issueS #30-34 / OCTOBER 2018
pieces of a man
free nation , cinematic
With Pieces of a Man, Mick Jenkins becomes the third Chicago hip hop artist to release a career-defining album this year. Saba and Noname both put out stellar albums, followed by Jenkins sophomore major label record which is, in a word, progressive. Hip Hop has had a seat at the cultural table for years now, but it hasn’t always (and still doesn’t at times) contribute positively to the conversation. But these three records have undeniably vaulted the Chicago hip hop scene into a new era of socially conscious rap.
Jenkins poetry influences shine through with a spoken-word, opening track “Heron Flow” which pays tribute to the late Chicago artist Gil Scott-Heron, as does the albums title which is the same as Heron’s 1971 classic which includes his most famous piece “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. It’s an intimate way to begin the album and draws the listener in to his world. What follows is a deeply personal record that feels worldly while still staying on the streets of Chicago, speaking to issues that affect all of us everyday. Rapping over groove filled tracks, he analyzes his personal daily life through the lens of religion, relationships, and his artistic status; along with plenty of herb talk. Plenty of rappers have turned the lens on themselves in the past, but what makes Pieces of a Man different is the honesty and intensity of the examination. The tune “Consensual Seduction” (featuring Chicago singer Corinne Bailey Rae) looks at sexual consent, “Grace & Mercy” speaks to the religious influences on his life; while “Barcelona” takes a look at his art and career. But the real stars are the tunes that focus on politics and the rap scene like “Padded Locks” (featuring Ghostface Killah), “U Turn”, and “Stress Fracture” (featuring Mikahl Anthony). Each examine, still through Jenkins’ personal lens, his place in the world and where he can go from here. An amazing listen, this is one of the top hip hop albums to drop on the back half of this year and deserves all the praise it will undoubtedly receive.
It doesn’t appear that he has any shows coming up. But we’ll stay tuned for any pop-up shows.
julien baker, phoebe bridgers, lucy dacus
The power of three of indie rock’s best singer/songwriters have combined to form boygenius, a not so subtle nod (as far as band names go) to the gender disparity in culture. Each of these three artists have distinctive styles that merge with incredible results. Julien Baker’s rocket of a voice and minor chord guitar, Lucy Dacus’ rock style and confessional lyrics, and Phoebe Bridgers folky acoustic flair and gentle approach bring forth six beautiful songs of indie rock perfection. The harmonies blend perfectly as they vocally soar through “Salt In The Wound”, the song building up Baker-style to an undeniable climax. “Bite The Hand” features Dacus lamenting “I can’t love you, like you want me too.” over and over, Baker and Bridgers join in round until they come together in unison for the last acapella chorus. Separate, they are phenomenal singers and performers. Together they create a wave of sound by which no living person could fail to be moved. Leave it to these three to create something new, something engaging, something on the edge of perfection. Step into it here.
They are coming through on November 12th and 13th at Thalia Hall. Both shows Sold Out quickly. There are some third party tix out there. Good luck!
Chicago’s Typesetter has been kicking out punk/emo influenced rock for a few years now, and their sound is really coming into focus with sophomore full-length Nothing Blues. A softness has creeped into their music this time around and has made it all the more interesting. Ballad “White Noise” is a stand out track. The synth drones of Sarah Bogosh adds a deepness that wasn’t necessarily missing before, but now that it’s there, you wonder how their music ever worked without it. Alex Palermo’s high vocals come together perfectly with the distortion fueled rock, but the intensity of their previous efforts have been smoothed over with a wiser, more deliberate feel. It’s during the rather slow second half of the album that they show off their songwriting skills and prove you don’t have to rock for ten tracks; that you can sit back and let some of the songs breathe a bit. Along with the countless other bands grow that have grown time, Typesetter is shaping into a very solid and dependable rock band. A bonus: Lydia Loveless guests on “Technicolor” harmonizing with Palermo to fantastic effect. Check it out.
They just played Riot Fest last month, and are returning home to play Sleeping Village on November 17th. Tix are only $10!
you won’t get what you want
Eight years after their critical smash, self titled album, comes the much anticipated follow up in which they’ve gone from Post-punk to experimental noise rock. “We’ve changed our sound from record to record since the beginning,” says guitarist Nick Sadler in their bio. And what a dark sound it is. Atonal at times, insanely intense at others; its the kind of record you throw on when the world has you in it’s jaws. It’s one of those buck your problems and rock out albums. From the screams of Alexis Marshall, to the driving beat of Jon Syverson’s drums, to the ten foot thick wall of distortion pouring from Sam Walker’s bass, and Sadler whipping around the tunes with his high tone madness; each member’s contribution indisputably works as part of the the whole. A whole that opens up this dark, twisted, and beautiful world. Be amazed.
Daughters is playing Beat Kitchen November 17th and 18th. Both shows, are Sold Out!
The incomparable drummer, producer and Chicago mainstay, Makaya McCraven, has released a collection of recordings made over the past year with various collaborators from four different cities: New York, Chicago, London and Los Angeles. Whatever you call it, “new” jazz, “free” jazz, or just plain damn good music, the tunes here were recorded live and then played with in the studio. They were then layered, looped and cut until they were perfect. His spontaneous instrumentation method (these are completely improvised compositions) gives the tunes a life that few musicians can attain. The vibe is consistent throughout, even with the change in players and locale, which just goes to show how much McCravens style rubs off on the players around him. His syncopated cymbal strikes and snare rim raps ring through nearly every track, building the rhythm that surrounds the feel and tenor of these compositions. Thankfully he features at least one female prominently in each city: Harpist Brandee Younger in New York, Cellioist Tomeka Reid in Chicago, Saxophonist Nubya Garcia in London and Bassist Anna Butterss in L.A. which does soften the edge some free jazz can contain. The machismo is lowered to a hum and what shines through is pure musical magic. After the last notes fade on the final track McCraven asks “You guys got all that?” No, Makaya, we didn’t, let's start it over again. Kick back and be amazed.
McCraven is playing The South Shore Cultural Center as part of the Red Bull Music Fest on November 29th. Tix are still available for only $20.
in the red
Only Ty Segall would put out his third solo record of the year and have it be a covers album. Giving his signature treatment to eleven tunes that he likes, he claims he just made it for “fun”, which is probably what you do when you’re the scene’s resident professor of rock. The genius at display surrounds the fact that, if you didn’t know this was a cover album or were unfamiliar with the mainly deep tracks he chose, you would think this was just another Ty album. His brand is given to each of these tunes and whether it’s Lennon’s “Isolation”, a rocking version of the Dead’s “St. Stephen”, a fuzzy slowed down “Lowrider”, or the classic Dills tune “Class War”, it all sounds like Ty. His arrangements morph each tune into an entirely new song. None of them are terribly recognizable, swallowed in the style of Ty Segall. His guitar playing is featured prominently here as it was on last winter’s stellar effort Freedom’s Goblin. Rock’s most prolific artist strikes again!
Ty is hitting Thalia Hall on Friday for a solo acoustic performance “In The Round!” This one is not to be missed! Tix are $28.
mr. twin sister
The follow up to their ‘14 critically acclaimed self titled record, released after they were legally threatened over their name Twin Sister and had to add the Mr. monike. It’s is a further exploration into the dark realms of synth pop and picks up right where its predecessor left off: Andrea Estella crooning over syncopated beats, with elements of jazz, eletro, and synth pop swirling around her smoky vocals. There’s not much else to say, we think you just have to experience it for yourself.
There are not Chicago dates on their slate as of now.
Once again working solo, Jilian Medford releases her most confessional work to date. Abandoning the trio format after moving to L.A. she has continued to use her work as a form of therapy, examining her life and experiences through the lens of her music. With atmospheric waves and intimate guitar driven moments she drives home the emotions you go through in early adulthood. While many of her peers are making crackly bedroom pop to pour out their feelings, Medford’s clean production stands apart. Produced by Gabe Wax, the man behind The War On Drugs, Soccer Mommy and Dearhunter, this record will only pick up steam as more people discover the raw emotion and quality tunes it contains.
The Subterranean hosted her on Tuesday. She’s probably not making it back for a bit, but we’ll let you know when it goes down.
The music of experimentalist Julia Holter has always been intensely beautiful, and her new double album raises her to new heights of gorgeousness. With atmospheric minimalism, she guides the listener through a world populated by droaning synth, clicking harp, rapping drums, electronic noise, and her unmistakable speak-sing vocals. Influenced by modern composition, medieval music, electronica, and the indomitable Alice Coltrane; her music is a stew that takes all these components and stirs them into a fabulously delicious aural experience. At an hour and thirty minutes, this is not meant for a casual listen, it’s a true time commitment. One we highly suggest you undertake.
Holter is bringing her stew to Thalia Hall on February 28th. Tix are $20 - $25.
A rather stunning examination of heartache and responsibility from the rural Oregon native who just completed an MFA in writing; the skills of which are present through all ten of these tracks. It’s extremely evident in the verses in the title track “Here comes the end, no white ship, no sunset / I could fake wise, make brave eyes / But I know nothing / I was never trying to be saved or, do the saving” or in “Domestication” where she uses the metaphor of the training of an animal to speak to about relationships. Every song is a new avenue to explore, a new poem to discover. She closes with “I Don’t Want Your Voice to Move Me”, a song centered around its protagonist’s search for a lost love, but when she finally finds them she doesn’t want them to affect her because she “doesn’t want to be cracked open.” A tremendous collection of tunes from one of Indie Folks shining stars. Make sure to check this one out.
She is stopping by The Hideout on January 16th. Tix are $10.
hush kids , tone tree
Jill Andrews and Peter Groenwald, both singer songwriters who didn’t know each other, were introduced to one another by their producers and ended up creating the harmonious singing instrumental heavy duo, Hush Kids. Their self titled and first album together has a very nostalgic feel and a chilled theme. With both artists separately successful in the indie/folk genre and having a knack for beautiful lyrics and romantic musical compositions, it’s no wonder their producers teamed them up together. Hush Kids’ 10-song EP is a great introduction album for this new duo, the singers/songwriters weave together poetic folk/indie songs with breathtaking intertwined vocals and guitar melodies that are almost country-like. Songs like “What’s Your Hurry”, “Color of Sadness”, and “Goodbye Rain” showcase that folk/country influence best. Jill’s powerful voice aided by Peter’s undertone gives the songs deeper meaning than what the lyrics portray.
Hush Kids aren’t touring at the moment
kemado , mexican summer
Intense and in your face, Brooklyn based noise rockers Pill can’t be stopped. A slew of their early Dull Tools work (A. Savage of Parquet Courts label) hit streaming this year, and now they pull out these twelve tracks of riot grrrl, free jazz, and no wave. This album keeps trucking for forty minutes of madness that will leave you bobbing your head, not holding your ears. More often than not, noise rock can be unapproachable, but Pill keep the melodies intact thanks to Veronica Torres’ vocals and Benjamin Jaffe’s saxophone (which is used as a melodic tool till he is given free range to slay his solos) making them far more approachable to the mainstream listener than many in the genre. By mid-album they slow it down for a breather with the instrumental title track before wrecking your mind on three minute burner “Softer Side” launching off the rest of the record with a bang that lasts till the final feedback fades away. Give it a spin!
We just reviewed their show at The Empty Bottle a couple weeks back. No shows back in the area at the moment.
Boy George And Culture Club
It has been nearly 20 years since Culture Club has release an album and how the times have changed. But instead of Culture Club releasing a 80s comeback album, they modernized and released an industrial/reggae/70s funk variety mix that they donned Life. This was a fun album: it’s good to hear Boy George singing again. And although we’ll never get tunes such as “Karma Chameleon” or “It’s A Miracle” ever again, fans of the group have been gifted new hits like reggae inspired “Let Someone Love You” and modern industrial “God & Love”. Culture Club is still pushing boundaries—I haven’t heard a lot of albums that infused contemporary 80s industrial, 70s funk and reggae—and it seems to be working successfully. Although Boy George’s voice has seen some years, it still keeps its charm like in the song “Resting Bitch Face”. The motown/big band influenced song is a fun listen with lyrics describing a bad relationship ending in heartbreak. The juxtaposition of the melody and lyrics really bring fans back to when Culture Club first started with those nostalgic songs. Culture Club still has some musical life in them, and I am glad they have come back after their 20 year hiatus. I look forward to hear more music from them.
Culture Club is currently touring the UK
where do I come from
This posthumous collection of The Roches (the sister folk trio) most prolific scribe is a true testament to the American songwriter. Collecting recordings from over forty years of a life in music this double album contains some amazing songs including the stunner “Hammond Song” and feminist protest tune “This Feminine Position,” along with a few unreleased numbers is a great addition to any folk completist’s collection.
If you have never ventured into the realms of post-rock, CAVE may be your avenue. One of the genre’s most accessible acts, the quintet from Chicago lays down groove-heavy note progression jams that take the listener on a mental journey through the subconscious and back. Spacy and ethereal at times, yet showing their funky side throughout, this fifth studio effort Allways picks up right where they left off, with six focused jams that consistently forge ahead until the needle hits the end. It’s clear their influences lie all over the genre spectrum, and they blend it all together into the perfect amalgamation that can only be CAVE. Give it a listen right now.
They don’t have any shows planned in Chicago to follow up their two night run last weekend. Keep checking though, they are worth every penny.
last building burning
Last years Life Without Sound was good but felt a bit stale; like Dylan Baldi and company were trying to be something they aren’t—a mainstream rock band. Cloud Nothings returns to form this year with a rager of a record in Last Building Burning. From burner “On An Edge”—which opens up the can of rock whoopass—to the ten minute distortion filled epic “Dissolution”, to optimistic closer “Another Way Of LIfe” they have composed an opus of an album. The distortion wraps itself around the subconscious and fuzzes out the world, while Baldi growls, screams and moans all over these eight perfect rock tunes. If there was a rock n’ roll for dummies class, Baldi would be the perfect instructor. Real and to the point, they crunch their way through this one from top to bottom. Their best since ‘12’s breakout Attack on Memory. If you’ve never heard Cloud Nothings start there and then skip to this one. Do it now! You need to listen to this!
