It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I went live with this website. The time has flown by thanks to all of the amazing people I’ve met and great times I’ve had working to bring some lesser-known bands to the foreground. There are so many thanks I’d like to give and so much respect I’d like to show for all those who have supported me in this endeavor.
When Kari and I came back from Austin last March after a few days at the SxSw music festival, I was excited to get back into the groove of writing about local bands, but I was also a little tired of being held up by others. There was a specific way things were done where I wrote before, and it wasn’t the way I liked. After a week or so of wrestling with my idea of loyalty and my desire to be able to write what I want and post it immediately, I decided to end my relationship with the other site and hopped on WordPress to start up my own thing.
Luckily I already had a couple things lined up at the time. I had cemented myself a spot on The Mountain Goats guestlist to review their show at The Vic. I had a show with local group Molehill at Bottom Lounge. And of course I had a show with Chaperone on the horizon. So I wasn’t worried about a lack of content, but I was a little worried about choosing a direction for the site.
After my initial run of shows, Record Store Day was here. I dedicated a whole week to it, talking about previous purchases and things I was looking forward to. It was a nice distraction for me to avoid thinking about what I really wanted to do. And then it dawned on me that the track I had been following-writing about Chicago bands almost exclusively, denying music from other cities their due, was idiotic. After I ran a piece I did with Neutral Uke Hotel (members of Golden Bloom and The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library), I started getting a lot of emails from people out of Boston.
Then I ran a special one-off little essay about The Hysterics. I was merely wondering what had happened to them, as I was astonished by their talent for such a young group, and it managed to find its way to former Hysterics member Oliver Ignatius. Based out of New York, he’s a producer and musician-talented as ever. He wrote to me and ended up doing a interview where he told the story of what happened to the band. So then I started getting a lot of music from New York. All of a sudden I was getting way more submissions from the east coast than I ever did in Chicago. Some time later I wrote about my friends in The Poison Control Center. And that got some notice from bands that played with them on the west coast. Out of nowhere my site was representing bands from all across the nation.
It’s been a lot to take in. Honestly, I never expected to reach anyone outside of Chicago. That I can look on my stat sheet and see that people from Malaysia and Cyprus are reading things that I’ve written is beyond my comprehension. Really, it’s just amazing. And like I said, there are a lot of people to thank for this.
First and foremost, of course, would be Kari. Not only has she been nothing but one hundred percent supportive, she’s also turned into a very talented photographer. Some of the shots she’s captured are really amazing, and in the future I’ll set up a separate site for her photos. For now, you can check most of them out on our facebook page.
Second, I’d like to thank all the bands for giving me the opportunity to work with such talented and courteous people. The ideas about musicians I had before I started writing about music were mainly formed from reading stories and watching movies, most of which were completely off. My biggest thanks goes to Miles and the rest of Chaperone for being such amazing people and letting us come to their shows for free and chatting with us. Same goes for Gabe and the crew of Dastardly. David McMillin of Fort Frances deserves a special shout out. Of all the bands that I’ve talked with and ended up getting along really well with, he’s the only one I hang out with somewhat regularly.
Third, and probably finally, I’d like to thank Rick at Handwritten Recordings for letting me use his studio and take up his time doing our Hasty Revelations sessions. Each one of them has been a triumph, and I don’t know that I could say that if we were at another venue. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to getting the sound you want, and he’s also just a hell of a nice guy. If you’re a band looking to record, definitely check them out.
I’d like to leave with some video highlights of the last year. There have been a lot of cool things I’ve been able to check out over the last twelve months, and I’m hoping it doesn’t end any time soon.
From the first time I saw Chaperone after starting the site, this is “Son Of Love Control.” Beforehand I saw them all sitting in a booth at Beat Kitchen and I let them know that I had broken away from my old site, and they were happy for me. Miles even went so far as to make a comment about it during his onstage banter. That was nice of him, but I’m sure everyone else in the crowd was wondering what the hell he was talking about.
Neutral Uke Hotel is one of those shows you just have to see to believe. When you hear it described, you think “That’s odd.” But when you get there and allow yourself to get into it, there’s nothing like it. We had been to Empty Bottle and seen them open for Warm Ones the year before, but on this night at Schubas, they were the main attraction. The way they were able to do it was actually really cool. Instead of just playing as NUH, they opened with separate sets by each members band. So The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library played, then Golden Bloom. On a normal night, those two sets would have been good enough. Standing with a couple hundred people all singing along to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is something every music lover should do before they die.
