ISSUE #41 / JANUARY 3, 2019
Me Us You
When you self-describe as “Psychedelic Math Rock,” you don’t open yourselves up to accessibility. However, that’s where Cascader is special. The groovy repetitions, twinkling valleys, and glorious peaks of the Chicago trio’s debut in Me Us You are incredibly accessible. Jeff Schaffer (guitar), Parker Langvardt (bass), and Ben Chargot (drums) have been playing together for over a decade, and that kind of chemistry can lead to beautiful art. Each of these dozen tunes is (to borrow from a song title) “Laser Focused.” They know exactly what is needed to accomplish each tune and give no more, no less. The trio’s simplistic nature leaves space for the listener to breath in between the wild-timed runs that all these tunes contain. Having just three instruments frees up the slog that can come from the bog of sounds in which many of their contemporaries get stuck. This is free-wheeling, jam-filled fun for your brain. Support local music and buy this record. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll feel good.
They just had their album release mid-December at The Owl, but we hope to catch them soon.
“HOOLIGANS!” was shouted across various tracks in the new EP Hooligans from Chicago native hip-hop artist, Vic Mensa; an EP teased on the radio with the hit song, “Reverse” featuring G-Eazy. The album also has many influences from current hip-hop trends, such as the more emo-rock themes like “Dark Things,” a song about drug addiction and loneliness, typically seen as a positive in hip-hop culture. Vic Mensa displays his lyrical skills especially in his heartfelt song, “The 1 That Got Away/No Shoes.” In the beginning, he explains by almost pouring his heart out to an old flame how much he regrets his fame coming between their relationship, with singer Charlie Wilson singing the chorus of “Let’s hit rewind a little/ Go back through time just a little/ When you were mine a little/ Just like old times, just a little.” The song is an homage to 90s R&B with the soulful voice of Charlie Wilson to the somber beat. What’s amazing is that the song juxtaposes his voice of reasoning; Vic tells the old flame all the things he did for her in a negative approach but ends the song stating he’s still addicted to her. Although the album does have its serious tracks and political context, such as the songs, “Dancing In The Streetz” and “Klonopin,”there are still automatic hit songs such as, “Rowdy” and the radio hit mentioned, “Reverse.” The album showcases Vic Mensa’s lyrical versatility and artistic rawness as a hip-hop artist. Definitely an album to listen to on repeat.
(Vic Mensa isn’t currently touring.)
Ben LaMar Gay
DOWNTOWN CASTLES CAN NEVER BLOCK THE SUN
I’m starting 2019’s review season with a throwback to a woefully overlooked release from the previous year. In May of 2018, we of the music-obsessing public were treated to the debut album of accomplished Chicagoan jazz performer, Ben LaMar Gay. Gay, who is known to most as a cornetist but plays multiple instruments, had not released a solo album to the public in the two decades since he emerged onto the scene. Helping numerous jazz, RB, and hip-hop artists track and perform songs over the years, he has contributed to the works of Makaya McCraven, Joshua Adams, Jaimie Branch, Coultrain, and Bitchin Bajas to name a few. Despite his prolific presence on other’s records, studio time dedicated to his own artistic vision was conspicuously neglected, or so it would seem.
Over the course of the past seven years, Gay recorded seven separate albums’ worth of material and distributed them only to those lucky few within his inner circle. Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun is Gay’s way of letting the rest of us in on his secret: he’s a phenomenal songwriter and composer. This album is a collection of tracks cherry-picked from these seven unreleased albums, a greatest hits of tracks the rest of us weren’t fortunate enough to have the chance to appreciate upon their initial, clandestine release.
Gay’s sound is difficult to categorize. The most obvious touchstone in progressive jazz, but with a free-wheeling energy reminiscent of contemporary hip-hop spliced with funky overtones and interjected with Brazilian rhythms. The most arresting aspect of all may be the earnestness with which Gay approaches the material. It’s a factor which demonstrates the deeply personal nature of the work as a whole. This may also be an insight as to why so much of his music has gone unreleased up until this point, as the prospect of opening material so revealing for public scrutiny is a frightening notion.