They are swinging through Thalia Hall, Dec. 14th with The Courtneys and Good Willsmith. $20 - $25 tix.
peter bjorn and john
The Swedish trio’s most subdued and thoughtful album to date, Darker Days drops some of the hookier pop and ventures into a more shadowed territory. There are plenty of tunes here that nearly sound like someone ran The Smiths through a Peter Bjorn and John sieve and then stretched out their musical and lyrical legs. The result is their best all around album since breakout Writer’s Block. As many have done in these times of societal strife, the trio has been influenced by current events, writing tune around the theme and using it to decide on the album title. From the end of relationships, to society’s inevitable fall to device addiction and the chaos of world politics; these three Swedish chaps put their finger to our collective pulse and felt it hitting its threshold. The resulting eleven tunes run the gamut of emotions we all go through everyday; exasperation, dread, and anxiety all rolled into a hummable shell. If you’re having a great day, this one will bring you back to earth real fast.
They are swinging through Lincoln Hall on December 5th. $20 tix
jason isbell and the 400 unit
live from the ryman
southeastern , thirty tigers
The Nashville based singer songwriter Jason Isbell and his stellar band The 400 Unit have been taking over the Ryman Auditorium (what housed The Grand Ol Opry in it’s heyday) for an extended run for a few years now. This collection was recorded over last year’s six night run and mainly includes tunes from the last several albums, both his solo material and the bands work.
Live albums live in two categories: The ones that capture that moment in time in all of its iconic glory, and those that were just recorded and shoved out to appease fans during a large gap between records. Live from the Ryman is undoubtedly of the former. With last year’s The Nashville Sound, they hit a new high and produced an iconic album that showed that there is a place for liberal, progressive politics in americana and country music. (Which most likely is what’s keeping Isbell from being a household name, something he has long deserved.) If you listen to music and pay attention to awards (of which he’s won quite a few) you know who he is, but he’s rarely played on the radio (what band that actually matters is anymore?). He sticks to his guns, knows who he is and tells it how he sees it. Raw emotions and superior song craftsmanship shine through here, capturing the moment of Isbell and the band at their best.
Isbell plays in Chicago at least once a year, but I’m sad to say that he has already swung through this summer. We’re hoping for an outdoor show next summer!
Halloween (Original 2018 Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Rodeo Suplex , Sacred Bones
John Carpenter is a movie legend having directed some of the most influential movies of the 70s and 80s. I personally have a shrine to Snake Plissken at my office desk, and a framed picture of MacReady on my desk at home. I guess you could say that I kind of like his work. (Or that I just really like Kurt Russell.) Carpenter’s legacy is due in no small part to his indelible ear for ethereal scores. Famously, Halloween wasn’t well received by his producers upon first viewing. They remarked that it needed a score to sell the dread of The Shape he had created. Pounding out a simple synth track wasn’t enough, so he used a 5/4 time signature to up the haunting nature. 5/4 can always make a song memorable, and yet is still rarely used. Maybe because it’s inherently unnerving.
The immediacy of the original soundtrack was born out of necessity, while its sequel is more contrived. It’s this engineering of angst and anxiousness that he revisits 37 years later (40 from the original). The mood is more methodical; more menacing than on the original score. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I can imagine the past 40 years have slowed down Michael as well. Carpenter brings an industrial sound that uses the synths of old and thundering bass to juxtapose the delicate piano. The minimalistic score Carpenter uses to bring Halloween into the modern era is particularly bold. It plays off of his 80’s instincts, yet recognizes the inevitable evolution of them. It’s an effect that other movie soundtrack composers have been aping for several decades.
Recruiting his son and godson, Daniel Davies (whom I reviewed back in issue #26), Carpenter has given us a masterclass in what modern scores can be. Trent and Atticus might wanna watch their backs if the trio decides to keep this up for future films.
Given that I think I’ve spoiled part of the movie just by looking at the titles, I’m not going to recommend tracks. So don’t look, and just put it on during trick or treat time to let the kids know you’re hip.
John Carpenter is more musician than director lately and has some tour dates, but none coming up in Chicago.
being human in public
A collection of singles that the Canadian/Colombian singer songwriter has released over the course of this year, Being Human In Public showcases the breadth of her musical talents. While many musicians pigeon hole themselves to a single sound, Reyez experiments across multiple genres. Whether she is singing or rapping them, this phenom writes credible and affecting lyrics that reflect her experiences in the world as a young women. From the funky diatribe of “Body Count” (you can guess what that one’s about), to the condemnation of casual dating in “F*** Being Friends”, to her wonderful send off to the power of self in “Dear Yessie”, she never holds back. Coming at us with so much energy and passion it’s hard to refuse the talent she displays.
She’s coming through Lincoln Hall on November 13th but that show has Sold Out. Don’t fret, we’re sure she’ll be back around.
Three years ago, Lorely Rodriguez burst onto the alt-R&B scene with her hit debut album Me. She has since returned with a more polished and full sound on new record Us. It’s no doubt that the scene around her has influenced her sound and taken some of the originality out of the pop inspired weirdness that permeated Me. Not to say that this new take is any less interesting. She takes the tropes of popular top 40 and runs it through the Empress Of filter. It makes sense then that her debut was completely self produced and that Us enlisted the talents of respected songwriters and musicians such as Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, DJDS and Cole M.G.N. While they might not be household names, they sure have worked with many; and they have influenced the overall palette of the record toward a more mainstream feel. There is nothing inherently wrong with this shift, but it makes one a bit nostalgic for the simpler beats and personal touches that were all over her debut. No musician should stop growing, and this is a large step for Rodriguez. We truly hope her fans follow her down this path.
Empress Of is coming to Sleeping Village on March 1st. Show is at 9PM and Tix are $20.
rca , sony
20 year old R&B artist Khalid delivers his audience with another taste of his artistic lyrics and smooth beats, displaying songs of tragedy and love. In the 7 track EP, Khalid dabbles in not only pop and R&B but brings in influences of country and classical as well. (He even takes to singing in Spanish over a reggaeton beat.) His lyrics and use of a classical orchestra reflect a theme of dark times during which he is trying to discover himself. Khalid’s lyrics prove that he is diversifying outside the R&B norms of love and lust. Take, for example, the lyrics of “Vertigo”: “Criticized , who am I to give up?/ I’m breathing what’s the let up? /Are we alive/ or are we dreaming?” The song “Saturday Nights” is beautiful love song written for a broken woman living in a wrecked home and working late at clubs. Yet, despite her flaws, the character that Khalid portrays in this song is in love with her. Starting off like a country song with soft guitar riffs, Khalid sets the scene: “Saturday nights, blueberry cigarillos swishers make my throat hurt/ rolling OCBs on the side for me/ light ‘em up and let ‘em both burn.” The second verse describes her disgruntled lifestyle: “Stay up working late at a job you hate/ fix your makeup in a dirty bathroom/
no more love, in and out of clubs/ knowing what you gotta do/ you've got plans wrapped in rubber bands/ and that's the only thing you'll never lose”. Khalid creates juxtaposition by romanticizing the life of this woman with a powerful chorus of love and promise, while describing her broken life in the verses. Khalid’s track “Suncity”, a collaboration with singer songwriter Empress Of, recounts lovers going to the city of the Sun to look for their hearts. Empress Of and Khalid make a great duo, and it was a very fun song to listen to over and over again. Plus, with reggaeton beats and short lyrics but a catchy chorus, Suncity is a song anyone can dance to. The album has good variety, and it definitely displays Khalid talent as a songwriter. I am excited to hear what more Khalid has to bring in future albums to come.
Khalid is currently touring in Asia.
songs of love and horror
This reimagined acoustic collection of previously released songs is meant as a companion piece to his new book of lyrics that was released on October 9th through W W Norton Press. It contains lyrics to over 200 of Oldham’s songs, and he has gathered a dozen of his most affecting and powerful tunes to showcase on this record. With just a single acoustic guitar accompanying his gorgeous vocals, it’s like stepping back in time to the folk scene of the fifties, as he regails the listener with tales of relationship woe and stories of lives lived deeply. He has had several monikers throughout his long career, and it’s hard to remember which songs came from which. The one audiences would recognize the most is Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and a number of these tunes come from that long catalog. If you’ve never listened to Oldham in any incarnation you should start here.
He was recently at The Art Institute as B”P”B and is currently not touring.
Fans of Keller will find it no shock that he’s put out a completely instrumental album. Anyone that has seen him live will attest to the long breaks his sets contain (when playing solo) as he builds tunes one instrument at a time till he can step to the mic and deliver. What is different about his new record Sans is exactly that. It’s a long build up with no lyrical payoff. It’s his skillful musicianship on full display with no hooks and codas built in for unnecessary words. Here he is letting the songs speak for themselves. Perhaps his predominant cheerfulness has taken a hit these last several years. Instead of going negative he may prefer to still warm the heart with his tunes instead of venturing into protest song territory, an avenue he very well could have taken. But the most obvious route has never been Keller’s bag. His constant touring and reinventing himself through various guises and incarnations keep his fans on their toes but who really expected this rather stellar foray into jazz territory? “Not I” said the fly. (Keller would find that funny . . .) He’s the one serious musician we’ve ever seen make playing the cowbell into a theatrical event.
He’s bringing that energy to City Winery on November 8th. Just him and Danton Boller on Bass. Tix are $42 - $52.
This record kicks you in the brain. Five tracks of insane post rock madness that envelops the parietal lobe in fuzz and deconstructed rocking beats from a quartet with a massive amount of Chicago musical history surrounding it. Ralph Darski (synth) and Andrew Kettering (bass) of Rabble Rabble, Phil Karnats of Tripping Daisy and Secret Machine on guitar and synth, and Jered Gummere of Ponys and Bare Mutants on drums have discovered a form of communication that is otherworldly. They have stripped music down to the bone and built a whole new soundscape out of the scraps. From the start and stop oddness of middle track “Terrible Terry” to the space sounds of the epic ender “MORTaGOGO” and all the rest of it, they take the listener through a nightmarish musical saga. This is a band we’ll be following and hope you will too. We expect big things from them. Check out the EP here.
We couldn’t find when their next show is, but hope it’s soon!
Black Dog In My Path
Double Double Whammy
Graduating from the solo, close to the chest bedroom pop of last year’s The Offer, Maryn Jones ventures into some new avenues with new effort Black Dog In My Path. There are still solo acoustic numbers scattered throughout, but there are also distorted effigies to love (“Grizzly Bear II”), full on rockers (“Where Is My Light?”), and organ dirges ( “Aldebaren”). Bringing in Kyle Gilbride of Swearin’ and Missing Earth to co-produce may have brought about these influences, but she wrote and recorded the album after a move from Columbus to Philadelphia that separated her from bandmates and friends. This major life change probably contributed to the slight change of sound more than anything else. The Philly scene is stacked right now, and being surrounded by so many talented musicians is sure to influence anyone. The cleaner sound comes from recording in an actual studio, and the change in perspective may come from her new surroundings; regardless, Black Dog In My Path is one those stick in your head records. The kind you can listen to once and it follows you for a week or two, just out of reach in the subconscious. Get it in yours.
She is stopping by The Empty Bottle on November 18th. Pick up tix here.
Park the van
You wouldn’t peg BRONCHO as a central plains band. They have a distinctly urban pop feel that belies their Norman roots. However, every once in a while some of their native Oklahoma shines through; as in the twanging guitar of “Sandman” or the odd accent that comes out in “Get in My Car;” a juxtaposition that only grows stronger on subsequent listens. They are the epitome of two sounds clashing together. Bad Behaviour isn’t synth pop or heartland rock but somewhere in between these two very different genres. This clash is what makes the record so interesting. It draws you in with it’s rocking opener “All Choked Up”, then turns the sound around with the eighties inspired “Weekend”. What follows is track after unexpected track; blending the disparate genres into one catchy, humable tune after another. Hook after gorgeous hook flows through the speakers and right into this midwestern soul. Check it out for yourself.
They are rolling through The Subterranean on November 3rd. Snag some tix here.
The Atlas Underground
Comandante , Mom+Pop
In high school, all I wanted was a great album to play Halo to. It was a simple request. Driving beats, shredding guitars and aggressive vocals. This need varied into EDM and rap during college, when Halo 2/3 ruled the roost. After that, the gaming playlist grew under the parameters of the main three ingredients. Rage Against the Machine featured heavily. Audioslave was a clear next step in guitar-driven rock. Outkast made some cameos. Phantogram and Knife Party got the blood pumping. Pretty Lights kept the midnight oil burning. And Gary Clark reminded me of the good old days. I’m not 14 anymore, but when I get time, there’s nothing that unplugs me better than jacking into the 10 to 15 minute hellstorm of online gaming.
Why do I bring all this up? Because Tom Morello heard my silent cries and released an album that effectively renders my gaming playlists obsolete. The Atlas Underground marries Tom Morello’s legendary guitar chops with a Jackson Pollock collage of EDM, Punk, Indie, Rock, and Rap. It’s truly a mountain to behold, with a cameo list longer than this review. What unravels over the 45 minute album is essentially a greatest hits of rock music influenced by the 2010s. On “How Long”, Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath clashes with Aoiki’s beats for a politically motivated anthem. Unsurprisingly, Killer Mike and Big Boi discuss police brutality, while Morello conjures up his special brand of guitar wizardry. RZA and GZA end the album with a protest song befitting the legacy of Morello’s storied past. It’s the kind of unrest that we’ve come to expect from a man that has defined many coming of age tales. And in a time where it’s easy to just shut your eyes to the neverending opera of bullshit, he’s created the kind of album that reminds us that music can unite the masses in a fury of angry fists in the air, with voices chanting ‘we are the many, they are few’.
The sum may be weaker than the individual parts, if I have to nitpick. It’s not surprising though. I’m not sure anyone could maintain a consistent voice in the face of such a daunting mission with an eclectic band of contributors. Regardless, most of the album is now firmly planted on my workout playlist, and of course… permanently queued up on the PS4.
Only a single Destiny 2 match to spare? Check out these 3 tracks.
Where It’s at Ain’t What It Is
Postscript: One day, I hope to write a review centered around my love of fantasy RPGs. Maybe when The Witcher TV show comes out and has a killer soundtrack.
