one, actually-STEVE MARTIN!).
But there’s something about Dastardly’s take that makes them better than those bands for me. It’s just a brutally honest record that they’ve put out. The musicianship is amazing. I don’t know where they wrote these songs, but in my mind they were in a cabin nestled away in the Smoky Mountains, sitting on the porch, probably on rocking chairs-no shoes on of course.
I totally get why Dastardly and Chaperone dig each other’s music. They both have their own way of doing things, but there is an underlying feeling of Appalachia behind almost every song. The two bands have played on the same bill multiple times, and I’ve only been luck enough to catch it once. If you see their names next to one another on whatever website you use to get your concert info, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Getting back to May You Never…It’s seven tracks long (not nearly long enough), and each song is great in it’s own way. My favorite of the EP is the closer, “Traffic.” It’s the only track that doesn’t sound terribly Appalachian. It actually sounds like it could have been written in southern Texas after a long trip to Tijuana. It’s a reflective song that doesn’t paint the main character in such a great light:
Well I was born in traffic I’m attracted to slow moving obstacles Empty bottles and prophalactics But am I attractive Should I breathe in the chemicals Man I just hope I don’t fuck it up this time
The song provides the perfect end for a record that is both funny and self-aware while remaining musically engaging. They lyrics are great, the harmonies between lead singer Gabe Liebowitz and Sarah Morgan are fantastic throughout, and it leaves you feeling satisfied like you’ve just had Thanksgiving dinner.
As I stated at the top, May You Never is now available on iTunes. Do yourself a big favor and pick it up now.
▪ Dastardly is local to Chicago. The band is comprised of: Gabe Liebowitz-Guitar and Vocals; Sarah Morgan-Accordion, Percussion, Vocals; Patrick Lyons-Guitar, Pedal Steel, Mandolin, Vocals; John Humbracht-Guitar, Banjo, Lap Steep, Dobro, Vocals; August Sheehy-Bass, Vocals; Andy Taylor-Drums
By Josh Terzino
With South By Southwest quickly approaching, and my time to listen and evaluate things before all the fun begins dwindles, I’ve decided to run this even though the album doesn’t drop for another week and I didn’t ask permission from anyone to go early with it.
I doubt anyone would mind, though, since I have nothing but good things to say about The Joy Formidable‘s newest release, The Big Roar. If you were a fan of last years A Balloon Called Moaning EP, then you will enjoy this thoroughly. Mainly because almost every song from that EP is included on this disc, but also because the newer songs seem to take a step directly from the overall feel of that record.
Of the new additions, “I Don’t Want To See You Like This” is the obvious choice for best song. I really enjoyed it when they played that one at Schuba‘s back in November, and fully realized with production it’s fantastic.
The new album also allows for Rhydian to sing a bit more. He’s the featured vocalist on the track “Llaw=Wall,” and it adds a nice contrast to the rest of the album that mostly features Ritzy Bryan on lead vocals with Rhydian drifting in and out of the background.
Other than that, the album is almost exactly what I’ve come to expect from TJF. Lots of in-your-face guitars and bass. Effects all over the place on the stringed instruments and on the vocals. I remember being quite surprised seeing them live and hearing them be able to just about pull off the sound of their recording on stage. Phil Specter would be proud to hear the ridiculous wall of sound this band creates.
The most surprising thing about The Big Roar is the drumming of Matt Thomas. On a lot of A Balloon Called Moaning, his percussion is drowned in the production, but here he is brought to the forefront on almost every track. He provides a constant (like Desmond and Daniel Faraday) for the band to fall back on when Ritzy and Rhydian are going crazy, reaching for the stars while Matt’s feet are firmly on the ground.
So, if you liked the original release from The Joy Formidable, I’d definitely suggest grabbing this one. It’s a fuller, more nuanced version of the EP. The songwriting is improved on the new songs, but that was never an issue with these Welsh rockers.
By Josh Terzino
In my efforts to keep this blog updated daily, I’ve missed a lot of things that I probably should have caught a long time ago. To those of you still waiting on your music to be reviewed, I assure you, it will happen. To anyone who hasn’t sent in their music for fear that it will just get backlogged behind major releases by bands like R.E.M.; first of all, they ARE R.E.M. after all, of course they rank higher than you. Secondly, I will get to you as soon as I can, just be patient. Don’t send me reminder emails every two days. Sometimes they are funny, but usually they just remind me of how far behind I am, then I stew in a funk and don’t listen to anything because I feel bad for the bands I’m NOT listening to.
Anyway, in an effort to catch up on a bunch of stuff that I missed in 2010, my friend Jeff put together a little portable hard drive full of music I hadn’t heard. I will go through some of that lengthy list with you here now. I am leaving off a few things that I truly did not care for.
First off, Rangda’s album False Flag. Mind-blowingly good free-form experimental rock n’ roll. I never got into bands like Explosions In the Sky because a lot of times I get bored with instrumental music. This is not the case with Rangda. The group is made up from some pretty legendary cats-Richard Bishop from Sun City Girls, Ben Chasny from Six Organs of Admittance, and drummer Chris Corsano. This record seriously kept me intrigued the entire length, and then again and again. Great stuff.
Gonjasufi-A Sufi and a Killer: This album caught me offguard. It starts off with some kind of tribal drumming, transforms into a strange hip-hop funk instrumental, then turns itself into the newest incarnation of the blues. And that’s just the first three tracks. This guy has been making music on the west coast since the 90′s, but I never heard of him until now. This album is crazy, but in a good way.
Golden Retriever-S/T: The Portland-based duo of Matt Carlson and Jonathan Sielaff don’t make it easy to love their music. It’s slow and it meanders quite a bit. One thing that I thought of while listening to it, though, is that it would have been a great soundtrack to a 70′s film like Chinatown or The Conversation. It has a very classic feel without ape-ing anything from another era. It is wholly original, and I ended up liking it much more than I thought I would.
Bare Wires-Seeking Love: This album is a lot of fun. Last month I reviewed Smith Westerns album Dye It Blonde, and that has a lot of sunny 60′s pop references. This album is very similar, just switch out the 60′s pop for 70′s AM radio. The attitude seethes out of the speakers. Quick listen, too.
The Art Museums-Rough Frame EP: This record came out just about a year ago. It quickly joined the ranks of great albums that are new, but made to sound old. The harmonies are surprisingly solid for a duo trying to be not-so-great. It’s like She and Him if Zooey Deschanel was a dude, and they refused to use instruments made after 1965.
Jack Rose-Luck In The Valley-Released two months after his death in December 2009, this album presents Jack Rose at the top of his game. Playing a mixture of Country/Western and ragtime, Luck In The Valley is a beautiful ode to Appalachia. Jack was a super talented guitarist who understood the history of guitar music and didn’t dare repeat it. This record stands as a testament to both Jack’s ability as a guitarist and the idea that music of this nature can thrive in a music industry that continues its decline into sub-mediocrity being led by talentless hacks that don’t know how to play any instrument but a publicist.
Moon Duo-Escape: I knew nothing about Moon Duo when I pushed play, but knowing the other albums I’d heard from the list above, I did have certain expectations. This took me by surprise a little, though. Not just because I liked it, but because it was SO well done that I listened to it a few times in a row just for the hell of it. Escape does have kind of a creepy vibe, which apparently is it’s own genre of music. Which leads me to the final album I’ll list today…
Umberto-From the Grave: When Jeff described this to me one day, sitting on the 3rd floor of the Chase building downtown, it sounded unbelievably weird. Fashioning itself as a kind of lost soundtrack to the Italian horror film Pieces, Matt Hill has created an amazing album that could certainly play juxtaposed with any horror film. I’m surprised he hasn’t been hired by Dario Argento to score his next film. You can totally sense everything that would be going on in this fake movie, from the fog-laden sidewalks to the shriek-inducing fakeout scares…it is, quite literally, a brilliant record.
That’s it for now. A lot of ramblin’ going on here. Tomorrow I’ll try harder to get something a bit more in-depth than these surface reviews. Happy listening to anyone who clicks on the album names and checks them out. Good stuff all around.
By Josh Terzino
It seems like every few years R.E.M. puts out a new record and it is met with the same ridiculous praise from some idiot critic: “Finally a return to CLASSIC R.E.M.” It isn’t always the same critic, but it is always the exact same amount of horseshit.
I’ve been a R.E.M. fan for a long time. Their first EP, Chronic Town (of which I have an original vinyl pressing), came out when I was one. The first album I heard by them in full was Green thanks to a music subscription to BMG my dad had. I’ve loved them since the first time I saw the video for “Stand” on MTv way back when that was a station that played videos (kids, a music video is a piece of art created by musicians and videographers for play on television to promote a song or album. In a retro move, Lady Gaga and Beyonce teamed up in one-Oh the memories!). Ever since then I haven’t really had a sour word for them. I would certainly never say that a return to form or anything like that were necessary. R.E.M. always has been, and always will be, the same band I fell in love with as a youngster.
Now, that isn’t to say they haven’t made some crap albums. I haven’t really liked anything they’ve put out since Reveal (on my birthday) back in 2001. In fact, the last album they put out that I really loved was Automatic For the People. That album was fantastic in 1992, and it is equally great now. Since then, the band has gone through changes, including Bill Berry leaving the band.
Having lost their drummer, the backbone of the band, R.E.M. went through a long period where they were trying to find themselves again. They tried a lot of different things. On their album Around The Sun they even included some hip-hop in the form of Q-Tip performing on the track “The Outsiders.”
Their most recent release, Accelerate, found the band going back to their earlier music for influence. It was a decent album, but was missing a connection to the audience that made those great records so vital for the college radio fans in the 80′s and early 90′s.
And now (well, tomorrow) R.E.M. deliver us an album that brings personal songs and some monster guitars and guest artists that reminds me a lot of the album Monster. No. It’s not a return to classic R.E.M., it’s a return of a band that has found their voice again. CLASSIC R.E.M. never left, it was just buried beneath a huge stack of issues they had to work through to get back to basics.
The songwriting on Collapse Into Now is some of the best Stipe has done in a long time. It’s less political than some of their more notable work has been known for, but that leaves a lot of room for songs about personal evolution, yearning, and love. Stipe’s words never hit harder than in the song “That Someone Is You,”
That someone is you That someone is you That someone has pulled me up and out of cartoon quicksand Pulled me up and out of me!
Collapse Into Now is not a great R.E.M. record. Of course, a halfway decent R.E.M. record is leaps and bounds better than most of what gets put out these days. So in that respect, this is highly recommended. People who are fans of the early albums, but turned off by some of the more recent work will, I think, enjoy this more than any R.E.M. record in the past decade.
And for that critic is waiting in the wings, ready to shout from the rooftop that “CLASSIC R.E.M. IS BACK!!!” please don’t. If you were a fan of the band, you would know that they never left. Maybe you just need to grow up like they have.
By Josh Terzino
I said in a post recently that I find it funny when a band or artist sends in their material for review (which I am grateful for) and leaves a note saying that they’re this or that. I like it best when a band says that they’re big influences were majorly epic records. With Fort Frances, and their new record The Atlas, that influence was Wilco, with an emphasis on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
It’s way funnier when a band is way off. On The Atlas, Fort Frances does make a real connection with some aspects of YHF. Mainly I find it in the quiet spaces between the folk-pop verses and somewhat Beatles-esque refrains. There’s a good deal of sonic dissonance at work in the background almost always.
With Sam Kassirer behind the knobs and the keys, it’s no surprise that a lot of the songs keep in line with the folkiness of Sam’s major collaborator (and one of my personal favorites of all-time) Josh Ritter. There’s even a moment during “If The Ocean Runs Dry” that reminds me so much of Ritter’s “Wait For Love” that I forgot which album I was hearing.
That combination of Wilco and Josh Ritter actually reminds me of another band, one that I think is a more fitting comparison to Fort Frances. Minneapolis-based alt-country legends The Jayhawks perfected a lot of what this album shoots for years ago with their album Rainy Day Music (a perfect fit for the weather as I write this).
The Atlas is definitely more pop than Rainy Day, but I think they share a lot of common musical influences. Fort Frances singer David McMillin has a voice that isn’t entirely reminiscent of Gary Louris or Mark Olson, but in the harmonies and overdubs, there’s definitely a sonic similarity.
I’ve listened to The Atlas a bunch of times now, and my overall impression is that I like it. There’s a lot going on at every turn it takes, eventually leading each song to the same point. Aaron Kiser does a great job of keeping everything moving forward, and Jeff Piper on bass is on point in every song.
Standout songs from the record are “The Ghosts of California” and “Falling Down.”
“Ghosts” is, perhaps, the simplest song on The Atlas. But, in it’s simplicity, it also contains a lot of honesty and longing:
Build us a home made for heroes Build us a boat to find the stars Watch the hillsides burn, the saddest kind of sunset Now the tide is crying, now we can’t escape these scars
“Falling Down” would be the most radio-friendly song on the album. It’s kind of a hybrid of the better stuff Coldplay does and David Gray. If you download and dig the album, this track would make a good introduction to play for your friends.
If The Atlas is anything, it’s a piece to be shared. It’s supposed to act as an actual atlas, with each song pointing to places that share a common directional threat. For what it’s worth, you don’t have to be conscious of this fact while you’re listening. The album works perfectly well on the surface. But, if you want to go deeper, you will be rewarded for paying attention.
▪ Sign up for the Fort Frances mailing list via Facebook and get a free download!
By Josh Terzino
The new release from The RAA picks up basically where Hometowns left off. Nils is still writing and singing about loss, or the fear of loss, and loneliness. Paul Banwatt is still making his case as one of the best drummers working today (Canadian or otherwise). And Amy Cole is still providing solid keyboard work and backing vocals that haunt and delight, sometimes both at once.
So what’s different? First off, there’s a surprising leap in the confidence level on display. Where most bands would play safe on their second release, trying to avoid the “sophomore slump,” the RAA push full-steam ahead. They don’t use the sound from their previous record as a crutch. Bands do this all the time. The biggest culprit I can think of offhand was The Strokes on Room On Fire. I still like that record, but much of it feels like a ripoff of Is This It?
Departing is also a far more polished record. One of the charms of Hometowns is that it sounds like it was recorded in a living room. That’s great for a small band trying to get their name out there. Once you’ve established yourself, people expect more. I think this release sounds really great, and I regret not buying the vinyl bundle that was offered on the Paper Bag Records website.
As I said, the lyrics on Departing don’t stray too far from something you might hear on Hometowns. The words are strong on both records, though. Some of my favorites from the new release appear in the lead track, “Two Lovers“:
And if I fly away to the coast, Your face it haunts me more than most
And if I ever hold you again, I’ll hold you tight enough to crush your veins
And you will die and become a ghost And haunt me til my pulse also slows
It isn’t just the lyrics that make “Two Lovers” such a good song, it’s also the way it’s sung. The phrasing and emotion that Nils uses really helps the song become something more than just another lamentation of missed opportunity.
The last big difference on Departing is the lack of some slower material. The album closes with the song “Good Night,” which they’ve been playing at the end of shows for a while now. Perfect song to end on, by the way. Other than that, “North Star” is the only other track I would call a slow number. Hometowns featured a few ballad-like tracks and an acoustic song.
Overall, I think Departing is a great follow-up to one of my favorite records of the past few years. I’ve listened to Hometowns a ridiculous number of times, so it will be nice to have some more RAA to dig into when I get the urge.
If you’re anything like me and love Rural Alberta Advantage’s first album, you’ll love this one. It’s available now through their website, on iTunes, and Amazon. You could also go to a brick-and-mortar store if you’re into that kind of thing.
But if you’re buying music in a brick-and-mortar, you are probably too busy reading to yourself with your lips moving or trying to figure out why people are mad at Charlie Sheen, so you won’t have time to listen to this album or any other.
I always find it funny when I show up late to anything. I’m one of those people who likes to be early or on time for everything. Lately, it’s been a problem for a few reasons. The biggest of which has been our big move from Lakeview to Lincoln Park (though I think technically both places are right in the middle). That wasn’t the case last night, though.
No, last night we were late because we had to stay home long enough to be sure Purdue was going to beat Illinois and stay undefeated at home for the season. Perhaps a trivial thing to many, I assure it was of the utmost importance to us.
So, when we got to Schubas a few minutes late, Project Film was already on stage. I think we missed one and a half songs. The one they were playing when we arrived was a new one, so I wasn’t entirely sure that the band up there was, in fact, Project Film. But after the song was over they announced that it was new and that they were Project Film (phew!).
One of the first things I noticed about the band was Sam McAllister’s glasses. Standing up there on stage he looked like a mix between a youthful Rivers Cuomo and a clean-cut Ben Gibbard. His appearance led me to catching a lot of Death Cab For Cutie influences (probably all in my head) throughout a lot of the songs. Thankfully they didn’t do “Soul Meets Body.”
Overall I think my original impression of the band is true, they play the kind of music that I would probably play if I were in a band. Lucky for you, I’m not. The sound at Schubas is always fantastic, and it captured alot of the softer things Project Film do that would be lost in places with sound equipment of inferior quality.
There were just two things missing from the 45-minute set. One thing missing was a moment where things just get crazy. I thought it was going to, for a brief second, in the instrumental jam “Ink.” It just kept building and building, not unlike the Ryan Adams song “Nobody Girl.”
I brought that up with Sam after the show, and he told me that they had discussed whether they should go balls-out or not. I think it was a mistake to hold back. Especially when you’re in front of a good crowd that seems to be fairly into it like the one at Schubas on this particular night.
The second thing missing-and this one is a personal belief, not something that was actually wrong with the show-was the lack of a great cover. I think it’s important for a band, especially a young band that’s just starting out, to help inform the audience of their influences and educate them about where the music comes from. A great example of this would be a couple weeks ago at Subterranean when Chaperone covered The Misfits. Maybe the influence doesn’t shine through on every song, but now we know that one of the bands Chaperone enjoys is The Misfits. Then the audience can go out and check out The Misfits if they haven’t already (for shame!). It’s a circle.
Other than those two nitpicks, I thought the show was great. Sam and Megan have a good chemistry on stage together, which is important especially in a live setting. It can be faked a bit in recording, but during a show, you either got it or you don’t.
I’m expecting good things for Project Film in the future. I thoroughly enjoyed their debut LP, Chicago, and this live show didn’t change my feelings. I suggest you and your friends all buy a copy of their record and show up at their next gig-whenever that is.
One of the Chicago Tunes contributors, Jessica Smith, has already done a write-up on Project Film‘s debut album, Chicago. I won’t rehash all of that here, but go ahead and check it out. I agree with pretty much everything she says.
What I’ll try to do is put my own spin on the record. One thing that I always do when I listen to music is try to figure out where it came from. What was the band doing when recording, what were they listening to. Sometimes it’s very easy to pick up on, other times, quite difficult.
What I hear from Sam McAllister and Megan Frestedt is a musical history that parallels my own. Listening to Sam’s voice on a couple of the tracks makes me think of Elliott Smith in a lot of respects. He has a quiet vulnerability that comes through on the record and makes everything very easy for the listener to relate with.
Chicago has a some of it’s roots in 60′s pop as well. It features a lot of the boy-girl vocals that you’d recognize on a record by Lee Hazelwood and Dusty Springfield. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing when it’s done well (Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan, She and Him), but when it’s bad it can be excruciating. Sam and Megan have a nice chemistry together, and that can make all the difference in the world. They’re fantastic together.
I was scouring the internet looking up some info on the band that might inform me as I was listening to Chicago, and I noticed that a lot of folks seem to think the world of the song “Kapture.” This is a good song, no doubt. However, it’s VERY Iron & Wine. Too much so for me. The lyrics are good, but there’s something about the way it’s sung and plucked on the guitar that makes me think of a Sam that isn’t in Project Film.
For my money the best songs on the record are “Spent Chicago,” in which Sam’s singing of the refrain reminds me of Josh Ritter’s “Change of Time,” and the closing track “Sun.” Jessica quoted “Sun” in her review, but I want to take it a bit further here:
You are perfectly aware
of what I need to survive
these hands are so tattered and worn
from once moving dirt in the night
your silence is strong enough
to drive someone out of it’s way
i can’t feel a stranger here
and i’d rather picture you in the dark
so go, go into the sun
It’s a really beautiful song, and one that I could listen to all day and night.
A lot of times we here at Chicago Tunes are sent press releases and little write-ups from bands that talk about how they sing about broken hearts and searching for something and writing about the human condition. For the most part it’s a load of bull. It’s like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous when he tells Patrick Fugit to answer Ben Fong-Torres from Rolling Stone by saying his article on Stillwater (still unwritten) is a “think-piece about a mid-level band…struggling with their own limitations…in the, you know, harsh face of stardom.”
But with Project Film, I feel like all that mularkey about human condition, and telling stories about what it feels like to be alone, or in love, or both at the same time…Chicago gets all those feelings at once, and puts them to music. And for that, I thank them. I also suggest that you go out and get yourself a copy of Chicago from the Project Film website, or from iTunes.
▪ Tomorrow night, Tuesday the 1st of March, Project Film will be playing at Schubas with Audiences and Island of Misfit Toys. The show is 18+ and tickets are $8. Starts at 8pm.
This album has been lingering around my iPod for a bit of time now, and I wanted to get a review done by the end of the month. Love In October released this EP on February 8th, and I hate to be more than a few minutes late, so a twenty day lag has been killing me.
The Widman brothers, Erik and Kent, have been making music together for over 15 years. From the days kicking it in their living room somewhere in northern Sweden til now, they’ve had one objective: Making noise…LOUD NOISE!
So I was a bit surprised by their new EP, which does contain some very loud noise, but also finds a good amount of quiet moments. Definitely not a bad surprise, especially when it is so well done.
My favorite song on this release is “Rubix Cube.” It’s definitely on the quiet side of the spectrum, but it’s lyrics are fantastic.
I wrote a story that had no end
a reflection of my life but inside I pretend
I’m 12 and a half and addicted to pills
I’m 12 and a half and addicted to thrills
If my mystery matters to you
Then you are my rubix cube
I’ve said too much
I play like a broken record
And the reason is you
The guitar chord progression and tempo on this particular track reminds me a LOT of Plain White Tee’s “Delilah,” which normally I would say is a bad thing, but it works here. Probably because the lyrics are strong enough to hold up against any kind of music. I might even like it if the song were set against the awful background of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”/Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok.”
Love In October II was made primarily in Toronto at Chemical Sound Studio in a large live room. I like the idea of recording things live. It’s pure. Sometimes artists can get into a habit of relying on poducers and engineers to tweak things to sound the way they want, and that often leads to an artificial sounding record.
Here on this EP, everything sounds fresh and necessary. There doesn’t seem to be any reliance on fancy computer technology doing pitch-correction and dubbing over things to make it sound a certain way. This version of the music-making process can lead to a recording that isn’t always consistent, but it does feel alive.
One funny thing I found about this EP, and about the band, is that the tracks they recommended to me are the two tracks I liked least. I could definitely see how they might feel that these two tracks, “Desperate” and “Paper Heart” kind of highlight the sound they’re going after. That’s all well and good, but I’m much more interested in how willing the band is to work outiside of their comfort zone and how they will surprise me.
They definitely surprised me with “Rubix Cube,” and also with the opening track “Do You Love Me.” The guitar on “Do You Love Me” is very reminiscent of Nick Zinner (who I think is great) without being a copy of him. It also, for some reason, reminds me of a song by Queens of the Stone Age. I can’t remember the name of it because I’m not a huge fan of Josh Homme, but if you think of it, please comment below and let me know (thanks!).
Love In October II is not a perfect record. However, it is fresh, wholly original, and a really good listen. I would say of the five tracks, I really, really like three of them. The other two are ok, but not nearly as good as the others. That said, I think you would do yourself well to get a copy of this release. It’s a digital only, and can be downloaded here.
▪ Erik Widman – Vocals, Guitar, Synthesizer, Accordion
▪ Kent Widman – Bass, Synthesizer, Percussion
▪ Mike (Ford) Nowak – Drums
▪ Tiffany Almy – Vocals
Christopher Limerinos – Guitar on “Desperate”
I have to hand it to local singer-songwriter Jay Mathes, the man is passionate about his craft. After playing around but not taking things too seriously, he quit his job giving private guitar lessons to follow his dream of making and playing music for a living. It was a bold move, and one that will take time to pay off. He believes in himself and his talent, and he has a faithful following.
Listening to this release by Mathes, I was surprised how much his voice at times reminds me of Jay Farrar. It also reminds me of Will Loyal of Homemade Knives. There’s a deep bassiness that gives the feeling of being in a small room with the lights out, which I think was kind of the feeling Jay was going for when he decided to record the album live with just a guitar and his voice.
As I was listening to Fundamental, and enjoying it a little, I started to get a sinking feeling. You know the one…it’s the feeling you get when you’re watching TV late at night and that commercial for the Songs of Worship album comes on. That feeling you have in the time it takes you to reach the remote and flip the channel really quick. Yeah. That’s the one.
In an interview that Jay gave to the Sun-Times, he said he doesn’t consider his music to be Christian Rock. If you don’t consider it to be that, I really don’t know how you consider it at all. Every song has some sort of religious symbolism or overt message.
And I’m ok with that. I view music a lot like Roger Ebert views movies…it isn’t WHAT the movie/song is about, it’s HOW it is about it. If the music is done well, then the message doesn’t matter so much to me.
Unfortunately, Fundamental is a bit long on message and a little short on melody. The album does live up to it’s name, though. The chords are basic, and the song structure follows the same formula you would find in most adult contemporary pop music. The whole thing kind of sounds like a demo session for the first Matchbox Twenty (20?) album (or, probably more accurately, the first Creed album).
For all the things I don’t like about Fundamental, I still find some redeeming qualities in it. There’s something to be said for someone laying their soul bare and putting everything out there.
Whether you and I agree with what Jay Mathes is singing about, he’s giving it his all, and I admire that.
Jay Mathes is a lifelong Chicagoan
Fundamental was released on January 21, 2011. It is available for download on iTunes
Jay will be playing a free show in Elmhurst, IL on March 19th at Cuvee Cellars
So, in case you’ve been living under a rock the last week or so, Radiohead put out a new album on Friday. I have to admit I like the way these guys get things done. I remember a few months ago seeing somewhere that Phil Selway mentioned they might be recording soon. Then I heard nothing for a long time. All of a sudden, there’s a new Radiohead album.
