To close out my festival coverage this year I wanted something spectacular. Looking at the lineups from all three days, every night had something special for me. Saturday night had one thing all the others didn’t, though. It had frontier ruckus, and band I have loved for a while now but hadn’t seen live. Plus, two of Chicago’s finest bands Mooner and Martin Van Ruin were the opening acts. What more could a music fan ask for???
I’ve seen Mooner a couple times, plus I caught a little acoustic show where Lee Ketch played some songs with his brother as a duo and it was cool. The thing that always strikes me about them is how good they are and no one seems to know it. If you talk to other musicians or people who book shows, they’ll all tell you Mooner is amazing. But if you ask someone in Chicago about their favorite bands in the city they’ll say Twin Peaks or some other buzzed about Pitchfork band that gets written about every time a member farts. GET ON THIS CHICAGO! Go buy Mooner’s album Masterpiece! No need to thank me. You should thank them for making such great rock n roll music!
If you need to know anything before buying the record, know that last night they covered Cheap Trick and sounded better than the Rockford natives. If you dig that dirty 70’s rock, you’re gonna love Mooner.
Martin Van Ruin is a bit of an enigma. They put out a really good record in 2014, but they’ve only played a handful of shows around Chicago since then. I saw them at The Empty Bottle for the record release and then lost track. That’s unfortunate, because they’re a highly skilled band of musicians. They give you that dynamic rock that really takes you on a journey.
They played some old stuff and gave us a taste of a couple new tracks off their next record. The biggest standout for me was the guitar work coming from Brian Sharp. He didn’t get to let loose on every tune, but when he did it was like a firestorm had been building up inside him for eons. Totally incendiary guitar work. Hopefully they get some shows booked for this summer or I think he might literally die from internal burns.
Finally the night brought us frontier ruckus, and band that makes music so precious I almost hate the thought of writing about it for fear that I might faint its purity. Singer/songwriter Matt Miia is a prolific scribe whose songs are often more wordy than a Tarantino movie. If you’re into lyrics that are never lacking intelligence or wit, frontier ruckus is the band for you.
Watching them play for the first time was kind of awe-inspiring. Watching multi-instrumentalist Zach Nichols jump between trumpet, keys, baritone, euphonium, and singing saw all on one song was unbelievable. I feel like I need to see them again just to watch him for the whole set. The band is also a lot more fun than I had imagined.
They played songs from Sitcom Afterlife and Eternity Of Dimming, but what I was most excited for was the music they played off their upcoming LP that they have recorded. It’s all in a similar vein as their previous efforts, but everything is so well thought out and executed so brilliantly that it’s hard to argue they should change the formula. Milia sounded great. Anna Burch sounded as good or better.
It was a perfect night of music to close out Dunn Dunn Fest. If you’d like to see more pictures from this show or the other shows I covered this week, hit our Facebook page.
There’s something rather fun and exciting about the latest EP from The Obleeks. It’s a briskly-paced 4 song collection recorded in the childhood home of brothers Andy and Lee Ketch in Portland (they’re now based in Chicago). One would think that going back home to make a record would drown it in nostalgic references, but One In A Million isn’t some trip down memory lane.
I had concerns that The Obleeks would sound too similar to Lee’s band Mooner. Mooner is a great band, but I didn’t want to hear him doing the same kind of thing. This is mainly Andy’s project, though, and there is a fresh urgency to it all. The guitars are all fuzzed out and grimey, with grooves that might remind you of The Black Keys early 00’s records (specifically Thickfreakness). Despite some of the influences that drive Mooner showing up here, The Obleeks is most definitely not a rehash.
The second half of the EP plays slightly better than the first (though with songs this short it’s hard to even break it down into separate parts). The title track has a great early 70’s protopunk vibe to it. EP closer “Casual Seer” features some of the funkiest folk music I’ve heard. The shortest song on the EP ends up being the most interesting listen.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Head over to their Bandcamp page and hear for yourself!
I got to see Mooner in a unique setting last week when they played as a duo at Jerry’s in Wicker Park. It was a nice reminder of how solid their songs are, as I hadn’t seen them perform in about a year. The vocals were pushed a little further than a normal show, so you could really hear Lee Ketch’s voice singing his words. They play a form of American rock n’ roll that a lot of bands shy away from, with big bold guitar riffs and no signs of pretentiousness.