Morello just brought his tour through Chicago on Oct. 8th, stopping at Lincoln Hall. When he comes back, we’ll let you know when and where
Songs of the Plains
Young Mary’s , Thirty Tigers
With a laid back swagger that belies his 23 years, country singer/songwriter Colter Wall sounds at least three times his age. The young Canadian reminds us of the southern singers of the early and mid twentieth century; laying down stories of the West and it’s forgotten past and interminable present. A songwriter to the core, Wall was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan (his father served as Premier of the region for ten years), and the small town life and rural surroundings was surely an influence that drew him to this antiquated sound. However, in his hands it takes on a freshness that, while certainly drawn from legends like Cash, Williams, Coe, and many others, it never really feels old or tired. This is a songwriter in his young prime, choosing to tell the stories of the West in the way his forebears did. Listen here.
He was here last spring but we hope he’ll return soon. Chicago is not on his current slate.
Bottle It In
Rock ‘n’ roll has always had troubadours in its midst. Those rambling guitar players who are most interested in telling tales than wowing you with their musical chops. And Philly native Kurt Vile falls squarely in this category. Not to say he doesn’t have chops, the man can play; but his records always seem to cruise by, song after song, in that easy way the classics of the genre have always done. The end of the record comes all too unexpectedly, as if you never really wanted it to end. Yet Vile sounds like no other before him. There are shades of Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Lou Reed (not to mention the whole Van Zandt family), just to name a few; but Vile’s speak-singy tone and rambling, weaving tales are truly his own. Bottle It In is no different, it is a very Vile-esque record; filled with even paced, guitar driven numbers that he lets breathe a bit more than most would, while spilling his guts all over. Take the three truly epic numbers on this record for instance: the nine minute plus “Bassakwards” never strays from its constant guitar loop while he rambles about how everything lately seems to be not quite right. The ten minute title track about all the ways men can bottle up their feelings gets an off tune picked solo in its coda. And the song “Skinny Minny” goes on forever about a girl who is being obsessed over by an old man character—at least we think so—till Vile rips a killer distorted solo in the middle and end. Bottle It In was recorded over months of touring here and there across the country, but it feels incredibly cohesive, like he and the band locked themselves in a room for a week. Absolute evidence that Vile has transcended newcomer status and is now a veteran of rock; that’s what ten records in ten years will do for you.
Vile is coming with his backing band The Violators to the The Riv on December 22nd. If you’ve never seen him live, we highly recommend it. Get some tix here.
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats
English psychedelic/heavy metal rock, Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats start their newly released 5th studio album, Wasteland, with an erie off tune keyboard, a recorded playback of a speech, and heavy guitar riffs fading in introducing their first song, “I See Through You”. The loud guitars rhythmically move and balance with beating drums and cymbals while lead singer, Uncle Acid (Kevin R. Starrs) harmonizes his vocals and sounds as though he is back up vocals to the band’s instruments. Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats are definitely in the wrong era (or maybe in the right one but bringing back music introduced to me from older relatives’ time); the 70’s metal psychedelic sound pays homage to bands like Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Dio, and many more great legendary bands. In Wasteland, the band’s head banging sounds vary from track to track, some quick and fast like almost a punk sound and other slow and steady. The song, “No Return” gives that slow metal sound, still loud and rough but a slower melody, giving the audience a break from the fast paced rifts. The album itself tells a story. In songs “Shockwave City”, “No Return”, and “Blood Runner”, lyrics create a story for the audience that explore, what it seems like, like citizens chained like prisoners in a city, forced to watch a screen and have their memories of the past washed away. Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats not only created riveting sounds and melodies, but a riveting story as well. A dystopian story with the album as its score, creating a disheartening rough Mad Max-esque wasteland.
Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats are currently touring Europe and will be only coming to California in December.
Detroit producer and performer Matthew Dear has released his most compelling work to date with this very twisted and murky collection of tunes. A founder of Ghostly International, the label that has made a name for itself with unconventional acts like Tycho, Com Truise, and School of Seven Bells, to name a few; but Dear himself is possibly the imprints most original artist. For the past ten years he has taken on the mantle of the prophetic crooner of the electronic scene. Backed by mainly plodding beats and soft synths (with a bit of guitar thrown in here and there) he deeply purrs his lyrics like a twenty first century Nick Cave. With Bunny he treats us to plenty of his signature sound and even brings in Tegan and Sara for a few inspired tunes. In a genre that is dominated by the feature singer, it’s a refreshing twist for a producer to sing over his own tracks. It doesn’t happen often, and nobody does it better than Matthew Dear.
He’s stopping by Sleeping Village on Nov. 15th! Get your tix here.
Love Is Magic
We find ourselves saying this often, but no one, absolutely NO ONE sounds like John Grant. His art pop is a hundred percent his own. Bringing us his fourth studio album with Love Is Magic, the former frontman of The Czars wades through these catastrophic times through the lens of his queer perspective. Venturing back and forth from spoken word tracks backed by clangs, beeps, and synths galore to more traditional pop tune structures, it’s an adventure in the unexpected. Around every corner is a new groove, a deeper lyrical avenue, or simply a rip on societies exploitations. As in “Diet Gum” where he takes on the personality of a stereotypical gay man during the verses, bashing the listener with various insults, or the beautiful closer ballad “Touch And Go” that ends with the repeated “You can’t stop the progress of the truth / Try as you might”. The lesson here is never to try and stop John Grant, because he is on the path of musical mania and nothing will slow him down. See what you think.
He is bringing his mayhem to Lincoln Hall on December 9th. Get some tix here.
Kitsuené , Because
The Berlin, by way of Australia, five piece groove machine Parcels has brought us a gorgeously produced debut that is sure to be a hit in Europe and mainly ignored stateside. The Daft Punk proteges are trying to spread the word and have even released the record on Soundcoud where you can stream it for free. But the American electronic scene that lives for the drop and the constant never ending dance tune, doesn’t really go in for the disco inspired electro that has taken over the French and German scenes. Which is really too bad. Parcels is the future sound all over the world, except, most likely here. Even the album cover shows them as jet setters and pilots getting ready to take off to explore new found frontiers; they will soon be flying to a city near you with their impeccable harmonies and funky grooves.
See them live at Lincoln Hall on March 3rd 2019.
JEFF The Brotherhood
JEFF The Brotherhood , Dine Alone
Always prone to flights into psych rock territory the Nashville brother duo JEFF The Brotherhood fully sail into the depths of the genre with new record Magick Songs. Leaving behind their largely guitar and drum rock catalog they explore new avenues of collaboration. No longer held to a labels opinions or influence Jake and Jamin Orrall are openly working out what their next sound will be. This may be it, a band in flux for the rest of their careers; or perhaps the explorations here will lead to a more complete flushed out sound. Not to say there is anything wrong here, they just seem to be finding themselves as musicians right in front of us; which is another kind of gift to give your fans. This is one you need to digest to understand.
We expect a Chicago show on the tour in support of this one. No announcements as of yet.
Ferris Wheel’s Day Off
Chicago jam quartet Mungion is the epitome of a good time. A refreshing blend of every genre imaginable; from jazz and ragtime to funk and latin to rock and country, it’s all thrown into the Mungion processor and out comes some of the best jam tunes to grace this metropolis. Composed of Justin Reckamp (guitar), Sean Carolan (bass), Joe Re (keyboards), and Matt Kellen (drums), their improvisational sets have been entertaining jam fans since 2015 and with their excellent second album Ferris Wheel’s Day Off (which we are sure is a pun) their star is sure to rise even more in the tight knit jam community. It’s clear this is a talented unit with excellent songwriting chops, but what is most impressive is their knack for capturing some of their live sound in the studio (which is not something every jam act can accomplish). With tracks like the latin flavored “Quemaste Tu Cabello” and jazzy “Windows”, not to mention the eleven minute journey that is the title track, there is a light hearted live quality that even seasoned musicians have trouble capturing. All four contribute vocals and harmonize at times exploding the sound into a whole other dimension. Some of their influences are very clear, with such a small pool of bands in the scene it’s usually apparent where a band draws its musical language; however, there is a freshness to Mungion’s tone that fits right now. Sometimes you just need a new escape and we’ve found ours in this joy of a record.
Mungion is playing Martyr’s on New Years Eve! If you’ve got no plans, this is a great option! Grab tix here.
After five years of pursuing solo endeavors and other musical adventures, Tim Kasher and company are back with their most explosive album in over a decade. Producing conceptual masterpieces is what Cursive does and this time is no different. Leaning on the downward spiral of our societal madness that has taken over every form of discourse, Vitriola reunites the core members of the band for a journey through this disturbing time we are all wading through. Never one to hide his point behind metaphors, Kasher consistently goes for the throat with lyrics like “The one percent live in high rises / They block out the sun for all the denizens / Under the rainbow / They write the laws on guns and gods / And push 'em upon the hard folk down below / Under the rainbow” or “What reason do you need to be alive? / Just merely survive / Or don't, you are or you aren't / What I sing right now / Someone's screamed before / Time to take a bow / Before the stage is taken over.” It’s straight in your face, to the point, lyrical content that is only offset by the musical cacophony threading through every track. Cursive has never been for the casual listener: it’s intense from start to finish. Vitriola is a fitting return to form for a band that was all but written off by most fans. Welcome back to the Ugly Organ, we’ve all been here waiting. Visit this reality here.
Cursive is coming to Thalia Hall on November 15th. Tix are still available. Get them here.
C’est La Vie
When a band is 10 years and 5 albums into their career, and they release what becomes a mega-selling smash which spawns massive tours, press attention, and new legions of fans, what the fuck do you do next? If you’re most people, you try and capitalize on that newfound success. Maybe you release another great record, and maybe you fall flat on your face. But if that band is Phosphorescent, which is just Matthew Houck, you take a break. You move away, you have a couple kids, and you enjoy life for 5 years. It’s a bold move, but one that I think paid off. At first listen, the music isn’t too dissimilar to the previously alluded to Muchacho (which still gets played quite a bit on our record player. It’s a seriously great record). However, it doesn’t take an amateur critic to hear the stark contrast in approach. Sure, the high reaching country-pop sonics are still there; but there’s a lift in Houck’s step here. Muchacho told the story of a drunkard who had lost his home, his girl, and his mind. But with vocoder-drenched lyrics about Christmas, intense conga drums, pedal steel guitars for days, and grandiose choirs; C’est La Vie is an album about a man who found happiness in life and who wants to slow down to enjoy that.
I imagine this album won’t get the same attention as his last, and I can understand why. In a world where everyone needs to be pissed off and god damnit telling you about it in every song, Hauck builds another atmospheric blue collar country world. This world is populated by doe-eyed fathers who prefer to play mellowed motorik epics that won’t rock the boat.
The lyrics are mostly straightforward, and reference his changes quite a bit. He doesn’t drink as much, he’s slowed down, he enjoys Christmas with his wife, and he traded the city for the farm. The doom and gloom aren’t completely gone, though. He sings about his kids now, and how he fears for what they’ll see in life, and how everything eventually dies, but it’s coming from a different kind of painful corner of life. One realizing what true loss might be, and how great it is to have such gifts. If you’ve paid any attention to my previous reviews, I usually don’t give a lot of thought to lyrics when they aren’t sad and gloomy. It’s interesting timing for this record though. I spent a lot of time drinking alone with Muchacho on the turntable, and while I still love the sound – C’est La Vie speaks to me more.
Only 17 minutes to spare? Check out these 3 tracks:
New Birth in New England
Christmas Down Under
My Beautiful Boy
Postscript: It’s a less direct record than usual for Phosphorescent, but the slow burn of happiness is what we should all spend more time focusing on. Why blast past the good parts, and wallow in the mud.
Phoshorescent plays the Vic on Friday, Nov. 30th. Tickets are $25, and can be found right here
Coheed and Cambria
The Unheavenly Creatures
Progressive rock powerhouse group, Coheed and Cambria has returned to bless their fans with their 9th studio album The Unheavenly Creatures. The band sustains their Amory Wars sci-fi comic/space opera musical series with songs that continue to merge progressive rock’s dynamic guitar rhythms and hard hitting drums with Claudio’s harmonizing, room-filling voice.
Songs like “The Dark Sentencer”, “Unheavenly Creatures”, and “Queen of the Dark” pay homage to Coheed’s older records with a narrative that blends throughout the 15 tracks, but can still be listened to at random and appreciated one track at a time. Tender hit “Love Protocol” proves that Coheed and Cambria knows how to touch their fan’s hearts with unforgettable love songs. The album is amazing, and even though the band has introduced new characters into the story, it still offers a familiarity to what lies ahead in The Amory Wars saga.
Coheed and Cambria are touring the states
Mi Vida Local
There are others who try to imitate, but there is only one Atmosphere. For nearly thirty years, the artistic duo of rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and DJ/producer Ant (Anthony Davis) have been laying down dirt from the North. With his distinctive flow and ever changing lyrical content, Slug is a legend in his hometown of Minneapolis and has fostered a hell of a hip hop scene that has given birth to countless quality hip hop acts from Doomtree to Brother Ali to Kill the Vultures and beyond. The Twin Cities’s sound has always had a laid back production appeal with smart, emotionally grounded lyrics. Sure there are still party songs, but as the scene has aged so has the perspectives. As an elder statesman, Slug has grown into a leader of integrity that raps about his family life, growing older, and all of the regrets and rewards that life has in store. In Mi Vida Local, Ant lays down his chillest grooves to date, leaving the floor open for Slug to lay out his perspective. Just take a look at single “Virgo” and you’ll get the picture: “You should've seen the look on my face when I was losing my faith / Y'all got me feeling hesitation, embarrassment / I might be the last generation of grandparents / I know that I've been fortunate for all the opportunities / Disproportionately disappointed in the human beings / I get it, we're specks of dust / At the bus stop busking for extra crust / Like fuck it, you can sacrifice me to the weather / If you promise that you'll let my songs live forever.” Yeah, it’s all like that. Plug into this one right now.
When Chan Marshall releases a new Cat Power record, it’s an event. And it’s been that way since 1996. While most artists change their sound gradually and have a somewhat frequent release schedule, she reinvents her sound on each sporadically released album. While the sound is always clearly Chan’s, the mood is distinctly encapsulated within the album. Gone is the electro-sexualized Cat Power of 2012’s Sun, and here is the starkly minimalist folk of a woman that refuses to quit. In the 6 years since her last album, Chan almost died, developed an immune disorder that kept her from touring, gave birth to her son, and split from her longtime label.
