ISSUE #50 / March 7, 2019
A whirlwind of post-punk madness, Absolutely Not’s latest effort Problematic finds the local quartet at the top of their game. It’s seventeen minutes of pure speedy, feedback infected, riotous noise. Brother/sister tandem of Donnie and Madison Moore, backed by Santiago Guerrero and Chris Sutter, tear out your ear drums with each and every killer track. From the warped keyboards on “Glitch” and “OK,” to the pure garage guitar and drum tandem on “Yer Cigarette,” to the really strange almost industrial closer “(((o))),” they never stop ragging for even a moment. The Moore siblings’ double tracked vocals twist and pull at each other till you’re not really sure whose sound is whose. This is punk for the set who need a bit of funkiness to their tunes; like a fine-ripened cheese Absolutely Not is for those who prefer some substance over polish.
They are opening for The Scientists and Richard Vain at Sleeping Village on April 10th, before hitting the road for a short stint. Tix are going for $25.
Pkew Pkew Pkew
Pkew Pkew Pkew, Dine Alone
Toronto’s Pkew Pkew Pkew is slacker-punk for a new generation, and Optimal Lifestyles is their manifesto. Layers of guitar and a driving backbeat play second fiddle to their shout-along choruses and lyrically-charged tunes full of downtrodden characters and societal misfits. Ruminating on young life is nothing new to punk rock, but when you’re as honest and engaging as these guys, new life is breathed into the genre, making it relevant once more. Working on this new material with The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn helped shape it into a mature and thoughtful work. (Well, as much as punk rock can be mature and thoughtful.) There are still plenty of tunes about drinking so much you don’t dream, hotel parties, and the desire to see a wolf on tour, but they are set off by songs like “Everything’s the Same,” about seeing old friends and it not really being the same, and “I’m Not Getting Through to You,” lamenting a disaffected life. It’s true: Mike Warne (guitar), Emmett O’Reilly (bass), Ryan McKinley (guitar), and David Laino (drums) are getting older and you can only write so many tunes about drinking and young friendships. Confessional rock is nothing new, but with catchy hooks and joyous energy, their infectious tunes just won’t let go once they wrap themselves around your inner punk rocker, with their newfound maturity the bar now raised. Here’s hoping Pkew Pkew Pkew can keep it going after this excellent sophomore effort.
They just rolled through Beat Kitchen last weekend, but we are hoping they are back this summer. We’d bet the farm they return for a street fest or Riot.
Hand Habits’ follow up to 2017’s Wildly Idle continues their excellent exploration of life through a dreamy psych-pop lense. Meg Duffy started as a touring guitarist for the enigmatic Kevin Morby, and has continued the elusive sound into their solo work. It’s not exactly folk, or indie rock, or pop but seems to draw inspiration from all these genres and more. Titled placeholder after their “fascination with the undefinable,” it’s a fitting title for their impossible-to-peg-down sound. Incredibly honest and forward, Duffy claims “These are all real stories. I don’t fictionalize much,” and they muse on the pathology of a relationship with “are you serious?,” attempting to change another on “pacify,” and learning from yours and others’ mistakes in “the book on how to change part II.” This is music for the thoughtful. For those who exist in the grey between where black and white meet and where the lines run together into thick, sticky messes.
Hand Habits is appearing at The Hideout on April 4th. Tix are only $12!
Durand Jones & The Indications
American Love Call
A stunning sophomore effort from this soul outfit hailing from, of all places, Bloomington, Indiana. Forming the group as students at Indiana University, they never expected for it to take off and be touring the world after they graduated. As Jones says in their website bio, “Did I expect to do this shit once I got out of college? Hell no. Totally not. But this is what God is telling me to do – move and groove. So I’m gonna stay in my lane.” But with American Love Call, they do more than just “stay in their lane,” they produce a throwback soul record that really shows how little this country has advanced in the fifty years since Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield belted about the overlooked and impoverished. If nothing else, the shrinking middle class has made these issues even more prominent than they were in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and Durand Jones & The Indications roll through tunes about the modern societal landscape with passion and ease including excellent opener, “Morning In America,” and the loner number, “Long Way Home.” However, they ease in plenty of love tunes, as every soul artist has since the birth of the genre, with amazing turns in “Listen to Your Heart,” “Walk Away,” and “Court of Love.” For a group of men in their twenties, they are truly students of soul; to be able to capture this sound in its true essence, at such a young age is a staggering accomplishment.
They are rolling through Thalia Hall on April 12th. Tix are a mere $16.