Saying something is “difficult to describe” is different from saying that you shouldn’t at least put in the effort. “Muhal” is space-aged funk voyage with crunchy incessant beats, conversational sax accompaniment, and croaking synths, subtly boosted by an understated soul chorus. Named for the celebrated Chicago pianist and co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, “Muhal” is both a tribute and thematic staging for the remainder of the album and its loving portrayal of the Windy City as well as the people who call it home. “Music for 18 Hairdressers: Braids & Fractals” references with its title Steve Reich’s minimalist piece “Music for 18 Musicians” while delivering a babbling overflow of bass chords and clucking reeds tell a wordless story of devotion to the passion of one’s craft. “A Seasoning Called Primavera” is a minimalist ode to a braided hair woman that slowly flips into a cooking class with the accompanying instrumentation mimicking the clatter of kitchen utensils and the hum of appliances. The stargazing “Uvas” sounds like R&B received by a NASA satellite as it emanates from a peaceful planet light-years away. Light-footed “Swim Swim” employs short-breathed and wiry guitar progressions, spiraling electronic waterspouts, and a lapping vocal melody to convey the poorly concealed vulnerability at the heart of a profoundly deep sense of longing.
On Downtown Castles, Gay proves that he has been one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets: this man has lived and breathed the city’s history of jazz and collaborative music making—often eschewing the spotlight in order to boost the signal of others. It’s fantastic to witness his own frequency finally coming through loud and clear.
Check it out on bandcamp.
Jazz Robots Write Down Their Dreams
A jazz violin, you say? Where do you want us to sign up? This local quartet has hit it right with their full-length debut that happens to have the perfect title. Caleb Allan (Bass), Scott Daniel (Violin), Jonah Lazarus (Drums), and Max Lazarus (Saxophone), have created a tactile sound that’s a joy to experience. Daniel’s violin and Lazarus’ sax play back and forth to make a coiled loop that snares your senses before letting them run wild across these eleven tracks. Some roots in prog rock are evident within the funky jams, but the nu jazz label is sure to stick with this one. It’s a soundtrack to our everyday madness here in the home we call Chicago.Buy their record. You’ll love yourself a bit more.
They are doing a series of Tuesday shows dubbed“Rowdy Jazz” at At North this entire month: $5 cover.
A downright fun debut from these local indie rockers, Family Vacation takes a card from the Chicago indie sound, their jangly, tongue-in-cheek tunes flowing together, each track building on the mood that takes on a carefree trip to destination nowhere as prescribed by the rollicking number,“No Destination.“ It’s not the goal that matters here, but the journey... Rolling through the incredibly cohesive record is like coming home to your high school friends during freshman year of college when you pick up right where you left off. It all makes sense with familiar comfort, logic, and safety. In America, there’s nothing really potentially challenging, but that’s most likely the point. Sometimes rock is just that: damn good music. A strong debut from a very promising project. Do yourself a favor…buy the record: It’s name your price!
No shows for these guys anytime soon. We’ll let you know the next time they hit a Chicago stage.
Whether Feast, Famine, or Fire
Some powerful Americana-rock from this local collective steered by singer/songwriter Mike Biederman, Whether Feast, Famine, or Fire is a debut record long in the making after releasing an EP back in ‘12. From the powerful ballad “Gas Lamp” to the rolling duet jam of “Someone Flipped The Switch,” each of these tunes stands on their own as a testament to great American songwriting. Sure there are embellishments, like the strings in “Let’s Go Swimming” or the piano and organ in “Sad Bastard,” but the real star is Biederman’s vocals and the emotive lyrics that he clearly put his all into. The moments that shine are the quiet acoustic beginning of “Familiar Tune” and the lullaby quality of “Album Outro” where his sensitivity dominates. Give him your energy!
It seems they haven’t played out in quite a while...Hopefully that trend changes sometime soon.