That split is worth talking about for a minute. If you have Chan Marshall on your label, you let her do whatever she wants. She’s a legendary iconoclast, and a true artist. Her songs may be depressing at times, but they’re real. They’re not awash in glossy shit, and you would never mistake a Cat Power song for someone else’s. And when that kind of artist considers retiring (seriously, she moved to a different country and got a job as a bartender), you celebrate her bringing you a new record. What you don’t do is play an Adele record for her and say “sound like this”. That’s what happened, though.
Cat Power channels these life changing moments by stripping all excess away, focusing the album on the voice. The first of the two songs that you should definitely listen to is “Woman”, which features Lana Del Ray’s deep and assertive voice repeating the chorus of “I’m a Woman.” It’s a song that’s at times painful and bright, and hopeful and anxious. It’s also the only new song after Matador rejected the album, so of course it’s a great fucking single. And possibly a middle finger for all marginalized woman to sing along to. The other highlight of the album is the cover of Rihanna’s “Stay”. What was already a heart bearing ballad is stripped even further down, illuminating the strength of the lyrics and the inherent beauty found in Chan’s rasp.
Cat Power comes to Thalia Hall on Thursday, Dec. 20th. Tickets are $35, and are……here
Fall Into the Sun
Allison Crutchfield nearly whispers, “The best years of our lives / Were spent in some strangers basement / Medley made of empty cans and ex's / And that radical romantic conversation / About how we are like mutants / Who found each other by chance through rock n roll music / Clenched fist, eyes wild / Scream over the records, you artfully compiled” to begin “Big Change”, the opening tune from another record that we never thought we would get in 2018. The twin sister of Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield, Allison is as straightforward as her sister is metaphorical. Swearin’s pop punk inspired indie rock brings you back to the music of your youth without falling into any of the cliches that can mar the genre. Breaking up in 2015 after Crutchfield and her bandmate / fellow songwriter Kyle Gilbride ended their romantic relationship, Swearin’ had faded into the Philly sunset. However, recent events brought the band back together, and now as a trio they have put out one killer album. Raw, intelligent and affecting, it’s a fitting examination of relationships and how we foster some and destroy others. This is a must listen.
They are pulling into Lincoln Hall on October 18th. Grab some tix here.
Japanese psych- rock, Kikagaku Moyo releases their newest album Mansana Temples with 10 musically different tracks blending in japanese folk rock, celtic rock, latin, and hard rock. The instruments push through the lyrics like in the song “Dripping Sun” in which you can hear the vocalists softly sing with light drums beating behind them throughout and then ending with 70s funk guitars to mirror the same funk beat from the beginning. In songs like “Nana”, starting off very easy and chilling, the riveting guitar at the end really added to the 70s funk essence of the album.
Although this album has its moments of hard guitar chords, it is more of a seldom hard rock, like Mars Volta but turned down to volume 3. I thoroughly enjoyed the album and appreciated its relaxing tones, soft vocals, and subtle ambient noise/instruments sneaking into songs.
Kikagaku Moyo was in Chicago two weeks ago for the Revolution Oktoberfest
Dose Your Dreams
Fucked Up , Merge
Returning to the scene of the musical crime, the Toronto based collective known as Fucked Up have come full circle and back to David, the title character from 2011’s classic David Comes To Life, their breakout “rock opera” that garnered massive critical acclaim. Dose Your Dreams finds David in a white collar job, working in a cubicle, letting life pass him by; but he quits dramatically in the first track and meets a psychic (or witch, however you want to see it) who takes him on a psychotic adventure through his mind and beyond. For a band that started out as hardcore, Fucked Up has ventured into so many different avenues and genres, they may qualify for the Most Evolved Band in the History of Rock n Roll award. There is still frontman Damian Abraham ripping vocals (or screams if you prefer) through a good portion of the album, but the rest of the band takes on some vocal responsibilities giving some harmonies to offset Abraham’s grunting deliveries. So many genres blend here it’s impossible to curtail their sound into one describable sentence. They are Fucked Up and they have to be experienced to be understood. If they can be at all. See if you can.
Doesn’t look like they are hitting here on their current run. Maybe this Spring. We have fingers crossed.
Kero Kero Bonito
Time ‘n’ Place
The prototypical twenty first century band, London based Kero Kero Bonito met online in 2013 and began producing music without meeting each other in person. Their early work was largely inspired by asian pop and video games, but with their third album they have returned to the instruments on which they learned to play and have began to take on a mash up of a sound that is compelling and complete. Singer Sarah Midori Perry and producers Gus Lobban & Jamie Bulled have produced their most solid effort to date with plenty of their innovative takes on pop music. No your record isn’t skipping, that’s supposed to happen. The bright pop is set off by Midori Perry’s high soprano delivery that belies the serious nature of the lyrics: “All my life I tried / To find the time to make believe / But now as certain as the seasons /I know real life will get in between” she coos on “Make Believe”. It’s disconcerting at times how joyous their tunes are compared to the lyrical content. A juxtaposition that makes Time ‘n’ Place one of the most interesting albums to drop this week. Take a listen.
Coming through Thalia Hall November 14th, this is another must see show. Get tix here.
ISSUES #26-29 / SEPTEMBER 2018
ISSUES #21-25 / AUGUST 2018
issueS #18-20 / JULY 2018
ISSUE #17 / JUNE 27, 2018
ISSUE #16 / JUNE 20, 2018
issue #15 / June 13, 2018
issue #14 / June 6, 2018
issue #13 / MAy 30, 2018
ISSUE #12 / MAY 23, 2018
ISSUE #11 / MAY 16, 2018
issue #10 / MAy 9, 2018
SEE YOU AMONG THE STARS
A portrait of a life would be the proper way to describe Jessica Risker’s new album. Another would be nine tracks of lo-fi confessional folky indie pop that is made for thinkers. This record requires attention. You must listen as she weaves tales from an everyday life; like in “Cut My Hair” where she laments the loss of a relationship, or “Zero Summer Mind” as she recounts driving through Chicago. Musically ethereal at times, the album is held down by Risker’s talk sing delivery that makes her lyrics so accessible, therefore meaningful. It seems she is finally finding her groove after many years within the Chicago indie scene.
Risker just had her Record Release Party at Empty Bottle on Tuesday, but if you missed her she is opening for Minor Moon at the Hungry Brain on May 26th and she is playing Pinky Swear on June 5th.
BIRDS OF CHICAGO
LOVE IN WARTIME
A renaissance of Americana is brewing all over the place and no one is doing it quite like Birds of Chicago. The husband and wife duo, one from Canada (Allison Russell) and one from Chicago (JT Nero), warm the soul with their vocals. The influences here range from folk to rock to soul, each having their own place to shine on new album Love In Wartime. They have referred to their music as “secular gospel” which may have applied to last years American Flowers; but this one goes so deep into the roots of American music it’s impossible to pin it to any one genre, making it a true Americana record. They are an amalgamation of time, drawing us up under their wings for a pleasurable ride though the wind.
They are currently touring Europe for the summer but hopefully we will see them back around soon.
On his sophomore LP, Leon Bridges gets bold. On his 2015 debut, Coming Home, he delivered a classic review of ‘60s soul. It was almost too flawless, and one could have assumed he’d stick tightly to the formula already perfected. It’s a great surprise to hear him expand horizons to include 70s pop, jazz and R&B. Bridges is still a retro act, but it’s much more widely appealing.
We reviewed the song earlier, but “Bad Bad News” has the most apropos line to describe fan reactions: "I hit 'em with the style and grace. And watch their ankles break." From that up-tempo jazzy soul number to the closing acoustic tribute to his mother, “Georgia to Texas,” Bridges explores Al Green crooning (“Shy”), guitar-funk (“If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)”), and straight up disco (“You Don’t Know”).
When I saw Leon Bridges live before the debut dropped, there wasn’t a lot of dancing. There’s no way that continues on the tour for Good Thing. That said, Bridges still hits the highest points on the album when the music takes a backseat and we’re able to sit back and enjoy his gentle voice. That might be the only downside to the album – he established himself as an expert in retro-soul, and it’s hard to break that reputation. Hell of an effort here, though, and I can’t wait to see how he continues to blend other charted territories.
Only 10 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
Bad Bad News
If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)
Postscript: I don’t strut down the streets, spinning and imagining everything in slo-mo while listening to Bad Bad News… Nope, definitely not something that I do.
Leon Bridges plays Aragon Ballroom on Sept 24th. Buy tickets here.
BE MORE KIND
XTRA MILE, POLYDOR, UNIVERSAL
It has been a joy watching Frank Turner rise slowly and steadily over the last ten years. Be More Kind feels like a culmination, a peak musically and lyrically. An entire cohesive album that feels so current it may jump out the speakers to lecture you on the ways of living life with happiness and wariness hand in hand. In other words, Turner believes we need to be aware of the world around us, but not let it get us down enough that we don’t try and fix it. In “Make America Great Again” he sings “Let’s make America great again, by making racists ashamed again, let’s make compassion in fashion again.” And it doesn't matter that he is English, some of the same problems are happening there. He makes a larger metaphor with “1933” comparing our current situation with the rise of the Third Reich and ends by practically screaming “Don’t go mistaking your house burning down for the dawn.” Be More Kind is chock full of quotable lyrics, these are only a few; but really what keeps the attention is his unbelievable positivity. In the wake of all the noise and nonsense, Turner turns to face it and help us all along the way. - KPL
He is coming to the Aragon Ballroom with his band The Sleeping Souls June 23rd at 7PM. The Homeless Gospel Choir, The Menzingers and Lucero are opening and it’s a steal at $35 for that lineup. Tickets were still available last time we checked.
EVERY DAY IT FEELS LIKE i'M DYING
It’s been three years since Eternal Summers last record, Gold and Stone, and the dream pop trio clearly spent that time prepping for their best release yet. Doing away with the moody sound of their last record, Eternal Summers busts out strings, brass and synthesizers to create a swooping display of glorious pop.
The band plays to their strengths on many of the tracks here, from indie ballads (“New Friend”) to Belle and Sebastian-esque pop (“Dying to Know”). The curveballs of grunge (Oblivious) and country slide guitars (“Master of it All”) subtly hint at the side projects Nicole Yun and Daniel Cundiff worked on over the past few years, where they honed their craft.
While the songs do jump from genre to genre, each minute of the album feels like it couldn’t have been recorded any other way. I’d be remiss to not mention the instrument the band steadies their entire sound on – Nicole Yun’s dreamy vocals that contrast gentle intimacy with powerful bouts of intensity. She’s really progressed as a singer over the 5 Eternal Summers albums, but it’s also a joy to hear her skills as a guitar player are moving up at the same pace. They aren’t a hugely known band, but any fan of solid indie rock owes it to themselves to dig through this entire LP. If you don’t find something you like here, I honestly don’t know what to tell you.
Only 10 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
Postscript: Breeders meets Alvvays meets the Cardigans? Yeah, I’m good with it.
Eternal Summers doesn’t have any dates in Chicago yet, but keep us favorited for updates!
Eleanor Friedberger will always be one half of the band Fiery Furnaces to me, which is to say I have trouble looking at her as anything but inconsistent (in a good way). However, her solo career has been quite straightforward and maybe I just have issues figuring out what to say in a full review. There are no weird time or key changes here, and the lyrics actually make sense. There are even a couple dance numbers in the middle. Ok, so there you go. It’s good, and it’s easy to listen to. End of story.
She played Lincoln Hall on May 5th. I blew it. Hopefully, some of you didn’t.
issue #9 / MAY 2, 2018
Just in time for spring comes this fairly sunny album from Chicago’s own Varsity. Well, sunny in music that is. Lyrically it has a darkness that juxtaposes the rather melodic guitar and rolling drums. This sophomore effort is full of tunes like “Must Be Nice” and “Isolation” where Stephanie Smith croons lyrics like :“Isolation/comes to find me/I can’t solve it /Contemplation/does remind me/of my problem/Alone alone alone again.” The lyrics are in direct opposition to the the brighter indie rock tune, making it all the more compelling. Brother bass and drum team Paul and Jake Stolz create a great back beat for Patrick Stanton and Dylan Weschler to work with on guitars. While Smith’s synth and voice flows through it all. They have a bright future. Especially if the eight minute plus last song, “Along In My Principles” shows where they may take this thing in the next few years.
They just had their record release at Empty Bottle a couple weeks ago and have no new Chicago dates as of now.
Exploding out of the gate with burner “Boy Next Door,” brother/sister duo White Mystery produce another great album with Hellion Blender. Ten tunes, and only three break the 3 minute mark. This is rock for the low attention span, power chord lover in all of us. Not to say there is no substance here. Around the fun funky tracks like “Paint Yo’nails” and “White Mystery Tv” are interspersed songs with plenty of meaning, such as “Two Flats” which gives an outlaw version of the history of Chicago or “Ghost Signs” which may just be about gentrification. Or maybe we are reading way into it. However last track, “Part Deux” finds Francis giving a spoken word poem that is as introspective as it is interesting.
We’re not sure how we missed this album last week, but we can’t think of a better date for a White Mystery album to come out than 4/20. Just listen to this one. It’s 22 minutes of your life. We can think of plenty of things you could do while jamming to Alex and Francis’ jams.
See our show write up in issue #9 to hear about their show at The Empty Bottle that Monday!
VAN MORRISON/JOEY DEFRANCESCO
YOU'RE DRIVING ME CRAZY
Van Morrison’s third album over the past seven months follows the same trend as the last two – jazz, blues and R&B tracks that span both standards and covers of his originals. This one features eight originals and seven standards. What makes this record stand apart is the inclusion of Joey DeFrancesco’s quartet. What is also impressive as how fluid the 72 year old legend sounds throughout the 70 minutes of pure joy.