Rising out of the muck of the noise rock stew of the ‘90s, enigmatic duo Royal Trux have released their first record of new material in nearly twenty years. Between bickering during interviews, canceled and moved shows due to visa issues, and the generally unpredictable behavior of Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty, their reunion may already be in decline; but it’s no surprise given the unhinged nature of White Stuff. Regardless of the obvious reference to cocaine in the title and album art, the record is filled with a collection of tunes that clearly show their abilities to experiment musically are still intact, but their sanity may be another matter. With crazy tunes like, “Shoes and Tags” that completely ignore musicality, or the uncomfortable subject matter of “Sic Em Slow” or “Suburban Junky Lady,” they are still following their established model, but there is an angry edge behind these tunes that is tough to stomach at times. Maybe it’s projection from the negative press they’ve received due to personal issues that has tainted the listening experience, but the jury is still out on this one. Perhaps it will grow in time to be a fitting addition to their eclectic catalog.
The Empty Bottle is hosting the legendary duo on May 12th. Tix are $20.
While She Sleeps
Universal , Search and Destroy , Spinefarm
So called “best kept secret” in metalcore, Sheffield’s While She Sleeps crashes into 2019 with their fourth LP, So What? I’d warn longtime fans that the sound of their latest release is a significant departure from their previous material, but I highly doubt any of them will be reading this. More likely, So What? is your introduction to the band. This is a blessing and a curse. Their new material is easily their most accessible, but not necessarily representative of the band’s roots in the hardcore and metal scenes the southern England (communities whose presence is certainly flet on their previous releases). To be clear, While She Sleeps has always been a polished band. Like their country-men the Architects, the band’s slickness and mastery of catchy chord progressions, iron-clad grooves, and scream-along choruses can feel at times like the final, super saiyan chapter in hardcores evolution as a genre. Their new material doesn’t jettison the things that made their previous efforts noteworthy, but rather continues the refinement of these elements to a shocking degree. The contorted riff rock of “Haunt Me” has a dangerous glimmer to it like a new chrome .45, “Gates of Paradise” boxes at your ear drums with superheated rhythm and beats, and the venomously spinny lead single “Anti-Social” sounds like a b-side cut from Bring Me the Horizon’s amo. The comparison to fellow pop-embracing punk rockers like BMH is appropriate, as So What? certainly feels like an attempt to broaden their appeal and break new grounds with their sound. Honestly It works, just not as well as the aforementioned amo. While riff-pop rev-ups like “The Guilty Party” are certainly infectious, many other tracks could have used a little more gestation time in the writer’s room before heading into the studio. Too often I’m left shifting through the swarm of electronics and guitar rhythms that comprise these songs in search of a memorable hook. This is not kind of effort you want to have to invest in a pop record, and is an endeavor that can produce diminishing returns the more time you put into it. So What? definitely delivers a punch, but not with as much impact as 2017’s You Are We or their highly lauded, early material. If you like So What?, cool. You should! It’s a good album. But if what you’ve heard here intrigues you, then consider taking a dive into their back catalog. You won’t regret it!
While She Sleeps will be at Concord Music Hall on May 25 with Thy Art is Murder, and supporting Architects. Show starts at 630pm. Tickets start at $25.
When I Get Home
Solange Knowles continues the soulful experimentations she began in A Seat at the Table, and shrinks them to a microcosm, concentrating on the black experience within her home city of Houston. When I Get Home is a fitting companion piece, taking the overarching ideas expressed in the former record and dialing them in to a more personal and private place. Overall smoother musically and not as showy as her more famous sister, Solange has made a career out of being the “arty one,” disguising her intent in a trip hop and alt-R&B atmosphere; but her fan base, while smaller, is just as rabid as her older sibling’s. Embraced by the non-mainstream audience, Solange has excelled at producing some of the most unapproachable tunes for those not in the know. Try playing syncopated “Almeda” or the jazzy “Beltway” for a mainstream listener, and they will just not understand the appeal which is the genius of Solange and her team. She is the alternative Knowles sister, the rebel, the outlyer. History will tell, but we predict in fifty years, When I Get Home and A Seat at the Table will both be held in equal regard to Lemonade or Beyoncé. (Maybe even more celebrated for pushing the boundaries of what R&B can be- now and in the future.
Solange has no plans to visit Chicago at this time.