That’s a good strategy for a band that seem to be a completely self-contained unit. I don’t think it’s possible for a band starting out to do a lot of the things Radiohead does. Lack of capital and artistic freedom inhibits most musicians, signed and unsigned.
But having capital and artistic freedom isn’t always the best thing. Sometimes it helps to have constraints that force you to write and perform differently. And here is the problem with Radiohead’s new record (in my mind).
I may shock you a bit, and lose all indie credibility I ever had, by saying that I’ve never been a huge Radiohead fan. I like them. I think Jonny Greenwood is a great musician (his soundtrack for There Will Be Blood is amazing), but I don’t think they’ve put out a really strong record since OK Computer.
Honestly, I feel like everything they’ve done since that album is pretty much the same. I don’t think I could tell if someone switched out Hail to the Thief for In Rainbows or The King of Limbs. The band seems to be stuck in a kind of funk that might be caused by the insular nature of the way they record.
Fans of the band feel differently, of course. Every time I hear of a Radiohead release I have fifty different people telling me fifty different reasons it’s great. How many times can you hear Thom Yorke’s nasally, dying-cat voice looped over the same drum-machine beat before it becomes old? Apparently the answer, for most people, is a great many times.
Thom Yorke and the others in Radiohead are good songwriters. That’s another issue I have with the band. Back when they were still making music that I enjoyed, the writing really stood out. It made songs like “High and Dry” and “Creep” great to sing along to. The music they’re making now makes me want to curl up and go to sleep, like Mazzy Starr’s “Fade Into You.”
It’s not all bad, though. I do like the way The King of Limbs opens. It’s all pretty, trippy keyboard synth and African drum beats. Then Yorke opens up his maw and ruins the mood. Same goes for track 2, which has kind of a videogame feeling throughout (Castlevania, I think).
I know I’m in the minority on Radiohead. Lord knows I’ll never be allowed to step into Pitchfork’s offices. But, that’s one of the things that makes music great. We don’t all have to agree all the time. Now let’s see how long it takes for me to get flamed in the Comments section.
Looking out the huge windows of the store here, I feel like I’m staring into a Corman McCarthy story. It’s gray and glum and I don’t like it one bit.
What better way to beat the blues than to think about some great stuff that we have coming up here on Chicago Tunes!!!
With March just around the corner, the time is upon us now to start thinking about music festivals. With the ho-hum headliners announced for Lollapalooza already, my excitement for the fest season has dwindled a bit. Maybe yours did, too. If so, here is some good news to get you pumped again!
Chicago Tunes is headed down to SxSw in Austin, TX, and we’re going to be hanging around some of the best bands in Chicago.
I can’t even list all the awesome people and bands that are going to be down south for this festival, but I will say this…prepare to have your minds blown!
We’re gonna have interviews with a bunch of great musicians (not my idea, it was given to me by Chaperone), I’ll be live-tweeting from events, I’ll be posting pics and videos every chance I get while we’re there. And, if all goes according to plan, we’re gonna come home with a very special treat for everyone.
Heading down to SxSw and getting to work with all these amazing bands is really like a dream for me, and I’d like to thank every single person who has agreed to join us in this endeavor. I hope you know who you are, because I’m not going to literally type every one of your names here.
And as if SxSw isn’t exciting enough, there’s more! Starting this week, hopefully, we will be having a weekly guest writer from a Chicago band talking about the album that influenced them to get into music. I think it will be an interesting and fun way to let these musicians pay homage to the band or artist that changed their lives forever. So, look for that on Thursday’s or Sunday’s, depending on when articles get submitted.
Thanks for reading, re-posting, RT’ing our posts. It is more appreciated than you know. Don’t forget to comment if you especially like something, or if you especially hate something. We want to know what works and what doesn’t.
But please, go easy on Miles when he does his post. He cries a lot.
Josh Ritter never fails to amaze me with his live show. He rarely fails to amaze me on record as well. Last nights show at the Victoria Theatre was no exception. He played a couple songs he doesn’t always play, and left a couple big hits off of the setlist. It was enough of a change to make the whole concert feel fresh and new. It also didn’t hurt that we got there early enough to be in the first row.
Well, that’s a bit misleading. Actually, we WERE in the second row, but once opener Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbit) finished his set, the girls in front of us left, so we took their spot. They weren’t the only ones to leave, either. Scott Hutchison has a much bigger following in Chicago than I thought.
I’m not completely familiar with Frightened Rabbit. I know OF them, but I haven’t spent a lot of time listening to their music. Which is odd, because I generally like music from Scottish bands. We Were Promised Jetpacks, The Twilight Sad, Franz Ferdinand have all received a lot of time on my iPod. From what I can tell, Scott Hutchison’s music is mostly stuff that I would like.
His onstage persona is quite charming. He tells a lot of funny anecdotes (in particular there was one about having a pubic hair stuck in his throat when he played at the Double Door that made me chuckly quite a bit. If you’re a fan of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, you understand why), plays without a setlist, and appears to have a great time up there.
In other words, he was a perfect set up man for a guy like Josh Ritter.
It wasn’t that long ago that we drove up to Madison to see Josh play at the Majestic Theatre. It’s fair to say that I was a little worried that we’d end up hearing the same setlist and I would find myself disappointed with the show. I should have known that thinking I’d be let down by Josh Ritter is a silly concept. The guy could come out, play a few chords, flash that big, goofy grin, say thanks Chicago and leave, and I’d be perfectly happy.
Instead, he came out with the band and played, I think, the longest set I’ve seen them perform. Starting alone with “Come and Find Me” off Golden Age of Radio calmed me down quite a bit. When we saw him in Madison I wanna say he opened with “Monster Ballads,” so right there, the show is already headed in a different direction.
I’m not sure if I was more surprised with the songs that got played, or the ones that didn’t. Is it really a Josh Ritter show if he doesn’t play “Wolves?” That’s been a staple every time we’ve seen him play. He also didn’t play “Another New World” off So Runs the World Away. He played that one in Madison, as well as last May when we saw him in the friendly confines of this same Vic.
He did play “Naked As A Window,” which I would argue is the best song with a 90-second duration. He also played the newest song available, “Galahad,” which was just released last week as part of a Tour EP. That song, if you haven’t heard it, is fantastic. It has everything. Biblical references, Kenny Rogers, Knights, Angels, Stable boys…the list goes on. It’s funny and clever in all the best ways. Download it if you haven’t already.
The biggest surprise of the night came just before “Kathleen,” when Josh announced that in the middle of the song, he wanted everyone to start slow-dancing. I had heard about this happening at his Valentine’s Brawl shows the last few days, but I didn’t expect it to continue. Sure enough, halfway through, he told everyone to hold out your arms like Frankenstein and hopefully someone would be generous enough to dance with you.
It was a sweet moment, and one that I doubt most people will ever forget. I know I’VE never been in a room with 1500 people slow-dancing before.
We got a couple more rockin’ songs after that, and then the show ended with “Change of Time.” A good song to go out on, I suppose, and the crowd participation was wonderful.
If you still haven’t seen Josh Ritter live, I don’t understand your resistance. If you give it a chance, I guarantee you will enjoy it. This was my fifth time seeing him, and he is consistently entertaining and the music is always amazing.
My apologies for not taking any pictures or videos this time around…I think venues have my picture up on the wall or something, I always seem to be standing two feet from a security guy. I wouldn’t have cared, but this douchebag told the girl next to us that she needed to put her phone on her camera away, so I doubt the Flip would have gone over well.
I’m trying some new things with show previews so they aren’t boring everyone, including myself, to tears. For this installment I’m doing the top ten Josh Ritter songs to make that special person in your life swoon. Think of it as a post-Valentine’s day reminder that love exists for more than just one day a year.
If you think of a song that you think deserves to be on this list, post a comment and I’ll take it into consideration. The links will guide you to videos of the full song.
10. Here At the Right Time-”When I met you you were sick but you did not know why I was a pretty poor cure But my love for you was always sure The bucket was broken But the water was pure”
9. Snow Is Gone- “I’m underneath your window now—it’s long after the birds have gone to roost. And I’m not sure if I’m singing for the love of it or for the love of you. But I’ve flown a long way honey hear my confession then I’ll go. I’d rather be the one who loves than to be loved and never even know”
8. Naked As A Window-”Do you remember the time I told you to take off your clothes? You were naked as a window. But I’d take all that nothing over nothing at all”
7. Another New World-(technically this is about a boat, but still a great love song) “We talked of the other worlds we’d discover as she gave up her body to me And as I chopped up her mainsail for timber I told her of all that we still had to see. As the frost turned her moorings to nine-tail and the wind lashed her sides in the cold I burned her to keep me alive every night in the lover’s embrace of her hold”
6. Empty Hearts-”There’s a friend that I have. And for her I’ll go back. You see all of these empties that I’m holding. They’re too much for a man. Empty arms, empty hands. And she’ll know me by the sound of my hoping”
5. Lantern-”So throw away those lamentations we both know them all too well. If there’s a Book of Jubilations we’ll have to write it for ourselves. So come and lie beside me baby, let’s write it while we still got time”
4. Good Man-”Last night there was a horse in the road. I was twisting in the hairpin. My hands held on my mind let go And back to you my heart went skipping. I found the inside of the road. Thought about the first time that I met you. All those glances that we stole. Sometimes if you want them then you’ve got to
3. The Curse-”He opens his eyes, Falls in love at first sight with the girl in the doorway. What beautiful lines, heart full of life. After thousands of years, what a face to wake up to”
2. The Temptation of Adam-”Then one night you found me in my army issue cot And you told me of your flash of inspiration You said fusion was the broken heart that’s lonely’s only thought And all night long you drove me wild with your equations
1. Kathleen-”All the other girls here are stars, you are the northern lights. They try to shine in through your curtain, but you’re too close and too bright. They try and they try but everything that they do is the ghost of a trace of a pale imitation of you”
Come out to the Vic on Thursday night to hear these songs, and many other great ones, live with Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band. Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit opens.
Editor’s Note: Unable to put my own thoughts on the new Bright Eyes album into words, I called in some big guns in the form of my good friend Jeremy Herbst. He’s the one who originally introduced me to Bright Eyes, so let’s give him a big Chicago Tunes welcome!
It’s been more than a decade since Bright Eyes debut Fevers And Mirrors was unleashed onto a public that was steadily approaching years of George W. Bush, political wars, economic upheaval, Hurricane Katrina, and a mounting sense of danger looming on the not-too-distant horizon.
Conor Oberst was a twenty-year-old singer/songwriter with a flare for the theatrical and a knack for sensitive metaphors that sometimes sounded like they came from his girlfriend’s diary. By the time 2002’s epic Lifted; or The Story Is In the Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground album was released, he was being hailed as indie rock’s newest wonderboy. And while his music and persona was polarizing, no one could deny his songwriting capacity.
Oberst, now thirty, has come of age right along with the rest of us. Those who have been listening to him from the beginning will hear the maturity in his newest album The People’s Key.
There is barely a weak track on the album. “Shell Games” is a poppy rocker. “Haile Selassie” has a lighthearted melody with the unadorned lyrical weight of a Bob Marley tune. “One For You, One For Me” also nods to Rasta music.
Conor has noted Reggae as an influence on this album, and while it is not necessarily noticeable in the music, it is in the lyrics. Now, Rastafarianism may not be for everyone, but the themes of finding acceptance from within and the premise of love, redemption, freedom, and mercy should ring universal. Spirituality is all over the album.
The musical filler is light, but Oberst does characteristically dust the songs with the loopy musings of Randy Brewer, whose spacey narrative about the road to enlightenment somehow acts as wacky adhesive.
Oberst has transitioned from emo-punk hipster to rootsy troubadour to mystical-soothsayer. It’s refreshing to hear from an artist who continues to evolve in unexpected directions, yet still sound like the band you fell in love with way back when. And like Randy Brewer rambles “Love’s always been the message.”
Bright Eyes will be playing a sold out show at Riviera Theatre March 15th.
The People’s Key is available now on iTunes.
Have you ever been to a show, or listened to a song on the radio in the car, and known ten seconds in that you love it? I had something like that happen last night when Patrick Fleming-Tape played the first little bit of the song “Terminal” off of Poison Control Center’s forthcoming LP. It’s a sweet, sad song about being on the road and wanting to come home (I think. It could also be about death). If I can talk him into it I’ll try to feature it here at some point.
The last time I got that feeling was the night we saw Josh Ritter at Vaudeville Mews and he played “The Curse” about a year before the songs official release. Before that it was probably “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” so it doesn’t happen very often.
“Terminal” was the only slow moment of the night for this band of energy-filled indie rockers. The rest of the set was a blistering display of musicianship and physicality. I’m not quite sure what percentage of the show was spent playing in a headstand pose, or down in the crowd playing guitar solos, but it was a good chunk. Poison Control Center doesn’t seem to take a live show lightly, and they won’t let the audience take it lightly, either.
The songs went back and forth between old and new stuff. For every crowdpleaser like “Magic Circle Symphony,” there was a new one of equal quality.
It’s a bit funny to see someone you know, albeit not terribly well, turn on the performing switch and go ballistic for an hour or so. The Patrick Tape-Fleming I know is a very mild-mannered gentleman who is as polite and kind as they come. On stage the man turns into an animal.
The same goes for the rest of the band. From our interview I would say that they have similar personalities to Patrick, and they’re all crazy on stage.
Highlights from the show for me included: the crazy dance party for people not in college, “Magic Circle Symphony,” and the song mentioned above, “Terminal.”
Not fair to pick out highlights from this band, though. The whole show is a highlight reel. Imagine a show where your favorite band plays all your favorite songs, makes a lot of great banter with the audience, and then says thank you a hundred times. Now you’re getting close to a Poison Control Center concert.
They may be from Des Moines, but they’re honorary Chicagoans in my book. Check them out next time they come through. I’m guessing it won’t be too long.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me mention that I’ve known singer/guitarist Patrick Tape-Fleming since 2007. We’ve never hung out, and I never really listened to much Poison Control Center before this past week. He did give me and Kari a discount at a fitness center, but it’s the same price I would have paid if I were 65. And let’s face it, physically I’m in no better shape than most 65 year old men. Sitting down with all four members of the band, you get a real sense of this band being a group of guys that love being around each other and making music together. They’re sense of community in Des Moines is astonishing. The city is lucky to have them, and it’s a loss to Chicago that they’ll never leave. In this interview we discuss switching drummers, Casper and the Cookies, Dave’s hatred of the Beatle’s, and j almost get them to give us a scoop on the 80/35 festival happening 4th of July weekend. Enjoy!
I’m thinking of putting a little Chaperone logo in the corner of every post that I do. Or maybe just having a constant link to their site from ours.
It’s got to the point where I don’t really have anything new to say about their live shows. Everyone knows how I feel about them by now. Last night didn’t deter my feelings about them at all.
I was impressed, however, with their temporary drummer. After two practices he seemed to know what he was doing the majority of the time. Which is a shame. I was hoping for a moment where he made like Tom Everett Scott in That Thing You Do. Just completely change the tempo of a song and drive the lead singer crazy.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead we got a show very similar to the one we went to at The Hideout. Shaun seemed a bit looser on guitar and at the mic, which was nice. Shaylah seemed to be singing in a lower octave at times, which I thought sounded good and changed things up a little.
Their set ended, and I was excited to catch the next band, Jon Drake and The Shakes. I’d heard about them and know several people that like them, so it was nice to finally have a chance to see them.
As the band meandered onto the stage in waves, it was hard to tell if this was one group, or if there was some kind of We Are The World benefit going on. Seriously, this band has like 31 members.
Which means that the soundcheck takes FOREVER! I heard In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in it’s entirety before the band was ready to start. That part was ok for me, actually. I was a bit annoyed that they needed to soundcheck every instrument. Hello, it’s Subterranean, not Chicago Theatre. You can soundcheck all you want, the trombone, trumpet, violin, cello, and mandolin aren’t going to sound quite right. This place was built for speed.
After three songs, we left. They weren’t terrible songs, but not enough to keep me watching, either. There seems to be a lot going on with those 44 people up there, but really, it’s a singer/songwriter with a lot of accompaniment. I thought of two bands when I was listening to these guys: Ryan Adams and the Cardinals and the Dave Matthews Band. Those two things should NEVER be mixed together.
It seems like lately I’ve been running a bit long in my posts, so I’m going to try to keep this brief.
Poison Control Center, if you don’t know, is an indie-pop outfit straight off the mean streets of Iowa. They play a kind of infectious music that makes you want to dance and sing along til your voice is hoarse and your legs give out.
They feature four songwriters, which seems like it would make for unevenness, but it doesn’t in the slightest. Poison Control Center seem to have a Borg-like collective thought process that produces more cohesiveness than a lot of solo acts do.
I’m featuring two tracks here to preview the different sides of the band. Donald Curtis’ “Yellow Images” is a slow starter about forbidden love that explodes with the same intensity of Wilco’s “At Least That’s What You Said.” The guitars blast us into a fuzzy orbit and when we come in for a landing we’re all mentally and emotionally exhausted. Sorry about the link to the song. It’s just a iTunes preview because I couldn’t find it anywhere to embed or YouTube.
“Make Circle Symphony,” written by guitarist/vocalist Patrick Tape-Fleming, is a bizarre sing-a-long that marries some of the best aspects of The Beatles 4-part harmonies at their most jubilant with a dark edge worthy of Six Feet Under (the metal band, not the show).
If you enjoy either song-and I know you will-come out to Schuba’s on Sunday night. Doors at 8. Animal City and T’Bone open.
Band: Smith Westerns Album: Dye It Blonde Release Date: January 18, 2011
I tell ya Chicago, I’ve just about had it with this weather. I’m not talking about SNOWMAGEDDON so much, but the bitter cold and wind is starting to get into my bones. Searching for respite from this feeling, I’ve considered a couple things: Irishing up my hot chocolate was my first idea, but being at work is a hindrance. Next, I thought of just listening to the group Hot Chocolate (that famous britpop group known mostly for their hit, “You Sexy Thing.”) But, if you’ve ever listened to that song more than three times in a row, you know that a full day can not be done.
Smith Westerns play a kind of sunny ’60s pop that puts a smile on your face, regardless of how many annoying people you have to deal with while you’re trying to listen to the album. It’s a mix of lo-fi indie rock and soaring guitar and harmonies that makes me nod like “Yes! Yes! Yes! This rocks!”
If I had to make a comparison, I’d say that Smith Westerns makes me think of Austin’s Spoon and ’60s pop band The Turtles. If those two bands got together, had a few drinks, and then nine months later had a baby together, I believe they would name it Smith Westerns Spoon-The The Turtles.
Dye It Blonde isn’t a perfect album by any means, though. One problem is that the genre it belongs to has become so over saturated that I think I could probably name five or six nationally known bands that have come out of Chicago in the last few years. But, when done right, it can be great. Another problem is that, as mentioned in another review of this record, the band relies too heavily on the guitar work of Max Kakacek.
He’s a great guitar player, don’t get me wrong. And he shines every opportunity he gets. The problem that Max creates is that he’s SO good the rest of the band has a hard time keeping up with him.
Even though there’s nothing groundbreaking about this record, I still love it. It isn’t treading on undiscovered territory or anything, and it doesn’t need to. Dye It Blonde is a truly fun, entertaining listen. I’ve heard the album in its entirety maybe a dozen times in the past week. It has definitely served me well on these cold Chicago days.
Word on the street is that Smith Westerns music is even better when performed live. That is something I highly recommend. Even through the flaws I mentioned, Dye It Blonde is still a record worth owning. If it’s making me feel good now, I can only imagine the power the record holds when the sun is shining on its own.
Smith Westerns hail from right here in Chicago. Its members are: Cullen Omori, Cameron Omori and Max Kakacek
They are currently on tour across the U.S. They will be at The Empty Bottle on Saturday, February 26. Tickets are no longer available for pre-order, but will be available at the door.
It’s impossible for me to write anything about Sunday night’s event without getting at least a little bit political. I’ll keep it brief so as to not offend anyone here that maybe disagrees with my stance (but really, if you don’t agree with my stance on Rahm, you probably don’t agree with my stance on music, either).
I don’t think that I’ve been sanctioned to do this, but Eric can put me on suspension or something if he disagrees. Rahm Emanuel is getting the Chicago Tunes endorsement one way or another. His vision for the city is one that I agree with wholeheartedly. I don’t think the idea of a better, more equal education system is against the wishes of anyone except the ridiculously wealthy white population in Chicago that don’t want their kids in the same classrooms with the poor kids. Lucky for them, their rich, so they can pay for private school. I also find it hard to believe that there is anyone out there who thinks more police on the street, or an extension of the El lines is going to be bad for Chicago.
If you don’t like the guy personally, that’s fine. Everyone knows he can be kind of an asshole. It’s one of the reasons I love him. I also love him for the same reasons I loved Obama in ’08 (and still do today) and the same reasons I love music. I find him very inspiring. He believes in this city more than anything. He thinks Chicago is a great city that should be known as the GREATEST city, and he won’t stop until that is fact. I find it very easy to admire someone who feels that deeply for an idea.
The event itself was a helluva good time. It was freezing outside and we got there a little early. Surprisingly, most people did not arrive early. That meant we were able to stand in the foyer at Park West. Thank god.
Once inside we had an hour to kill before JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound came on, so I spent most of it reading the fake Rahm Emanuel twitter account. If you haven’t read it, you must. Freaking hilarious stuff on there constantly.
The lights eventually dimmed, and out came the Uptown Sound. I always find it funny that so many soul/funk bands are mostly white guys with a black frontman/woman. I don’t know why I find it so funny, but I do.
I’ve never been a huge fan of JC Brooks. There’s something about him that rubs me the wrong way. That said, his band is amazing. They put on a great, very fun show. I think my problem with JC is that he thinks his voice is better than it is. This is never more evident than when he tried to pay tribute to the legend, Otis Redding, by singing “I’ve Been Loving You.” JC is much more suited to do a song like “Respect” or “Security.”
The final thing that bothers me about JC is his dancing. I feel like he’s got James Brown’s soul stuck in Carlton Banks’ body. He has a good time up there, though, so I won’t begrudge him his dancing. And the crowd seems to eat it up, so more power to him.
The first time I heard JC Brooks cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” I threw up a little in my mouth. I saw it on YouTube when a friend told me I needed to check it out. I didn’t talk to that friend for three months after that recommendation. However, at the fundraiser, I found it to be a little better. That was because after the first verse Mr. Jeff Tweedy came out to join JC in singing the song. Hearing Jeff sing the song with some changed up dynamics was interesting, and integrating a little “Theologians” into the tune was a great touch.
After JC finished up, Rahm came out to speak. He was very brief, under 10 minutes. Basically he said this (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Chicago is the greatest city in the world, because it has the greatest people in the world.”
I thought about that for a minute, and it dawned on me that he’s probably correct. I’ve been to enough major cities in my life to get a feeling for a lot of the people that live in the world. For the most part, they are douchebags and jerkoffs that wouldn’t stop to give a man dying of thirst a sip of 4 loko. I get a different feeling in Chicago. It’s a community here, and we are all in this together.
Rahm introduced Jeff Tweedy and Wilco as being Chicago’s gift to the world. On this statement we are in complete agreement once again.
Jeff led off the set with “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” which was, I thought, a very odd choice. On record, the song is a sprawling 10-minute ball of fuzz-guitars and driving bass. He did it justice on his own with just an acoustic guitar.
Then he played a new song that will be featured on the next Wilco record. It was a beautiful song with lyrics like (and I’m paraphrasing again): “I wanna be the one that opens your mind.” I find that to be a gorgeous sentiment, and can’t wait to hear the rest of the new record. It sounds like more of a return to pre-YHF Americana, but the version was just him on a guitar, which kind of makes everything sound that way.
Without smiling too much, Jeff Tweedy comes off affable on stage. He seems to talk more now than he did when we first saw Wilco. He had a lot of funny banter with the audience, especially a couple of hilarious moments when he asked if there were any requests. People were yelling tunes out that would be impossible for him to play acoustically by himself, which led to Jeff saying, “You guys keep yelling stuff, I’m just gonna play what’s on my list.”
There was a aborted version of “Late Greats” where Jeff couldn’t get the piano part quite right on his guitar. He played a different song, and then afterward someone shouted “Late Greats.” He played an abbreviated version of the song, but got the ending right and described it as a lesson for the kids in the audience to stick with it, even when you fail.
Other tunes he played included: “Walken,” “Hummingbird,” “New Madrid,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and “I’m The Man Who Loves You,” which he dedicated to his wife in a very sweet and funny moment where he referred to her as the Executive Branch of their family, and the Judicial Branch.
This fundraiser was a great party. I can’t wait to see what kind of event Rahm puts together for the inaugural gala after he wins the election in a few weeks.
To donate money or volunteer for Rahm’s campaign, head over to his website.
Wilco’s new album, still untitled, is supposedly coming in late 2011 on their new label, dBpm.
Band: Birthmark Album: Shaking Hands Release Date: November 30, 2010
When I opened up the webpage for Birthmark and saw the name Nate Kinsella, I thought to myself, “Where have I heard that name before?” It didn’t take long (thank you, Google) to realize that I recognized the name from at least a couple other bands. Namely, Joan of Arc, Make Believe and Decembers Architects. Nate Kinsella is a multi-instrumentalist who seems to be a hired gun, of sorts. His talent is undeniable, and bands should be happy that he doesn’t just work on his own all the time.
And audiences should be happy, too. While his solo albums under the moniker Birthmark are by no means bad records, they lack a certain amount of consistency and editing that I think a band might have been able to provide.
Shaking Hands is a puzzle of an album. The pieces are made of songs written over a three-year period. In a small blurb about the album, Nate says that he chose the songs for their differences more than their similarities. I think that’s part of the problem. The songs aren’t SO different from one another, more like demo versions and alternate takes of the same song over and over.
There are some highlights, though. The opener, “Socializing,” has a nice rich sound to it, and the way it leads into track two, “Fossil Record,” is impressive. Nate’s voice on these two tracks, maybe not so much the rest of the album, is very reminiscent of Thom Yorke to me.
In fact, a lot of the record reminds me of Radiohead on the whole. It could just be the way that I’m listening to it, but there is a lot going on most of the time, and the production screams Kid A. If that was what he wanted for the album, mark it a great success.