The breezy album, recorded in just two days, opens with a ballad, “Miss Otis Regrets,” that shows off Morrison’s vocal athleticism as well as Joey’s trumpet acrobatics. To the chagrin of my mother, I can’t say I paid much attention to Morrison’s deep catalog in my youth. However, the way his voice plays along to the backing organ track just like Troy Roberts’ sax does is a delight. In many occasions while listening to this record, I couldn’t tell if he was singing what was originally an instrumental stanza. In a chat with mom earlier, she reminded me that ‘Van has always been rooted in blues and soul. He always sung like a tenor sax, dancing around… and within… the music.’ Maybe I should have Mom do some guest reviews…
The new takes on back to back originals “All Saints Day” and “The Way Young Lovers Do” remind me of the Prestige and Blue Note records I grew up with – inspired performances from a ragtag group of pros that highlight timelessly great songs by cutting the track live and moving on to the next. The short recording session was obviously purposeful, and it paid off in spades. For a highlighted cover – I think every single person has heard BB’s “Everyday I Have the Blues” enough to sing along mindlessly. I’m impressed that the group doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel here, instead underscoring the classic with double saxes and a perfect snare. It feels like a brand new pair of converses – nothing surprising, but pleasing nonetheless.
Only 14 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
Miss Otis Regrets
The Way Young Lovers Do
Have I Told You Lately
Postscript: Three albums in seven months by a 72 year old? I think I’ll stop saying I don’t have enough time.
Sadie Dupuis’ lyrics have always been confessional and introspective, but she hits new heights with third full length Twerp Verse. Through the frenetic guitars and chord progressions her voice rises above it all in protest to the world and it’s transgressions. She says this is her most political album to date, but I would argue that she has always been political. Just more about the politics of relationships than culture. Though here she comes at the politics of culture in tunes like “Can I Kiss You?” and “Villain” which still carry a grunge tinged rock tune but have a deeper layer when you start to put together what Dupuis is singing. “ ‘I want to know what kind of porn you like/I want to know what kind of porn you like" / He asks me these questions / Did he earn the right? / No way” A fairly obvious call out of some men and their abject disrespect for women. Though there are plenty of tunes exploring relationships and their ups and downs like “Lean In When I Suffer” which poetically speaks to the panic of the unknown, when a partner doesn’t get back to you. If this is what she and the band have in store for the future we are all in luck.
They are playing next Saturday, May 12th at the Sub T and last we checked there were still tix available. Why has this show not sold out yet!
I’ve always thought George Lewis Jr. was a genius. He first caught my attention in 2012 with the underappreciated, now classic, Confess. An album the wife fell in love with and still throws on when she wants to improve her mood. But he solidifies that genius with this new collection of pop perfection. Funky, eighties inspired synth pop may not be everybody’s bag, but it fits real nicely into mine.
Here Twin Shadow starts with several duetish tunes with artist Rainsford and then solid indie pop group HAIM who hold their own on clear single “Saturdays”, but as the album progresses we get more of the break up and rebuild tunes Lewis Jr. is known for. Tunes like “Littlest Things,” where he sings “Maybe I'm faded in love / Maybe I don't try enough / But my hope is just to find you / And I know it's the littlest things;” and the highlight spoke sung ballad “Runaway”, just make the album more complex than what you’ll find in most indie pop.
We are hoping for a Northcoast spot. He has played the fest before and he is in the neighborhood playing KC and Minneapolis around that time.
ISSUE #8 / APR. 25, 2018
lonesome as a shadow
son of davy
A combination of all things Americana, singer/songwriter Charley Crockett is as American as music can get. There is blues, honky tonk, rock n roll, classic country, soul, and folk all combined on new album Lonesome as a Shadow. The result is both timeless and refreshing. Many artists do not make music like this anymore. It is a forgotten art to be this open and honest in your lyrics while combining so many genres. It must have come from his travels around the world and through the country at a young age that brought out this appreciation of American music, and the ability to cross from one genre to the other with such ease. As demonstrated by being able to do a soul/blues tune like “Sad & Blue,” and go right into old time rock n roll with “Lil Girls Name,” into a soul ballad that sounds like it’s straight from the 70’s on “Oh so Shakey” into a honky tonk number “Goin’ Back to Texas.” and that’s just four of the dozen this great album contains. Do yourself, and the world a favor, and listen to Charley Crockett any chance you get. Play him for your friends. They will love him too. I promise.
He is playing Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn on Friday May 25th. It’s right off the Oak Park blue line. We’ll sadly be festing downstate, but you all should go. It’s only $12!
never gonna die
There will always be a place in my heart for the brotherhood known as Pennywise. If you have ever seen them live, you know what I am talking about. The metal riffs from Fletcher Dragge’s guitar and Jim Lindberg’s positive unifying lyrics spoke to me at fifteen, and still will at times. I gotta be in the right mood; and I must have been, because new album Never Gonna Die took me back to the mohawks, bad attitudes, and metal studs of my early teens.
I saw them several times back then, and have taken them in on several occasions nearing middle age, and it says something about living positively that makes this band sound ageless. It still makes me wanna mosh, even nearing forty.
What a time this is to be a punk. Not since Reagan has our country had a clear villian in power. (Well, W. was stupid, but a villain, not so sure) And bands like Pennywise are sure to comment on the present danger and destruction that lurks around us every day. With tune names like “American Lies” and “Won’t Give Up the Fight” you get the picture. I don’t even have to lay out lyrics, you all know what these tunes would be about. However, what sets Pennywise above the punk crowd is their songs about living positively and independently that always stuck with me and would be especially helpful to some youth of today. The chorus of “Keep Moving On” chants: “Stay strong and carry on, the only thing that matters is you keep on moving on, stay strong and carry on, the only thing that matters is your life.” Or we have “Goodbye Bad Times” about conquering addiction. Or “Live While You Can” which is a story song containing the lesson to seize the moment and live like there is no tomorrow. All of these are classic Pennywise tropes, but they work, each and everyone.
We would not be surprised to see them grace a stage at Riot Fest this year.
issue #7 / apr. 18, 2018
sAY SUE ME
WHERE WE WERE TOGETHER
DAMNABLY, ELECTRIC MUSE
Most critics refer to Say Sue Me as Korean surf indie pop. Which is a mouthful, I admit; but it doesn’t get to the core of the emotions and depth that are packed into this music. Singing in Korean and English, Choi Sumi’s mellow delivery betrays the somber but sometimes uplifting, sometimes humorous, subject matter of the interesting tunes contained in new album Where We Were Together.
From love songs like “But I Like You” to upbeat tunes like “I Just Wanna Dance” the surface is all a bit glossy but when you dig a bit you realize there is an over pervasive sense of longing and indecision that haunts these tunes. Maybe it’s because I know the tragic story of their former drummer who has been in a catatonic state since a fall several years ago, or maybe it is making this music with international fears looming in the background; but something seems a bit off and it makes for music magic.
I don’t know if a band from the U.S. could make an album this complex seem so simple. It’s something that seems to be coming from across the water lately. Influences garnered from American Pop and Indie Rock form an amalgamation in the minds of musicians all over the world and they seem to be able to do it better than their influences ever could have. Just listen to final track “Coming To The End” and you’ll understand what I mean.
At any rate, check out this album, you won’t be disappointed. It is chock full of layered guitars and seemingly simple driving bass and drums, all surrounding Sumi’s droll and gorgeous delivery.
No U.S. dates for Say Sue Me in the near future. If they do announce a tour we’ll let you know if they are stopping by Chicago.
a PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS
Brooklyn may be the home to hipsterdom in this day and age; but it sure has, over the last, well, many years, produced some killer acts that break the mold. A Place to Bury Strangers is most definitely among them. A driving and decimating musical experience, new album Pinned feels like the result of this particular time and place.
Oliver Ackermann’s half spoken lyrics lay over the top of his screaming yet muted guitar, while Dion Lunadon’s bass drives these tunes onward (in the mold of Peter Hook), and drummer Lia Simone Braswell’s own voice adds a haunting layer to harmonies that are beautiful in their own creepy and disturbing way. This is not party music. It’s more of a sit at home in the dark and ponder kind of record. While the waves of sonic resonance rattle in your skull you’ll be treated to songs akin to Joy Division or early Fugazi in feel and texture; but with a refreshing take on the noise rock genre.
No Chicago dates at the moment, but plenty of fests left and plenty of year. My prediction, a Lincoln Hall show in the fall seems most likely.
THE CITY OF BOOTMAKERS
SUNDAY BEST, [PIAS]
Every once in awhile an artist comes along that defines their own sound and sticks out from the usual parade of musicians that, in the internet era, has increased with astounding speed. L.A. Salami is just such an artist. The pseudonym of London musician Lookman Adekunle Salami, L.A. Salami is one of those rare acts that can tie so many genres into a sound that is all their own. New album The City of Bootmakers contains the storytelling of Dylan or Simon paired with the fun of his English contemporary Beans on Toast, without the silliness the later can contain.
There is loads of information packed into these lyrics, and if you can start to really listen, you can begin to see how complicated modern life is and that seems to be exactly how Salami wants you to feel. With tunes about Brexit, Isis, religion v. science, generational gaps, and, of course, relationships; this is a powerful and rending album that captures life as we know it in the second half of this messy and disturbing decade.
We just missed him. He was here at the end of March. Hopefully he’ll be back in late Summer or early Fall!
issue #6 / apr. 11, 2018
INVASION OR PRIVACY
If you doubted Cardi B up until now, then well done. You didn’t get eaten up by the hype. Sure “Bodak Yellow” was catchy and had a unique flair, but with a few too many rap tourists on the market in 2017 (“catch me outside” girl), we had to keep our guard up. If Cardi wanted to be taken seriously we needed more than radio play and hype. We needed an Album. Cardi may have taken a long 10 months to answer the challenge, but the album is finally here; and surprisingly, its fantastic. With Invasion Of Privacy Cardi B doubles down on her charm, besting what she has already produced, and cementing herself as one of hip-hop’s new main attractions.
There was surely no expense spared on making this album. From the beats to the features, Invasion of Privacy is at the highest level of quality. Every beat on this album is an outright jam and Cardi manages not to waste a single one of them. From slow jams to club bangers, this album has it all. One key is the talent she brings along. With features from Migos, SZA, YG, and Chance the Rapper; she has assembled an unstoppable team of hit makers. Impressively, Cardi is never overshadowed. She holds her own on each track, adapting to the style and intensity of each artist. With YG her voice drops down a level and she flows with speed and intensity. With Chance her rhymes are higher and songlike. Cardi fan or not, do not sleep on “Best Life.” Chance does what he does best with a catchy chorus and delivers one of the albums best verses. Showing even more versatility, Cardi plays up her Dominican roots in “I Like it.” The song has a Caribbean beat and features Spanish rapper J Balvin. It’s a nice touch, further highlighting her versatility.
If I had to be critical, Cardi B probably won’t wow you with the depth of her lyrics. There are no profound metaphors that will have you searching Rap Genius for answers. What she lacks in complexity is easily made up in delivery. Her rhymes are blunt and straightforward like the persona that she has always tried to create. The result is a feeling of authenticity that some, more established artist, lack. Simply put we have our answer, Cardi B can really rap. She has a story to tell, and she sounds good doing it. If you had doubts before consider this your warning: it’s time to get on board with Cardi B, or it will be much harder to swallow a year from now when she’s got that Grammy in her hand.
Cardi B is opening for Bruno Mars in St. Paul and Detroit in September but that is closest we are getting. Come on Cardi, come to Chicago again!
THE LOUDER I CALL, THE FASTER IT RUNS
The first time I saw Wye Oak was back in ’08 at the Hideout, on their tour in support of their first album. I had just moved to Chicago and my first fall was starting to spread its wings around our metropolis. It was a wonderful venue to see them in, with it’s christmas lights strung from the ceiling, and warm atmosphere in which to take in the duo’s layers of indie rock fuzz. Over the years this city has changed (but the Hideout hasn’t), and Wye Oak is still proving they have my musical heart with The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs.
This Baltimore duo opens the new album, their sixth in ten years, with synth heavy track, “The Instrument,” that made me wonder if Jenn Wasner (vocals and guitar) is now added more keys to her performances or if Andy Stack, who plays drums with one hand and keyboards with the other, has started looping or pre-recording tracks to help with the live act. Maybe they have added more musicians to the touring act, who knows. However, while the glossy electronic sounds throughout this album do make me miss Wasner’s expert guitar playing, the moments where it does shine through, like on highlight track “Over and Over,” make it all the more thrilling.
Stack’s playing has always left me perplexed. How can he possibly be able to split his mind in two. Keeping the beat with one hand while pounding out a melody or harmonic chords with the other. It is a feat that has left me amazed multiple times and will again next month when they roll through on their current tour.
If this is your first experience with Wye Oak, I suggest checking out their back catalog which is full of expert tunes
I do extend a warning that this is not a happy record. It is full of songs about getting older, feeling left behind by the world, and wanting to be able to live a full life without the trappings of typical adulthood. Is is, however, a rather gorgeous effort full of bold atmospheric blissfulness that left me in a hazy mood, not quite ready to go back to the real world.
Wye Oak is rolling through Chicago next month at Thalia Hall with alt rockers Palm in support - May 17th - 8PM doors - $20 for floor $30 for balcony.
THE APRIL FOOLS COLLECTION
Nerdcore Hip Hop is a very narrow genre and no one does it better than MC Chris, in fact he does it so well that he threw off the label for a while and preferred to call his mix of hip hop and nerd culture “MC Chris Music.” Few can compete with his mix of pop culture references and knack for storytelling that makes his tracks so catchy and memorable. Nothing is safe from a send-up on his records and it seems he takes great joy in attributing his distinct flavor to every aspect of nerd pop culture.
Dropping his latest album on Sunday, April 1st, was one of those joys. The April Fools Collection is 9 tracks of pure delicious pop culture meals, each track hits on a different subject: Evil Dead, Harry Potter, Twin Peaks, Beetlejuice, Quentin Tarantino, My Little Ponies, Clue, Batman, and Deadpool. A different subject for each song.
As I said, nothing is safe from MC Chris, and with a back history of working on shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force it is no surprise that he can spin a witty yarn based on the inner workings of these subjects. It makes me wonder what he still has in the tank after all these albums. He has been around for nearly twenty prolific years, he’s come along way from his youth growing up in Libertyville, right down the road.