The new single off their album Masterpiece (Oct 9) is called “Alison.” If you’re like me, you immediately jumped to Elvis Costello. This doesn’t sound anything like that song, though it does have a little “Pump It Up” mixed in just to give you a little taste. Lee’s vocal delivery takes some influence from Elvis, but it’s much closer to Tom Petty than Costello. That should come as no surprise if you’ve listened to Mooner at any point.
I haven’t had a chance to listen to the rest of the new album yet. If “Alison” is any indication of what’s on there, I know I’m going to be very pleased.
Song essay for Music. Defined.
The Triffids – Wide Open Road
I know The Triffids’ “Wide Open Road” is my favorite song because it has remained my favorite song for more than five minutes. It’s been my favorite song for almost six years, beating its predecessor, Brian Eno’s “By This River” by three. In 2008, I was visiting home from my freshman year at college and while searching the internet for a live version of John Hiatt’s “Have A Little Faith In Me” (I found it and it briefly became a contender for my favorite song. It was a weird summer) I found a website that quickly became one of the most important things in my life. I say this even after taking into consideration the websites Google, AOL, Dogpile, Xanga the Electrical Audio tech forum and BibleGatweway. The site was a blog called C-60 Low Noise and besides my wife’s iPod it was the music collection that most informed my musical taste. From what I could gather by the limited information on the blog, C-60 was run by an older film industry worker from Nottingham, England who went by the name Time Bandit but was really named Peter (I think). His avatar on Blogger was that of Larry Llyod who I am now researching and discovering was a very important soccer player. Don’t bother going to the site; he obliterated the blog unexpectedly around 2011. The Wayback Machine doesn’t even have it. The entire archive is gone save for two posts: one about early 80s roots band The Long Ryders and one about late 80s art rockers New Model Army. I like to think that he kept these records on display because of how well the intersection of the two represents the blog as a whole. He’s in love with the staunchly traditional and the unlistenably weird and abstract. His blog was full of art damaged rock and roll, country, rockabilly and punk from roughly 1970 to 1995. Through him, I found records by Giant Sand, Mary Gauthier, Jason and the Scorchers, The Damned and Neil Young. The most important record came to me like so many others: while I was mindlessly clicking through the hundreds of records in his archive.
Nothing stood out as exceptional when I started reading Time Bandit’s entry for The Triffids’ 1986 masterpiece Born Sandy Devotional except that they were from Australia and that their frontman David McComb was very tall and died young (unrelated to his tallness). The brief summaries that Time Bandit included with each entry were always impeccably written but had a clinical tone or were preoccupied with English rock club trivia. To my memory, this record and the debut record by art rock band Doll By Doll (which I didn’t really get) inspired sudden, uncharacteristic fervor and gushing by Time Bandit, only enhancing for me the intrigue evoked by the deserted beach on the record’s cover.
I started with the video for the record’s lead single and the band’s biggest hit “Wide Open Road”. It’s hard to explain why this song hit me so hard. In 2008, I wasn’t listening to anything featuring drum machines, synth pads, terrible digital reverb or, really, any songs from the 1980s. The song doesn’t have much of a hook (weirdly, the closest thing to a hook is the bass guitar line) and it opens on nothing but a slow drawl of a synth line, a skittering drum machine and one hell of a bad mood. The song lives and dies by its atmosphere and while the skeleton of that mood is established by the minimal music, the real star of the show is David McComb’s cavernous voice and Imagist lyrics which are obsessed with isolation, loneliness and redemption:
“The drums rolled off in my forehead / the guns went off in my chest / I remember carrying the baby just for you / Crying in the wilderness
I lost track of my friends, I lost my kin / I cut them off as limbs / I drove out over the flatlands / hunting down you and him”
I like lyrics that are based around strong images (Eno’s aforementioned “By This River”) and “Wide Open Road” delivers on that. Some might label this song “cinematic” but I don’t really think it is. The song sounds huge but the lyrics offer by contrast a highly specific, highly personal journey. We catch a glimpse of the expansive Australian wilderness but mostly we focus on our protagonist alone in bed, alone in a car, alone in the desert. McComb’s voice is equal parts angry, weary and vulnerable. My favorite part in the song comes at the end, when the song’s title is refrained. By the end of the song, the optimistic thought that “it’s a wide open road” morphs into a claustrophobic mantra. The narrator is being mocked. The highway is usually a symbol of freedom but to our narrator it’s just another terrible thing that stands him and the object of his revenge. Think of it like a weird country song. The myth of the road, the scorned lover and the act of cutting out into the wilderness alone are all common images and themes in country music (see Hank Williams Sr. “Lost Highway”’) I don’t think the pomp of the production style dilutes this interpretation but rather helps transport what would be a traditional story song into an alien landscape where familiar images of the open road can become freshly sinister. There’s a reason that McComb had a pedal steel player in his band but there’s also a reason that the pedal steel sounds more like screeching machinery than a country + western standby.