There is a great deal of attention to the soundscapes of Shaking Hands. Each song has a sweeping, almost cinematic quality to it that adds a nice texture to Nate’s breathy vocals. It’s probably the album’s best quality, but also a curse. Background noises are great, and they certainly help to make a good album, but when they outshine every other aspect of a song, it’s hard to imagine that it’s being used as anything but a crutch.
But like I said, this isn’t a bad album. Musically it’s actually kind of brilliant. The only real problem I have with the record is that lyrically it can’t match the power of the music. So for me, I say check this out if you like the stuff he does with other bands. I don’t think it’s quite as good as Joan of Arc or Make Believe, but nobody’s perfect.
▪ Birthmark is the solo project of Chicago-based musician-composer Nate Kinsella.
▪ Birthmark just finished up a European tour.
▪ Shaking Hands can be purchased for $8 on Bandcamp (or, streamed for free!)
Band: Mutts Album: The Tells of Parallels EP Release Date: October 1, 2010
A week ago, I had no idea who this band was. I may still be in the dark a bit. This EP may or may not be a great representation of what the band aspires to sound like. Without seeing a band live, it’s hard to judge sometimes. The following is a description of how I felt about the five tracks populating this particular disc (or mp3 download).
Having never heard Mutts music before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. So when the first track, “Terranaut,” came on I was pleasantly surprised to hear a voice alone speaking. Very reminiscent of “At the Bottom of Everything” off Bright Eyes album I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.
The track quickly morphs into something completely different. At first I thought the album was gonna be alt-country based on the first couple bars. Good lord I was WAY off. Mutts owe as much of their sound to bands like Metallica or Pantera as they do to Johnny Cash. But even that comparison only lasts one song.
When discussing a band name, I think these guys really hit the nail on the head. You can pick out a lot of sounds on the record and point to other bands, but Mutts isn’t copying anyone. Just paying homage as most good bands when they’re paying their dues.
I’m going to skip track 2, “Symmetry.” Not because it’s bad, but because I find the next three tracks way more interesting.
For me, the EP really kicks into full gear on the third track, “Gone.” It’s kind of a Black Keys-type blues riff that I think I could honestly see Q101 playing around the clock (as they do with the real Black Keys currently). There’s a lot of screaming on this one. I imagine at a show this is the loudest song from the EP. Loud isn’t something I usually use to describe music that I enjoy, but it works well for this particular song.
Track 4 is “Masquerade.” This is easily my favorite song on the release. The lyrics are a bit funny, but not in a way that makes you laugh out loud. They come off as a bit of a revenge songs lyrics. Maybe this is what Taylor Swift would sound like if she paired up with Karen O. Lots of great keys on this one. I could see jamming out to this in my car (if I had one) driving down LSD in the summer. Maniacal laughter once again at the end of “Masquerade.” I don’t really understand why it keeps popping up, but it doesn’t hurt anything.
EP closer “Junior” has a lot of good lyrics and wordplay. It’s an anti-corporate tirade that also touches on relationship issues between fathers and sons, as well as a jab at the educational system in America.
Overall, I’d give The Tells of Parallels a pretty decent grade. It definitely makes you pay attention to everything going on beneath the surface, but it doesn’t punish you if surface is all you’re looking for. I’ve decided that the band Mutts reminds me of most is Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, specifically the Now I Got Worry period.
I haven’t heard either of Mutts other releases, so I can’t speak to them, but I think with a little work on consistency of tone, they might be capable of putting together a really strong full-length release. I’d love to see these guys live some night. What they might lack in consistency, they more than make up for with balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm.
Mutts is a trio local to Chicago comprised of: Mike Maimone (keys/vocals), Bob Buckstaff (bass) and Chris Faller (drums).
Catch Mutts at Bottom Lounge on Friday. Admission is free before 1o p.m.
Band: The Decemberists Album: The King Is Dead Release Date: January 18, 2011
It needs to be stated first, before you read any further, that I am an unapologetic lover of The Decemberists. More specifically, Colin Meloy can do pretty much no wrong in my book. So, if you disagree with my thoughts on this particular album — know that I am blinded by my admiration for this group, so I have nothing ill to say about them.
Now, this all started a few years ago. I was driving around by the west side Hy-Vee in Ames, listening to KURE, per usual, when I heard the song “July, July!” for the first time. I loved it instantly, and I went home and downloaded a few songs by this new band that I had just heard. That download session included Castaways and Cutouts, Picaresque and “The Tain” — a five-part song that clocks in just under 19 minutes. I was blown away by most of the songs, and let down by a few. For the most part, though, I thought I had found a new band that I could enjoy for a long time.
That thought was fortified with their last two albums, both of which were in my Top 10 lists the year of their respective releases. The Crane Wife was a beautiful record retelling, partly, and old Japanese folk tale. Songs like “Shankhill Butchers” and “O Valencia!” had me spinning that one constantly. Then, the last Decemberists record, Hazards of Love, came out. A huge, sprawling rock opera that has twists and turns unforeseen and an amazing narrative all its own. We saw the album performed in its entirety at Lollapalooza 2009, and the performance only added to my respect and awe for the band.
If it were me, I would have been resting on those huge laurels for a while. I mean like Dr. Dre-type resting. Maybe wait a decade before I put out anything else — let the myth grow. The Decemberists, however, do not feel that way. They either lack the laziness gene that is ever dominating my lifestyle, or they have so much love for creating music, they just couldn’t wait.
And I am so, so glad they didn’t put off releasing The King Is Dead. It is certainly a departure from the music they’ve been making lately. Call it country, or Americana, or even bluegrass — I call it, simply, Traditional. Much like a lot of bands currently, there is an underlying feeling of hillsongs, or Appalachian music that runs throughout the album.
The album wastes no time creating the atmosphere The Decemberists are going after. “Don’t Carry It All” starts off with a drum and a harmonica, with jangly guitar and a foot-stompin’ groove. When Colin Meloy joins in with his voice, you’re instantly taken away to a cabin in the woods, gathered with your friends and family around a campfire singing and carrying on like they did in the good old days (when things weren’t really that good-like no indoor plumbing).
The absolute high point for the album comes about track five, “Rox in the Box.” When I saw the title, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the old Dylan tune, “On the Road Again” (Frogs inside my socks — anyone else think of this when they saw that title?). Well, this tune is not anything like Dylan’s. Built a little like a chain gang ballad, the song is a sing-a-long in the darkest sense. “Rox in the Box” also contains what is easily my favorite lyric of the record:
“Of dirt you’re made, and to dirt you will return/So while you’re livin’ here, let’s get to settle one thing clear/there’s plenty of men to die, don’t jump your turn”
The rest of the record plays out like a gorgeous combination of Woody Guthrie and James Taylor-heart-wrenching, deep, contemplative lyrics, mixed with a sweetness and silky smooth vocals by Meloy that have been absent from anything else he’s done.
When we finally get to the lead single, “Down by the Water,” the song takes on a completely new feel. Away from the rest of the album, the song plays like a cheap R.E.M. cover tune, but when it’s heard in the context of the album, it fits in perfectly. Nowhere near my favorite song from The King Is Dead, I think it probably is the one with the widest appeal. Most people hear the R.E.M. right away, but I’d also say there’s some John Cougar Mellencamp in there as well.
The Decemberists spend a lot of time playing music. When they’re not playing together, they’re joining other artists. That dedication and love of what they do shines through on every track from The King Is Dead. I almost feel bad that I didn’t wait until its release date to hear it. Now that I have, I feel like I should go back and revise my Top Ten List for 2010, but that would be cheating.
The King Is Dead is a lot of fun. Much more than the last two Decemberists records. I think it’s a step in the right direction for them to take a break from some of the heavier material they’ve been dealing with the last few years. I can’t wait to see this album performed live. I HIGHLY recommend picking up this release. You may just want to start your own jug band after listening a couple times.
The Decemberists hail from Portland, Oregon. The band is comprised of: Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query and John Moen. Peter Buck (of R.E.M.) is featured on three songs.
The single “Down By The Water” is available for download from their website.
In a past Chicago Tunes post, I made very clear my love for certain musical/entertainment-type people. Justin Timberlake, Stuart Murdoch, NPH all get mentioned in my bizarre man-crush admission. In an even more recent article, I mentioned that I believe Colin Meloy is infallible. Now, let’s say I’m walking down the street and there was a fire in which all of these individuals were trapped. And then, out of the corner of my eye I see Michael Cera sitting alone at a coffee shop enjoying whatever beverage it is he enjoys. Well, sorry to say it, but the local news would have a field day as they explained that some of our greatest entertainers perished while the only person who could have saved them ran across the street to ask Michael Cera if the “Arrested Development” movie is happening.
So you see, buying tickets to see a band where Michael Cera plays bass wasn’t just some spur of the moment purchase, it was a need (and when you need something, that’s a responsibility).
I wasn’t sure to expect from the band Mister Heavenly, having never heard them at all, but looking at the pedigree it’s hard for me to think anything but great thoughts: Nick Diamonds, frontman of Islands (Unicorns), Joe Plummer, drummer of Modest Mouse, Honus Honus of Man Man, and Michael Cera (for this tour) who briefly played with Dr Funke’s 100% Natural Good Time Family Band Solution.
We got to Lincoln Hall pretty late, around 11:15 or so. Screaming Females had a couple songs left that made me wish we had left a little earlier, but that’s OK. Now I know for next time, if Screaming Females are playing, be sure to catch the whole thing.
Mister Heavenly started playing just before midnight, and went for about an hour. It took all of about five seconds before the fact that Cera playing bass became secondary to watching a great band perform some really strong songs (“Reggae Pie,” anyone?).
If you’re looking for a particular sound, Mister Heavenly bridge a lot of genres. Nick Diamonds’ Islands seems to be the most prevalent of the bands influences. A bit more rock ‘n’ roll then Islands’ amazing version of indie-pop, maybe. I’d also say they bring in a bit of the sound of the Sex Bob-ombs from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, though that may be my minds projections.
Overall, I thought they were awesome. The Mister Heavenly album has creeped up from not having any idea who these guys are, to one of my most anticipated listens of 2011. I also noticed looking at my schedule that I have a whole bunch of shows lined up at Lincoln Hall, and I couldn’t be happier about that. It’s a great place to catch a show. One last note: This show was part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival put on by Schubas, Lincoln Hall and, this year, Metro. It’s a great thing, this festival. A nice way to get a lot of great bands in Chicago during a downtime for big touring acts. So a huge thank you to everyone involved.
Happy new year, Chicago! It’s been a nice little break for me from the written word, but it’s time to get back on the horse and let you know my thoughts (whether you care or not) about the musical performance I saw with my eyes and heard with my ears. I’ll also tell you about the cookies I tasted with my mouth and smelled with my nose. Did I get to all five yet? No. I’m sure I touched something… Ah, yes. The camera, which I used to record “Waltzing Topside” and “Witches & Sailors.”
Now, before I get started, I know what you’re thinking. “Jesus Christ, is this guy really gonna talk about Chaperone again? I just read about them in the RedEye and the Reader. Now I have to read about them here, too?”
Yes. Here’s the deal Chicago: I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something in Chaperone’s music that speaks to me like no other Chicago act right now. Music is a personal thing, so I understand if you feel differently, and I feel the need to speak out.
I’ve taken the band on as my cause, whether the band likes it or not. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, it’s hard for me to get excited about things. So, when I do find something that brings out the geek in me, I want to inject whatever that thing is into the zeitgeist. So forgive me, Chicago. I will not rest until Chaperone is the second biggest band in the city (Wilco will of course remain number one in all of our hearts).
Friday night at The Hideout, I was welcomed at the door by an interesting fellow. He said that I was on the list, but that Kari was not. An easy oversight to make, so I asked him to check again. As it turned out, Thom couldn’t get both of us on the list because The Hideout only gave them a few spots. Not a huge deal to me, really, except I didn’t have any cash on me, so I had to go to the ATM (which cost me at least $2.50!) Kari was about ready to go ape on the dude, though. So, sorry Hideout. You probably lost a customer for good on that one. Enjoy your eight dollars.
Anyway, after that debacle I talked to Thom for a few minutes, met his lady friend, who seemed nice, and then went to check out Ami Saraiya and The Outcome.
If I had to sum up this band in a word, it would be “whimsy.” Luckily, I don’t have to do that, but if you want to skip ahead to section seven of this report, that’s the Cliffs Notes version.
Ami Saraiya has a unique voice. When I listened to her songs on MySpace, I thought she had a certain Norah Jones quality to her. On stage, that doesn’t come through as much. In fact, if there had been a harp up there, I would have assumed I was at a Joanna Newsom concert. Some folks think that’s a way of saying it was bad, but I rather enjoy Joanna Newsom’s interesting voice.
What I didn’t like about the show The Outcome put on was that they came across, to me, as trying a bit too hard. They were having fun, that’s for sure. But there was a vibe coming through that told me something was amiss here.
The Outcome featured a new guitar player for the night. In his moment to shine, he lit up the stage with a great solo. I wish I could tell you the name of the song that was in, but I can’t. Ami said it, but I don’t remember.
The reason I don’t remember is that at the time, I was enjoying one of Miles’ delicious Lemon Poppyseed cookies with an almond glaze. It was unbelievable. If nothing else, people should be going to these shows for the ridiculous cookies. There were other kinds, too, but I couldn’t eat one after that little piece of Heaven.
Back to Ami Saraiya for a second. The band seems to be pretty good. Lots of instrument changes. Some accordion on stage, which is never a bad thing. Actually, the comparison I had stuck in my head the most was with Beirut. The band isn’t as big but there are elements that were similar to me. So, if you like Beirut, maybe give them a look.
Ah, the main event. Like a great piece of prime rib following a delicious appetizer and salad, Chaperone took to the stage to deliver the hearty piece of the meal that was this particular show (both figuratively and literally if you take the cookies into account).
It’s great to see a band so in tune with one another that they can come off as effortless on stage. Even when something goes wrong up there, like a guitar string breaking, they just roll with it and move on.
A lot of the songs played at this show are not on the Cripple King EP that they released last year. No surprise, really, since that only has five songs on it. Since I haven’t heard most of the songs, except for at SubT way back in October, it was nice to pick up on some things that I hadn’t noticed before.
Example: Miles is as crazy a bassist as he is an amazing cookie baker. His high energy play and hopping around the stage add a bit of fun and excitement to what is already a stellar live act.
Another bit that you pick in the live show is how passionate a singer Shaun Paul is. When you hear the recorded version, you can tell that a lot of emotion and thought went into the songs, both lyrically and musically, but seeing the songs performed live; hearing every scream and whisper like he’s talking to each member individually. Well, you really need to check it out for yourself. In particular, the song “Jungle Warrior,” which I didn’t get on video and now I’ll have to wait until the next time I see them to hear it again (unless someone from the band has a recorded version they would send me — you have my email address).
Here I’m going to make a statement that some will find shocking, and justifiably so. Mark Sheridan is the Keith Richards of Chaperone. And I don’t mean that he hates Shaun Paul and is only there to make money. I find it very amusing watching Mark perform. Ninety percent of the time he has his eyes closed. About the same amount of the time he seems like he isn’t doing anything. But, if you remove him from the equation, the sounds don’t add up. I’m sure the people in Chaperone realize this and have told him as much. If not, maybe they will hide this article from him and continue to use him as a whipping post.
So, Chicago, whaddya think? Are you with me on this one, or do I have to go it alone? I’m completely willing to carry the weight alone, but I’d rather not. Tell a friend. Tell two friends if you have more than one. And, after you tell him/her/them, invite them to accompany you to Subterranean on February 11, where you will find not only Chaperone, but also Jon Drake (and possibly The Shakes, but I’m not sure), Rachele Eve and Julie Meckler. If you’re nervous about inviting them, make it a group outing so you won’t be alone, it will be more comfortable, and more people will get to enjoy Chaperone, so it will make me happy.
Chaperone is a local Chicago band made up by the following members: Shaun Paul (guitar/vocals), Miles Doornboos (bass/vocals), Shayla Kloska (percussion/vocals), Thomas Des Enfants (drums) and Mark Sheridan (keys/guitar)
Cripple King is available on iTunes for a steal at $4.95.
No real intro for this one, kids. It makes me sad to think about it for too long…
10. The rise of Nicky Minaj Now, when I first heard her on the Drake album, I thought it was fine. Needed a female rapper and Da Brat was busy. But then she started popping up everywhere. I couldn’t turn around without hearing a track that was featuring Nicky Minaj. And now she has her solo album, Pink Friday. I had assumed that since Jennifer Lopez fell out of the spotlight a bit, America’s obsession with semi-talented musicians with larger than normal posteriors was over, but I guess I was wrong. Also, Nicky thinks she’s the Baddest Bitch when we all know — and have for years — that Trina is the Baddest Bitch!
9. The National riding their laurels to accolades Is it just me, or do other people think that High Violet is a lesser album than Boxer? I mean, Boxer is a really strong album, so I was surprised when High Violet came out and was getting ridiculous reviews. Does this mean that The National are the new Spoon? Where every album they put out, regardless of quality, automatically gets an 80 or higher? A lot of the songs on High Violet got played when we saw them last year at First Ave in Minneapolis, and the concert was terrible, save for one bright shining moment at the end when they played “Mr. November.” How many people here REALLY love the new album by The National? I’m guessing not many.
8. The Passion Pit concert in DeKalb Obviously NIU is not a party school. I’ve never seen a more morose crowd at a concert that should have been a really good time. After really good sets by K Slay and Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, all the energy seemed to escape through the ceiling. Maybe it’s because the security guards were acting as camera Nazis and confiscating people’s stuff. Or maybe it was just that the concert didn’t sound that great. With the exception of “Sleepyhead” and “The Reeling,” I don’t think anyone was even excited to be there. People just bobbed their heads like we were at a James Taylor show when they should have been jumping up and down and shaking their tailfeathers (a dated term? I’m not sure, but I think Nelly still uses it, so I will too).
7. Having to endure 45 minutes of Best Coast Chicago, do you ever get that feeling where something might happen, and you get super excited with the anticipation and such? Well, that happened to me when the cops appeared on stage before Best Coast took the stage. I thought, “My God… is it possible that they got caught with drugs or something, and won’t be able to take the stage?” It was one of those moments when you are just truly and simply happy. And then that feeling was stolen from me when it was announced that next up will be Best Coast! Now, lots of people like Best Coast, and that’s fine. I’m not here to judge you (but, seriously, what’s wrong with you?) Lots of people like the Dave Matthews Band, too. And I haven’t murdered any of them yet. There’s just something about Beth Cosentino that I can NOT stand. The guy in the band, whose name I don’t know, was actually pretty good. A decent voice and a serviceable guitar player. If you love songs about cats and ex-boyfriends, by all means run out and get a copy of Crazy For You… if not, avoid at all costs.
6. Band of Horses at the Riviera Theatre Having seen Band of Horses three times in the previous 12 months or so, there’s a certain degree of expectation. You kind of know what songs they will play. Sometimes you even know that if they play this one here, they’ll play this next. And that’s fine. Their music is good, so I don’t mind hearing the same songs every time. What I DO mind, is the complete lack of energy and fun coming from the stage. If you guys aren’t having fun, how is the audience supposed to? I was also a bit irked about the audience at this show, as I made it quite clear in my review. I won’t link to that here, becuase I come off as a bit of a grinch, and it’s Christmas time now. Seriously, though. If you’ve ever been to a show by one of your favorite bands, only to be completely disappointed, I feel your pain. And it sucks.
5. Brandon Flowers’ solo album Flamingo is kind of a silly, hopefully a one-off solo effort by the lead singer of The Killers. Other guys from bands that I have an intense love for have gone off and done this. Most notably was Julian Casablancas’ record Phrazes For The Young, which I actually liked quite a bit. Flowers attempt here is terribly miscalculated. He seems to be at once staying true to The Killers formula, and also trying to distance himself from the band. It’s a confusing listen. He wears his Springsteen influence on his sleeve, though, which I think helps this record. Unfortunately, Springsteen is an amazingly talented songwriter, and my favorite Killers song is a cover of Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet.”
4. The Thermals Both on record and on stage, The Thermals let me down at every turn. Personal Life, their newest release, lacks any of the power or message of their previous works. On stage they seemed to be a bit aloof about the fact that there were people who paid money to see them play. I give credit to their drummer, who was taking every possible break in his duties on the set to try to get the crowd pumped up. His efforts were wasted on us, though. If they wanted to pump up the crowd, they should have just played “Pillar of Salt” over and over again for 90 minutes. That song and “Returning to the Fold” were the only times the energy in the room went up instead of down.
3. No new Wilco album in 2010 Trying to get over another disappointment, 2009′s Wilco (The Album), has not been easy. Having to wait until sometime in 2011 for the next release doesn’t make it easier. I understand Jeff went off to make Mavis Staples famous again (and it is a really good record), but The Autumn Defense putting out a release doesn’t make up for anything. I need me some Wilco, dammit!
2. Reggie’s Music Joint The idea for this list was inspired by our trip down to Reggie’s last weekend. What an embarrassment. I didn’t even mention in my review that I could hear the band playing next door through the walls — OVER the musicians on stage. I know that one of the points of Chicago Tunes is to support the local music scene and not speak ill of people or institutions (one of the golden rules, I think), but I seriously wonder if the Chicago music scene wouldn’t be better off without this place. But then, where would those aging hipsters go to get their groove on? Well, they’d end up in establishments that I like to go to, so I say we keep Reggie’s around. If nothing else, you can always say, “Well, at least we aren’t at Reggie’s.” Or maybe we could start a Sally Struthers-type fund where everyone donates 60 cents a day and then at the end Reggie’s could put some insulation in the walls, and then extend the concert area a bit so more than 30 people can fit back there without having 600 people knock into each other for a couple hours.
1. Kanye West — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye has gone off the tracks so many times, that it isn’t really news anymore. His new album is a lot about Kanye, and little else. His music has taken a turn toward Synecdoche, NY territory. The guy has gone so far into his own head, that I doubt he knows the way out right now. And I can get over that part of it. Hell, I love Tom Cruise as an actor. I don’t care that he’s completely insane. What makes it even worse is that Kanye had me. He HAD me. The opening track is so good. I defy anyone to not like it. Big soaring hooks, good wordplay, excellent flow. Then the problems start. First of all, how many guest artists do you need? And not just the number of guests, but the quality. Normally you bring someone in to help out on a track, but here Kanye gets outshone by EVERY single one of his guests. Even the lowly Nicky Minaj is able to out-MC Chicago’s supposed answer to Jay-Z on “Monster.” The only thing that Kanye really accomplished with this record is that I now hate Bon Iver even more than I did before. Maybe for his next album he can get Fleet Foxes to do something so I can become infuriated to the point I’ll need one of those shots that Dexter gives to his victims just to bring me back to normal.
There it is, Chicago. My New Year’s Resolution is to bitch less. So hopefully next year this list won’t be necessary. But, it was fun to write, so I may do it anyway.
So much great stuff going on in Chicago this year that it was actually harder for me to make this list than my normal Top Ten. A good sign for the Chicago music scene and for fans around the world.
I don’t have a lot to say before we jump in except a big thank you to all the great artists who have allowed us to be a part of their worlds, both through meeting or talking with us and sharing their great ideas and feelings through music.
10. Unicycle Loves You — Mirror, Mirror (review) After writing my review, I felt like it may have sounded a bit harsh. The fact is, I dug the album quite a bit. There’s always a lot going on when you listen to Mirror, Mirror. Enough that it requires a second and third listen before you can really say you’ve HEARD it. These guys are partnered up with Girlie Action Media, same as Free Energy out of Philly, so I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more from then in the future.
9. California Wives -- Affair EP (review) These guys are great. Not just from a musical perspective, either. Talking to them after the Apple Store show, I got a really good feeling from them. When Kari and I ran into Jayson later that night at the Secret Colours show, he stood and talked to us for another 20 minutes or so. Very sweet chap. The music on Affair EP is cool percussion-driven synth pop that gets stuck in your head in the best way. They’ve had some success with “Blood Red Youth” and “Purple,” so I think it’s safe to say that when they put out a full-length, it will be worth the wait.
8. The Autumn Defense — Once Around What do you do when there’s no Wilco album coming in 2010? Well, you wait for the next release from John Stirrat and Pat Sansone’s side project, The Autumn Defense. Full of ’70s-era AM radio sensibilities and soft, sweet vocals, it’s hard to complain too much that Jeff Tweedy needed a break to work with Mavis Staples. These guys don’t write tunes as deep or as interesting as the stuff they work on in Wilco, but they’re great musicians, and I think they get better every time out.
7. Welcome To Ashley — Beyond the Pale (review) Coley Kennedy gave a tour de force performance when I caught these guys at The Empty Bottle a few months ago. They played a lot of tunes that were not on this release, which I was perfectly fine with. But the songs on Beyond the Pale seem to be a bit richer both musically and lyrically than their previous work. Specifically the tracks “Thursday” and “What A Day It Was For Dying.”
6. Buddy Guy — Living Proof The absolute personification of Chicago blues. If you’ve never listened to Buddy Guy, I don’t even want to look at you. The man has influenced bands like The Rolling Stones and Cream, as well as played with some of the true legends of the genre. Hendrix . Yes. BB King. Yes. Howlin’ Wolf. Yes. Muddy Watters. Yes. Hell, the dude has played with EVERYONE and blown them all out of the water. He has a duet with BB on this one that is nearly as good as his albums with Junior Wells, which is saying quite a bit.
5. The Congregation — Not For Sleepin’ EP (review) Coming out just slightly above the old school jams of Mr. Buddy Guy is the newest addition to the Chicago blues family, The Congregation. I reviewed this record just a couple weeks ago, and I don’t have much to add. If you like the blues, or, more specifically, Rhythm and Blues, give this a shot. Gina Bloom’s voice is as powerful as it is soulful, and the band backing her up is dynamite.
4. Remaindermen — Border States (review) This record will always have a warm spot in my heart. The first real gig that I got offered to write was a surprise to me in that it was actually really good. Like, really good. My favorite track is still, and forever will be, “Prey on You.” “Tides In” and “Miami St” are also really good tracks. I was impressed mostly with the fact that these guys started out as an instrumental group, and added vocals much later. It seems like it would be very difficult to change the whole process from one to the other, but according to them, it wasn’t. Hard not to take their word for it based on the quality. Really good stuff.
