issueS #26-29 / SEPTEMBER 2018
This week's album reviews will be placed here next week. For now, you can find them within our current issue.
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.