Not to say there is no substance here; there is a long sample on “Clue” of Edward R. Murrow denouncing McCarthy and his actions. A speech that would fit just as well on a news show in our current climate as it did in the late 50’s. Well done, sir.
If you are rolling your eyes and saying why would I want to listen to this, hold on a second. These tracks are so inspired and witty, each topping the last that you owe it to yourself to give this one a spin, I promise you won’t regret it.
MC Chris is stopping by Schubas on April 25th - 8PM - $22 ($25 doors)
CARE FOR ME
West side born and bred rapper Saba has produced a gorgeous album with CARE FOR ME. From low key track “BUSY/SIRENS,” which opens the record to “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME” which closes it, the beauty and thoughtfulness that went into this project are evident. Last week I complained about the lack of lyrical content in certain hip hop artists work. Saba represents the exact opposite on that spectrum. With lyrics like: “sometimes I fucking hate Chicago, cause I hate this feeling, innocent niggas get shot at in the broad daylight am.” from “PROM / KING” a tune about his cousin being shot at but living through it (along with many other subjects), that ends with the sung tune: “Just another day in the ghetto, oh the streets bring sorrow, can’t get out today with their schedule, just hope I make it to tomorrow . . . “ I talk alot about confessional indie rock but this is as close to confessional hip hop as you will ever get. You can say rappers lie all you want Jigga but I believe Saba’s stories, as they ring true to the Chicago experience.
There are several tracks here where he is not afraid to stretch his range and let the tune breath. How many rappers would feature a saxophone solo as a choral chant of “run, run, run, run” breaths onto the listener? Some great features are here as well, with excellent turns from hometown hero Chance the Rapper, along with Chicago performers theMIND and KAINA; keeping it all local, which I highly appreciate
With low key beats that let his lyrics take the forefront, the album has a lazy groove that is perfect for the Chicago summer and the bbqs and street fests where it will shine.
Saba has a well deserved set at Pitchfork this year. He is up on Friday, July 20th. Look for a feature on him in our Pitchfork preview the week before.
THE WONDER YEARS
It seems like every city in the Northeast has birthed it’s own emo punk band, and each carries with it a flavor of their home. You have Bayside from New York, Taking Back Sunday and Brand New from Long Island, Saves the Day from Princeton, Modern Baseball from Philly, The Hotelier from Boston, and so forth. The Wonder Years hail from Philly and their sound is just as gritty and grey as Philly was the last time I was there, but the combination of Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s vocals and the excellent musicianship of the rest of the band always make a The Wonder Years album into more than just another emo record, it is a quality rock band who are at the top of their game.
As good, if not better, than ‘15’s No Closer To Heaven, this record reflects on travels, loves lost, and the trappings of life in your twenties and thirties. It is full of high emotional subjects all surrounded by the multiple guitar tracks, staccato drums, and background melodies that are a hallmark of the Northeastern emo sound and they work so well here it gives one chills.
Nothing, however, compares to this music live. A The Wonder Years show is as emotive an experience as one can come to in rock (along with many of the bands at the top of this review). A whole club singing along like their life depends on that next lyric sends shivers and goosebumps through the crowd, and a togetherness develops that is hard to come by in most modern rock.
The Wonder Years are coming to The Concord on June 3rd, with Tiger’s Jaw and Tiny Moving Parts in support. Wow, what a show!
BARK YOUR HEAD OFF, DOG
Frances Quinlan and company first caught my attention with their sophomore album several years ago and they continue to impress with their latest: Bark Your Head Off, Dog. This record is full of her stellar vocals and the odd melodies and off kilter guitars that have become a hallmark of Hop Along’s style.
This record is self described to be “considering what it is like to cast off long held and misguided perceptions, yet without the assurance of knowing what new ones will replace them” and this dichotomy shows in tracks like “How You Got Your Limp,” with it’s odd story juxtaposed with a happy whistling. Or happy sounding album opener “How Simple” that really tells a forlorned love story surrounded by what sounds like a hopeful tune but with lyrics that coalesce in : “don’t worry we will both find out, just not together.”
They are not the first indie rock band to use this juxtaposition but they have conquered it so masterfully that it is absolutely seamless.
Hop Along is playing the Metro on June 10th - 8PM - $17
issue #5 / apr. 4, 2018
TROUBLE IN MIND
Dark, brooding, and atmospheric, with a plodding elegance that you can only find in the best of the post rock world, FACS debut album Negative Houses, lands just in time for the mists of early Spring to descend on Chicago. A perfect record for a rainy day cocktail.
When Chicago locals Disappears broke up in 2017 Brian Case (bass), Jonathan van Herik (guitar) and Noah Ledger (drums) started FACS; writing all these songs and recording them before van Herick's departer and the bringing on of bassist Alianna Kalaba and Case’s subsequent switch to guitar. I have seen them in both iterations and while both had moments where they varied, both lineups were just as effective at carrying these tunes to the masses.
Ledger’s off kilter beats add the perfect backdrop for the bass lines to ride over the top, while the squeals of guitar and other instruments (the baritone sax on “Houses Breathing” is especially effective) create an atmosphere all it’s own. Sure there are plenty of influences that we could name but they would span a gamut so large we will leave that to an interview at a later date. But what makes FACS unique is the unabashed oddness in tracks like “Others” and final track “All Futures.” These are musicians taking risks; spreading fires the length and breadth of sonic channels the mind can only begin to put out before they consume the psyche.
FACS just had their record release party at The Empty Bottle last Friday and sadly we couldn’t make it, but we hope they return from their current tour, slated in late May, to play a street fest or two!
JUST CAUSE Y'ALL WAITED
ONLY THE FAMILY
A mixtape that begins with a track titled “Public Housing” could come from any major city rapper, but this one came from Chicago’s Lil Durk, but it isn’t a diatribe on growing up in the projects. It’s about how much money he has now, how much stuff he’s bought, and how no one understands how hard it is. Filled with all the things that turns hip hop into a poor subject to bring up with conservatives and liberals alike, Durk’s new album Just Cause Y’all Waited, is his first project since parting ways with Def Jam last year. While it includes material that is considered everything wrong with hip hop lately, it still has some good bangers and some emotive stuff that shows Durk’s depth. His love for his bros on “My Bruddas,” the track “Granny Crib,” and the confessional “1(733) Vulture” are highlights, but there is just not enough to turn over the negative for this listener. If only he could leave some of that other stuff behind… along with the vocoder.
No tour dates for Lil Durk coming up soon in Chicago.
Daptone wants us to toe tap and shake our hips every day of our lives, but they want us to respect our music history too. This was true with Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, and the rest of their eclectic catalog; and it’s true with the debut record of the 16-piece Orquesta Akokán. This is an album that celebrates the brass/sax dominated Cuban sound of the 1940s and 1950s. The orchestra that plays ‘from the heart’ wants to take us on a ride through mambo, rumba, modern jazz and cha-cha. I am in no way an expert in Cuban music, so I don’t even want to attempt to tell you about:
Why “La Cosa” is a tribute to how Tito Puente played shadow games with his orchestra sections.
How Areito Studio 101 is just the absolute best, and how you can really hear why on this track
How “Cuidado con el Tumbador” is a funny song about a conga player stealing your girl, in Benny Moré fashion
People that know the music history already know this record and can tell you about it in better detail. For me, it’s just a fun record that got me to listen to a section of history and by extension – got me curious about an entire genre of music.
Only 3 minutes to spar? Check out this track.
Postscript: If you don’t like the opening track, just stop. The album isn’t for you. You also might be dead.
It’s not clear if there will be a tour, but if they do – we will let you know!
Jesus. I didn’t see this album coming. To me, Kacey Musgraves is the witty country girl that the country music machine loves to ignore. Sure, she wins Grammys. But, she is not a radio darling and won’t get the same attention her male compatriots in rebellion enjoy. So, knowing nothing about this record, I went in assuming I was going to sit on the porch with Kacey and have a nice laugh with her at the absurdity of modern life while she played plucked an acoustic guitar.
“Oh, What a World.” Please go listen to this song. Seriously, stop reading this and press play. YouTube it. Buy the record. Spotify it. I don’t care. It’s too good. I’d never have thought a steel guitar and banjo would work alongside a vocoder on a song about just how fucking great falling in love is, but boy does it. If you think the sun shines a bit brighter when you’re this in love, this song is for you. It’s sappy as hell, but Kacey pulls it off with an earnestness we don’t hear often.
This is an album for Taylor Swift fans that think she needs country again. Fact is, it’s glossy country pop. This is an album for watching the sun rise (I’ll get to the album title in a bit) and realizing every piece of your life just fits. And why is that so bad? Kacey has a quiet confidence throughout that is lost on today’s pop stars who love to ape the country sound, and the album unfolds at such a reasonable pace that you’re not sure what’s happening until about 4 songs in (yeah, that’s what track “Oh, What a World” is. Have you played it yet?). The song structures are 100% country, and the lyrics are stunningly relatable as should be expected from her by now. Saying something like, “Sunsets fade. And love does too.” would sound trite if not for the sweeping guitars, piano-laden backing track and heartfelt singing. It also helps when she has just enough twang to make her sound like your best friend, just recapping her life to you.
I can see her losing some fans with this one, but honestly – she’s always been a rebel. You think a disco-country song like High Horse is her selling out? You haven’t paying attention, friend. This is how she needs to play the song, and she’s going to, just that way.
Only 13 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
Oh, What a World
Postscript: As a photographer, I cherish the light during golden hour. It’s beautiful and dreamy, creating all the feels. This album is expertly named.
Kacey Musgraves opens for Harry Styles (I’ve lost you, haven’t I) at United Center on Saturday, June 30th. Buy tickets here
As I have stated here before, Greta Kline’s music is not for everyone. It is, however, most undoubtedly for me. Her sincerity and growing experience shines on new album Vessel, which finds her and the band at a unique moment. Do they continue the low-fi charm that gave critically acclaimed ‘16 album Next Thing it’s uniqueness that took the indie scene by storm? How will their music be tamed by being signed to Sub Pop? The answers are pretty much mute. It doesn’t matter, because Vessel picks right up where the former left off with more intimate tunes about growing up, city living, touring and looking at clouds. A bit older (she is only 24, but has been performing as Frankie Cosmos since 2011, a name coined by Porches leader Aaron Maine, an ex of Kline’s), a bit wiser, but all the pieces that made me love her a few years ago are still there.
True there is a bit more studio polish, the melodies are a bit sharper, but those same heart melting harmonies sound just as good sung into an expensive mic as they did into a cheap one. Do yourself a favor and check this album out. Indie rock gold thru and thru. I can’t say much more than that on the subject.
Frankie Cosmos is playing Lincoln Hall on May 7th and we are def going. You should too! - 7pm - All Ages - $17!
issue #4 / Mar. 28, 2018
Courtney Marie Andrews
May Your Kindness Remain
Fat Possum, Moma Bird
A breakout album from this southwestern native whose folky country sound is full of slide guitars, organ and her impeccable voice. It brings me back to my times in small town Kansas and the people who reside there. Courtney Marie Andrews’ songs are full of characters; the lone man on the bar stool, the immigrant making a border crossing, the abused wife, the loved and the discontent. Yet she sees hope in all of this. The thing that sets her apart from most musicians in this genre is her positiveness. She sees everything that is wrong with the world but still believes it can be fixed.
She can fit societal critiques into love songs as she does on “Took You Up,” or can make you cry with a simple song about a dilapidated family home in “This House.” Her songwriting is simply excellent. Telling stories all of us can relate to with such craft as it appears effortless. She ends this tour de force of an album with maybe the best song of the year: “Long Road Back To You.” It’s just heartrending. Listen to it now. Just go do it.
Courtney Marie Andrews is playing Schubas this Saturday and it is only $12. Do It! And then write about it and send it to us!
Have you ever been so shocked by an album, one you went into blind (never heard of the band), that you immediately had to look them up and consume everything? That was my exact reaction to Yamantaka//Sonic Titan’s newest album, Dirt. Only Canada could produce this art collective that performs in full makeup and costume with a sound that spans genres from indie rock, to electronic, to metal. Each song switching from genre to genre, sometimes so jarringly that it throws your ear off balance and your brain struggles to right itself. JB told me it was too much for him at 8am when he got around to listening after my midnight text that he had to check this out.
Sprawling in scope, Dirt feels more soundtrack than album. Telling a story through the songs to bring about a mental film formed through the many images these tunes bring to the surface. This is heady stuff, no doubt.
They self describe themselves as “a Noh-Wave prog collective, a black-and-white (and sometimes red) theatre company, an operatic psych cult, rock band and the speculative prophets of humanity’s impending doom.”
That is just perfect.
They are playing the Empty Bottle on April 19th! Only $10, $12 day of show.
Miles Davis and John Coltrane
The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6
After my slightly negative comments on avant-garde, it’s fitting that this album comes out. I grew up on jazz, and Miles Davis and John Coltrane will always be my first teachers of what music can be when someone is at their artistic peak. While this is certainly not in the realm of avant-garde from last week’s issue, it is a 4 disc set of two giants crashing their competing ideas against each other in front of what I can only imagine was an unexpecting European crowd that did not quite know what was the shape of jazz to come.
I don’t want to get all jazz history on you, so I’ll just quickly recap a couple things. 1960 is a huge year for jazz. Miles had just released Kind of Blue, one of the most popular albums of all time and not just of the genre. Its popularity is due in no small part to the control throughout the album. The freedom in melodies that was the ‘new’ sound is there, but Miles and his quintet keep the self-indulgence to a minimum – which is why so many people can enjoy it to this day. It’s also an important year because Coltrane was releasing Giant Steps, where he said to hell with all that. Miles was set to tour Europe and convinced Coltrane to come along. Coltrane, however, wasn’t going to sit back and be cool with moderation. Ok, history over.
It’s clear pretty quickly into the 3 hours and 40 minutes that Coltrane was planning to upstage the guy who pretty much made him (arguably… we can chat about this offline). It’s also clear that Coltrane is the only guy that knew this. Miles, bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Jimmy Cobb start out the 17 minute take of “All of You” in a modal jazz style that was too be expected. Then about 9 minutes in, Coltrane takes a sharp left turn and drives about 90mph down the twisting hills of San Francisco. He’s pushing the sax to its limits with new sounds and different breathing/fingering techniques. It’s a furious wave of sound that is completely antithetical to the king of cool.