3. Joe Pug — The Messenger I’ve been a big supporter of Pug for a couple of years. I love his two EPs and always have a good time at his shows. The Messenger is a great example of songwriting skill and honest displays of views and feelings. WXRT regularly plays the closing track, “Speak Plainly, Diana” on their station, so Joe definitely has a good amount of Chicago exposure working for him, but I’m guessing some of you still haven’t checked out this album. Do so and be rewarded.
2. Volcanoes Make Islands — Sick City EP (review) I’m not entirely sure what it is about this release that makes me love it so much. It’s only four tracks, but each one is better than the next. I really dig the vocal work on the song “Granola,” which closes the EP. The whole thing had a kind of Radiohead-but-not vibe. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I definitely recommend checking Volcanoes Make Islands out whenever you get a chance.
1. Chaperone! — Cripple King EP (review) I listened to this record innumerable times. Sitting at the computer, riding the train or bus, walking around; it’s great for all forms of travel. It’s also great live, as their show at Subterranean proved. I’ve missed their last two shows here in town due to work, and I really had to consider whether I would rather have a job or go see another Chaperone! show. The job thing won out, but it was close. The album has a slight Appalachian feel, which apparently no one picks up on but me, which is fine, but it’s one of the aspects I love most about it. The song “Thomas!” is easily the most recognizable song to Chicagoans, but my personal favorite is still “Witches and Sailors.” I could listen to it all day long. But they’re all good, which is why this record is at the top of my list. It’s only 13 minutes long, but damn it’s a great 13 minutes!
Now, obviously there was a lot of music I didn’t hear this year. If you think I missed something, feel free to send me a copy. Or, if you have very strong feelings about how terribly misinformed my list is, feel free to flame me in the comments.
This has been a very good year for music. Not a great year. That only happens once in a while. The best I hope for in a year is average, so a good year is a very welcome gift from the artists who provided us with such joy.
I’ve had anywhere from 15-25 albums that have been at or near the top 5 for the year at any given time. Lots of good re-issues and live discs, some great stuff from artists who have been out of the spotlight for a while (Mavis Staples), and some really strong work from some new bands (The Joy Formidable) and bands new to me (Bombay Bicycle Club).
However, for the purposes of this blog, there can be only 10. Therefore, none of the above mentioned artists made the cut for this year. Also, my apologies to Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, who once again came JUST short. Better luck in 2011, girls.
Let’s get started, shall we…
10. Stars – The Five Ghosts A combination of a lot of great things. A little bit Belle & Sebastian, a little bit The Cure, Stars follow-up to In Our Bedroom After the War is an interesting listen. Deep enough to go back to over and over, but light enough to be considered a great driving around record. Great harmony work by the vocalists and a lot of interesting choices to make the background music synthy and dreamlike, but recognizable to all of us.
9. Los Campesinos! — Romance is Boring I wasn’t a huge fan of We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, but there was some good stuff on that disc. This time out, Los Campesinos! put together 15 tracks that you can listen to straight through for a whole day and never tire of. My favorite two tracks, “The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” and “This Is A Flag. There Is No Wind,” show up back to back very late in the record, and have completely different styles. One is a heartbreaking ballad, the other an arena-rock anthem reminiscent of a Kaiser Chiefs tune like “Nananana.”
8. The Tallest Man On Earth — The Wild Hunt The Swedish Bob Dylan, as he is known around the world (insofar as the world encompasses only the three feet around me at any given time) Kristian Matsson actually put out two releases this year. His EP, Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird, is also very good. The Wild Hunt has a lot of great tracks, the best of which is “King of Spain,” in which he not only pays tribute to Dylan with the line, “I wear my boots of Spanish leather,” but also paints a vibrant picture for the listener of stolen love and the quest for freedom. Truly one of the best singer-songwriters that I know of, and the best (and only) that I can speak to that lives in country where English isn’t an official language.
7. Broken Social Scene — Forgiveness Rock Record These guys have been doing it long enough that I don’t really need to write anything here. You know who they are. Thinking about Broken Social Scene, I’m reminded of the “Don’t Fear The Reaper” Behind the Music skit on SNL. Broken Social Scene would be Christopher Walken playing Bruce Dickinson, saying, “I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else. The only difference is, when I put my pants on, I make gold records.” If Broken Social Scene ever really said that, I would probably sue them for stealing my idea, and then force them to add me to their roster of musicians. I think I’d be number 26 or something. Maybe we could just join forces with Polyphonic Spree and form a super-super group 80 members strong. Ok, this is getting a bit away from where I was initially headed. Lead track “World Sick” is one of my favorite songs of the year, and Forgiveness Rock Record is definitely not lacking in great songs. “Texico Bitches,” “Meet Me In the Basement,” and “All to All” are all fantastic tracks.
6. Avi Buffalo — Avi Buffalo (review) I’ve already reviewed this album for the site, but let me reiterate a couple things. Avi Buffalo’s music reminds me a lot of Wilco. If you’ve read any of my articles where I casually throw Wilco’s name in for no reason, you can probably tell I’m a fan. So sounding a little like them is never a bad thing. Another thing I’d like to point out is how amazingly talented a guitar player Avi is. I mentioned that it gets kind of lost on the album, but live the dude is electric! This record is deeply personal and intimate. Avi bares his soul for the listener, and in return, he has my great admiration. To be able to write and perform so well at such a young age is a testament to the talent of Avi and the rest of the band.
5. Josh Ritter — So Runs the World Away (review) So, here’s the thing… if Josh Ritter puts out an album, it’s gonna be in my top 10. If he puts out 10 records in a year, other bands are just out of luck. Now, this album isn’t as strong as his previous one, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. However, in one song, this album went from just another very good album from one of America’s best songwriters, to a must-own for anyone who even has a passing interest in music. “The Curse” is far and away the best song of 2010. It was the best song I heard in all of 2009, as well (he played it live when we saw him in Des Moines). If he plays it when we see him in February at The Vic, it’ll probably be the best song of 2011 also. Seriously, it is that good! The best part of the album, though, is that it doesn’t stop there. “Lantern,” “Southern Pacifica” and “Rattling Locks” are also on this record. An embarrassment of riches, to be sure. Do yourself a favor and pick this up if you haven’t.
4. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan — Hawk (review) I had a lot of good things to say about this album when I reviewed it, and none of those feelings have changed. I still think the combination of these two voices is one of the best of all time, and they are easily the tops when it comes to man-woman singing teams. Throw in some support from folk singer Willy Mason, and you’ve got a recipe for success. The song “Come Undone” is still my favorite from this album, but a lot of other tracks deserve a few spins. If you’re a fan of Belle & Sebastian or Queens of the Stone Age (could those BE any different), I think you’ll enjoy this one.
3. Of Montreal — False Priest I had this one down at seven or eight for the longest time. There was something about it that I loved, but couldn’t quite grasp. Like when you see a great movie, but you don’t feel like you really understood it (Inception?) Then one day I was standing on the corner of Broadway and Irving Park, waiting for the 36, and “Our Riotous Defects” came on. I immediately texted a friend that Kevin Barnes is a genius. I could listen to that song on a loop for a month, probably. The mixture of Barnes and Janelle Monae is also a welcome surprise. I wasn’t the biggest fan of The ArchAndroid, but I love her work here. When they played together at Riviera Theatre here in Chicago, I wanted to go a little bit, but not enough to actually go. Now that the album has had a chance to grow on me, I regret it highly. This may sound crazy, but I think Of Montreal would be a great opener for Prince when he comes to town sometime next year. This album is absolutely funky enough to go on with the Purple One.
2. Titus Andronicus — The Monitor (review) Back in March or April, I told a friend of mine that this record would be at the top of my list come December. Looks like I was just a bit off, but this is another one that I could just live with forever. It’s dark, it’s deep, and it’s honest. I like every track, which doesn’t happen much these days. My favorites are “A More Perfect Union,” with its Abe Lincoln quotes and Springsteen tributes, and “To Old Friends and New,” which they claim they don’t do very often live, but they played it both times I saw them this year. The Monitor is a truly great record that you shouldn’t deprive yourself of. And when they come back to town, make sure you get to their show, because they are a presence to behold on stage.
1. Otis Redding — Live on the Sunset Strip This may come out of left field a bit, but any real music lover knows that this release was ridiculous in both quality and quantity. Taken from recordings of three nights, on which Otis played two or three sets a night, Live on the Sunset Strip is a great example of one of the greatest singers/performers of all-time. On this record we get Otis performing his hits “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “Chained and Bound,” and “These Arms of Mine,” as well as covers of “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles, “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones, and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” by James Brown. And he outdoes all of the bands he covers. It is truly an amazing collection of songs, though maybe a bit much for the non-Otis fan. But, if you love Otis Redding, or just heard a couple songs and want to know more about him, check out this set. It’s three discs, so you’ll never run out of Otis. If you’re in a bad mood, throw on his version of “Satisfaction.” I guarantee it puts a smile on your face.
And that’s it, folks. I know I didn’t include any Chicago artists on this list, and that’s by design, kind of. I’m putting together another list of ONLY Chicago releases to satisfy our thirst for local bands. Spoiler Alert: No Kanye on that one, either.
Do you feel I got it all right this year? Leave a comment. Do you think I got zero right, and that I’m a complete idiot? Leave a comment. Have a question about one of these releases? Leave a comment. Or, if you’re bored… leave a comment.
Well, Chicago. It appears that winter is finally upon us. I hope you are enjoying our winter wonderland as much as I am.
Saturday night, during the brief respite between the rain and the snow, when only the wind remained, Kari and I trudged, by Zipcar (an important detail for later), from our apartment on the north side to South State Street and the bar/”music venue” known as Reggie’s Music Joint.
Now, you may be asking yourself: “Why did he put music venue in quotes there? Was he rolling his eyes when he did that?”
Yes, Chicago. I was rolling my eyes.
Have you ever been to this place? I know you can’t answer me because you’re reading this on your HP tablet or what have you, but I’ll assume for most of you the answer is no. And I envy you for that. Reggie’s is an overly small, overcrowded shell of a music venue that makes Empty Bottle seem spacious by comparison. Why anyone would go to a show here, I don’t know.
The people were rude, the sound system was on par with someone driving past with a big bass speaker and the place reeked of marijuana.
If any of the servers from Reggie’s are reading this, please know that Kari and I pity you. They should have statues erected in your honor for having to put up with these, excuse my language here, assholes. A bunch of aging hipsters that work hard all week and wanna have a good time Saturday night was all I saw everywhere I looked. It actually made me a little sad to be there. If I ever remind anyone of these doofuses, you have my permission to put me out of my misery.
With that out of the way, let’s talk music.
When we arrived France Jean-Baptiste was already on stage with her band. They did a lot of covers, which was fine. She has a voice that lends itself to the genre pretty well. The highlight of the band was the guitarist, whose name I did not catch. He was shredding like a champ.
This seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the night. All three bands have dudes on axe that can hang with the best of them. Not in a “Man, this guy’s as good as Stevie and Prince combined!” But in a way like: “Holy cow! That guitar player is smokin’ them strings!”
The second band up was Winslow, who hail from Akron, Ohio. An interesting group, to say the least. Their first tune sounded like a Coheed and Cambria cover to me. Kari thought they were doing a take on the SportsCenter theme. Throughout their set I heard a lot of different things: Jethro Tull, Billy Joel, The Clash… but nothing that reminded me of a soul band, which is what they claim to be. When they did a cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” I almost thought it was a joke. The singers voice, and I hope if he reads this he doesn’t get offended, is a bit too effeminate to sing that song. He was fine otherwise, but you need a nice, deep, powerful voice to do “Sunshine” justice, and this guy doesn’t have it right now.
Finally, after a couple hours of waiting, The Congregation took to the stage. And this is where my story takes a turn for the tragic. You see, dear readers, if you check out a Zipcar, you have to return it to where you got it from by the time you chose or pay a 50-dollar penalty. Well, seeing how the flyer said 9 p.m., I figured The Congregation would hit the stage about 11, maybe 11:15. In reality, they got on around midnight. The car had to be back by 1, which meant we couldn’t stay for the whole show. We only caught a few songs before we had to motor.
What we saw, we both liked. There were some issues with the mixing, so the vocals were a bit drowned out, but you could still feel the power coming from Gina Bloom’s voice. The band sounded just as good as they do on wax, if not better. I was most impressed with the horns’ ability to play in a very cramped space.
Again, the guitar work here was tremendous. Easily the best of the night, and that’s no simple task.
I wish we had been able to stay for the whole show, but on this particular evening it didn’t seem like things were going to fall in line for us anyway. I was really looking forward to this show, and it lived up to my expectations as far as what I actually saw. Maybe next time The Congregation will play at a place more suited for a big crowd, like Beat Kitchen, or, in a perfect world, Schubas.
I do recommend checking them out at any venue you can. Also, get their EP when you see them. It’s a great listen.
▪ Check out my review of The Congregation’s EP, Not for Sleepin’.
We are quickly approaching the end of 2010 and that can only mean one thing: End-of-year lists!!
I’ve always been a big fan of list-making. Every year I put together a list of the top albums and top movies, sometimes top TV shows. Last year Kari and I even put together our Best of the Decade film list (Mulholland Drive for me). It’s a fun way to think about the great experiences you’ve had over the year, and a great conversation starter with fellow music and movie enthusiasts.
One of the best parts of writing for a site like Chicago Tunes is the ability to get in to a lot of shows for free. Access to some of the artists is nice, too.
A live performance of music is one of my absolute favorite things. It’s right up there with winning a round of Call of Duty and watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. If I could, I would be out every night seeing shows. Alas, that isn’t the case. And since I’ve started working more, I’ve had to be even more selective with the shows I go to.
Luckily, for all of us but me most of all, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of great shows over the past few months. I don’t think there will be too many surprises here based on my reviews of most of the shows. Only one of the shows on the list was a show I did not cover for Chicago Tunes. So without further interruption, I present the best of 2010.
5. Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band @ The Majestic Theatre on November 13 (review) Put Josh Ritter on a stage flipping through an Oxford Dictionary and I’m completely captivated. The guy is a performer of immense talent, aided by an awesome band that guarantees you’re having fun by having fun themselves. They will be back in Chicago in February to play a show at The Vic. I request, nay, I DEMAND that all of you buy tickets and have a blast!
4. Titus Andronicus @ Subterranean on July 16 My first concert in Chicago. It was hot and sweaty, loud, the crowd got a bit physical, and I had a great time. One of my favorite bands playing a set consisting of all of my favorite songs (granted they only have two records out). Opener “Hallelujah the Hills” didn’t hurt things, either. I preferred this show to the one at Metro, but that may be because I had to sit through 40 minutes of Best Coast at Metro. Titus played Pitchfork the next day and killed from what I’ve heard. I know for a fact though that it couldn’t have been nearly as epic as this night at SubT.
3. The Rural Alberta Advantage @ Schubas on August 28 (review) At the end of 2008 or maybe early 2009 I read a little piece about this band on NME.com. I decided to check them out, and whaddya know?, I instantly loved it! Getting to sit down with the three members of this band was easily one of the greatest highlights of the year for me; but that’s a story for another time. This show was amazing. Packed with great moments from end to end. My only regret is standing so close to Paul Banwatt‘s drum set. It was great fun live, but the videos didn’t turn out the best. Screaming along with songs like “Don’t Haunt This Place,” and “Drain the Blood” brought me great amounts of satisfaction. Look for the second release from The Rural Alberta Advantage to hit shelves in the spring.
2. The Airborne Toxic Event @ Park West on September 15 (review) Now talking to these guys was not nearly as much fun as Rural. It was a hectic day as the plan for the interview wasn’t set until the night before (mostly my fault). We were actually sitting at the Ain’t It Cool screening of Howl when I got the go ahead from the band’s PR guy, which made the movie all the more enthralling for me. The interview itself was kind of a train wreck as far as I’m concerned. Many people have been reassuring me that it’s fine, but I consider it the low point of my interviewing career. I blame the nerves. However, the show that they put on afterward was nothing short of epic. Watching ATE perform with a string quartet adds so much depth to a show that could have very easily been just another rock show. It was actually getting a bit monotonous toward the middle, but they did away with the strings and launched into a ridiculously cool medley of their own song “Missy,” Springsteen’s “Fire,” and “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. Talk about seven minutes of heaven!! The second half of the concert was more rock-specific, and a whole helluva lot of fun. By the time they got to “Sometime Around Midnight” I was sold on Airborne being one of the best live acts in the country. They also have an album coming out early next year. Should be a good one.
1. Neutral Uke Hotel @ Empty Bottle on August 19 (review) When is a cover band the absolute best act a person could hope to see all year? When that band is playing one of the greatest albums of all-time straight through on ukuleles!! I had signed up to check out this show for Warm Ones, and when I found out that there was going to be an opener playing In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in its entirety, I thought my head was going to explode! The actual show was even better than I could have imagined! There’s something about being in a room, singing along to music that is deeply personal to everyone in attendance that makes the experience transcend the usual concert-going status quo. It was an embarrassment of riches that night, as everyone who performed was good. Angel Olsen was a nice opener, and Warm Ones live set was a smack in the face (in a good way). But it didn’t matter. Hearing a group of guys from Massachussetts who spend 95 percent of their time in other bands playing music that they all felt sincerely about was as close to perfect as it could get. I could have spent the rest of the night listening to Best Coast or John Mayer and been perfectly happy. This was a one-off tour, so I don’t think they’ll be coming around again. You can check out YouTube clips of them performing at Empty Bottle (you’re welcome!) and a lot of other places. I suggest doing so.
And that’s it. The year that was in rock concerts for me. I saw a lot of other shows, but none nearly as good as the top 5. Avi Buffalo and The Joy Formidable probably came the closest. As did Chaperone!, who put on my favorite show by a Chicago band this year.
I’m seriously looking forward to 2011. I already know February will be good, with shows from The Decemberists and Josh Ritter already on the agenda. If you know of anything else awesome on the horizon, let us know!
Band: The Congregation Album: Not for Sleepin’ EP Release Date: December 11, 2010
It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited about a new blues band. I always get amped for new releases by the legends, and I try to catch certain guys every time they’re in town (B.B. King, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Chicago’s own Buddy Guy), but new blues artists generally leave me cold.
With the exception of Indigenous and The Chris Duarte Group, I can’t think of anyone I’ve followed for more than a year. I did follow Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who were great, but they left the blues to follow God’s path, whatever that means.
So I was more than happy when I threw on The Congregation‘s debut EP, Not For Sleepin’. I got knocked down due to the amount of Soul Power pouring out of my speakers. Gina Bloom’s pipes are ridiculous. Lady sings the blues, indeed. Not quite on par with Aretha or Billie Holiday, but not too far off. Certainly better than anyone else I’ve heard attempt songs like these in recent years.
My one problem with The Congregation stems from the press release I read about their band. In it, they go through a lot of details about the bands personnel and sound, but they also make a remark so outrageous I must comment.
They make mention of doing music the way Otis Redding did it. Well, that’s a problem for me. I’m all for shooting for the stars and that jazz, but come on. That’s like me running for Jesus. It’s just ludicrous. Otis Redding is the epitome of rhythm and blues in my mind, so to compare ANYONE to the man is blasphemy as far as I’m concerned.
That said, they did it. And when I listened to the music, I wasn’t 100% dissatisfied. That in itself is remarkable. If you take that to mean I enjoyed the record, you are correct. The songs “Save the Wine,” “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” and “He’s Gone” are the highlights of the record for me. The vocals are out of this world, and guitarist/songwriter Charlie Wayne really shines on “Good Man.”
The only song I don’t really enjoy is a cover of The Stooges‘ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” It’s a bit masochistic for my taste. Having a female sing the lyrics doesn’t make the song any better. Much like Dana Fuchs‘ version of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” from Across the Universe.
The horn section is lights out from top to bottom, as a good soul band should be. I’m sure that in a live setting they all get to show their stuff a but more than they do here, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing them perform.
This release doesn’t drop for a couple weeks, so consider yourself warned. You will be asked to pay money for this EP, and you should hand it over gladly.
▪ The Congregation hail from Chicago. The band is made up by: Gina Bloom (vocals), Charlie Wayne (guitar), Joe DeBord (bass), Chuck Sansone (keyboards) and Dan Wendt (Drums). The sax/trumpet/trombone combo of Jay St. Germain, Brian Crane and Nick Nottoli finishes off the band’s signature sound.
▪ Not For Sleepin’ will drop on December 11 at The Congregation’s record release show at Reggie’s Music Joint. Cover is $5. Show starts at 9. 21+ only. They’ll be joined by Winslow and France Jean-Baptiste.
Hop over to the group’s Bandcamp page for a free download of “He’s Gone.”
Band: Unicycle Loves You Album: Mirror, Mirror Release Date: September 7, 2010
The newest release of Chicago’s seemingly endless supply of indie-pop groups is Mirror, Mirror by Unicycle Loves You. They have another release that I have not heard, and have cropped themselves down from a quartet to a trio for this record. On their website they say they get influences from cult horror films and science fiction. Aside from some interesting harmonies on a lot of tracks, I do not hear these at all.
Instead what I hear is a combination of a lot of bands I’ve been listening to lately. The first to hit me was Stars. I’ve been listening to Five Ghosts a ton as of late, and I was immediately reminded of that album when Mirror, Mirror kicked off in earnest. The band carries an attitude that reminds me of the Los Campesinos! album, Romance is Boring. And the male vocalist has a voice that reminds me quite a bit of We Are Scientists, especially in his phrasing and timing. I also got a bit nostalgic for Len’s “Steal My Sunshine” on the album’s title track.
The way that Unicycle Loves You is able to propel itself above being just another indie-pop band is by recognizing that they have certain things in common with these other bands I’ve mentioned, so they are able to move things forward. Rather than resting on their laurels, comfortable in the notion that they can easily make a record just as good as a band like Stars, they experiment with new synths, vocoders and other effects to achieve a sound both familiar but otherworldly.
Never is this more apparent than the track “Teenage Ghost House.” The beginning of the track has the musical cues of an INXS song from the mid-’80s, but it quickly shifts into a contemporary song more in line with a ethereal version of Passions of Being Pure At Heart than a Buzz Ballad group.
I’d be very interested to see how a live Unicycle Loves You show goes down. There is so much going on in the background that I find it hard to imagine it can be pulled off at full quality in a live setting. But maybe it can. I felt similarly about The Joy Formidable a couple weeks back, and they ended up killing it live.
I definitely recommend checking out Mirror, Mirror. The music is good. Very good. I’m hesitant to say great because it does sound like so many other things to me; but that’s also one of the reasons I like it, so I don’t know. Buy it and decide for yourself. I’m not your father. I can’t tell you what to like and what not to like.
But if you want my paternal wisdom, you should probably enjoy it. So buy more than one copy and we’ll all go to Six Flags this summer!!
▪ Unicycle Loves You, of Chicago, is: Jim Carroll (vocals/guitar/keys), Nicole Vitale (vocals/bass) and J.T. Baker (drums).
▪ Mirror, Mirror is available via Highwheel Records for $12 (CD).
Band: Carl Hauck Album: Windjammer Release Date: November 9, 2010
In the singer-songwriter genre, there are so many artists received well by the public that it has become impossible to refer to one without saying something like “the new Dylan,” or “Oh, he sounds just like Ray LaMontagne.”
I’d call him something like a mix of Paul Simon and Iron & Wine. His wordplay and phrasing definitely remind me of a “Still Crazy After All These Years”-era Simon, but his voice is a bit more throaty. The structure of the songs also reminds me of Sam’s work on a lot of the Iron & Wine albums.
Windjammer offers up some nice, soft ballads that tear at your heartstrings. Nothing on the record is what I would call radio-friendly, and that’s a good thing in my book. The music Carl sings is a bit more cerebral than what a Taylor Swift or John Mayer might give us.
The fourth track on the record, “Coming Away,” is my personal favorite. I’m not real sure why, but it reminds me of a lot of James Taylor‘s better works. It’s folksy, but not country. It also features some nice electric guitar work that is mostly absent from the rest of the album. It also has an epilogue that runs a bit long, but adds in some piano to the equation. I’ll forgive the self-indulgence because it doesn’t take away from anything that precedes it.
That’s really my only problem with the whole record. The Magic Numbers have the same fault — not knowing when to end a song. It only happens a couple of times on Windjammer, so I won’t begrudge Carl for his choices. As a young artist you have to experiment and try all kinds of things before you really know exactly what you’re doing.
I hope that doesn’t come off as me calling the album amateurish, because I don’t feel that way. In fact, as a songwriter and musician, I think Carl Hauck has a lot going for him. Certainly enough for me to recommend picking up a copy of Windjammer. Like most artists though, I expect the follow-up album to be even better.
Carl Hauck is based in Grayslake.
You can freely stream Windjammer on Carl Hauck’s Bandcamp page, or download it for $7.
A couple months ago, I was lucky enough to see Free Energy open up for Titus Andronicus at Metro in Chicago (here‘s my show review!) Their live performance rocked pretty hard, so I checked out their album the next day. Stuck on Nothing is easily one of the most fun albums of the year.
When I heard they were coming back to town with Foxy Shazam (who has since had to back out of its tour), I knew I wouldn’t miss them for anything. So, here now is an interview I was fortunate enough to do with Free Energy’s frontman, Paul Sprangers!
Josh Terzino: You guys have a name that suits you so well. I’d have a hard time believing you were called something else. How did you decide on Free Energy and how does the name shape your attitude toward making music?
Paul Sprangers: the name really came from the song. the song came first, then we named the band. the name seems to accommodate the spirit of the band, and as we grow it seems to fit even better.
JT: What did you learn from the dissolution of Hockey (Night)? — my mistake!
PS: the band was hockey night!! not to be mistaken with “hockey.” learned so much it could fill a book. but the main things are: go slow. take baby steps. and don’t be afraid to leave/end relationships after you’ve tried everything and they just aren’t working. also, practice alot [sic]. don’t just tour.
JT: You moved from Minnesota to Philadelphia after Hockey Night ended. Why was Philadelphia the place for you?
PS: geoff, our rhythm guitar player, lived there. he showed us around. he had friends there. we needed to be a bus ride away from dfa so we could finish mixing and recording the record. it turned to be amazing. we’ve met so many incredible people and bands.
JT: You guys hooked up with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and his label, DFA. What kind of help did James provide you with?
PS: he helped us streamline how we record–he insisted that we commit to ideas and melodies and execute them as efficiently as possible. He also encouraged us to do whatever we felt–not be worried if ideas were cool. just do what sounds good. he fits sounds together like a puzzle. this is a method that is rarely employed by people making records.