I’ve tried playing this song since I first heard it and it just hasn’t worked out. It’s one of those songs that is tied up in the writer/performer and it’s not easy to make it sound right in another voice. I think this adds to the mystery of the song; it’s kind of untouchable to me. You don’t hear anyone sitting around playing it like a Bob Dylan song. It isn’t a “singer’s song” or a “guitar player’s song.” It’s a diary entry from one guy, David McComb, and there’s no way to change that foundational characteristic by just changing the handwriting. The recording perfectly captures the world that McComb intended to create and I think that makes it even more precious, like a limited physical resource rather than words and music that can be transcribed or written down.
Thanks, Time Bandit. Blog on you crazy diamond.
Steve Slagg has been paying his dues as a musician for a while now. I, along with many others, know him best as the keyboard player/vocalist in Chicago rock band Mooner, but he also has his own project, Youngest Son. They are wildly different as far as style and sound (though they do have one thing in common-they’re very good). I had no knowledge of Youngest Son before I got an email with their latest release, the EP All Soul’s Day attached.
There’s a lot to like in the short 25 minute collection of songs, including two covers of songs from Slagg’s full-length All Saint’s Day (“Hole In The Sky” by Allison Van Liere and “Long Year” by Lee Ketch), of which the new release is a companion piece. The compositions are all really beautifully done here, with the emphasis on piano and vocals. The masterful craftsmanship, coupled with the choice of instrumentation, brings to mind Ben Folds and Elliott Smith (though Randy Newman seems to be Steve’s preference).
The atmosphere of the record grabs you right away as “Blank Face” opens with soft and sweet piano strokes. Joined after the first verse by strings and drums, the song picks up in the middle of verse two and slows down again just as slowly providing some great dynamics that draw you in even deeper.
I think that rather than a companion piece, you could think of All Soul’s Day as a kind of sampler or mixtape. There isn’t really a narrative through it, because two of the songs are from the other record and one is an old gospel song. It doesn’t take away from the quality of work on display. In fact, I like that you get little tastes of different aspects of Youngest Son here because it makes you want to go check out the other releases.
You can stream All Soul’s Day on The Youngest Son’s website.
Like most people in the midwest I spent the weekend being crushed by the oppressing weight of winter. Despite the treacherous conditions, I made my way to Schubas on Saturday night to catch a set by local music makers Mooner. It had been a couple years since the last time I saw them play, and the venues couldn’t have been more different. The sound system at one of America’s finest music establishments sounded, surprise surprise, a billion times better than the wide open loft-style room at Observatory Studios. Instead of just a loud mash of guitars and drums bleeding together I could hear every note and understand the lyrics every step of the way.
The band brought out their brand of power-pop/rock to full effect, eliciting comparisons in my mind to the most recent Titus Andronicus record. The Ketch boys guitars were screaming back and forth while the melody floated on a sweet groove provided by Steve Slagg on keys, Adam Bonich on drums and the bass of Taylor Briggs. They blasted through about ten songs, covering their releases from 2009 up to their most recent single, “Making Americans,” which was released last August. They also played a great version of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” by Warren Zevon.
The set they played was the first of three for the night, but I didn’t stay for the other two bands for fear of being stuck in Lakeview with no way home during winter storm ohmygoditssnowinginchicagoandwedon’tknowwhattodo. I never felt like I was watching an opener, though. Mooner treated the set like all good bands should with every set-like you’re the headliner and it’s the last show you’ll ever play. They were tight even though afterward I heard them joking about playing some wrong chords (if you act like it’s right no one will notice). Front man Lee Ketch sang and screamed and shouted like his microphone was on fire while Slagg’s backup harmonies were so sweet I thought he might be proposing to his mic.
You can check out all of Mooner’s music on Bandcamp. If you dig what you hear and live in Chicago, go see them play at Cole’s on January 24th!
For more pics from the show, hit up our Facebook page and see the whole album.