“So What” is one of my all time favorite songs, with the album version just having this slow burning confidence that can’t be ignored. What also can’t be ignored is the way Chambers and Kelly absolutely crush the scorching double time tempo, while Coltrane gets faster and faster until you can barely see straight. He’s not just trying to escape from Miles’ monstrous shadow – he seems to be aiming for the stratosphere. “All Blues” is another from Kind of Blue, that shows Chambers’ vamp, then Kelly’s fresh take, then Davis adding subtle layers to a classic… before Coltrane steps in, seemingly playing ball before stretching the song to the breaking point.
OK, so I don’t know if I described much more than ‘the main cats play the songs relatively as they were expected, while some crazy guy somehow got on stage and screwed the whole thing up.’ Bottom line is, Miles was already famous at this point, and made the album that would live until the end of time. Coltrane wasn’t known yet, but he sure as hell was after this tour and Giant Steps only further solidified a new master.
Only 45 minutes to spare? Check out these 3 tracks.
All of You (from Paris)
So What (from Paris)
All Blues (from Copenhagen)
Postscript: if the minutes to spare is my thing, it has to stay
ISSUE #3 / MAR. 21, 2018
SNOOP DOGG PRESENTS
the bible of love
Snoop Doggy Dogg, Uncle Snoop, DJ Snoopadelic, Snoop Lion, and now Coach Snoop (Netflix); the list seems nearly endless. The Doggfather has certainly been known to reinvent himself over the years. Lets be clear right up front, this is not one if those times. In “Snoop Dogg Presents the Bible of Love,” Snoop mostly leaves the praise to the pros. This genuinely comes as a relief where, much like hip-hop, gospel music benefits from a feeling of authenticity. Bible of Love is a true gospel album with Snoop completely absent from the majority of its tracks. In his place is an all-star cast of gospel and R&B greats. Many of the gospel singers will certainly be new names to those unfamiliar with the genre; but well-known favorites like Charlie Wilson, K-Ci, and Faith Evans add a bit of familiarity for new comers. Also present is the great and timeless Ms. Patti LaBelle, who is in top form as usual without overshadowing the rest of the cast. Bible of Love also takes on a few different genres in its extensive 32-song track list. There’s a bit of hip-hop as one might expect with Snoop’s name attached, but blues cuts like “Going Home” are a surprising and welcome addition. The production level is a definite highlight throughout the album with most tracks backed by piano, organ, drums, and seemingly huge choirs. I was repeatedly taken back to my childhood Sundays spent sitting in large Baptist churches. The nostalgia was real. Aside from lending a verse to a few songs on the album, Snoop does manage to reserve a couple of tracks entirely for himself. “Always Got Something to Say” is the song Snoop fans will be looking for. Snoop spits positive, but not overly “praise-y”, raps over a smooth funk beat with a melodic chorus. The result is a standout track on the album and probably where people not here for the gospel should focus most of their attention. Overall, “Snoop Dogg Presents the Bible of Love” is a fantastic gospel album with talent to spare. Gospel fans should not miss out. Snoop Dogg and rap fans in general can definitely give this one a pass. Knowing Snoop, his next reinvention is probably just around the corner. Personally, fingers crossed for his country album, but that’s probably just me…
Snoop is hitting the festival circuit this year but no dates near here yet.
dungen / woods
myths 003 ep
Marfa Myths is an annual music festival and multidisciplinary cultural program founded by nonprofit contemporary arts foundation Ballroom Marfa and Brooklyn-based music label Mexican Summer. As part of this festival, two groups are given the opportunity to collaborate outside of the normal confines of a studio. Last year, they gave Brooklyn folk group Woods and Swedish psych rockers Dungen the opportunity. They each sent two members to collaborate on the festival’s third, and best, album.
The album takes the best features of each band and effortlessly melds them into a sound that could create band of its own. “Turn Around” is one of the prettiest songs you’ll hear this year – I guarantee it. It’s a folky-pop song in the style of Woods, with trippy Dungen guitars that elevate it to something otherworldly. “Jag Ville Va Kvar” is a subdued Dungen track that would have evaporated into the ether if not for Woods’ grounding bass groove. The rest of the album is mostly wordless jams that evoke the West Texas vibe of the album’s festival namesake.
It’s a quick album that took two bands working on a shared vision over just a couple days, and coming out the other side with something that I think is worth revisiting time and time again. I’m excited to see were the Myths series will take us next.
Only 13 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
Jag Ville Va Kvar
Postscript: It’s not often I can recommend an album to both my mother and father. If you knew them, that would leave quite the mark.
Neither band is touring at the moment. We’ll let you know if they announce dates in Chicago!
pw elverum & sun
Phil Elverum has never shied away from the personal. From the harmonic center of The Microphones, to early work as Mount Eerie his songs have always been driven by the exploration of self and the remembrances of life. As a companion piece of sorts to last years, acclaimed album, A Crow Looked At Me, this new six song EP Now Only, delves deeper into his wife’s death, raising his now five year old daughter, and trying to get by as a musician.
Needless to say this is heavy, heavy stuff. But it is so gorgeous and simple; most tracks are just Elverum singing over a spare guitar and/or bass. He asks every question any of us would in his situation, and maybe, the hope is, help someone else going through the same. It is brave. Most of us would curl up and be defeated, but Elverum shares his grief and confusion in such a compelling way that we can only hope that this is helping. Sharing this with the world is helping him heal.
A good many of these tracks are directly speaking to his wife Geneviève Castrèe, an accomplished musician and artist, who sadly passed in 2016 from pancreatic cancer leaving Elverum with their young daughter. This album is like a journal he kept, speaking to his wife, and at times asking for her advice.
He also gets mega meta on title track, “Now Only”, singing about playing these death songs at festivals and staying up late talking to Wiseblood and Father John Misty about songwriting.
However, if you are a fan of Mount Eerie you know all this, and you’ve already fallen in love, as I have, with this new set of songs that give us all a perspective on how to deal with grief. We just hope it’s helping Phil, we just really hope it’s helping.
It doesn’t look like we’ll get a tour for this one like we did last year. But you should listen to these albums, a testament to living with oneself through a tragedy.
Dean Ween Group
Ween will always hold a place in my musical heart. From the first time I ever saw “Push Th’ Little Daisies” video on MTV (then again on that classic Beavis and Butthead episode); then the Chocolate & Cheese tour during college when we drove two hours to see them open for Ben Folds; to LL sleeping through their Riot Fest set in the Douglas Park field, cause we had after show tix to see Dead Milkmen. They have produced many a musical memory, these being only a few. So whenever Dean or Gean put out any project, I pay attention. And with this one I was rewarded with a tight 38 minute LP appropriately titled rock2. (I have no idea what rock1 is, but who cares, right!)
From opening track “Showstopper” to ender “Sunset over Belmar” Dean keeps this one moving; from rockers like “Fingerbangin’” (yeah, it’s about that), to bluesy numbers like “Yellow Pontiac” it’s a hell of a ride. Not to be leaving the Ween humor out, there is standout “Someone Greased the Fat Man.” All together this all forms a cohesive mix of all Dean and company have to offer: a good rocking album that won’t stick with you but you’ll have a great time while it’s on.
No summer dates for Dean Ween Group yet. We’re hoping for a Riot Fest slot!
ISSUE #2 / MAR. 14, 2018
Brooklyn psych-punkers Acid Dad have a reputation for delivering high energy live shows, and they’ve somehow bottled that into a debut record that needs to be heard by everyone. There are clearly three decades these guys love – the sixties, seventies and nineties. If you’re like me and grew up on The Beach Boys’ clean surfer vibe, headbanged to Black Sabbath’s sludgy stoner rock and think Britpop is one the best genres ever, you owe it to yourself to press play on this debut LP. Pour that weird mix through the filter of Thee Oh Sees’ off-center attitude and you have a winner.
Opener “Die Hard” opens with a psychedelic tranquility before blasting away with fuzzy guitars behind Sean Fahey’s echoed lyrics “Never believed New Year’s resolutions.” “2Ci” is my favorite rock song of 2018 so far. The Stone Roses-influenced rocker, with baselines that make me feel like I’m riding a big wave, has been on near constant repeat since last Friday. There are a few tracks that fall flat, indicating the band still has a some kinks to work out, but it’s only in comparison to the album’s staggering high points.
Only 12 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
Postscript: I mention specific genres here, but if you like rock music at all – just listen
Acid Dad is playing The Empty Bottle on Thursday, March 29th. For $10, you can say you were one of the first people to see one of the most talked about live acts in 2018.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats
Tearing at the Seams
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats continue their foray into the sounds of rock/pop/soul/Motown/doo wop (narrow it down), releasing their sophomore studio album Tearing at the Seams. At first listen, one might find this to be a typical rock/soul album replete with brass, tight harmonies, and a Wurlitzer; but the real draw here is the soulful voice of Mr. Rateliff. Despite some occasionally tropey lyrics, he provides something very personal, and hides it behind a drunk and dusty bar beat. Anyone familiar with his early solo work knows Mr. Rateliff’s penchant for melancholic sparsity, but with the addition of the Nightsweats he said, “I just wanted to write an album people could dance to.” With that sentiment in mind, I found Tearing at the Seams to be very successful. There may not be any breakout singles such as “S.O.B”. on this album, but what you’ll find is a more consistently engaging experience and an octet stretching a bit more in terms of genre;finding inspiration from Average White Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Wilson Pickett, even Huey Lewis and the News. There is a comfort here in style that allows them to occasionally let the style wander, to clever ends. Standout tracks include “Shoe Boot”, “Hey Mama”, and the aptly titled “Intro” (it appears as track 7).
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats are the first act at Northerly Island this summer: May 31st: $35 to $55 plus.
If you are not familiar with this trio from Edinburgh, this is where you should start. A decadent mix of R&B and hip hop that is like nothing else. Some acts have their own genre, all to their own. From the beginning these three have cultivated a fabulous sound that pushes boundaries while still being mainstream listenable.
A project from Alloysious Massaquoi (a childhood Liberian immigrant to Scotland), Kayus Bankole (born in Edinburgh to Nigerian parents) and Graham “G” Hastings (a native Scot). Their different cultural backgrounds and influences all crash into each other and form this insane mix, an amalgamation that shouldn’t work, but does from start to finish of every album, this being the third. LL and I saw them at Lincoln Hall a few years back and that show still sticks with me.
Here they tackle everything from male aggression, to sex and love, to racism and back to sex (of course, this is R&B, after all). But it’s not about the lyrics so much as the sound of the voices melding and mixing with the synths, drums and beats to produce what can only be described as Young Fathers.
Only European dates on their tour so far. Don’t blame em. They sell out over there.
Get Your Fight On!
Mike Muir and company return with Slayer legend Dave Lombardo on drums and put out maybe their best album since returning to the scene in ‘13. The first thing I thought after I learned 45 had won the election: this is gonna be a great four years of punk rock; and here comes the perennial spokesman for the oppressed, Mike Muir, to let us know punk is not dead, it was only sleeping, waiting for it’s chance to awaken when we take a societal wrong turn.
From the shouted chorus of “Get United” to the rocking title track “Get Your Fight On!” it’s a blistering 7 track effort (if you take out the oddly placed seperate versions of the title track). And Lombardo’s tom rolls have always left me speechless. What else is there to say when a drummer is just so tight and on point.
If thrash punk metal was ever your thing, throw this on in the car and shout along with Muir for a bit. It might be good therapy.
We expect them on the Riot bill this year.
issue #1 / Mar. 7, 2018
macro eye close up
Chicago post-punk Pylons’ sophomore release is 8 tracks of blistering rock music, and just pressing play transports you to your favorite sweaty dive bar. The stark contrast of guitar/vocalists Sam Fadness’ traditional singing and Gretchen Hannum’s acerbic yelps are front and center throughout, and the rhythm section of Jon Pardo’s drumming and Karen Mooney’s bass give the post-punk band a swagger not unlike Queens of the Stone Age.
What I like most about this album is how much I compare it to my first time hearing Wire. At only 18 minutes for all 8 tracks, Pylons is not afraid to shut down a song once they’ve made their point. That said, they diverge from the seminal punk band by reveling in the excesses of rock and roll. The band seems to enjoy playing music a packed crowd will sing along with, rather than get bogged down with serious minimalism.
“Queen of Wands” starts out with a guitar riff that I would have bet $10 was Josh Homme or Jack White and ends with Gretchen’s chant of “I mean it. Lock it up and leave it. I’ll make you believe it. Show you that you need it,” which I can confirm firsthand is a surefire live hit. Good rock and roll albums make you want to be friends with the band. Great ones make you think the band would like that too.
Only 6 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
Queen of Wands
Postscript: I’m pretty sure the Pylons quartet would get along with me.
If you want to visit the Illinois/Wisconsin border, Pylons is playing Stinko de Mayo (Free Show!) in Wadsworth, IL on May 5th. If you want to stay in Chicago, they’re playing Record Breakers on May 12th.
In Tall Buildings
Three albums in and Erik Hall’s one man immersive and spacious indie pop project, In Tall Buildings, just gets better and better. His is an act that you can see playing street fests, Pritzker summer series and maybe just grabbing a beer at the Hideout. And once you do, you’ll make it a point to see it again.
Opening track “Beginning to Fade” sets the tone for the album by blending guitars, drums, bass and layered vocals into a soothing amalgamation of genres. It’s the most accessible album so far by Hall, but also unravels its mysteries on repeat listens. Most of the songs maintain steady rhythms, and yet deeper listens uncover the fractured tempos that you couldn’t quite notice the first run-through. “Curtain” is a great example of all the above, where I realize that my foot-tapping might actually be a little off as I whisper along “The curtain is down, we’re sitting in silence.”
While the lyrics about finding simplicity in life in an increasing technology-crippled world are solid, there’s so much in the music to gravitate to. You can tell Hall has done his homework with stints in Afrobeat, jazz and experimental rock, as the genre-bending music doesn’t fold under the weight of it all. It’s truly impressive work that adds to an already impressive resume.