JT: When I saw your live show opening for Titus Andronicus, a lot of things went through my head. The one that’s stuck with me is the comparison to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as performed by The Stooges. You obviously have a lot of ’70s influences. What bands do you think influenced your sound most?
PS: that’s interesting. we definitely love petty, not so much the stooges. no one band influenced our sound. the songs are little universes made up of different musical planets. all the influences and references kind of orbit around each other. thin lizzy and fleetwood mac and bob seger are big. but right now we listen to george michael, and little feat, and endless boogie, and peter gabriel and the scorpions and late rolling stones. the next record is gonna be a doozy.
JT: Stuck On Nothing came out back in May, and you’ve been touring with Titus Andronicus, Best Coast, and you’ll be doing some shows with Weezer in, I think, December. What kinds of things do you look for when you see these other bands perform?
PS: i always learn from every band we play with. i watch how they perform live. i listen to what they say between songs. i watch how they conduct themselves off-stage. i see what color m&ms they ask for on their riders. i try to observe and learn from as much as i can. and i have learned a SHIT ton this past year. it’s incredible. it’s been actual rock school.
JT: Rolling Stone named you a top ten new band for 2010. What kind of pressure does that put on you, or do you not pay attention to things like that?
PS: we pay attention, but it doesn’t mean anything super practical. nothing magical happens when you get those things. they’re nice. but they don’t mean millions of people come see you. you still have to keep working every day to be the greatest band ever, and go out and try to play an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime shows every night. at least that’s what we try to do.
JT: Have you guys started writing the next Free Energy album? If so, is it going in a new direction or remaining true to Stuck on Nothing?
PS: writing right now. we have a lot of demos. we’re working on a lot more demos in dec and january. it’s going to be different, but still very melodic with giant hooks everywhere. stay tuned!!
So there you have it. Go pick up Stuck on Nothing and grab some tickets for their show this Friday at Lincoln Hall! Ticket info below.
Free Energy hails from Philadelphia. The band is: Scott Wells (lead guitar), Paul Sprangers (vocals), Evan Wells (bass), Geoff Bucknam (rhythm guitar), Nick Shuminksy (drums).
Stuck on Nothing is available on iTunes for $5.99.
If you have yet to see Josh Ritter perform live, I pity you. You are depriving yourself one of the great joys available on this earth. His shows are always great fun, and generally they reaffirm my belief that he is not only the best songwriter working today, but also one of the best live performers.
On this particular night Josh and The Royal City Band invaded The Majestic in Madison, Wisconsin. The Majestic is a beautiful old theatre that holds about 700 people. I look at it as Metro’s little brother. It has a small main floor area and two levels above. The Majestic is a very intimate venue, and perfect for a show like Josh Ritter.
The opening act, Thieving Irons, hails from Brooklyn (same place Mr. Ritter now resides). They played a slow, folky set that reminded me of a coffee shop Simon & Garfunkel. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t good, either. More like something to do for 45 minutes while we waited for the main attraction.
I’ve seen Josh Ritter four times now, and I’m always surprised by his opening number. Not because I think they’re bad choices, but that they are always very slow songs. Twice I’ve seen him open with “Monster Ballads,” which is a perfectly great song, and in Madison he opened with “Idaho.” Not exactly the barnstormers you’d expect from a live show, but the audience is completely captivated by Josh’s voice and words. It sets a great tone for the evening, and reminds us that above all else, he’s a writer.
Some highlights from the show for me were “Right Moves,” which has been one of the many tunes that always sounds great live, a new song about the search for the Holy Grail which was darkly humorous and the always fun “Harrisburg.”
Every show is something different, and it usually revolves around the song “Harrisburg.” The three previous times I’ve seen the show, they mixed in some pretty different stuff. The first time, they broke into a cover of Modest Mouse‘s “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” the second time it was The Beatles‘ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and in Chicago at the Vic it was “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. When we first arrived at the venue we ran into the bass player outside and I asked him what they were gonna do. He said they had “some new tricks” for the evening. That new trick ended up being a very long, very funny build up to the song “Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads.
It was a blast to hear the lead up to that song, but they didn’t actually get to the meat of it. They only did the beginning, the “And you may ask yourself…” part. Which was both satisfying and hilarious.
There was also a long period with Josh by himself playing acoustic, often without the microphone. This is something he always does, though the songs are sometimes different. For this show, he played “The Temptation of Adam” and “Girl in the War” with passion and he once again blew me away.
This tour is just about over for Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band. If you are in a city he’s coming to soon, grab tickets now before they sell out! His shows are some of the best live experiences you can hope for. And, unlike a U2 show, the tickets are ridiculously reasonable. So go, have fun and thank me later.
Josh Ritter originally hails from Moscow, Idaho and currently resides in Brooklyn. His group, The Royal City Band, is: Zack Hickman (bass, guitar, tuba, strings), Sam Kissirer (piano, keyboard, organ, accordion), Austin Nevins (guitar, lap steel, baritone) and Liam Hurley (drums, percussion).
Lots of Josh Ritter music is available on his website.
For more on Josh Ritter, check out my review of his 2010 album, So Runs the World Away.
When it comes to stage presence, The Joy Formidable rival much better known bands. They storm the stage aggressively, and don’t leave until they’ve shredded every piece of it.
Before I go any deeper, I’d like to apologize to The Dig for not catching their set. With my new schedule I barely made it to Schubas in time for my interview with Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt. So after our chat, I had to grab some food. Kari was already sort of nearby, so we went to Chipotle and took a cab back. It was almost time for the headliner when we walked in the door.
The Joy Formidable kicked off with “The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade,” which is also the opener for their record, A Balloon Called Moaning. A great choice to lead off a set, because it really does preview everything that comes after.
Most of the album enjoys a Specter-ish wall of sound quality that I was curious to see pulled off live. Not only did they pull it off, but they crushed it. I’ve seen a lot of three-piece bands over the past year, and The Joy Formidable easily bested any of them as far as creating an atmosphere for the audience and sticking with it.
Part of that atmosphere included playing some odd interstitials between songs. One sounded like a Willy Wonka piece (no idea really, though) and one was a poem I was not familiar with. The band is from Wales, so I’ll guess Dylan Thomas, but don’t quote me.
The rest of the atmosphere was provided by Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt all going crazy on stage. I alluded to Ritzy’s guitar playing in my review of their album, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed here. In person she’s quite pixie-ish, but once the switch gets flipped to stage mode, she’s a beast. Same goes for Rhydian. He’s a good chap, but he loves to perform and it shines through when you watch him bouncing around. Rhydian is pretty quiet, but he beats the hell out of that drum kit.
I must say, also, that I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd. Well done, Chicago. For the first time in a long while, I was very pleased at a show… except for the couple standing in front of me. They were very annoying.
The Joy Formidable announced that they will be back in Chicago in March or April. I urge you to check them out when they return. In the meantime, pick up A Balloon Called Moaning today and The Big Roar when it drops in the spring.
▪ A Balloon Called Moaning is available on iTunes for $7.99.
Prior to taking the stage at Schubas on Tuesday night, members of The Joy Formidable were kind enough to sit down and chat with me for a bit. The impression I got from our talk, both on and off-camera, was of a band happy to be making music together and that genuinely likes each other. (Rhydian and Ritzy are a couple outside of the band, so I would hope that’s the case).
Topics include: Recording at home, their move from North Wales to London and being cooler than Jay-Z.
▪ Check out my review of their album, A Balloon Called Moaning.
Band: Josh Ritter Album: So Runs the World Away Release Date: April 17, 2010
In the world of songwriting, Josh Ritter is a giant among men. Over the last decade he’s released six full-lengths, toured tirelessly and written a novel. He’s played with popular acts like The Swell Season and Ray LaMontagne, as well as headlining his own tours with people like Langhorne Slim and Chicago’s own Joe Pug as openers.
On his most recent release, So Runs the World Away, Josh takes his greatest leap forward in storytelling. The album plays out with a cinematic quality that John Williams would be proud of. It’s a collection of musings on life, dreams half-forgotten and love.
In March of 2009, Kari and I went with a couple of friends of ours, Tyler and Jess, to Des Moines to see Josh Ritter play at Vaudeville Mews. We were right up front, and the show was great. Toward the end of the show, he played a song that elevated him to the highest of levels in my mind. I looked it up as soon as I got home so I could check out the lyrics, and I watched the video that we had taken a couple times. I’ve probably watched it 50 or so times since then.
The song was “The Curse,” and it’s the third track on So Runs the World Away. It’s about a mummy, discovered by a female archaeologist and brought back to the States on a “beautiful boat.” The timing of the track is done in 3/3 time, so technically it’s a waltz. I think it’s the best written song in at least a decade. Maybe longer. Take a look at some of the words used to tell this tale:
He holds back a sigh As she touches his arm She dusts off the bed where til now he’s been sleeping Under miles of stone The dry fig of his heart Under scarab and bone Starts back to its beating
The vivid imagery that Josh paints with his words is completely mesmerizing. The music that backs up this story is almost carnival-like. If you close your eyes, you can see everything in the song like it’s right in front of you. It’s lush and sad and everything you could ask for in one song.
On another visually enchanting song, Josh gives us the greatest piece of music about shipwreck since Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” “Another New World” is about an explorer determined to map every part of the Earth. He and his crew set off to discover what’s at the top of the globe:
After all that I’d found in my travels around the world was there anything left? “Gentlemen”, I said, “I’ve studied the maps” “And if what I’m thinking is right” “There’s another new world at the top of the world” “For whoever can break through the ice”
When I mentioned at the beginning that the album was partly about love, I was talking about the love between a man and his ship. In this song, the character Ritter sings about loves nothing more that his beautiful Annabelle Lee. They’ve been together so long that, when they get stuck in the ice and he has to be rescued, he considers his life over without his boat. It’s definitely a different kind of love story, but a good one.
So Runs the World Away is chock full of good songs. At least five of them I consider great songs (“The Curse,” “Rattling Locks,” “Lantern,” “Change of Time,” “Another New World”). Not that I’m surprised.
Over the course of his career, Josh Ritter has given us some of the best songs of the modern era. Everything from “Kathleen” and “The Temptation of Adam” to “Monster Ballads” and “Wolves,” should be in the top 100 songs of the ’00s. Now he’s staking his claim on the new decade with an album I can only assume will be right there with the best of the ’10s.
▪ Josh Ritter hails from Moscow, Idaho. His group, The Royal City Band, is: Zack Hickman (bass,guitar, tuba, strings), Sam Kissirer (piano, keyboard, organ, accordian), Austin Nevins (guitar, lap steel, baritone) and Liam Hurley (drums, percussion).
Josh and his band will play in Madison, Wisconsin at Majestic Theatre on Saturday, November 13. Tickets are $18-$35.
Band: Joy Formidable Album: A Balloon Called Moaning Release Date: January 19, 2010
Here is a comprehensive list of music I am familiar with out of Wales: The Psychedelic Furs, Bonnie Tyler. Neither of those have anything to do with The Joy Formidable. I can’t see a clear influence between them, but perhaps a shared enjoyment of big, shiny power-pop and a love of darkly sweet melody.
The closest thing I can compare A Balloon Called Moaning to is the debut album from The xx. Though this isn’t quite as deliberate as the Mercury Prize winner. The Joy Formidable has provided us with a debut EP that is more bouncy and fun than the slow but still great xx (I’ll try to stop talking about The xx now, but for more on that album, check out my review of it). The guitars have some soaring moments that make one think of a pure rock album from the Foo Fighters, or maybe a lesser version of Grohl & co. The drums are constantly pushing things forward, even on the tracks that are a bit slow. That leaves the synths, which are ever present, in the background for the most part.
That’s not a bad thing, especially for a band that continues to push its live sound to the limits every day. Bassist Rhydian Dafydd has said his pedal board is so expansive he can no longer carry it. On the track “Cradle,” it sounds like there might be two, three, maybe four guitars and bass going at once, but it’s just Rhydian going crazy with effects and distortion.
Lead singer Ritzy Bryan was named No. 20 on NME magazine’s “cool list,”(that’s one spot above Jay-Z) and it isn’t hard to see why. She’s a bit like Karen O, but less crazy. And she plays guitar better than a lot of leads that don’t carry the burden of singing.
She shares that weight with Rhydian, who sings on a few tracks, but not all. The highlight of the record, for me, is the tête-à-tête between the real-life couple on “9669.” It reminds me a lot of the song “Infinity” off that great xx album I keep mentioning (sorry). Ritzy and Rhydian sing back and forth:
Step out the light Step out and re-shape me Here comes the white Here comes the big empty If we’re meant to part We’re meant to part sweeter Make some swells And slips some cut deeper We don’t ride We don’t ride to sunset We just ride off ’til our last breath
Maybe it’s because “9669″ is the only acoustic track on the record that set’s it apart for me, but I really enjoy it. And it’s only a brief moment before The Joy Formidable reminds us that gigantic soundscapes are where they like to work. “The Last Drop” is a deluge of sonic delight dropped from above like an a-bomb on your head.
For the most part, I really enjoy this EP. Listening to a couple of songs on their Myspace page that are going to be on the new record that hits sometime early next year, I’m encouraged that the band continues to develop the sound that they believe in. This release is definitely worth checking out, but I’m convinced the next one is going to be even better.
The Joy Formidable is originally from Mold, Wales, but has since moved to London. The band is Ritzy Bryan (vocals/guitar), Rhydian Dafydd (vocals/bass) and Matt Thomas (drums).
A Balloon Called Moaning is available on iTunes for $7.99.
When we last checked in with our friends, Remaindermen, they had released an EP, Border States, and were looking forward to their remix of that album at the end of October. To celebrate the release of this EP, called Inner States, they put on a rabble rousing set at Beat Kitchen.
All of the band members were in costume, and maybe 85% of the audience was as well. I was not. That didn’t stop me from enjoying the festivities, though. Lead singer PJ had a Victor/Victoria kind of thing going on which was both hilarious and a surprisingly good look for him. Other band members dressed as an elephant, a fortune teller, a strong man, and… something else. Not sure what guitar player Michael Nelson was.
The show itself was a great deal of fun. I don’t know if it was the disguises that provided the extra oomph, or the holiday spirit, but this show was a billion times better than the last time I caught them at Empty Bottle (and I really enjoyed that show, too).
I think some of that had to do with a bigger audience, and that audience being far more into the swing of things than the other crowd I saw them with. The addition of “Monster Mash” to the set, as well as my personal favorite tune, “Prey On You,” also provided a big lift to my personal enjoyment. “O’Immaculate” also sounded particularly good on this night.
As far as the new EP goes, I think it’s a fun way to listen to some great songs reinterpreted for completely different audiences. The stand out in my mind is “Miami St” as done by Streetbox (I think. It’s very confusing to read the tracklist, because it is not in order, and there are two different mixes of this song). Its hip-hop vibe is a fresh take on the song, and the MC’s flows remind me of a more tame version of MC Paul Barman might do. The rest of the Inner States varies from chill-ambient to more dancy electronica.
Good stuff all around. I’m a supporter of these guys ’til the end. Not just because they were the first band I had an interview with, or the first ones to put me on their guest list (though both are true), but because I believe in their music. It keeps me moving every time I turn them on, and I hope that you give them a chance to move you, too.
Remaindermen hails from Chicago. Band members are: Logan Cradick (Keys), Marc King (Bass), Chris Kolodziej (Drums), Patrick McMahon (Vocals), and Michael Nelson (Guitar)
Band: Volcanoes Make Islands Album: Sick City EP Release Date: August 30, 2010
On their new EP, Sick City, Volcanoes Make Islands put on a nice display of musical acumen. It is a record at once huge, and still personal. It’s a four-track release, so let’s go through it track by track.
On the opener, “The City of Big Yellers,” you get a vibe that you might feel on a Black Keys record. Booming, dissonant guitar followed by a crushing drum beat kick off the track and prepare you for the audio assault you are about to endure. When the voice drops in, it’s surprisingly sweet. It’s a nice contrast to the music, and turns what could have been a decent straightforward rock song into a pretty good indie/pop tune. The lyrics are quite good here, also. I’m a man who believes you can say more with less (except when you can say more with more — i.e. my Band of Horses show review), so I enjoy the chorus, when he sings “We are all in this together.” The song gets even more aggressive toward the end, which I think insures the energy doesn’t slow. It’s a good song, but not my favorite on the EP.
My favorite song on Sick City would be track two, “Still Here.” This is a crazy song. It has a bit of a dance beat. Sounds like a mix between Franz Ferdinand and Belle & Sebastian‘s “Your Cover’s Blown.” The repeated lines here are: “Cut off my legs and keep me still. Cut off, cut off my legs. I’ve had my fill.”And at the 1:45 mark in the song, everything goes nuts. All kinds of reverb and effects come flying at you for about 45 seconds. A seriously fun song that needs to be repeated a few times before moving on to the next one.
“Gypsies” starts off a bit slow, but keeps some of the sonic elements from the previous song. I’m reminded of Death Cab for Cutie when I hear this one, only I like this singer more than Ben Gibbard. The track stays calm for a while, then busts into more of the frenetically paced music we’ve been hearing thus far. The keyboard and guitar really stand out on “Gypsies” more than any other track on the EP. There’s still a good amount of production going on outside of the live instruments, but it seems to be pushed to the background for the most part.
“Granola,” the slowest song on the record, also has the best lyrics. From beginning to end, there’s a beautiful sense of yearning that is non-existent on the other tracks, but done very well here.
You, you came to me In a dream I’ve had before This time, I wasn’t alone Cause there was you, running with me And when I woke up, I realized I hadn’t seen you in quite some time
The song does have some heavy guitar flourishes, but mostly it’s softer and sweet. It reminds me a lot of some R.E.M. songs from back before college rock became Indie.
I think these four songs are a precursor to a very big, very good full-length from Volcanoes Make Islands. I definitely recommend picking up this release and checking them out live when you get the opportunity.
▪ Volcanoes Make Islands is Brad Sawicki and Henry Bianco.
▪ Sick City is available for free on the group’s Bandcamp page. Yes, free!
Band: Mumford & Sons Album: Sigh No More Release Date: February 16, 2010
Mumford & Sons made a big splash in the indie world earlier this year with the release of their debut album, Sigh No More. It was critically praised and talked about on websites like this one and in magazines like NME and Rolling Stone as one of the best of the year. Needless to say, I came late to the party. I didn’t listen to this album until a couple of months ago, about half a year after its release.
If I had to name two albums that got recommended to me the most this year, it would be Sigh No More, and Up From Below by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I don’t know why. I think people heard Ed Sharpe on an episode of “Chuck” and Mumford on two episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Regardless, or the two, I think I prefer Up From Below, even though I think, technically, Sigh No More is a better album.
The problem for me is that a lot of Sigh No More is very depressing. Lyrically, not musically. Marcus Mumford’s voice is so forlorn and desperate at times that I have a hard time listening to him. Which is too bad, because a lot of the time he’s saying something interesting. Here’s what he says on “After the Storm“:
And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears. And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears. Get over your hill and see what you find there, With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
And that’s a pretty upbeat lyric for these guys. There’s some hope in the sentiment at least.
Now, I said that it’s a sad record lyrically. Musically, it’s really a testament to the musical abilities of the band. There’s some amazing banjo by Winston Marshall on almost every song. In fact, everyone in the band plays very well, and they all play more than one instrument without counting vocals. So instrumentally, they are sound. If they were to release a record of songs with no vocals, I think it would serve their fans just as well. They’re a real treat to listen to when they’re not making you want to kill yourself.
“Winter Winds” is a song that I can’t recommend enough, though. It is one of the seldom songs on the album that makes me feel good. A love song that reminds me of an old Irish ballad, it’s message is beautiful and true:
Oh the shame that sent me off from the God that I once loved Was the same that sent me into your arms Oh and pestilence is won when you are lost and I am gone And no hope, no hope will overcome
You may not get it from that particular lyric, but it really is an uplifting song.
This is really a toss-up for me. Recommending or not recommending an album is a business I take very seriously. But I’m a bit halfway on this one. I do like it. The music is really awesome and I think a live show might be worth a listen. At the same time, the lyrics are so sad that I don’t want to tell you to listen to this album and then find out you overdosed on oxy because you couldn’t handle the pain (slight exaggeration on my part, perhaps).
I’m gonna go ahead and say pick it up. If you don’t like it, post a comment under this review telling me what an idiot I am. I’ll make it up to you by recommending something really awesome next time.
▪ Mumford & Sons hails from London, England. The band is: Marcus Mumford (vocals, guitar, drums, mandolin), Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboards, accordion), Winston Marshall (vocals, banjo, dobro) and Ted Dwayne (vocals, string bass).
▪ Sigh No More is available on iTunes for $9.99.
The Campus Consciousness Tour (CCT) stopped in DeKalb a few days ago with a show featuring Passion Pit, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears and K. Flay. Here is what the CCT says they are about, according to their website:
Half rock tour, half environmental campaign, CCT aims to inspire and activate students in an electric atmosphere while leaving a positive impact on each community the tour visits. In addition to educating and mobilizing students, the tour includes many greening elements and is run to have a minimal environmental footprint.
Here’s what I actually saw: Three booths. One for registering to vote, one about going green, and one with no one sitting there, so I’m not sure what it was about. Also, apparently, the way they are leaving a minimal environmental footprint is by not allowing anyone to take pictures at the shows. I’m not sure how that works. And I’m also not sure that this tour understands the demographic it’s marketing to. Young people need to take pictures at events like this. It’s what they do. We live our lives online, so we need the pictures to show our friends in Germany and Kalamazoo what an awesome time we had.
I had a press pass for the show, and I was approached by three people about taking pictures. One woman told me she was going to have to confiscate my camera. Even after I told her I had a pass, she didn’t want me to keep the camera. The whole thing was a joke. I saw at least seven people have their cameras taken away.
So that’s the Campus Consciousness Tour. Now let’s get on to the good stuff.
K. Flay is a self-proclaimed “indie rock meets hip-hop” act. She uses a Macbook and a synthesizer to make her beats come alive on stage. She was much better than I thought she might be. Her raps were intelligent, and she had a really nice flow. Anyone who went to the Emily Wells show at Schubas a few weeks ago has kind of an idea what K. Flay might be like. No violin, but pretty similar.
Second to the stage was Black Joe Lewis, and his band, The Honeybears. These guys are a blues outfit from Austin. Imagine, if you will, the power of Otis Redding, the funk/pop and soul sensibility of Sam and Dave and the swagger of The Rolling Stones. Now you have a pretty good idea about this group. I thought they were awesome.
And I was surprised the audience got into the music as much as they did. The demographic in the audience was about as diverse as the one in my apartment. White people everywhere. And young. So being able to get that group frenzied about the blues was impressive in itself. Also, they covered a song by the Stooges. Not a lot of blues bands playing Stooges covers, I wouldn’t think.
By the time Passion Pit took the stage, the roof had already been torn off by Black Joe Lewis, so they were stuck playing to the heavens. A tall order for sure, but I thought if anyone could pull it off, it’s Passion Pit.
And I was wrong. The style of music Passion Pit plays is hard to translate live. Especially if the lead singer is feeling ill, or has a cold. So much of the sound is based on his voice, that even the slightest bit off can ruin the show.
The show wasn’t horrible. For the most part I enjoyed them onstage. Which is more than I can say for Micheal Angelakos. I didn’t see him smile once. The band seemed to be enjoying themselves quite a bit, though. The girls in front of us were screaming at the guitar player to marry them (or at least come over) and he was laughing a lot.
We got to stand right up in the front. So did everyone else in attendance. There were maybe 500 people at the show, in a place that could easily hold three times that. I understand that DeKalb isn’t the coolest place on Earth, but come on kids. You’re in college. You should be having fun, going to shows like Passion Pit.
Of the 500 people in attendance, 400 were on the floor. For the most part people seemed to be having a good time. The only parts of the show where the excitement was palpable, though, were when the band played “Sleepyhead” and “The Reeling.” For the rest of the concert people were head-bobbing, not dancing like I assumed they would be.
I think it’s probably not for me to say, but Passion Pit needs a break. Have you heard their record? I couldn’t even fathom trying to play music like that every night. And trying to sing with that super high falsetto? Forget about it. I honestly think that Passion Pit needs to rearrange their show a little. They may end up like the Beatles in 1967 and just decide that there’s no way what they can do on an album can be done live and just stop touring all together.
I hope that isn’t the case, of course. But they really do need to do something. On Chunk of Change and Manners, there’s an energy that doesn’t show up in the live show, although they try their best to force it. In the end it’s just a bunch of sweaty guys singing songs that sound better in my car.
▪ For more on Passion Pit, check out my review of their album Manners.
▪ Manners is available on Passion Pit’s website for $9.99 (mp3s).
▪ Chunk of Change is available on iTunes for $5.99 (mp3s).
Band: LCD Soundsystem Album: This is Happening Release Date: May 18, 2010
James Murphy is a god in some musical circles. I wouldn’t put him up that high, but I do think he’s a genius producer, a sometimes decent lyricist and a charismatic frontman.
This is Happening gets away with some self-indulgence, like the song “Pow Pow,” because the other songs are so catchy and danceable that we (I) can forgive a transgression like that. Especially when the lead track, “Dance Yrslf Clean,” is so damn good.
It starts slow. Really slow. The song is nine minutes long, and it doesn’t kick into high gear until shortly after the three minute mark. But when it does it explodes. The beats get funky and the quiet synths come to the foreground, turning a light toe-tapper into a full-on dance party.
For me, it’s the best song on the record. There’s some other really strong stuff here, though. On “All I Want” James uses some of the sound of “Us v Them” and turns it into a bittersweet pop song about lost love. It’s probably the best written song on the record, especially it’s opening verse:
Wait for the day you come home from the lonely part And look for the girl who has put up with all of your shit You never have needed anyone for so long You learn in your bed you’ve been gone for too long So you put in the time, but it’s too late to make it strong
It may seem a bit morose, but the beat keeps things moving, and it never really slows down the flow of the record.
In fact, this record never really loses it’s way at all. The beats are consistently good throughout, and the songs are made to party to, but could just as easily be enjoyed alone. The track, “Home,” is perfect to play as the last song at a party. The word home is said so many times, your guests are sure to get the hint. Although, if they listen to the rest of the song, they may get the wrong idea:
This is the trick, forget a terrible year That we can break the laws Until it gets weird
And this is what you waited for But under lights, we’re all unsure So tell me What would make you feel better?