DJ Moppy has been spinning in Detroit and Chicago for quite some time, and this record is a reflection of the collaborative nature of electronic music. Nearly every tune was conceived from live improv jams with other musicians, spawning a groove-filled, low-key offspring. This is house without the embellishments, without a massive amount of instrumentation. A straight-ahead funkiness pervades start to finish. The title, Σκοτεινό Φως, (Greek for “Dark Light”) is a reflection of the darkest or longest day of the year, when the celestial form of Capricorn rises. Moppy’s tunes are an honest reflection of our life, our times, and the dark days we are all working through. Take a listen, and please purchase his music!
He just had a release party at Gramaphone Records in mid-December, but hopefully he’ll be back spinning in Chi sometime soon.
Laura Hermiston’s infectious southwestern-influenced dream pop comes at you with a full-on drum forward tilt that’s always surprisingly easy on the ears. Her talk-sing vocals swing through the band’s driving rhythms as she croons about her everyday life illuminating and re-living the mounting sexism and usery she withstood in life’s journey thus far. A stirring and fitting album to end 2018, she said in a statement, “I don't think this record is making any big statements on the complex world we're living in right now. I write about my experiences with sexism and people who act entitled to take advantage of you because that's what I feel like I can comment on honestly. In the past I've felt like my voice isn't heard and had to bite my tongue to avoid stirring up drama. I wanted to speak up about my personal experiences while still saying something universal."
Thanks Laura Hermiston for sharing with us this affecting piece of art.
They are hitting SXSW this year, and we are praying for a Chicago stop on their way home to Toronto.
England is sprouting some excellent punk acts, and this London-based black feminist trio is in the heart of the herd... Their catchy dark hooks really capture the attention with a little Riot Grrrl, a sprinkle of New Wave, and plenty of post-punk drizzled into the mix. They present as their bio aptly says, “a continuum for black punks by presenting a strong, powerful vision of black womanhood and talking about black punks who came before us.” This is a powerful and thought-provoking, full-length debut that gains depth on subsequent listens. You gotta give this one a spin.
As of now there are no U.S. dates on their slate. Please come to Chicago Big Joanie!
Reel Big Fish
Life Sucks… Let’s Dance!
Piss Off / Rock Ridge
Right off the bat with the first track, “Life Sucks...Let’s Dance,” Reel Big Fish shows their fans that time hasn’t slowed them down, and they can still produce music everyone can dance to. It’s been 6 years since the Ska/Punk band has released a studio album, but hearing this album reminds us; it was worth the wait. Consisting of fun, energetic trumpets, guitars, drums and vocals; the lyrics and themes to the songs are super high-spirited as well. Songs about love, being pissed at someone annoying, being tipsy on a date thus making it awkward, a song about the love of beer, and “Bob Marley’s Toe” (highly recommend giving this song a listen), Reel Big Fish has made a successful comeback and their new album is nothing but a great introduction to new fans as well as nostalgic re-introduction to their adoring fans. This album just makes you want to get up and dance to pretty much every track including “Ska Show,” “Life Sucks...Let’s Dance!,” “In Love Again,” and “Another Beer Song.” Although truthfully, all the songs are amazing and can be danced to, this is a must listen to album on both a cloudy and sunny day.
Reel Big Fish will be in Bloomington, IL on Friday Jan 25th: tix are $22.
Lauren / Asian Man
These Philly, emo legends issue a stunning retrospective of demos and rare tracks not included on their recently re-issued records. A short lived band, Algernon Cadwallader was a major influence on the early 2000s emo scene -- along with Cap’n Jazz, The Promise Ring, and Joan of Arc (the latter two sprouting from the ashes of Cap’n Jazz) -- and were worshipped for their irreverent nature in bucking the traditional record label model. Peter Helmis’ scream would rend through the scene and inspire countless youths to pick up a bass or guitar and channel the raw emotions of teenage plight and young adult disillusionment into melodic angry music. The emo scene soon exploded with his prodigies, but Algernon Cadwallader had already called it quits. This collection includes some early demos, the full Fun EP, and more. They have also given both full lengths a re-release through Asian Man Records, and all their albums are available on streaming services.
We’ve always hoped for a reunion. Hell, Cap’n Jazz just had one! (We’re not holding our breath.)