It’s early in the year, but In Tall Buildings is making a solid attempt at being in my short list of ‘most played records.’ It’s a vinyl and a glass of bourbon kind of record, but also a morning on the beach record.
Only 10 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
Beginning to Fade
Postscript: I told my wife about my excitement for this album’s release and she asked, ‘What kind of music is it?’ My response: ‘Umm, art-rock pop?’ So what is art-rock pop?’ I don’t know, but I like it.
In Tall Buildings plays Schubas on March 24th. It’s $12. It’s Schubas. It’s great music on a weekend. And I’ll be there. What else do you need?
issue #0.8 / feb. 28, 2018
Savemoney crew member Towkio (pronounced like the city Tokyo) drops his debut studio album after years of build up and mixtapes, and it is worth the wait. Funky, worldly, and clever; each track builds from the next to make one of the most cohesive hip hop albums since Chance (another member of the Savemoney crew) gave us Coloring Book a couple years back.
This is may be the future of hip hop: no smack talk, little references to street violence, no drug dealing anecdotes (except weed of course): just a man talking about life and parties and love. There are a few tracks that go a little far to the misogynistic side, but there have to be strides somewhere.
Top tier features never hurt either and there are just a few here, but they are quality. SZA is the hottest she may ever be right now and she contributes a stunning feature to balad “Morning View.” Fellow Savemoney member Vic Mensa is featured on “Forever” which has a haunting child choir refrain: “I wish I could live forever” that just repeats and repeats as Towkio raps verses describing growing up in Chicago: “all we know is Now and Laters and skyscrapers / Yeah, it’s concrete, where the kids, let me go speak to em. / But if you’ve never seen any mountains or stars / How you ever ‘sposed to know that’s the thing you should reach for?” A rather perfect refrain for the kids we see day in day out living here.
It’s true, the production here is slick as fuck, but it really works for what Towkio is trying to do. It is good to see a quality crew from Chicago produce so many good acts that are toeing the line between commercial and indie success without getting into too much trouble, because our drill rappers can’t seem to stay out of it. Sigh.
Towkio is playing Reggie’s May 14th : $12 - $15 (a steal to see him in our opinion)
All At Once
Don Giovanni Records
Fierce and tight, this grunge/punk trio out of New Jersey has produced possibly their best work with this one, their seventh studio album in the last twelve years. Screaming Females is always great live, and arguably their best album will always be Live at the Hideout (recorded in 2013 at our own Chi establishment), but this is closest they have come in the studio to rawness they have live.
Marissa Paternoster’s lyrics float above the chord frenzy and the pounding drums of Jarret Dougherty drive these tunes forward as King Mike holds it all down on bass, grounding the tunes when they get too out there; which several do towards the middle of the album. At fifteen tracks and near an hour there might have been some fat cut off this one, but why? Now we get fifty minutes of grunge rock madness instead of fourty. Who cares that they get a bit prog rocky in mid tracks Chamber of Sleep (Part One and Two)? This critic sure doesn't, it shows growth and experimentation with their sound, a feature lacking in many bands lately. But not the good ones! And Screaming Females falls solidly in the that category.
Screaming Females are playing Lincoln Hall March 10th and it is Sold Out.
Starting with the opening piano notes of first track “Ride” Dessa takes us on a trip through her life with new album Chime. From love to heartbreak and back this hip hop songstress gifts us her first solo album in five years and while well crafted, as usual, it hits at a “new beginnings” time for my life (LPL and I are moving as I write this) and it just hit all the right chords.
Always a deft lyricist she has reached new heights with with this one, as standout “Good Grief” begins; “I got snow in my pockets / Went down again head first / Laced drill bits to my pointe shoes / Pirouette through the hardwood to paydirt / Night falls, day breaks; time / Has a funny kind of violence and I’m / Tryna keep in mind / It can’t leave you the way it finds you.” Damn she can write.
True Chime is more of a pop and R&B album than a hip hop album; however, you will find no complaint from this Dessa fan. I first saw her with Doomtree, the Minneapolis hip hop crew, in which she is the sole female member, at a noon set at Lolla in ‘12; and have seen her solo and as a part of Doomtree multiple times since.
With production from crew member Lazerbeak this album is slick and stylish, beautifully layered pop that should be far more popular than it will be. It is a shame that outside of Minneapolis Doomtree is not a household name.
Dessa is playing the SubT March 31st: $20
issue #0.6 / Feb. 21, 2018
Humble Beast - Deluxe Edition
Machine Entertainment Group
When Humble Beast dropped last year it was lauded as Chicago drill rapper G Herbo “Lil Herb”’s coming of age album, and he does nothing to discourage that opinion with this new additional 12 tracks on the Deluxe Edition. In fact, these 12 tracks are just as good, if not better than the original album (at 13 tracks); begging the question: Why not just release a whole new album? That aside, there is so much to unpack on this album. From the start of the Deluxe material “Sins” hits it hard with the opening verse: “The rap game kill n****rs, literally, and turn gangstas into drag queens, they look down on working hard like it’s a bad thing, shit, I’m the last man standing if you ask me” Calling out the rap industry in four simple lines, and the boldness has no end. “How Could U Hate Me” has G Herbo calling out his fellow rappers who are jealous of his success: “Why would you hate me?, oh, cause I made it.” And in a time of remixes he only features one here: “Everything Remix” adds a Chance feature that makes this banger even better!
Some might have issues with the violence and graphic imagery featured on this album; but this is the young Chicagoan experience, and living in this city and seeing it every day, just makes the jabs about “choppers” and the rhymes about trying to stay alive ring ultra true. See the opening lines of original album standout “Red Snow:” “I know I rap a lot about being dead or dead broke, but my city starving, it’s the ‘Go, that’s just the way it go, they stealing, robbing, living heartless, never hit they target, the summer’s long and winters harsh cause we got red snow”
G Herbo is playing the Chicago Theatre March 9th tickets go on sale this Friday.
What a Time to Be Alive
It’s been a year since Trump was elected president, and a 30 year old punk quartet have some thoughts. In 32 minutes of fuzzed out pop hooks, the North Carolina legends don’t show any signs of slowing down. Fitting for today’s microsecond attention spans, this album feels like a gut check reaction to the news. The lyrics and the music seem like they were written and recorded right before you hit ‘play.’
Within a minute of the opening title track, McCaughan rips open the curtain and reveals the aggression that fuels the album - declaring "To see the rot in no disguise. Oh what a time to be alive." The rhythm section of Laura Balance and Jon Wurster haven’t sounded so tight and uncompromising in at least a decade. The album is clearly encouraging a resistance to the current regime, but it’s also just plain fun. I've been air-drumming at my desk so much the past week, I think I'm going to tap my feet right through to the 9th floor. If you would have told me one of the best protest albums of late would be from people the same age as my parents, I’d have laughed at you. Superchunk is laughing now.
Only 9 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
What a Time to Be Alive
Lost My Brain
All for You
Postscript: Sing-a-longs are how Superchunk wants to fight the new status quo? I’m good with that.
Superchunk avoids Chicago this Spring Tour which means they are probably on a fest bill. Pitchfork? Riot? Maybe Lolla (Ugh)? We will find out soon….
Belle and Sebastian
How to Solve our Human Problems, Pts 1-3
Glasgow gems Belle and Sebastian set out to do two things with this collection of 3 EPs: Remind long term fans how they made trios of EPs cool 20 years ago; and provide a primer to potential new fans. The EP collection is named after a Buddhist book that interpreted the religion’s ancient writings. The book and the album let us know that the first noble truth is still relevant today: if you acknowledge that suffering is everywhere, it’s possible to do something about it. That’s pretty heavy, but par for the course for Stuart Murdoch and company.
Ok, this album won’t solve all our problems. But it’s going to solve this aging music nerd’s lack of blissful Scottish wit. A new Belle and Sebastian record doesn’t mean what it used to 20 years ago, when they were kings of bedside, depressing indie pop, but I think this collection will turn a few heads. They were the band you name dropped at a party to make people know you were cool and an old soul. Longtime fans know that we grow up fast, but Murdoch muses to his kids “It’s tough to become a grown-up, put it off while you can” in “I’ll Be Your Pilot.” It’s a phrase that sums up a band well into its second incarnation, one that just wants to remind us to take a break and think like a child – dance like there’s nothing wrong and marvel at the splendor around you.
Typical for a B&S release, there are plenty of references to books you’ve never read. The music, too, is incredibly diverse. The three EPs serve as a greatest hits of songs not yet heard that touch on themes you're well versed in. We’ve got the usual suspects (baroque chamber pop and the autumnal ballads), but also mainstays of their recent albums (synth, flutes and glockenspiels oh my!) Yep, everything you want in a Belle and Sebastian album is here and they’ll feel fresh to those who have original copies of Tigermilk, too.
Only 11 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
We Were Beautiful
The Same Star
Postscript: With such confusing times, maybe the blissful positivity that comes from perfect harmonies is exactly what we need.
Same as above with Belle and Sebastian: most likely have to wait for a summer fest to catch em live . . .
issue #0.4 / feb. 14, 2018
Sweet 17 Singles
Grand Jury Music
“You’re so heartless it’s hard to believe;” from “With You” off this collection of last years six singles and B sides from local heros Twin Peaks, pretty much sums up most of last year. Politically at least. Just saying.
When I heard that these guys were embarking on this project: recording singles throughout the year so they could keep touring and not have to take time off to make a record, I thought it was genius. Show the growth of a band over the course of a year, how inspired. What I didn’t think was that all those disparate tracks could be melded into one fluid album, which Sweet 17 Singles comes near to being.
Most of these tracks were made for lazy Sunday listening. This is not party music, though Twin Peaks may argue with me over that, it is; however, really, really good. From the opening track “Tossing Tears” na na na’s to the final piano chords of “We Will Not Make It (Without You) these songs wash over you and made me pine for the sunny days and great times Chicago can produce over our short lived summers.
Since these were recorded over the course of 2017 we get a good sense of some of the growth and the journey Twin Peaks have made this year. Final tracks “In the Meadows” and “We Will Not Make It (Without You)” really show where this band may be headed musically. A bit cleaner, a bit more production, but that same attitude of here we are, fucking like us, or don’t, but we’re gonna be here for a long time, so get used to it.
Twin Peaks is opening for Portugal.the Man at the Aragon Ballroom this Friday. It’s sold out but we’re sure there are plenty of tickets to be had on all those secondary market sites. Fuck those scalpers by the way, but that is a subject for another day.
issue #0.2 / feb. 7, 2018
Quit the Curse
Polyvinyl Record Co.
There are several things that I love unconditionally (in no particular order): bourbon, Britpop, my wife, praline pecan ice cream and folky pop songs about unrequited love. That last one is there in spades on Nora Durst look-a-like Anna Burch’s debut record “Quit the Curse.”
If you do a quick Google search of Anna Burch, you’ll see a bunch of people name checking how much they liked her previous cult band – Frontier Ruckus. I had no idea who she was until late January, when she was the opener for Partner at the Empty Bottle, but it was adoration at first reverb-soaked melody. It was impossible not to sway in sync with Burch as she smiled through ‘With You Every Day.’ Or feel your emotions bubble up until she proclaimed "I think it's suspect you ever feel lonely at all" during set highlight ‘Asking 4 a Friend.’ Using jangly 60s pop-inspired psychedelia to sing about troubled relationships might be a genre unto itself at this point, but the confidence of Anna Burch sets this record apart from the masses. She sings about her emotions with a critical eye that is sorely missing from many of her peers.
Each song feels like you’re taking a trip down one of Burch’s many memory lanes, and features a collage of her influences (I immediately think of Fiona Apple lyrics on a Waxahatchee track). The first couple tracks stand out for the sing-a-long catchy choruses. Dig deeper and you find leftover country influence from her previous band, on Belle Isle, and 90s grunge fuzziness hiding in the background throughout. The album combines straightforward songwriting with self-assured lyrics, allowing Anna to give her genre a subtle wink and much needed curveball.
Only 9 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.
What I Want
Postscript: If you want my stamp of approval, have a last song that makes me want to either cry or sing along like I’m in the shower. Burch got both, here.
issue #0 / Jan. 28, 2018
Our First Review is in! Leigh B is our resident rantress and FOB fan!
Fall Out Boy / Mania
FOB and I have been fast friends since I was in High School. We've had ups (the entire Take Me to Your Grave album) and downs (that time they wanted $1000 for a House of Blues Show) but I will forever be a forever fan.
Mania is their 7th studio album, and third in a row to hit number 1 on the billboard album charts. While not all of the songs spoke to me, and i reviewed the album with a fair amount of snark, you have to give credit to a band 16 years strong and still willing to try new things and push the envelope with their fan base.
Below is my Track by Track analysis of Mania....
+Young and a Menace- This is garbage, like if garbage made garbage and refused to recycle because he’s a dick -this would be it. Putting this as the first track was FOB saying #nonewfriends
Champion- Very reminiscent of the “Save Rock and Roll” album, but maybe after that album went to a lot of therapy and bought inspirational posters showing kittens achieving goals.
Stay Frosty Royal Mike Tea- I’m really confused about the uplifting messages in these songs. Can someone please remind them how fucking moody FOB fans are? And we like it that way….
Hold me Tight or Don’t- Classic FOB lyrics had sex with a Gloria Estefan song… and it works and I will be singing it in the shower for like 4 months
The Last of the Real Ones- SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST SINGLE RELEASED. STOP TRYING TO REMAKE THE WHEEL AND JUST SING SONGS FOR MY ANGSTY 14 YEAR OLD SOUL
Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)- Eh… there’s a lot going on here and like 40% of it works
Church- This is fucking great. Babies will be conceived to this song…. Possibly my own babies
Heaven’s Gate- B+
Sunshine Riptide- I don't even know where to go with this one.. Cheap shots about how these boys don't go the beach? Comments about the feature artist, who is so unintelligible he could be denying the Holocaust and none of us would know ? Maybe just the reggae beats? I cringed through the whole thing.
Bishops Knife Trick- Pretty sure their manager was like “ummm… hey guys, I like your cool new sick beats but maybe you should throw your fans a bone”…. And then Patrick Stump spent 10 min on his porch in the rain in a fedora and came up with this song.