A couple months later we were back at Schubas for a show with Dastardly. At this point the band was getting some good buzz, and they were about to embark on a tour to the west coast. I recorded the entire show and then broke it down song by song. If you’d like to see the rest, you can check out my YouTube channel.
At the end of June I was able to get a spot on the guestlist for Sleeper Agent‘s show in Chicago. They hadn’t released their album Celebrasion yet, and this single had just started making the rounds. They’re a good group of kids, and they have a good time making music together. Since this show, I think they’ve played Chicago three or four more times, so they’re definitely putting in the work.
My old friend from Des Moines, Patrick Tape-Fleming, also deserves a big thanks. His band The Poison Control Center has been kicking ass and taking names for a decade now, and he’s an inspiration to many DIY bands in the midwest. He allowed me the great honor of debuting a track from Stranger Ballet on my site, and he even wrote a nice piece about where the song came from and what it is about. This is not that song.
Lollapalooza returned to Chicago, as it does every year, in August. The lineup was atrocious (almost as bad as this year), so we didn’t go. Instead we bought tickets to two after shows. The first was Smith Westerns with Tennis as the opener. The show was awesome. If you haven’t already, check them out. Smith Westerns are so talented, and they’ve also had a bit of good fortune on their side, opening for Wilco and the Arctic Monkeys.
In November I got to try something I had been thinking about for awhile. I had done a lot of interviews with bands or artists, but that gets old after you do it a few times. I wanted to get a panel together to discuss something. Like a Charlie Rose-type discussion that went more in-depth than the average “What’s your new album sound like?” interview. I got my chance, kind of, with the Chicago Roots Collective. We had members of four bands up in the dressing area at Elbo Room to talk about the Collective and music in general. It didn’t go perfect, but I think we touched on some interesting things.
Very recently, two weeks ago in fact, we were at the Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands cheering on our old friends Molehill. They won the contest, moved on to the online voting portion, and were in the top ten when I last checked (go vote for them now!). It’s funny how a year later I’m right where I started. I’ve been lucky to work with bands who seem to like what I do and keep inviting me back for more. These guys are great, and I hope to see them many more times before they tire of me.
And lastly, just to show how powerful the internet can be, is Bhi Bhiman. When I was at SxSw last year, I saw him open a show with Josh Ritter. I thought they were both excellent, and I wrote a little thing (a very short thing, barely a blurb) about how good Bhi’s songwriting is. He found his way to it somehow and sent me a message on facebook letting me know that he appreciated it. I didn’t think much of it, just a guy being nice. Then I started up the Hasty Revelations sessions and I sent him a message about doing one. He came into town to play a festival and stopped by Handwritten to do a song. The thing is, he finished up recording and was happy with the way it turned out, then hung out for 45 minutes just chatting with us. Then I went and saw him open for Martin Sexton at Park West and the same thing happened. He might be the nicest guy in folk music. This video is from his most recent appearance in Chicago. Also featured are the members of Rosie Thomas’ band.
Thanks to everyone for reading! I appreciate your input, so if you love something or hate something, feel free to comment and let me know!
I won’t bore you with any bs that doesn’t need to be here. If you want to read full thoughts on any of these albums, fee free to check out my reviews (by clicking on the album name). Let’s just get right into the good stuff.
10. Lupe Fiasco-Lasers: Maybe it’s because most people had already heard this record by the time it dropped back in March, but I feel like this album more than any other has been forgotten when it comes to year-end list making. I think the fact that a lot of the songs were written back in 2008 and 2009 just shows how smart a guy Lupe is, and how three years later his rhymes still seem fresh because America is still dealing with the same issues.
9. The Antlers-Burst Apart: How do you follow up an album like Hospice? What do you do when you’ve already put out a record some call the best of the last decade? If you’re The Antlers, you prove that it’s possible to do better. This album is a milestone for the band, because it shows that they can do anything.
8. Okkervil River-I Am Very Far: Initially I really wasn’t a fan of this record. I think I’ve listened to Stage Names too many times to accept anything else. After a while, though, I started to appreciate this album for what it is. Trippy, beautiful, and one of the best written records in a year filled with them. It doesn’t hurt that when they’re performed live, the songs on this record are epic.
7. Fort Frances-The Atlas: Yeah, you’ve maybe heard me mention this album here before. There is something to be said for a record that you can listen to a million times and never tire of. “White Roses” should have been near the top of my Top 30 Tracks this year, but this spot made it ineligible. Word is they’re trying to record the follow up sometime this year and I can’t wait.
6. The Decemberists-The King Is Dead: upon it’s release in January, I deemed this album the best of the year. It didn’t quite make it, but it is a helluva record. Not quite on par with The Hazards Of Love, but honestly what is?