This is Happening is a good record, not a great one. Not as good as Sound of Silver, but better than what most electronic artists put out. It’s definitely a good boogie record that you can put on whenever. If you’re feeling down, This is Happening picks you up. If you’re already feeling pretty good, it’ll make you feel great.
LCD Soundsystem hails from Brooklyn. James Murphy sings and plays all instruments.
Sorry about that diatribe on that Band of Horses show review, guys. It was the culmination of everything I hate about going to big shows coming together in a perfect storm of ignorance and selfishness. It won’t happen again. Probably.
And why would it when I got to go to a great show on Wednesday night, featuring Chicago’s Whisker Music, Champaign-Urbana’s New Ruins and Avi Buffalo!! It was a great night of music, made even better by the fact that people decided to stay home instead of enjoying some awesome music.
Whisker Music surprised me a bit. Eric did a nice interview with them a few days back, and he was talking them up to me before the show, but I wasn’t getting it. Once I heard them play, I had a better understanding. They have a nice bluesy/folk-pop with an edge kind of thing going on that was really nice. Check them out if you get a chance. Still not convinced? Check out Eric’s review of their EP.
I had never heard of New Ruins before the show. I had a chance to chat with Avi before they went on, and he said he was really looking forward to hearing them because they had been described as goth/country. I would definitely lean the emphasis toward the country on that one. They weren’t bad. Not as good as Whisker Music in my opinion. Mostly I was disappointed because every song sounded the same. I didn’t check out their recording, but I imagine it’s a better statement of what they are — or what they’re trying to be — than the live set.
The lead singer had a good voice, and some of the lyrics were pretty interesting. They had a new drummer for the show because their usual guy couldn’t be there. Before they started, the singer announced that they were performing with a guy that doesn’t normally play with them. I thought that was kind of crappy. “Hey, if the show sucks it’s because this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing!” That’s how I took it anyway. So I can’t recommend New Ruins right now, but maybe in the future.
While Avi was setting up, I spent a little time walking around trying to find a good spot. While I was ambling, who should I spot but Wilco‘s Nels Cline! He was hanging out, talking to some folks, so I didn’t bother trying to talk to him. Not that I could have… I probably would have soiled myself. (Probably not. I would have played it all cool, and then soiled myself later).
We know from my interview with Avi earlier in the week that Nels and Wilco have been very influential in their music. And it didn’t take long to see at least one similarity, Avi is nearly as twitchy and frenzied while playing guitar as Nels. It was impressive. Really impressive.
On the album, I think it’s easy to dismiss the instrumentation because there’s a lot of other stuff going on. When he’s able to display his musicianship for people to see, he really gets into it. I tried to get some video of his hands, because they were flying all over the place. I don’t know if it came out very well, but I hope you get to witness it for yourself some time. It’s amazing.
As far as their actual show goes, I liked it. I thought they played a fairly short set, but when you only have one release I don’t know what you can do. A couple of slower, sadder songs didn’t make the setlist. I was personally upset that “Jessica” didn’t get played, but that’s OK. I’ll see them again and maybe I’ll get lucky.
Avi Buffalo’s tour is coming to an end soon, and then it will be a while before they get back out on the road. If their show at Schubas was any indication, I’m guessing it will be worth the wait.
▪ Avi Buffalo hails from Long Beach and is: Avi Zahner-Isenberg (guitar/vocals), Rebecca Coleman (keyboards/vocals), Arin Fazio (bass) and Sheridan Riley (drums).
▪ Their self-titled debut is available on the band’s website for $9.99 (mp3s), $12.99 (CD) or vinyl ($14.99).
I’ve been a bit of a Negative Nancy on some of the venues in Chicago lately. It hasn’t been an issue with the bands thus far, but a problem with the people working and attending the shows. If you’ll allow me, I need to get a couple things off my chest before I can really review the Band of Horses performance at Riviera Theatre.
First, why is it that when a show has a start time of 7 p.m., people think it’s OK to show up 90 minutes late and go straight to the front and try to squeeze in? It’s disrespectful to the people who got there at a reasonable time, and a display of self-centeredness that makes me wonder why MORE countries don’t hate Americans. I understand that maybe you had to work late, and 8:30 was the earliest time you could get to the show. I empathize with that. I really do. But I doubt that was the case for the 50 or so people who were walking around the balcony trying to find a seat three songs into Band of Horses’ set.
I know that one of the main appeals of going to a show is that you get to pay eight dollars for a beer that you could get at the store for 50 cents. What I don’t understand is the need to miss half a concert because you constantly have to move to get another drink. How hard is it to enjoy a concert, that you’ve already paid 20 or 30 dollars to see, slightly sober? Could you have maybe drank at home, and then come to the show so you can stay seated or standing where you are, instead of pushing through a huge group of people to get a beer (or six) and then try to make your way back through the crowd holding said beverages?
This will be my last one on the people that annoyed me at the show. You paid money, same as me, so by all means have as good a time as you want. However, when you’re talking louder than the music, it’s a problem for me. Singing along loudly is one thing, but I don’t need to know about the girl you screwed, or how messed up you’re going to get this weekend. Not that it isn’t entertaining, just not worth paying money I don’t have to hear. Follow the same concept as a movie theater. If everyone is looking at the stage, listening to the performers, keep your goddamn mouth shut! Or, at least to a whisper.
OK, I lied. One more thing. Some people go to concerts to enjoy a show. Some people go assuming that they, and whoever they are with, are the only people at the concert. As Ben Bridwell was singing about what a wonderful place the world is, I could think of nothing but bludgeoning about six people with my phone. I don’t mind getting knocked into a bit at a show. It’s gonna happen no matter where you are. But there’s a point where it gets ridiculous and it’s time to step back and say, “Hey, maybe I should bring it down a notch so that everyone here can enjoy this awesome rock concert. I’m being very selfish in thinking that I’m the only one that paid to see this show.” At least, I think there’s a moment where a person would think that. Maybe not.
Sorry to go all crazy up in here. I really don’t know why some of this stuff bothers me so much. I guess I’m getting older. Soon my hair will be white, my eyebrows huge, and I’ll be talking about how much I hate all these new-fangled gadgets. I don’t even like the word “gadget.” (Sidebar: If you get this reference, or think you do, post a comment below. I’m curious to know how many people get what I’m going after and how many people think I’m a complete idiot).
The Riviera Theatre itself is a dilapidated relic that needs to be renovated almost as much as the roads and bridges in Illinois. The set up is pretty nice inside, except for the fact that they put the wristband area directly in front of the entrance. As soon as you walk in there’s a huge crowd waiting to get their ‘bands so they can get their drink on. Right behind that is the first of the bar areas. So again, a big crowd. Once you actually get into the stage area, you see the chandeliers and ornate ceiling. A callback to the opulence of yesteryear that I’m sure the Riv exemplified at some point.
We decided to go up to the balcony after a few minutes of looking for a good place to stand. We were lucky to get two seats together, as the place was pretty full even without the idiots I mentioned in the first 500 words of this review.
The show kicked off in an interesting way. Ben Bridwell and Tyler Ramsey appeared in one of the loge boxes and performed two songs, “No One’s Gonna Love You” and “Evening Kitchen,” alone and acoustic. It was a great way to introduce the band and they were performed beautifully.
Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the show for me. The sound system at Riviera is awful. They could have hooked everything up to my two Bose speakers and it would’ve created a fuller, more engrossing sound. The guitars sounded unnecessarily muddy most of the time, and the vocals weren’t as crisp as I would have liked.
The crowd in the balcony was pretty lame. It seemed like half of the people in attendance had no idea what they were watching. Until the band started playing some rockers off of Infinite Arms I seriously thought the majority of the people there had been taken hostage and forced to come to the show.
So after a while we went back down to the floor. This was interesting for a couple of reasons. The guy working security on the side that we ended up seems to take his job much too seriously. He had his flashlight set and at the ready if anyone broke the “White Line” that he was so vigilantly monitoring. It was actually pretty hilarious how many people he yelled at. The other interesting thing was that the audience on the floor was only slightly more into the concert than the people upstairs. This upset me greatly. I’m not sure if the energy in the audience was so down because the show wasn’t very good, or if the show wasn’t very good because the audience seemed so apathetic.
This marks the fourth time I’ve seen Band of Horses live. The first was Lollapalooza 2009, and then we went to see them at their annual New Year’s Eve Show in Atlanta, which is two shows. Each of those times I’ve left feeling like they gave it their all and really wanted the fans to enjoy the show. At the Riviera show, I felt like the band was tired. They’ve been on a long tour, so I don’t begrudge them for being exhausted. What I do begrudge, at least a little, is showing that you’re exhausted. Bands tour all the time. It’s their job to go out and deliver a good time.
So once again, I’m left disappointed by Band of Horses. In my album review, I mentioned that the record isn’t bad, by any means. It’s just that I expect more from Band of Horses. That’s exactly how I feel about this show. I put them right up there with Wilco and Josh Ritter. I’d pay money to see any of them sit on stage and talk about the politics of the Cold War and leave happy as a clam. So when one of them puts on a so-so show, it makes me sad because I know what they’re capable of.
▪ Band of Horses, hailing from Seattle and South Carolina, is: Ben Bridwell (vocals/keys/guitar), Ryan Monroe (keys/vocals), Tyler Ramsey (guitar), Bill Reynolds (bass) and Creighton Barrett (drums).
▪ Infinite Arms is available on Band of Horses’ website for $10.99 (CD). The LP, which would be $19.99, is sold out.
▪ Check out my review of Infinite Arms here on Chicago Tunes.
Band: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan Album: Hawk Release Date: August 24, 2010
In 2006 the first collaborative album from Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas, was released and received mostly positive reviews. I felt it was a mix-bag of treasures and trolls. “Do You Wanna Come Walk With Me” and “Deus Ibi Est” are the standouts in my mind. But for every really good song on the album there’s one that misses the mark.
In 2008 they put out a follow-up called Sunday At Devil Dirt. Reviews were not as nice for the second try, and nothing on the album grabbed me the way the good tracks on Ballad did.
There’s probably a reason they say the third time’s a charm. I don’t know what that reason is, but it holds true for this duo. Hawk is an album that gathers all the good from the first two records and ditches all the bad. Campbell and Lanegan seem to have figured out the perfect dynamic in which to work, and crush it for 14 tracks.
They mainly stick to the same pattern. Lots of folky Americana that’s reminiscent of a lot of older boy/girl duos. Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood get the most comparisons to this duo, and I guess that’s fair. Campbell has a breathy sweet voice that fit well for her days with Belle & Sebastian, but comes up slightly short on power. Lanegan steps up and nails that end of things just fine. A former Screaming Trees member and sometimes singer for Queens of the Stone Age, his voice sounds like he’s been nourished on nothing but cigarettes and bourbon since birth. It’s the perfect contrast to Campbell, and it creates an atmosphere that allows the record to exist in no certain time or place.
The album includes two Townes Van Zandt covers, “Snake Song” and “No Place to Fall.” Van Zandt was a great songwriter, so you know the lyrics are good, and “No Place to Fall” includes guest vocalist Willy Mason providing a sweetness that Lanegan sometimes fails to convey with his deep baritone.
My favorite track on the record, “Come Undone,” is a little bluesier than anything they’ve done on the past two records. It sounds a bit like the song “I’m Feeling Good” as performed by Micheal Buble. If you need a more indie comparison, check out “Midnight” by The Watson Twins. The whole song is done with a couplet rhyme scheme, which I think is underused in pop music nowadays.
I stumble and I fall, your time is on my side Don’t make sense of it all, despite my foolish pride It’s got me on my knees, tearin’ up my heart I’m shakin’ at my bones, tearin’ me apart
When I can’t get close to you I come undone, I come undone Come undone, babe, I come undone
Lanegan hits every right note on this song. His rough-like-sandpaper voice perfectly captures the feelings of longing and Campbell’s throaty purr provides an extra layer of depth that’s not quite needed to make the song work, but makes it all the better.
Other highlights on the album include “Cool Water,” which also features Willy Mason as guest vocalist and “Get Behind Me,” a rockabilly jam that feels a bit out of place on the record, but is a welcome change of pace.
A lot of these boy/girl duos have put out albums recently. Jenny and Johnny, She and Him, Matt and Kim and The Swell Season all have had releases in the past year. And I think Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell blow each of them out of the water. I don’t know what they did differently on this third album, but I hope they keep it up.
Do yourself a favor and pick up Hawk when you get a chance. It’s honestly one of the best releases of the year, regardless of genre. It contains no less than five great songs, and of the other nine, not a single one is bad. If bands put out more quality records like this one, maybe some of us would start to feel bad about downloading music for free.
Isobel Campbell hails from Glasgow, Scotland. Mark Lanegan hails from Ellensburg, Washington.
One thing, which is my own fault, is that I got there late. Now, generally I pride myself on being early or at least on time, but for some reason we couldn’t get out the door Saturday night. By the time we got there, it was packed. I couldn’t see very well from way in the back, so we decided to go up to the balcony.
Reason two that I am upset was that, apparently in the balcony, all people do is talk. For over an hour I was driven bonkers by these two idiots behind me who would not shut up. A woman to my right kept giving them dirty looks, but they didn’t care. They paid their money, just like everyone else.
Finally, and maybe the worst part of the whole thing, for the purposes of this blog anyway, we were told that recording is not allowed, and that we would have to put our camera away. Well, let me just say that I was taken by surprise, as there was a security guard not 10 feet from us that didn’t say a thing, but this 400-pound lug grabbed a friend and ran all the way around the balcony to shut our little operation down. Therefore, and I apologize for this, the video quality that I work so hard to provide, is terrible because it was all shot on my iPhone.
The show itself, at least what I saw, was actually pretty good. Joe Pug is a guy who always leaves it out on the stage. If the audience is with him, he has no problem laying bare his heart and soul. On this particular night, he seemed very excited to be back home in Chicago, and playing for a crowd that was a bit more rowdy than his previous gigs.
He played almost every song he’s recorded thus far. A couple of my personal favorite’s, “I Do My Father’s Drugs,” and “Bury Me Far (From My Uniform)” were both performed with the passion and intensity that they deserve. One thing about Joe is that he knows his craft very well, and understands the complexity of live shows and displaying his emotion in a way the audience can relate to.
He brought a lot of guests on stage with him to play different songs. It all culminated in most of them returning to stage for a cover of Tom Waits‘ song “Old Shoes (& Postcards),” which was a nice moment, and a good song to leave with. Also joining him on stage was his friend, Jeremy Miller, who used to sneak him into after hours recording sessions for his first EP.
On his album, Messenger, Joe plays alone for the most part. A man, a guitar and a harmonica. Naturally critics and music lovers feel compelled to compare him to Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. While he isn’t at the talent level musically that they have reached, he does share a kind of kindred spirit with them.
His songs are all from the heart, without hiding, as some artists do, behind narratives about characters other than themselves. Joe Pug is 100% honest with his listeners and he wears his emotions right on his face.
There is a lot of good stuff on Messenger. I mentioned “Bury Me Far” already, and the song “Unsophisticated Heart” is a folky ballad with lyrics simple and heartfelt:
oh my eyes will be hard and my voice will be guarded my mind so bewildered and buried in the garden you may still know my by just one part
One problem I do have with Messenger, though, is that the lead title-track and the final track, “Speak Plainly Diana,” are full-on folk/rock songs that don’t quite fit with the other eight songs. They’re both good songs, and I wouldn’t lose them completely, but it disturbs the flow of a very good folk album with these more upbeat crowd-pleasers.
Maybe the issue is that Joe’s previous two releases were EPs. Putting a full-length album together isn’t easy. I could definitely see these songs being so much fun to play live that he felt he needed to include them. Fun they might be, but when you put them next to songs like “How Good You Are” and “Bury Me Far” it just doesn’t add up.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m a fan of Joe Pug and all three of his releases. His songwriting skills keep getting stronger, and his live performance is fun and touching, and I think if you went into one feeling a little down, you would leave with your spirits replenished with joy.
Messenger gets a strong recommendation from me. I add only that you should also go back and check out Nation of Heat and In The Meantime. In those two EPs he accomplishes more than most singer-songwriters do in a career.
▪ Joe Pug currently resides in Chicago.
Avi Buffalo‘s time is stretched pretty thin right now. So, it was very kind of Avi to take time out and answer some questions via email.
A couple of notes about the interview:
▪ I was very excited that there was an answer to my question about Wilco. That could have been a really stupid question had I misinterpreted Avi’s music.
▪ Also glad to hear that there’s already talk of evolving as a band and a songwriter. No Jack Johnson here. So look out for a different sound on the next Avi Buffalo release.
Now, check out the interview!
Josh Terzino: Thanks so much for taking the time out to answer some of my questions. I’ve been a big supporter of the band since I listened to your stuff on MySpace after you were announced as playing the 80/35 Festival in Des Moines. I couldn’t make it to that show, so I’m really looking forward to catching you at Schubas on Wednesday.
Some of our readers may not know where you all met and got started, so could you give us a brief recap of how things went at the beginning?
Avi Buffalo: I started the project just recording in my room with a computer microphone, eventually i was asked to play shows via myspace because of those recordings, then i formed a full band and started taking gigs as they came, and had a vague rule of never saying no to shows, then I met Aaron Embry and we started recording just for fun on his pro tools rig and it was really fun, recording a couple new songs and redoing old ones in the hi-fidelity setting started forming a record.
JT: For a debut album, it is fairly ambitious. When you were recording did you ever think that you had bit off more than you can chew?
AB: Well, i’ve had weird little freakouts to myself about a follow up because the songs on our debut are from a span of like 3 years, the first of which were written with very uninhibited, natural intent, so I was lucky to have a range of songs to work with, though now i’m writing bits and pieces of songs and i feel like stuff is pretty diverse.
JT: You guys recently played the Solid Sound Festival with Chicago’s own Wilco. I hear some mutual influences between you. What bands do you think influenced your sound and how much are you conscious of trying to NOT sound like someone else?
AB: That was amazing, Wilco has always been a really important band to me for lots of reasons, I met Nels Cline in Los Angeles when I was about 15 and got to know him through his side projects and fell in love with that stuff. My favorite Wilco record is A Ghost Is Born, which is produced and played on a lot by Jim O’Rourke, so Wilco also got me really into all the stuff he does, his guitar playing inspires me a lot, and of course I ended up tracing him back to Fahey and am now trying to get more into that. As the type of guitar player i am there are traditional folk things i’m drawn to naturally, but artists like them add a twist to it that I like.
JT: You guys are from California, and your album has some aspects of that sunshiny, good-time vibe, but it generally exists over pretty somber lyrics. How do you find the right balance for that dynamic to work? Have you worked on songs that were way too far to one side and had to be shelved?
AB: I’m glad you noticed! Sometimes I worry that our music is coming off too happily and I really don’t want that. A lot of the “sunshine” of the record has to do with the fact that I was recording with a pretty sunshiney dude, and we just kind of let loose with guitar and whacky stuff. I plan to get different, probably heavier tones on the next record.
JT: Since your record came out at the end of April, you’ve been touring non-stop. You finished a summer tour here in the States, then went overseas. Now you’re back and finishing up your last leg of the tour. What kind of toll has your first transcontinental tour taken on the band?
AB: It’s taken a pretty hefty toll, but I think that’s a good thing. I learned a lot about people, myself, life, etc. I think we went a LITTLE too hard, but that’s okay too, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
JT: After a year or so of playing the songs off your album, especially some of the more heartbreaking tracks like “Jessica” (which I think is even with “Bear” by The Antlers for the best heartbreakers I’ve heard this year), how much are you looking forward to a break?
AB: I’m greatly looking forward to it, for the writing, recording, creative exploration’s sake mostly. I’m gonna do some school, a little bit of California coast exploring(Big Sur, Santa Cruz) and write music.
JT: What should fans expect from a Avi Buffalo live performance?
AB: What we’ve fallen into lately is a lot of very guitar-drums driven stuff, some more almost-jazz rock stuff, but it’s still just rock. It’s messy in a good way! but sometimes very quiet and clean too.
JT: What kind of material have you been working on and when should we start thinking about the NEXT Avi Buffalo record?
AB: Some darker acoustic stuff, back to the whispery computer microphone, some loop based movements, and god knows what else. It should be lots of fun for me.
Check out my review of Avi Buffalo’s self-titled debut!
Band: Avi Buffalo Album: Avi Buffalo Release Date: April 27, 2010
Why is it, then, that music critics feel the need to talk about the age of the members of Avi Buffalo instead of the music? It’s certainly not unheard of for a group of young people to get together and make music. Half the girls in America’s high schools think they can be the next Britney or Rihanna, or whatever is popular these days. So what’s the big deal about a group of people 17- to 21-year-olds putting out an album?
I think the problem critics have is that they can’t understand how people so young made an album so good. It’s rare that a band captures the feelings and thoughts of modern teenagers, mainly because the songs are written from memories about what it was like. Avi Buffalo has written an album about teenage awkwardness, love and sex while it’s still fresh in their minds. Wounds are still open and embarrassments are still in the foreground of their minds.
Avi (Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg) wrote songs that speak to everyone –not just kids in high school. This debut album is actually quite ambitious in scope. Nine songs and 42 minutes of a boy fumbling through life, trying to become a man. And he does it with eloquence and intelligence beyond his years.
One thing about the album that initially turned me off is Avi’s voice. Like Dylan or Oberst, you have to get used to it. And like Dylan, Avi uses his voice to convey his thoughts and feelings perfectly. Every crack and squeal is an added layer of depth to the words that he’s singing. Once you get accustomed to the way he sings, it’s actually quite enjoyable.
And listening is one thing you have to do if you want to fall in love with Avi Buffalo. His words, which he deemed “very silly” in one interview, are the main attraction for me. Check out what he writes in the song “What’s In It For?“
I can read but I won’t if I’m sleeping here without you All these things that you learn, I’ve been knowing since my childhood You are tiny and your lips are like little pieces of bacon I can feel you on fire because you’re drunk and I seem too cool
Well, maybe the bacon line seems a bit silly, but the rest is very good, and it’s a great pop song.
Across the board, Avi Buffalo are talented musicians. Avi and Rebecca Coleman make some sweet harmonies together, and the band feels like they’ve been together almost as long as they’ve been alive.
There’s one track in particular that I want to highlight, only because of what it reminds me of. “One Last” is a soft starter that erupts into a beautiful sunshiny California pop song in spots. But listening to it made me want to listen to another song that I had all but forgotten over the years, “Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far)” by The Thrills. I don’t know if Avi Buffalo drew any inspiration from the Irish band doing their version of laid back California campfire, but it sure seems like it on this one track.
And that, really, is what music is all about when you’re young. Hell, it’s what it’s all about when you’re old too. Paying tribute to those who came before you and making it your own. To that end, Avi Buffalo have succeeded wildly. They’ve taken indie pop/rock through the hallways and cafeterias of life and created something new out of all the best pieces of their influences.
▪ Avi Buffalo hails from Long Beach and is: Avi Zahner-Isenberg (guitar/vocals), Rebecca Coleman (keyboards/vocals), Arin Fazio (bass) and Sheridan Riley (drums).
▪ Their self-titled debut is available on the band’s website for $9.99 (mp3s), $12.99 (CD) or vinyl ($14.99).
▪ For more Avi Buffalo, check out my interview with lead singer Avi!
It’s great when you meet a band that you enjoy and find out they’re as nice as you had hoped. Such was the case when I had the opportunity to interview Chaperone! at their EP release party Thursday night at Subterranean.
They answered my questions very well as a group — except for Shayla, who was nervous and didn’t say much.
That’s OK, though. Given the circumstances, I can’t blame her. After being kicked off the fire escape by management at Subterranean, we finished the interview in the ladies room.
So enjoy a few minutes with Chaperone! Hopefully you dig them as much as I do.
There are a couple of things you should know before you go see Chaperone! live:
Bass player Miles Doornbos bakes cookies for the audience before every show.
You’re gonna have a good time whether you want to or not, so just go with it. Also, they’re some of the nicest people you could hope to meet.
I was happy, as I always am in these cases, that I was not let down with Chaperone! after my review of their EP. I think they’re a really good band, and after speaking with them for a few minutes, I could tell they’re a pretty close group. And it absolutely shows through in their performance. I would say there is a bit of one-upmanship going on, but with Miles, I don’t know that anyone else in the band has the energy to outdo him.
The whole band gets on famously, and the energy is relentless. Even when they play a slower song like “Waltzing Topside,” they still move around the stage and let the music push and pull them every which way.
And when they play a real hair-raiser like “Thomas!” things get crazy. As much as everyone on stage seem to be enjoying things, the audience is even MORE into it. Jumping up and down, dancing, hand-clapping along with the performers. This is live performance 101, kids. If you can get the crowd to play along with you, people are gonna leave with a smile on their faces.
I have no knowledge of how long the set was that they played. I know that they played all the songs off of their EP, Cripple King, as well as some newer stuff, but I was so caught up in it that time lost all meaning. You could almost measure the length of time on stage by the liters of sweat seeping off of Miles, but I don’t want that job, and I doubt anyone else does. I can say that for a lot of bands, I kind of tune out if I don’t know the song they’re playing, but that wasn’t the case on this night. If anything I was listening more intently, trying to decipher new words and progressions unfamiliar to my ears.
The highlight of the new stuff, for me anyway, was a song by Miles called “Raised By Wolves.” Previously the energy coming from the band was at a level I didn’t think could be eclipsed, but leave it to this guy to crank it up to 11. The song doesn’t seem to fit with much of the other stuff Chaperone! had done, it was much more punk than anything on the EP, for sure. It was so far set apart from the rest of the show, in fact, that I think it will be what I remember most about this performance.
All the songs from the EP sounded great. Standing in front of the speakers, Shayla’s vocals seemed a bit drowned out, but when I went back and listened to my recordings, I was elated that somehow the mic picked up ALL of the different voices featured. Which is good, because the harmonies that Chaperone! put out are very sweet, and add that extra layer that takes a song from good to great.
I should mention that the opening acts Dylan Kloska, Elephant Gun, and Dastardly were all good as well. For the first two bands I wasn’t paying that much attention because I was there with my friend Dominic, who I don’t see nearly enough, and we were talking about religion and Christine O’Donnell. What I heard sounded good, though. And the end of the Dastardly set was pretty cool.