5. Smith Westerns-Dye It Blonde: Chicago’s own kids who hate being referred to as kids. They certainly play like grown-ass men. This album also came out in January, and it was perfect to warm up some of those cold winter days. As it turns out, it’s also perfect for summer, spring, and fall.
4. Portugal. The Man-In The Mountain In The Cloud: I had never seriously listened to Portugal. The Man before this record, an I feel like an idiot. I don’t think I can name a song off it that isn’t great. “Sleep Forever” is my favorite, but they’re all gold.
3. The Poison Control Center-Stranger Ballet: Three albums in, and PCC has found the secret formula-write good songs and play them balls to the wall. “A Thousand Colors” and “Torpedoes On Tuesday” are both fantastic, but when they slow it down on the killer ballad “Terminal,” the whole thing comes together in a whole new way.
2. Girls-Father, Son, Holy Ghost: If you liked Girls first release, Album, you will love this. Everything here is kicked up a notch in quality. Chris Owens vocals are more beautiful and haunting, there are gospel elements, and amazing production.
1. Sons Of An Illustrious Father-One Body: I may be the only person who has this at number one, but that’s only because most of you haven’t heard it yet. Five band members. Four of whom can sing. They recorded this album in a freezing cold barn with producer Oliver Ignatius. It isn’t a Christian album, but there are definitely some spiritual overtones going on.
2011 was a much better year than most would say. While most magazines and big time online publications are bending to the corporations that fill their coffers, putting the likes of Adele and Lady Gaga on their best-of lists, crazy numbers of indie bands were putting out amazing, under heard records. Next time you’re looking for new music, don’t turn on your radio. Head over to your local record store and ask the clerks what they’re listening to.
One of the things I like about blogs, in particular this blog, is that it allows writers to discover things they never would have seen or heard before. It’s kind of funny to me that I’m based out of Chicago, but I get just as much music sent to me from cities other than this. So far Boston and San Francisco have been the biggest two. Repeat After Me is another in the group of strange incestual music relationships I’ve started stemming from my friends The Poison Control Center (this one via Victory and Associates). None of the bands that have sent me music from this branch have been bad, which amazes me to no end.
I have to admit that after about twenty seconds of From The Mountaintop I got a bit worried. There was something in the back of my head saying “Oh…I’ve heard this record before. It’s Everclear.” Luckily there was just a heavy resemblance to the opening of “Santa Monica” in that first guitar riff. Trust me, the rest of the record sounds nothing like Everclear.
In fact, the album has a familiar sound, but there isn’t really one thing I can point to and say, this is definitively what this is like. To the band’s credit they do a good job of mixing it up between 70′s AM radio influences and 60′s pop. I think much of the 60′s references come from Robert Kassees’s vocals. It’s not all the time, but for some reason on certain songs his voice reminds me a little of Roy Orbison. Maybe I just have Orbison on the brain, but I swear it’s there (Check out “End Up In Your Arms” and let me know if I’m crazy). Make no mistake, though, this is a rock album, Orbison or no.
One thing that really pleases me is the fact that Repeat After Me doesn’t take the easy way out and try to make the music a little ska. There are elements of thatt genre present, but they play it for more of a rockabilly feel than the uber-popular 90′s fad. The song that made me thing of this, “Gimme What You’ve Got,” would actually make a decent ska song probably. Thankfully there are no horns present, and the band let their main components of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals carry the whole workload. There are a lot of moments where ska haters might get that flash in their eyes like a terrible No Doubt song is coming, but rest assured, From The Mountaintop never goes there.
Lyrically, Repeat After Me stays right in my wheelhouse with genuine, heartfelt songs that appear to be based on real life experiences. Everything feels authentic, especially on my favorite track, which is actually a slower song called “Champagne.”
Tonight we drink champagne like we just struck gold
Is this my whole life or just another episode
Tonight we raise our hands, we keep our hearts intact
Tonight we drink champagne, we take the good life back
Other highlights for me include another slow one, “Every Music Has It’s Moment,” and the maybe a little Duran Duran-ish “Singapore.”
There’s a lot of great harmonies throughout the record, but I think my favorite thing is the guitar work of Eric Murriguez. He seems to have the ability to have a bunch of different styles, and they’re all on display here. Everything from shredding a million notes a minute to soulful ballad solos sound fantastic. If there were one thing I wish there were more of on From The Mountaintop, it’d be more tasty riffs.