Chaperone! is playing again next month at Metro, and I very highly recommend taking an evening to enjoy their music. Dastardly is also on that bill, so it’s almost like going to see this concert again, or for the first time if you missed out.
▪ Check out my review of Chaperone!’s EP, Cripple King.
Band: Band of Horses Album: Infinite Arms Release Date: May 18, 2010
Band of Horses, or Fleet Foxes for grown-ups as I call them, have been through a lot over the last four years. Their first album, Everything All the Time, was recorded after they were recruited to open for Iron & Wine in 2005. After the recording, two members of the band were let go. They brought in three new members to finish out their tour. Before they started recording Cease to Begin, another member left (Matt Brooke, who went on to form Grand Archives). After Cease to Begin, the band added another three members.
Through it all Ben Bridwell and company have continued to make quality records, despite any outside obstructions. Now a quintet, Band of Horses released Infinite Arms on May 18, 2010. Bridwell has called this the first true Band of Horses album, due to the group’s now stable lineup.
It’s worrisome, then, that the album is so inconsistent. Infinite Arms features the first song not sung by Bridwell on a Band of Horses album, “Older.” Surprisingly it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. Keyboardist Ryan Monroe penned this one, a song about remembrance of times past. A sweet, country-tinged track with fairly shallow lyrics but deep with emotion.
That’s as close as they come to the power that punches through the previous two albums. Infinite Arms has a lot of good songs on it, but nothing that touches songs like “No One’s Gonna Love You” or “The Funeral.” Not that there are any bad songs, per se. Mostly it just feels like we’ve been here before. “Evening Kitchen” reminds me too much of “St. Augustine” and “Laredo” doesn’t sound exactly like “Weed Party,” but it’s a close approximation.
I was really excited for this album when it came out this summer. My wife and I had been to Atlanta to see Band of Horses perform two shows for New Year’s and they played about half of the album. I thought the songs they played sounded good, but the finished product left me a bit cold the first time I listened to it. In subsequent listens, over the past few months, I’ve warmed up a bit to the record. I still think it misses the mark as often as it hits, but I like Infinite Arms despite it’s faults.
And I can’t hate a band for going back to the well for inspiration. Everyone does it from time to time, even my beloved Wilco — GASP! Don’t tell them I said that — has been guilty of this crime. I just hope that Band of Horses can build on this record and come out stronger on the next one.
I have a lot of faith that they are capable of more great records. After all, Ben Bridwell is the one that told that “the world is such a wonderful place.” With more Band of Horses records coming, I have no reason to doubt that.
▪ Band of Horses, hailing from Seattle and South Carolina, is: Ben Bridwell (vocals/keys/guitar), Ryan Monroe (keys/vocals), Tyler Ramsey (guitar), Bill Reynolds (bass) and Creighton Barrett (drums).
▪ Infinite Arms is available on Band of Horses’ official site for $10.99 (CD). The LP, which costs $19.99, is sold out.
▪ The group will be playing a sold-out show at the Riviera Theatre on October 19. Sorry, it’s sold out!
Band: Passion Pit Album: Manners Release Date: May 19, 2009
I remember it like it was yesterday. Spring was turning into summer, and there was a feeling of hope and change running through the country. It was sepia-toned if I’m not mistaken, and they were the greatest days of our lives.
I was visiting my friend, Kevin, who has been my go-to guy for music chat. He’s introduced me to a lot of good bands over the years — Brand New, Ghostland Observatory and Manchester Orchestra to name a few. His greatest contribution to my musical world, however, came on this particular night. We had been talking about a lot of stuff. Mainly music, but also things like World Cup Soccer, which he is very into.
As I was getting ready to leave, he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Hey! I have this band you must listen to before you go.” Knowing his taste in music, I was intrigued. He grabbed his iPod and we went out to sit in my car and give this band a spin.
Before he hit play he mentioned that I might think it was weird, and I got nervous. When the music started I knew why he said that. My brain had a hard time processing what was going on. Crazy synths and a dude with a falsetto so high I thought my windows were going to start cracking. This was Passion Pit‘s EP, Chunk of Change. A definite must if you’re going to listen to the album I’ve been avoiding reviewing thus far, Manners.
After hearing the EP, I was very excited to check out the full-length a couple weeks later. The music was a bit weird at first, but once the initial shock and confusion goes away, you start to realize that Passion Pit knows how to put together great tracks over and over again.
But Manners is not an EP; it’s an LP. And while many of the songs are very good, it’s an LP that gets bogged down in some self-indulgence on a few tracks, and doesn’t flow as well as Chunk Of Change does. There’s a lot to recommend on Manners, but it’s missing the punch and sustained energy of the shorter release.
One of the best tracks on the full-length is “Little Secrets.” It’s got a disco-funk rhythm that I find impossible not to dance to. The lyrics, also, add a bit of weight to an otherwise light, bouncy track:
Mother I can tell what you’ve been thinking Staring at the stars on your ceiling Thinking once there was a power you were wielding And now I’ve hit the mark Stabbing at the dark And I cannot help but ignore the people staring at my scars
Pretty dark stuff for a band that I generally think of when I want to dance and have fun. I suppose that’s the best thing about Passion Pit. They’ve definitely got the stuff when it comes to making you get down and boogie, but they’re also writing songs that are intelligent. They deal with the subjects they write about in a very real way, and they don’t shy away from the somber side of things. The trick is that they constantly keep you smiling and your body rockin’ while speaking their minds about real issues.
And for that, I recommend Passion Pit to a whole slew of music lovers. If you like dance music, you’ll love it. If you like to be enlightened through song, you’ll love it. If you just want to have a good time with your friends, sitting around in your car, you’ll love it.
I would definitely say, to anyone thinking about checking out Passion Pit for the first time, pick up the EP first. If you like it, you’ll probably dig Manners. If not, Passion Pit may not be for you. And I pity you.
▪ Passion Pit hails from Cambridge, Massachusetts and is: Michael Angelakos (vocals/synth), Ian Hultquist (synth), Ayad Al Adhamy (synth), Jeff Apruzzese (bass) and Nate Donmoyer (drums).
▪ Manners is available on Passion Pit’s website for $9.99 (mp3s).
▪ Chunk of Change is available on iTunes for $5.99 (mp3s).
▪ The group doesn’t have any upcoming engagements in Chicago. But, they will be playing in Dekalb on Thursday, October 21 at Northern Illinois University. Tickets are $39.75-$43.85 (fees included).
Band: Belle & Sebastian Album: Belle & Sebastian Write About Love Release Date: October 12, 2010
I wouldn’t say it’s a man crush — those are reserved for NPH and Justin Timberlake. What I would say is that I am consistently amazed by Murdoch’s voice and his ability to write songs that seem trite on the surface, but take on a deeper meaning if you really listen to the music.
It is with great relief that I announce Belle & Sebastian Write About Love to be a return to form for Belle & Sebastian. They’ve only released one album of new material since 2003′s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, The Life Pursuit in 2006. Pursuit is a good album, but much of it is bogged down, not really demonstrating what Belle & Sebastian do best.
This new record is a confection filled with so much sugary pop music, you may just run around for 20 minutes and then pass out after listening to it. As soon as the album gets going, with “I Didn’t See It Coming,” it is very apparent that the title “Write About Love” isn’t just something clever. We get 14 tracks of songs about the power of love, in different forms, from a band that has spent over a decade on the subject.
Belle & Sebastian step outside their norm on a few tracks this time out. They feature two songs with guest vocalists, Norah Jones on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John” and the star of the great movie An Education, Carey Mulligan, on the title track.
The Jones track actually sounds like it would fit in on one of her records. It’s a soulful song about missed opportunities at love and love taken for granted. It opens like this:
What a waste, I could have been your lover What a waste, I could have been your friend Perfect Love is like a blossom that fades so quick When it’s blowing up a storm in May
The Mulligan track is a complete 180 from Norah’s. It’s a song about the power of love to pick you up when you’re down. It features lyrics so simple it seems stupid that no one has thought to use them in a song before:
I know a spell That would make you well Write about love It can be in any tense But it must make sense
The use of these two guest vocalists provides some freshness to tracks that might otherwise just sound like any other Belle & Sebastian song. I could certainly see some fans or casual listeners hearing some of this album and saying that it’s been done before. Something is different this time around though. I credit Norah and Carey for at least some of that.
I also credit Stevie Jackson, whose guitar work here is excellent. I think he’s an underrated guitarist due to the style Belle & Sebastian play. He isn’t afforded a lot of time to shine. We get flashes on a lot of songs. I think one of the saving graces of The Life Pursuit is that the arrangements of some of the songs let Stevie play around a bit more. The same is true here, and it sounds great.
All of the members of the band are strong here. The harmonies on “I’m Not Living In the Real World” are particularly strong. Nothing new for these guys, though. Sarah Martin doesn’t make one forget completely about Isobel Campbell, but she fills in more than adequately, and her voice compliments Stuart’s very well.
I’ve only listened to Write About Love four or five times now. It’s a bit early to tell, but I think if I had to, I would rank it third, behind Dear Catastrophe Waitress and If You’re Feeling Sinister in the realm of Belle & Sebastian albums. It’s a strong candidate for my top ten of the year at this point, and I suggest picking it up when it comes out.
▪ Belle & Sebastian hails from Glasgow, Scotland and is: Stuart Murdoch (vocals/acoustic and electric guitar/keyboards), Sarah Martin (vocals/electric guitar), Stevie Jackson (electric and acoustic guitar/vocals), Chris Geddes (keyboards), Richard Colburn (drums), Mick Cooke (trumpet/bass), and Bobby Kildea (guitar/bass).
Band: Chaperone! Album: Cripple King EP Release Date: October 14, 2010
Usually when I write a review of an album, I like to revisit it at least four or five times before I even think about what I’m going to write. For my review of The Airborne Toxic Event‘s selt-titled debut, I probably listened to their record 20 or so times (I was very bored at work). I’ve easily eclipsed that number with the new EP by Chaperone!, Cripple King.
And I could probably listen to it all day. Cripple King moves along smooth as silk and constantly drives forward, never looking back. Chaperone! describes their music as “Pop-Americana,” and that fits them well. They feature jangly guitar, wonderful harmonies and a whole slew of percussion instruments that add layers on top of an already very good surface.
The EP is five tracks, each one building on the last. “Fed on Coal,” the lead track, is a good introduction to the band. In 87 seconds you get a great idea of what the band is going to give you over the rest of the EP. It’s also a very good song in its own right.
The first single off the record, “Thomas,” really gets things moving. It’s a toe-tapper that will stick with you for days. Heavy on guitar and harmonies, the sound just sweeps over you creating a sense of euphoria coupled with underlying longing. It’s a great track, and a perfect set-up for the next track, “Witches and Sailors.”
My favorite line from the EP comes in this third track:
Send back thank-you cards I am no messiah No one should love a man Who lives just to get higher I don’t want to lie Everyone within these walls will die
The final two tracks, “Letter to Home” and “Waltzing Topside,” rely more heavily on vocals than the other three songs. They also feature some of the most fully-realized moments on the EP. The lyrics take a solemn turn, which makes the harmonies that much more haunting.
Clocking in at just under 13 minutes, Cripple King is just an appetizer to the feast I think this band is probably capable of. They seem to have made all the right decisions on this release, and if they keep going that way I definitely see big things in their future.
▪ Chaperone! hails from Chicago and is: Shaun Michael Paul (guitar/vocals), Thomas Des Enfants (drums), Miles Doornbos (bass/vocals), Shayla Kloska (vocals/bells) and Mark Sheridan (keys/guitar).
Band: The Felice Brothers Album: Mix Tape Release Date: March 30, 2010
The Felice Brothers put out their self-titled debut in 2008. A year later, they put out two new releases, Yonder is the Clock and a self-recorded disc called Mix Tape. Originally intended as a free recording for fans to pick up at shows, record label Team Love (Conor Oberst‘s label), decided there was money to be made and put it out nationally.
That’s a very good thing for people unable to see The Felice Brothers live. Mix Tape is a strong record comprised of tracks that the band deemed unworthy or just didn’t fit on Yonder. By my count they are mostly right. The songs here are good, but I don’t think I would replace anything on the former record.
I’m reminded of the movie Songcatcher when I listen to The Felice Brothers for some reason. Probably because they come from the Catskill Mountains where, as in Songcatcher, songs are passed down through the generations. It gives everything they do a homegrown feeling that I find charming. Coming from that area also provides some great influences.
A lot of people (critics, mostly) have tossed out comparisons to The Band and Bob Dylan when they talk about The Felice Brothers. Those comparisons aren’t completely wrong. When listening to any of their three records, you can definitely hear touches of both. I would say the difference, at least to me, is that The Felice Brothers seem to be having a lot more fun while they play. The lyrics can be solemn and serious, but there’s always an underlying feeling of a group of guys just hanging out playing music for and with each other.
On Mix Tape, there is a mix bag of words both tragic and comedic in almost every song. Take, for example, these lyrics from the beginning and end of the song “Marie“:
You say we ran our course And I’m feelin’ like a racin’ horse Got a feelin’ I’ll be runnin’ all my life My life
You say this song’s in G I don’t fuckin’ give a shit I wrote this song in the key of love Love
There’s also a point in “Marie” where it sounds like The Felice Brothers are about to break out an old-school rhyme-off. It doesn’t happen, luckily. What does happen, on this track and every other one on Mix Tape, is a musical tribute to the past as they push folk music into the 21st century.
If you’re a fan of bands like Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, or Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, definitely check out Mix Tape and the other releases by The Felice Brothers. Their brand of folk music is something I like to call “Campfire.” It’s easy for me to imagine a group of people sitting around together, singing these songs and enjoying one another’s company, drinking the night away.
The Felice Brothers hail from the Catskills in New York and are: Ian Felice (guitar/vocals), Dave Turberville (drums), James Felice (accordion), Christmas Clapton (bass) and Greg Farley (Fiddle).
Mix Tape is available on the group’s website for $10 (CD).
When I last discussed The Thermals here on Chicago Tunes, I wrote about how disappointed I was in their new record, Personal Life. Sadly, their performance at Logan Square Auditorium Sunday night didn’t do much to change my feelings.
Everything seemed very mundane. I understand life on the road is hard and exhausting, but the way most of the songs were played, it all felt commonplace. As if the energy and fun had been sucked out of the room.
I blame some of this on the sound system at Logan Square. I honestly don’t know which I’m more upset with: a) The Thermals show, or b) this particular building and its claim to be a music venue.
If you’ve never been inside, it’s basically just like Beat Kitchen. One big open room with a stage on one end. Except, at Logan Square, it all seems so makeshift. It’s like having a dance in the school cafeteria. Move out the tables and set up a stage, stack up some speakers on top of one another, and now it’s a concert hall.
Most of the vocals were drowned out by the drums and guitar being turned up too loud, and even those instruments sounded muddy and flat. If I didn’t already know the words to some of the songs, there’s no way I would have been able to make them out. Even on my favorite Thermals tune, “Pillar of Salt,” the best guitar part was almost inaudible due to the poor sound quality.
I know I’m being harsh on a band when a lot of the problem wasn’t their fault, but if the sound is that bad in a place, at least do something to make up for it. Maybe play some songs that don’t usually make the live set, or have some banter with the audience that goes beyond, “Thanks a lot. This one’s called ‘Power Lies.’ “
Even though the energy was down for the majority of the show, especially when they were playing the new stuff (like the first four or five songs played), they did their best to crank it up for some of the older tracks. “Now We Can See” and “Returning to the Fold” both sounded good, and you could feel the change in power when they played other audience favorites, particularly “When We Were Alive” and “Here’s Your Future.”
Unfortunately that power was not sustained the whole evening. If it had been, this would be a much different review, and I a much different reviewer.
As it stands, The Thermals have now disappointed me twice in a month. It’s hard to come back from that. Especially with me. I still hold a grudge against The Zutons for their album, You Can Do Anything (so much so that I probably won’t listen to their music for at least another year).
I hold out hope for The Thermals, though. As bad as it is right now, I’m convinced that sometime down the line they will find their anger again. They seem fairly complacent today, but there’s no way that can last forever. I just hope it’s sooner than later.
Check out my review of The Thermals’ Personal Life.
Band: The Thermals Album: Personal Life Release Date: September 7, 2010
In the fall of 2008 I was introduced to The Thermals by the radio station KURE. The song was “A Pillar of Salt” off of The Body, the Blood, the Machine, and I was instantly hooked. I’ve surely listened to that song over a thousand times since then. It makes the cut on every single playlist I make (along with Erasure’s “A Little Respect“) and I can’t recommend that album, and specifically that song, enough.
So it is with great remorse that I have to write this review for an album that lets me down at almost every turn. That isn’t to say Personal Life is a bad record. I actually like parts of it quite a bit.
I’m referring to Personal Life as The Thermals’ So Much For the Afterglow. If you remember that Everclear record at all, I think you’ll understand my point. On the surface it seems like everything you would expect from the band, but it isn’t. There’s a certain something just not right with it as a whole.
What’s missing is the visceral energy of their past albums. The Thermals are at their best attacking things like politics and religion, and that doesn’t happen on this release.
Turning the focus inward and writing songs having more to do with personal musings on intimacy and life is a good thing for bands to do every once in a while. It’s an important part of letting the listener know where the band is coming from, and allows us to understand the music a little better. Putting out ten tracks in a row is a bit much for me, though.
One thing that the record gets right is the consistent sound. If you’ve listened to a Thermals record at any point in their career, you know that they have a very recognizable sonic element that runs through all of their music. Almost to a fault they adhere to the same concept on this record, all fuzzy guitar work and banging drums with a lot of cymbal crashes and fills. The vocals remain the strongest aspect of their sound, on this album a mix of accusatory snark and longing.
The lyrics remain smart and honest on Personal Life. The song “Alone, a Fool” is only a few lines long (and sounds a bit too much like a lot of songs on Liz Phair‘s Exile in Guyville), but it is a good example of the kind of material dealt with on the album:
When i have you near, when i have you near i’m alone When i have you close, i miss you the most i’m alone I have you in the past, long at the memories will last When i’m by myself, you’re with someone else i’m a fool When i’m by your side, i’m nowhere in your mind, i’m a fool You’re always in my head, you’re always in my head, i’m a fool
I may be a bit harsh in calling this album a disappointment. I was so looking forward to an album as good as The Body, the Blood, the Machine and this just wasn’t it. The Thermals have put out five albums in the last seven years, so I know I won’t have to wait too long before they put out another release that will get my hopes up. Next time I won’t let them get so high.
▪ The Thermals hail from Portland, Oregon and is: Hutch Harris (vocals/guitar), Kathy Foster (bass/vocals) and Westin Glass (drums/vocals).
▪ Personal Life is available on BuyOlympia.com for $12 (LP + mp3s) or $13 (CD).
I’m finding it very hard to write this show review. First of all, I’ve never been to a show like this one. Gemini Club performed their show sandwiched between five DJ sets, and while overall it was a good experience, it’s hard for me to judge the work of the people behind the turntables (or MacBooks, rather). I’m not much for dance clubs.
I like the music, don’t get me wrong. But as I’m getting older, I find it harder to be in an environment where a bunch of young people are dancing like crazy.
And dancing they were. If I have to judge the DJ sets on anything, I suppose it would be on whether or not people had a good time. From what I could see and hear, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Even I was moving a little bit. I didn’t break out in full booty-shakin’ mode, but there was definitely an energy pulsing through me from the rhythm of the music and atmosphere of the scene.
Gemini Club took the stage after the third DJ set, and there was a definite shift in the room. Up to that point most of the music had been club versions of pop songs and dance house anthems. Gemini Club came out much more aggressive and got the crowd pumped up. Tom Gavin wandered the stage like a madman, while Gordon Bramli and Dan Brunelle kept things moving at a frenetic pace.
The crazy thing about a Gemini Club show is that there are no breaks. They just go one song to the next, weaving songs together. Even Tom’s audience banter is included in the constant barrage of noise coming from the stage. Each track makes perfect sense leading into the next, and very often I had a hard time noticing when a song would end and a new one would begin.
The highlight of the set for me was when they included a small part of the Beatles’ classic “A Day in the Life” into one of their songs (video below). It blends in with their sound perfectly, and it’s a nice touch of mixing the old with the new. I’m sure George Martin would approve.
I recommend checking out a live show if you get a chance. There’s an energy involved in a show like this that is hard to find anywhere else. If you like dancing, jumping up and down and hearing music delivered to your ears in new and exciting ways, you won’t be disappointed.
▪ Gemini Club, based in Chicago, is: Tom Gavin (vocals/synth), Gordon Bramli (clips/mix) and Daniel Brunelle (bass/synth/guitar/resampler).
▪ The Metro show was a release party for their new single, “Ghost,” which will be available soon from Loose Change.
▪ For this show only, Hey Champ‘s John Marks was featured on drums.
▪ For more on Gemini Club, check out my exclusive interview with the band!
Before their anticipated release show at Metro on Friday, September 24, I sat down with Gemini Club to discuss their new single, “Ghost,” the Omar Epps film “Juice” and their award for best music video at the Atlantic City International Film Festival.
Band: The xx Album: xx Release Date: August 17, 2009
Earlier this month, The xx was awarded the Barclaycard Mercury Prize, an annual music award given to the best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland. The group beat out some stiff competition, including Mumford & Sons, Foals and Dizzee Rascal.
I can’t say I’m surprised, though. I’ve thought the world of their self-titled debut since it came out just over a year ago.
The xx seem to have an uncanny ability to create an atmosphere where the only things that exist are the music and the listener. I’ve described the album to friends by saying that if it was out when I was 15, I would have locked myself in my bedroom with it for months. A mix of shoegaze, indie pop and electric ambient, xx is the best breakup record of the past 12 months — and maybe, excuse the hyperbole, the decade.
Vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim sing to each other in a near whisper on most tracks, reminding me of too many episodes of Felicity. (If you get the reference, you should be very sad). The minimalist approach The xx takes compliments these breathy exchanges. A drum machine, guitar, bass and keyboard are all they need to bring the listener into their world.
It’s easy to get lost in the back and forth between the two singers. One seems to be trying to keep the relationship together while the other is walking away. But, on some tracks they seem to switch parts. Or maybe they feel the same way, but they can’t seem to communicate their feelings at the same time.
Here’s an example of a lyric from the song “Crystalised,” where they are both singing. The parentheses are Oliver’s lines:
Glaciers have melted to the sea (Things have gotten closer to the sun) I wish the tide would take me over (And I’ve done things in small doses) I’ve been down onto my knees (So don’t think that I’m pushing you away) And you just keep on getting closer (When you’re the one that I’ve kept closest)
Maybe that isn’t the absolute best passage on the record, but it’s the one I like the best. There are a lot of things I like best on this album, though.
The song “Infinity” has a couple of things going for it that might make it my favorite song on the record. First of all, the drum loop that they have on this track is just sick. I could listen to it over and over. Secondly, and this is my absolute favorite thing about the song, it reminds me of the Chris Isaak hit “Wicked Game.”
The theme of “Infinity” seems to be the antithesis of “Wicked Game,” but they are so sonically similar that it is impossible for me to think of one without the other (much like Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” and Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” — only not the exact same song with different words).
If you can’t tell by now, I recommend this record. If you’re down, in a sad mood, you’re going to relate to the lyrics. If you’re having a great day, the music isn’t gonna bring you down. Xx really is a sort of perfect album for all moods.
It’s been out for over a year, so you may have already come to that conclusion on your own. If not, go out and get xx! Buying instructions below.
▪ The xx hails from South West London and is: Oliver Sims (bass/vocals), Romy Madely Croft (guitar/vocals) and Jamie Smith (keyboards).
▪ Originally a four-piece, guitarist/keyboardist Baria Qureshi left the group after the recording of their debut album.
Band: Laura Veirs Album: July Flame Release Date: January 12, 2010
I first heard Laura Veirs in 2006 when her album, The Triumphs and Travails of Orphan Mae, was recommended to me via Last.fm. I’m not sure what I was listening to at the time that was similar to her music, maybe The Little Willies, maybe Fiona Apple. Whatever it was, I was pleased to hear a voice completely unknown to me but familiar in some cosmic way.
Her new album, July Flame, is no different. It is haunting and beautiful, deeply personal. This is her first release since leaving a major label, and I find it to be not only her most fully realized work, but also the most accessible for audiences. Her voice has grown into itself, and long-time producer/boyfriend Tucker Martine knows how to play to her strengths.
July Flame is full of soft guitar, soaring strings, horns and voices layered on one another to create a universe all its own. I’ve even made up a new genre for this album to fall into, indie-western. It has a lot of elements of country music, but not the country music we know today. Not the Toby Keith-ified country music you hear blaring out of pickup trucks in small towns. No, I mean real old-time country/folk music that would’ve made Johnny Cash proud.
My favorite track on this new record, “Sun Is King,” features steel guitar by The Decemberists’ Chris Funk, and harmony vocals from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. They also lend a hand on a few other tracks spread out throughout the album. “Sun Is King” is definitely a country influenced song, but I’ve never heard a country song with lyrics like this:
Did you see the ice in his eye? Did you see the dagger caught in his smile? Innocent as a summer flower With a serpent coiled under his collar
I find it hard to believe that after seven albums, Laura Veirs’ audience hasn’t grown larger. She writes good songs, works with talented musicians and has a musical personality that lends itself to a kind of Starbucks-y crowd. I guess being from the northwest she has to compete for fans with bands like Modest Mouse, The Decemberists, and Death Cab for Cutie. I honestly think she’s as good as all of those bands (well, maybe not The Decemberists. I mean, did you hear Hazards of Love??)
It is my hope that all of you who read this at least give July Flame a shot. If you like it, work backwards through her catalogue. I really dig her song “Jailhouse Fire” off of the album, The Triumphs and Travails of Orphan Mae, I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.
▪ Laura Veirs is based in Portland.
▪ July Flame is available on Laura’s website for $7.99 (mp3s) up to $32.99 (Vinyl + T-shirt + Songbook).
I love going to venues I’ve never been before, especially to see a group or artist I’ve seen elsewhere. So, I approached Saturday night’s show with optimism, thinking that if the Titus Andronicus show was anywhere even close to as good as their performance at Subterranean, I would be in for a treat.
And after being fist-bumped for wearing a Wilco T-shirt, my optimism grew 10 times.
The first band certainly didn’t disappoint. Male Bonding is a three-piece group of guys from England who came out dripping with attitude and talent.