I’ve embedded a sampler from the album so you can check out a few tracks for yourself. I think you’ll enjoy it. The band is trying to raise money to do a vinyl pressing, so if you dig it and have $20 to spare, buy the deluxe version. You’ll get a download right away of the digital album, and a vinyl copy sometime in December it looks like. They’re about eighty percent to goal, so it’s getting close. Act now and help some youths realize their dream of elating hipsters with fresh new vinyl.
Many of you will spend this weekend watching CNN or whichever news source you think gives you the news with the least amount of bullshit (I watch none of them), and with that will come a lot of sadness and ill thoughts. So, I wanted to give you a way to get some entertainment without leaving your home (because if you’ve been watching the footage you’re probably terrified to go outside) by posting my favorite videos that we’ve taken this year. Please to enjoy our 2011 video highlights.
Chaperone “Witches and Sailors” @ The Hideout 1/7/11
Project Film “Cut Outs” @ Schubas 3/1/11
Dastardly “Exercises In Self Loathing” @ SxSw 3/19/11
Okkervil River “Unless It’s Kicks” @ SxSw 3/20/11
Rural Alberta Advantage “Luciana” @ SxSw 3/21/11
Nik Freitas “Saturday Night Underwater” @ Schubas 4/17/11
The Motion Sick and Golden Bloom “30 Lives” @ Schubas 4/23/11
Neutral Uke Hotel “Two-Headed Boy” @ Schubas 4/23/11
Wolfgang Jay “And We Move” @ Beat Kitchen 5/13/11
Chaperone “O Ye Drowning Children” @ Beat Kitchen 6/24/11
Fort Frances “Falling Down” @ Schubas 6/29/11
The Elected “Born To Love You” @ Schubas 7/2/11
The Poison Control Center “Torpedoes On Tuesday” @ Schubas 7/27/11
Smith Westerns “Weekend” @ Schubas 8/4/11
Molehill “Untitled” @ Beat Kitchen 8/20/11
Chaperone “Raised By Wolves” @ Logan Square Auditorium
If you watched all the videos through to the end, you just saved yourself from about 90 minutes of 9/11 coverage. We have way more videos, so if you still feel like you need a break, head over to my YouTube page http://www.youtube.com/user/jterzino
I was introduced to Victory And Associates through their friendship with The Poison Control Center, and I can see why the two bands get along. There are definitely some similarities in their sound, but they also differ greatly in attitude and philosophy.
These guys, hailing from the bay area, go for the throat at every turn. The vocals and guitars are very aggressive, which honestly was a problem for me at first. On my initial spin through These Things Are Facts, I found it a bit overwhelming. It’s a loud record, and I couldn’t make everything out with my ears ringing. Luckily I always listen to an album a few times before reviewing it. As it turns out, Victory And Associates have a lot to say.
Once I got into it a little bit, and let that inner-skate punk in my soul (maybe that’s where it is) come out and play, things started sounding different. For starters, does anyone else think that Conan Neutron’s voice sounds a little like Fred Schneider’s? No? Maybe that’s just me. Regardless, these guys have a lot more going on than a “Rock Lobster.” Beneath those crushing guitars lay some pretty good lyrics that take on issues above the normal heartbreak and angst. For instance, on the song “Can’t Eat Prestige,” Neutron sings:
Well the war is over, the fight was fixed
a campaign to make you poor, while they stay rich.
This isn’t the last chapter, i’m turning the pages back
we’ve been defending too long, let’s plot a counter attack
You just, live life like you’re under siege
you can’t pay bills with praise, you can’t eat prestige
I’ve been down so long, I stopped making up jokes
I’d need some investors to get up to broke
and it’s like: 1,2,3,4, they declared a class war
and all we declared was bankruptcy
I love the little snapshots of influences the band doles out randomly as well. Sometimes you’ll hear a little AC/DC, then Van Halen, and a bunch of other little things that last for about two or three seconds. And they make them all sound exactly as they should, like a band building on those that came before. The guys that make up Victory And Associates obviously have a good working knowledge of the music that shaped them, and it’s always nice to pay tribute.
Speaking of the band, man they’re good. I mentioned Conan, who sings and plays rhythm guitar, the band also has Shane Otis, who plays some blistering leads, Evan Gritzon playing bass in a tough genre, and Mouse Menough delivering percussion at 128 bpm. They’re a bit more punk than I usually get into, but I find myself enjoying this record more and more with every listen.
What I really want is for them to come out to Chicago and do a show so I can see them live, because I assume their set would be amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to indie rock shows that are mellow, but a show that can pump a ton of energy into a room can be life-altering (see: Titus Andronicus). So please, I’m begging you Victory And Associates, come out to Chicago!