I thought it would be rough for them to play to a good-sized crowd that probably didn’t have an inkling who they were, but Male Bonding seem to have no concept of the audience’s ignorance. They played hard and fast without worrying whether the audience was singing along.
Their energy was a great setup for the next band, who, I thought, really blew the lid off.
Free Energy, hailing from Philadelphia, is a five-member group of kids who are deeply influenced by ’70s rock. After a couple of songs, the image I was getting in my head was of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers playing with the energy of Iggy and The Stooges. The crowd was getting really into the group, and Free Energy was playing like it could be their last show.
I didn’t really have an idea of who they were before the show started, but they certainly paint a clear picture in their live performance. I urge anyone to seek out their music and definitely check out a show the next time they hit Chicago or, if you aren’t in Chicago, a town near you.
Best Coast played third, and here I have a bit of a problem. I’m not a fan of Best Coast. At all. They have a large group of people who enjoy their music, and they are critically praised, based on Metacritic’s score of 78 for their full-length debut. I just don’t get it.
Their performance, much like the album, all sounded the same to me. Like one long 45-minute song with little interstitials for clapping. And it isn’t to say I don’t think they’re talented. They can sing and play their instruments just fine. It just doesn’t hit me.
A lot of the crowd enjoyed Best Coast’s set. And maybe I’m being too harsh because I was getting antsy for Titus to get up on stage. I don’t know. Check ‘em out and decide for yourself.
Titus Andronicus. What can I say? It is an experience one really needs to live through to truly understand. There is a certain connectivity between the band and the audience that you lose yourself in. When the show is over, your throat will be sore, your body will ache and you will be both mentally and physically exhausted.
The great thing is that you don’t mind at all, because Titus Andronicus is a great live band, and putting your mind and body through the ringer is part of the performance.
My favorite thing about Titus, and a lot of bands that thrive on stage, is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Too many times when you see a band — and I’ll use U2 as an example — everthing is pre-determined. When is the last time Bono hit a bad note during a show? 1991? Having that kind of production is great for fans who want to hear “Vertigo” exactly as it is on the record, but it is also very predictable and boring.
Boring is a word I don’t think I could even fathom someone saying about Titus Andronicus’ live show. Who cares if Patrick Stickles’ vocals are a bit off-key, or if Amy Klein’s violin is out of tune? Of course it is. Do you see how much fun they are having jumping up and down and screaming??
Why would you expect a song like “No Future, Pt. Three: Escape From No Future” to sound exactly like it does on The Monitor? Stay home and listen to it. The performance of that song, which we have on video, is an explosion of emotion and sonic angst. I almost hate the album version for not being as full and deep as the live show.
I still love the album, though. And the performance only builds on my feeling that Titus Andronicus is going to be around for a long, long time. I hope that everyone who reads this gets a chance to see them over the next couple of years. I know you’ll regret it if you don’t.
Check out my review of Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor.
The Airborne Toxic Event seem to have found a way to mirror the arc of their self-titled debut in live performances by starting off restrained and building the energy with each new song. It’s a choice I was unsure of at first, as I found a couple of the songs slow.
But as the show went on, much of it highlighted with string accompaniment by the Calder Quartet, I found myself enjoying the overall scope of the show, and just allowing it to envelope me in the atmosphere of the evening.
Leading off with the album’s first track “Wishing Well,” the band came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Everyone on stage was on mark and ready to give the audience the best show they could.
They even included a couple of new tracks off of their forthcoming album. Those came earlier in the show, and followed the first half’s restrained feeling.
It wasn’t until a medley at the end of the night’s first set that I felt like ATE really brought the high-octane energy I was expecting.
In the new tracks that were played, I was finding a lot of Bruce Springsteen influence. I thought it was fitting, then, that during the medley they covered his song “I’m On Fire” from the Born In The U.S.A. album. It was a great mashup of their own song, “Missy,” Springsteen and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” It was the perfect set up for the set that followed after the intermission.
Fifteen minutes after they left the stage, ATE reappeared without the Calder Quartet, and full of piss and vinegar, to rip through some of their more guitar-driven rock songs. “Gasoline” was the highlight for me. I really love the guitar work on it, and the band seems to really enjoy playing it.
Things got kinda crazy during the second set. At one point three members of the band were walking on audience members’ tables. Mikel Jollett was spraying beer on people and throwing water bottles deep into the audience. He and the band made sure the audience was having a good time, and they fed off of the crowd with great delight.
The last two songs of the second set, “Sometime Around Midnight” and “Innocence,” brought the Calder Quartet back out on stage to add some depth of emotion.
While I would have switched the order around and played the huge radio hit last, Jollett said “Innocence” was the song he wanted people to hear when he started the band. So I guess he went with the more personal choice.
It didn’t really matter to me, though. Both songs are beautiful, and I was happy to hear them in any order.
Overall, they played a good show, and it’s the only rock concert I’ve ever been to with an intermission.
Park West is a great venue, and I don’t understand why more bands don’t play there. The sound system is decent, the stage is nice and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. I look forward to going back there sometime soon.
I doubt the band I see there next will have a performance as thought out as ATE’s show, though. They’re professionals that love their work. And we, as an audience, can feel and appreciate that.
▪ Check out my video interview with The Airborne Toxic Event.
I went back to Park West later that evening for their set, which I’ll have for you tomorrow.
In the meantime, though, enjoy the interview
Band: Titus Andronicus Album: The Monitor Release Date: March 9, 2010
“If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide.”
A quote from Abraham Lincoln, known as “Honest Abe,” could not be found in a more appropriate place than the beginning of Titus Andronicus‘ second release, The Monitor. It’s a blitzkreig of rock ‘n’ roll truth that can knock you on your back if you aren’t ready for it. It’s also the best record of the year, in my humble opinion.
The Monitor is a deep, compelling 65 minutes of music that keeps me coming back for more. The lyrics are interesting and the music is, for the most part, fast-paced guitar-driven rock that keeps your toe-tapping, even as you’re getting lost in the imagery of Patrick Stickles’ words.
If you’ve read a couple of my previous reviews, you know that I enjoy a song that I can scream along with. The Monitor gives me a ton of opportunities to yell at the top of my lungs. My favorite of these comes on the lead track, “A More Perfect Union”:
Because where I’m going to now, no one can ever hurt me Where the well of human hatred is shallow and dry No, I never wanted to change the world, but I’m looking for a new New Jersey Because tramps like us, baby, we were born to die
The album is filled with references to all things New Jersey, including the Springsteen song alluded to in the line quoted above. It’s also chock full of historical references, lots of talk of alcohol and broken relationships with family, friends and the opposite sex.
For an example of these broken relationships, take this excerpt from “To Old Friends and New,” the album’s only duet. It’s also the slowest song on the record, and the most brutally honest:
Are you just too fucked up to understand me or is it the other way around? Maybe it’s both and I just don’t know which is worse
It’s a heartbreaking tune. But its message, in the end, seems to be life goes on. An upbeat message for an album that is constantly paranoid with an unseen enemy, lurking just around the corner, waiting to attack us. That enemy, not named in specifics, could be the government, authority figures or even God.
Leaving it open to interpretation, Titus Andronicus have hit on an interesting point. In the atmosphere of the world around us today, who isn’t thinking about unseen dangers and the possibility that at the push of a button we could all be gone. It’s a deep concept, and one I think we need to be aware of in our daily lives.
There is danger, always has been, always will be. How much you let it affect your life is up to you. Or maybe that isn’t what they’re saying at all, and I’m just espousing projections in lieu of knowing what they’re really talking about.
What I do know is that by the time the final track, “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” hits, a 14-minute wallop of feeling and sound that starts quick and fades slow, you’re sweating, getting anxious and sad, because you know at the end of this track, the album will be over.
And when you’re singing along with Mr. Stickles’ as the album comes to a close, you’ll be feeling the same thing he is: “Please don’t ever leave.”
Titus Andronicus hail from Glen Rock, New Jersey. They are: Patrick Stickles (guitar/harmonica/vocals), Ian Graetzer (bass), Amy Klein (guitar/violin), Eric Harm (drums/vocals) and David Robbins (keyboards/guitar).
Band: The Airborne Toxic Event Album: The Airborne Toxic Event Release Date: August 5, 2008
The Airborne Toxic Event‘s debut album is a great example of what a first record should sound like. It is simultaneously a boisterous, rollicking rock ‘n’ roll record, and as depressing as a Sylvia Plath poem. It’s also a very personal, easily relatable record that gets better with each listen.
Doing a little independent research about the record, I discovered that when ATE went into the studio, they had over thirty songs at their disposal — which they then whittled down to 10. I find it amazing that they were able to build such a strong linear story from songs that could have been written at any point across a number of years.
From track one, “Wishing Well,” to the end of the album, there is a constant narrative built around a character going through a bit of a rough time. With his significant other gone, he’s turned to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain, and in his drug-fueled haze, he’s having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.
The portraits that Mikel Jollett paints are beautiful and vivid. Take, for example, these words from the radio hit, “Sometime Around Midnight“:
And she leaves… With someone you don’t know But she makes sure you saw her She looks right at you and bolts As she walks out the door Your blood boiling Your stomach in ropes And when your friends say what is it You look like you’ve seen a ghost
If you’re familiar with the song, you know that immediately following that last line, the music swells to an explosion and we’re sonically introduced to our protagonist entering a free fall of the mind and soul. It’s a surprisingly deep song that I think gets overlooked because of its heavy radio play.
And this feeling I dread, it makes me wish I was dead Or just alone instead, I’ll be alone instead I don’t need anyone in my bed Just these ceiling tiles falling through my head
…Well, it adds a dynamic that a lot of rock records lack.
But Airborne Toxic Event doesn’t just give us depressing lyrics to mope around with; they also provide some great, upbeat instrumentation to back it up. In fact, if you didn’t pay attention to the words, you may think this is kind of a party record.
With the exception of a couple of songs, everything moves along at a brisk pace, and it never sounds bogged down or trite. The band uses a lot of strings to add some deeper layers to the music, and they also reach out to a lot of different influences, like rockabilly, blues and chamber music.
The album’s almost two years old now, so we’ve had plenty of time to get to know it. I first heard it sometime in the middle of last year, and I passed on it. I thought, “Just another band that will have a couple hits on the radio and then fade away.” But when I revisited the album some months later, I found a deeper appreciation for it that has stuck with me ’til now.
If you’ve heard the record and gave up on it as I did, I encourage you to give it another try. If you haven’t heard it, good news! It’s readily available on iTunes, in major retail stores that sell CDs and, of course, their website!!! Check it out. I think you’ll dig it.
The Airborne Toxic Event hails from Los Angeles. They are: Mikel Jollett, Steven Chen, Noah Harmon, Anna Bulbrook and Daren Taylor.
Their self-titled album, The Airborne Toxic Event, is available for $11.99 on their official website.
A two-piece band can sometimes be a gimmick or novelty act. So many bands over the last decade have followed in the footsteps of bands like The Black Keys and The White Stripes that it seems almost silly to try when you know who you’ll be compared to.
But if you know what you’re doing and have a sound that can’t be thrown into the same Black Keys/White Stripes bag, then you do stand a chance.
And I think that’s the case with Silverghost. While they do contain a lot of the elements that many two-piecers possess, they’re able to make it fresh with well-written, well-constructed pop/rock that keeps your head moving to the beat and doesn’t give it a break until they’ve finished rocking it.
Honestly, I wouldn’t compare them to any other bands out right now. Their music seems to fall into a kind of time-and-space abyss that makes it impossible to know exactly what era they are most influenced by.
I will say, however, that they played one song — I think the third or fourth one in (and of course I don’t have their record, so I don’t know the names of the songs) — that reminded me of a song Roxette did way back when. I know that reference dates me a bit, and probably sounds kinda lame, but in the ’80s and early ’90s, Roxette was the two-piece to end all two-pieces, so I think that’s kind of high praise.
With the second band of the night, The Nothingheads, I ran into a bit of a pickle. I was enjoying Silverghost when I realized that I hadn’t eaten dinner and I was freaking starving. As I was at the show to see Warm Ones, I definitely did not want to miss any of their set, so I decided to dip out across the street to Lockdown to grab a bite. There I was treated to a DVD of a No Doubt concert, followed by a DVD of a Rammstein show from Berlin. Needless to say I scarfed my food down and got out of there as quickly as possible.
But even with my making haste, I was still only able to catch the last tune they played. And it sounded great, which made me regret leaving the show at all. But then I remembered how good the burger was and it canceled out my feelings of remorse.
I picked up a copy of The Nothingheads demo that they were giving away, though, and I will listen to it soon because from what I heard they’re very good.
Warm Ones took to the stage next, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I purposely avoided listening to their music so I could go in fresh and not have any expectations. The most I did was read Eric’s review of their album and I took a look at their bio from their website, which I found to be hilarious. So I knew it would be a fun time, but I was extremely happy to hear that the music matched up with their personality.
Their songs come at you in short bursts, rarely more than just over three minutes. This causes two theories to cross into my mind:
▪ Warm Ones are so meticulous in the crafting of their songs that they’ve edited out any filler and just kept the meat of the songs, so that every second could be considered a “best part.”
▪ The less is more theory again, only this time it means that if a song is only two and a half minutes and it stinks, the audience will already be grooving to the next song before they realize it.
For my money, I’m betting on the first theory. The songs are short, but they aren’t light on subject or sound.
Most notably the guitar work of the newest member of the band, Mike Wszolek. His performance reminded me not just a little bit of David Gilmour‘s work on some of Pink Floyd’s better albums. He showed a kind of restraint that a lot of axe-men have a hard time with.
A lot of the time a guitar player can get wrapped up in their own sound and turn into Marty McFly at the end of Back To The Future. This can be fun if the music calls for it, but most often it is obnoxious and ridiculous and completely turns an audience off.
Wzolek keeps it all in check, though, and provides a nice amount of depth to the sound of the band — complimented by the bass of Mike Metz and drumming of Jon Adler. These two do a nice job of keeping the band in check. Never going over the top, but always staying on time and upbeat.
Lead Singer Tony Sackett has a lot to do with the amount of fun an audience has at a Warm Ones show. He comes off as charming and very humorous — in a very self-deprecating way. He also has a certain quality, necessary to a strong frontman, that demands attention.
I couldn’t necessarily put it into words, but when he’s on stage, you want to watch him. His vocals are good, not great. His work on the guitar is strong, not amazing. But he has that thing… that indescribable thing that makes this band a must-see for people who love the local Chicago scene.
The Empty Bottle has provided me with some great fun these past few weeks, and Sunday was no exception. Silverghost provided a great appetizer to the carb-filled meal that was Warm Ones. Check them both out if you get the chance, and watch out for a release from The Nothingheads, which I think I overheard someone saying will be out soon.
Warm Ones, based in Chicago, is Tony Sackett (vocals/guitar), Mike Wszolek (guitar), Jon Adler (drums) and Mike Metz (bass).
Warm Ones new record, Sprezzatura, can be purchased on iTunes for $9.99.
Silverghost, which hails from Detroit, is Marcie Bolen and Deleano Acevedo. They’ll next play Chicago on October 3 during the EP Theatre Art Festival and after party.
The Nothingheads, native to Chicago, is Chris Sumrall (drums), David Luzeniecki (bass) and Myk Martello (guitar/mouth).
Before their sold out show at Schubas on August 28, Paul Banwatt, Amy Cole and Nils Edenloff of the The Rural Alberta Advantage took time out to chat with me about their album (Hometowns), their experiences on tour, Tim Horton’s and their next album, too.
That said, I won’t get into an album review here. Of Hometowns, I will say only this: I love that record and I think if you give it a chance, you will too.
Needless to say, when I found out that RAA were going to be playing in Chicago, I jumped at the chance to review the show for Chicago Tunes. I bought tickets the day they went on sale and waited patiently until the day would finally come when I could stand in their presence and scream the words to “Drain the Blood” right back at them. And that’s exactly what I did.
The show was a mix of old and new. They’ve been recording their second album in Toronto recently, and Schubas was the first time a few songs had been played in front of an audience. The new stuff sounded great to me, and I thought they fit in nicely with the vibe of the first record.
I was a bit surprised at the amount of new stuff being played. It can sometimes be a show-killer to make an audience listen to a bunch of songs they don’t know, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it every bit as much as I did.
The best part of the show, for me, was every time they played one of their fast-rockin’, electro-pop songs that I think should be played by radio stations everywhere. “Luciana” kicked things off, and I really couldn’t think of a better opener. The crowd was hopping and screaming along with Nils from the first line through to the end and loving every second of it. Which is a good thing, because RAA is definitely a band that feeds off the energy of the crowd.
Songs like “Luciana” or “Deadroads” are great sing/scream-a-long songs, but the real key to the music on those tunes is the drumming of Paul Banwatt. On record, the drum sounds good, and really drives the music. Live you can see Paul setting the mark for the rest of the band to follow. His hands were a blur all night, and I was amazed at how good he really is. He even took a second to share a little Run-DMC with the crowd during a broken string change.
Overall, the experience of a Rural Alberta Advantage show is a great one. They play songs that get the crowd bouncing up and down, singing along with every word, and having one hell of a good time. Even when they slow things down a bit, as with “In the Summertime” or “The Ballad of the RAA,” the crowd swayed, receiving the voices of Nils and Amy happily, feeling the earnestness and deep emotion of each note.
This was the last show for RAA in the states for the year. Schubas allowed them to handpick the other bands playing, Great Bloomers and The Wooden Sky. What I caught of both of their sets was very good, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing anything beyond that.
RAA will return, hopefully, early next year with a new album. I would highly recommend that you make a point to get to their live show.
▪ The Rural Alberta Advantage, based in Toronto, is comprised of Paul Banwatt (drums), Nils Edenloff (guitar, keys, vocals) and Amy Cole- (keys, vocals, percussion).
▪ Hometowns, the debut album by Rural Alberta Advantage, is available on the band’s website for $18 (Canadian).
▪ Check out my video interview with The Rural Alberta Advantage.
This review almost writes itself. If you take a look at the videos we took, you’ll see what I mean.
I broke a sweat just watching lead singer Coley Kennedy jump, slam, twitch and rock across every inch of the stage at The Empty Bottle. The man is a beast, demanding the attention of all in the crowd and forcing them to bask in his magnificence.
That last part may seem a bit hyperbolic, but believe me, until you’ve seen Welcome To Ashley live, you have no idea. I did not expect so much energy to be flying away from the stage and into the audience.
From their record, Beyond the Pale, I knew I was going to get a show with some really strong tunes that I could tap my toe/bob my head up and down to, but I didn’t expect to be blown away by the sheer awesomeness that Kennedy and co. brought to the stage.
The vocals were spot on, the bass and drum had perfect timing — save for a mishap with a cymbal that caused a slight pause in Jeremy Barrett’s finger pluckin’, but only long enough to resolve the issue — and then right back to it as if nothing had happened.
And Pete Javier was shredding so hard on his guitar, I thought the place might go up in flames if he didn’t bring it down a notch. Lucky for us he didn’t.
There isn’t much else that I can say that can’t be learned via video of the show, so I’ll let the moving images take it from here.
There’s a much longer version of what I’m about to tell you in my head, but I’ve decided to give you the abridged version. It won’t affect you all that much. The details that I was going to include were all about me and I know you aren’t coming here to read about me, friends. You’re here to read about Remaindermen’s gig Thursday night at The Empty Bottle. So here it is.
The night started with Angel Olsen. She performed alone to a small-ish crowd. Her style and voice lend themselves to comparisons of Connie Francis and Joanna Newsom in equal measure. She’s a strong lyricist working in a form that requires at least that.
Her performance was good, and I think she’ll continue to get better. She seemed a bit timid with the crowd, which will go away with time. (Unless she’s like Meg White, in which case she needs to get married, get divorced, start a two-person minimalist blues-rock outfit and claim her ex is her brother — red white and black optional).
And the banter she did share with the crowd was nice. Charming, but not too charming. Self-deprecating, but not defeatist. She mentioned that she has cassette tapes for sale, which I thought may have been the funniest thing I’d heard all day.
The best tune, in my opinion, was “Barrier of Bodies,” which you can stream on her MySpace page, as well as a bunch of other good tunes. Take a look; I’m sure you’ll find something you like.
Up next was a real treat: Neutral Uke Hotel. Their mission statement is so simple it hurts: “To unite obsessed fans of Neutral Milk Hotel for a live performance of their critically acclaimed album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, played in its entirety on ukulele by Shawn Fogel, with accompaniment from members of Golden Bloom and Motion Sick.
And if you read that correctly, you know exactly how exciting it was to be in the audience.
If you’re my age — and I won’t divulge that info here, but it’s over 25 — you probably have realized that if you didn’t see Neutral Milk Hotel when they were around in the early ’00s, you’re not going to see them. It’s a thought that haunts me every day.
So imagine my excitement when I heard about this crazy cover band! The audience immediately fell in love with them during their opening rendition of “King of Carrot Flowers, pt. 1.” How could you not? I would have been perfectly happy spending an entire evening listening to Neutral Uke Hotel cover all kinds of albums. They’re a fun group, and they were very excited to share their love of a great album with an audience willing to participate.
There was a third band — True Womanhood — that played next, but to be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to them. Between coming down from the euphoric high one gets when he hears one of their favorite albums played in its entirety and running into Dave from Nowhere Records and talking ukulele Kiss covers and the Tamale Guy, I felt like my interest was better served near the bar then next to the stage.
That isn’t to say True Womanhood isn’t worthy of a listen. What I heard was VERY loud, and for the most part, decent. But, they’re from Washington, D.C. — not Chicago — so I didn’t feel too bad about leaving them in the cold for this specific review.
OK, now that you’re caught up, let’s get back to business.
The set was pretty great. There was a lot of energy onstage and off. Most of it was coursing through the body of lead singer PJ McMahon, who looked at times to be equal parts Mick Jagger and Jack Black. If you think that’s a bit much, check out our YouTube channel and tell me I’m crazy. Between dancing and drinking, PJ served up some great vocals to compliment the band rockin’ away the night.
The guys sounded good. Too good, almost. At one point an audience member accused PJ of lip-synching the words. Not the case, sir. These guys have been together for a while now, and they really gel on stage. If you’ve heard their record, then you know how well it flows together.
The show was exactly the same. They kept things tight and didn’t let themselves get lost in the music, which I think would be hard for a band that started out as an instrumental group.
All in all, another great night of music in Chicago. Many thanks to the bands that gave us all such wonderful music to hang out and rock with. Many more thanks to Nowhere’s Dave from and the gentlemen of Remaindermen, who have been so kind to me and everyone here at Chicago Tunes.
Neutral Uke Hotel is comprised of Shawn Fogel of Golden Bloom (ukulele and vocals), Josh Cohen of Golden Bloom (melodica), and Mike Epstein of Motion Sick (bass ukulele and percussion)
Saturday was a long day. Between the California Wives early set at the Apple Store, trying to sell our car and dealing with the geniuses over at AT&T, I was worn out by 7 p.m. By the time I got to Beat Kitchen my eyes were getting heavy, and my mind was telling my body that it was getting to be about that time.
Lucky for me, then, that the set got off to a blistering start. Geronimo! is a 3-piece group featuring one guitar (KJ Blaze), drums (Matt Schwerin) and a one-man band on his own banging keys, blowing trumpet, laying bass lines and singing lead and backup vocals at times (Ben Grigg).
They came on stage with enough energy to send Marty McFly back to 1985, and it didn’t let up until the final song had been played. They played hard, loud and fast, and really got the crowd going. The only thing I think was missed was the opportunity to wow the crowd with their rendition of “Another Night” by The Real McCoy. I mentioned it to them after the set, and was promised that next time they’ll make good on it.
Panda Riot played second, and provided a palette-cleansing set of moody dance-pop. Reminiscent of The xx or the most recent Beach House album, the band built a good bridge between the fast, hard rocking of Geronimo! and the psychedelia-infused rock of Secret Colours.
The headlining set by Secret Colours was again led by some high energy. The crowd quadrupled in size for the last set of the evening, and all were treated to a toe-tapping, head-nodding good time. I was lucky enough to be standing next to lead singer Tommy Evans’ father for the first part of the show, and he fed me some info about the band.
My favorite thing he told me was that Tommy loves the melodica. His father said it was a “Damon Albarn thing,” which I found both humorous and intriguing. If I had to pick someone that influenced Secret Colours, I don’t know that Albarn would be the first name that comes to mind.
The band ripped through some songs before announcing that this was the “OFFICIAL” record release party. They seemed excited onstage, but I don’t think any of them were as excited as Tommy’s dad. He was almost literally beaming with pride.
There were a couple treats that the band threw out for the audience. A new song, called “Follow the Drone.” Also, a cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Both were very good, and the Beatles’ cover felt like something Secret Colours would have written themselves — were they a band 44 years ago.
In all, it was a good night. I left more tired than I was when I got there, but it was totally worth it. I do owe a special thanks to Jayson Kramer of California Wives, who showed up to check out Panda Riot. He was kind enough to chat with my wife and I for a while about all things music and Chipotle related. He also gave us a pair of earplugs so we could avoid early age hearing loss. Thanks, Jayson!
▪ Secret Colours, based in Chicago, is comprised of Tommy Evans (vocals/guitar), Dave Stach (guitar/vocals), Dylan Olson (bass), Justin Frederick (drums/percussion) and Margaret Albright (keys/vocals).
The Apple Store in downtown Chicago is at once a genius and completely absurd place to host a concert.
On the one hand, you have a dedicated base of indie hipsters and innovative minds already tapped at the store. On the other hand, you’re playing a show enveloped by gray wall space and an audience mostly unsure of who you are and what your music is about.
None of that seemed to bother California Wives Saturday afternoon as they breezed through a 40+ minute set of material mostly off their new EP, Affair, to be released in September.
Some of the songs had to be rearranged for the setting, as Apple didn’t allow a full drum kit in the store. California Wives’ drummer, Joe O’Connor, made the most of what he had to work with, rocking a tambourine, cymbal, some maracas and single snare.
He also treated us to some great handclaps, which caused lead singer Jayson Kramer, who was so impressed, to forget to turn down his keyboard.
Overall it was a very good show. Not entirely representative of what a true California Wives show would be, however, due to limitations set by Apple.
I’d definitely recommend getting to Schubas on September 3 for their record release show with special guests Panda Riot, Color Radio and Gemini Club. The gig is also an official North Coast Festival aftershow.