Do yourself a favor and pick up These Things Are Facts when you get a chance. The official release party isn’t until September 16th, but you can listen to the whole thing and purchase it here. I would recommend “Can’t Eat Prestige,” “You Can’t Stop The Signal,” “Get Tough, Get Through It,” and “Home Is Where You Hang Your Hope” as the top songs to get you into the album.
As if sensing my growing doubt that anyone can rock as hard as Ted Leo, The Poison Control Center took to the stage at Schubas last night and unleashed a ferocious set that started loud and fast and never let up. Not a surprise if you’ve ever seen the band before. This show was number 259 or 260 of their neverending tour that started about a year ago, and their ability to crank out the jams after such a long haul is impressive as hell. The fact that afterward they looked like they were ready to play another hour was horrifying-are these men or robots sent from the future to rock our faces off in order to prevent some sort of Hitler-type stuff going down? Truthfully, they just love what they do. The end of their tour looming, I think they very passionately desire to finish up as strong or stronger than they started.
The opener for the show, a gentleman from Columbus, Ohio that goes by the name Dolfish, was about halfway through his set when we walked in. I saw Patrick from PCC so I stopped to talk to him, and he made one of the most brazen comments I’ve ever heard. He said he dug the guy on stage, and I said he sounded like John Darnielle (which, for that song, he did). Patrick looked at me and without hesitation said, “This guy may be a better songwriter.” I didn’t even know what to say. The guy’s talented, no doubt. Dolfish has a certain twisted sense of humor that I enjoy, and his banter with the audience was pretty good, particularly a story containing the word “boner” that I won’t recount here. After that initial shock, we stood and listened to the rest of his set, and the comparison to Darnielle waned a bit. By the end, I think my comparison would lean more toward The Tallest Man On Earth-still a great singer/songwriter. Definitely worth checking out, which you can do for free at the Afternoon Records site. Here’s a video I found from a show in Ohio:
Now for the main attraction (really there were two bands after PCC, but we left). If you haven’t been able to discern for yourself yet, I’m a big fan of Poison Control Center. Particularly their latest record, which is leaps and bounds better than their previous two solid efforts both lyrically and sonically. I praised the hell out of them in my Stranger Ballet album review, and at the year’s midway point, I ranked it second on my list of the best albums so far. If you haven’t heard it yet, you’re doing yourself a terrible disservice.
The band has a way of lulling an audience into a false sense of safety by being super sweet and charming when they aren’t playing, but when it comes time to rock, be prepared. One second someone will be singing all soft and then all of a sudden they’ll be screaming and doing headstands. The level of energy expended by an audience member is enormous, I can’t even imagine what it’s like for the guys in the band. Take this video of the first single off Stranger Ballet for example:
I didn’t watch the whole thing back yet, but hopefully you can see the amount of sweat pouring off of Devin. It’s seriously something I just look at and marvel. The effort these guys put into every show is astounding. Whether it’s a nice, decent-sized venue like Schubas or a house show or whatever, they always give it their all. And they make a big point of acknowledging their fans at every opportunity. I think they made three different mentions of how supportive Chicago has been, and all the wonderful people they’ve met on the road. I know most bands talk about how great their fans are, but with Poison Control Center, it goes way beyond the surface, and you can tell it means a lot to them. They even dedicated the song “Pacific Sunrise” to all their Chicago friends.
The set was pretty even-maybe a little heavier on the new stuff, which is to be expected. Of the older songs, I really liked the version of “When The World Sleeps” they played to close the show. Also very enjoyable was “After the Holiday.” Off of Stranger Ballet, they played (or what I remember them playing), “Church On Mars,” “Torpedoes On Tuesday,” “Dracula’s Casket,” and “Seagull.” I got a recording of “Seagull” the last time we saw them, which was back in February or March. I took a new one to see if there were any differences:
The only thing that stands out to me is how much more confident the song played. The band had finished recording last time, but the record wasn’t out. Playing new songs is always kind of nerve-racking I suspect, so having it out and people knowing the tune made it a bit easier.
I was trying to think of ways to describe in great detail what the experience of going to a Poison Control Center is like, and this is the closest I could get: If you’ve never been to one of their shows, but want to feel the rush that you get at one, find a cop, preferably a really bitter and mean one, call him/her a name they wouldn’t like very much (something more scathing than jerk or doodoo face) and then run. Don’t run too fast, because you will want them to catch you. One he/she has you in the sights of their taser, start in with more names, or make fun of his/her mother. When the taser hits, keep the names coming if you can, because you really want the volts to be cranked as high as they’ll go. Aside from losing control of your bodily fluids, the jolt should be pretty close.