AGE 101 , AWAL
An incredibly young and versatile emcee, London native Little Simz has been popping off for several years now, and her new record GREY Area embraces the in-between. This is the space between the balance of the personal life and the madness of the modern world, the place between the paranoia produced by media and the struggle to keep private sanity intact, or the societal divisions that threaten to tear apart countries and the family life that stays strong through every challenge. An impactful yet hopeful record that really dives deep into its subjects, with a stripped down production that highlights her insightful lyrics to a point of focus so sharp it could cut your soul to ribbons if caution is not taken. Whether it’s smoothly rattling through never getting her due because of gender in “Venom” or the political corruption and societal destruction in “Pressure,” she handles each and every subject with a maturity that belies her years. If this is what she’s giving us at 25, the sky’s the limit!
She is coming to Schubas on June 11th. This should sell out so get your $17 tix now!
Rubyworks , Columbia
It’s been five years since Irish singer/songwriter Hozier has made a follow up to his debut album,, so we know the singer still loves using his powerful vocals and church-like melodies in this 14-track journey. Using an array of organs, guitars and drums, slower pop beat, and a choir singing in the background, Wasteland, Baby! starts off with Hozier’s known power ballads with songs “Nina Cried Power”, “Almost (Sweet Music), and “Movement.” In the middle of the album, Hozier slows turns the volume down on the church melodies but continues to show off his vocal range. In “Nobody,” acoustic and electric guitars play as well harmonize with his vocal tones ranging from mid-tones to higher pitch. Towards the end of Wasteland, Baby!, Hozier slows it down, violins and acoustic guitars play over a still-overpowering and very sad tone from the singer. In “As it Was,” lyrics describe a man being away from his love for some time and wondering if the love is still there, and Hozier sings in a heartbroken-yet-hopeful tone. The album ends with a mixture of upbeat and folk-like tracks and slower pop tracks with songs like “Dinner and Diatribes,” and “Wasteland,Baby!” which offers a little more variety than was what started in the album. Even though Hozier is known for his groundbreaking song, “Take Me to Church,” it is great to see an artists continuing using the melody that he is known for but also breaking off into different melodies and vocal ranges.
Hozier will be traveling the US and overseas, he won’t be stopping in Chicago but hopefully he will towards the end of the year.
Rarely is a concept album is this much of a joy to cover. Typically serious and overly sensitive, the stories expressed in record form have almost never been as loose and fun as Dear Bongo. Motherhood, a trio from New Brunswick, Canada, have really outdone themselves with this one, capturing the story of a painter, fresh from a broken relationship, drowning himself in booze and his art till he goes over the edge and tries to repaint nature. Embellishing in post-rock, surf punk, garage, along with a heavy dose of art rock, they gather a musical cacophony to tell this ultimately tragic story and imbue it with so many crazy details and embellishments that it comes alive, jumping from the speakers straight to the imagination. Brydon Crain, Penelope Stevens, and Adam Sipkema are destined for indie rock glory.
Motherhood is swinging through Kenosha, WI at Public Craft Brewing Co. on April 5th. More info here.
Yet another interesting act to come out of Australia. Made up of an eclectic mix of Melbourne music-scene vets, The Stroppies embrace the lo-fi post-punk stylings of bands like Los Campesinos! or contemporaries The Goon Sax and Loose Teeth with jangly guitar and a driving back-beat layered over toneless speak-sing vocals about young life, love, and hipster-ism. Started as a bedroom project that grew into a full fledged band, Whoosh is their first studio effort. Amazingly, the result doesn’t lose the immediacy and intimacy of their first recordings. An achievement in and of itself. If you enjoy the lo-fi Chicago acts that have been blowing up lately such as Dehd, Grapetooth, or Bunny, then The Stroppies are definitely for you!
It appears they are doing a short Euro tour in July, but there are no plans to visit the States anytime soon.
American rock band Masked Intruder released their third album III, and it’s packed with the band’s personality, fun rhythms, and not-so-serious songs. The 12-track album has fans rocking out to pop punk guitar thrashes, songs about how fun B&Es are, and catchy vocal tunes similar to pop punk bands from the late ‘90s and early 2000s. The band also sings about love, cause you know, even bank robbers need love, too. In the song, “Maybe Even,” lead singer Intruder Blue sings about falling for someone and hoping they could get together when he gets out of jail. Other than songs relating to the band’s alter egos such as “B&E” and their first siren filled song, “No Case,” Masked Intruder’s III is filled with these youthfully-inspired love songs. III embodies Masked Intruder’s fun personality, through songs about their secret identities and life of crime, and through songs about deep affection and fondness.
Masked Intruders have a sold out show at the House of Blues on March 30.
Heroin and Helicopters
While a clear condemnation of the current societal condition, Citizen Cope’s newest effort Heroin and Helicopters, takes a positive look at how change and hopefulness can lead us down a better path. D.C. native and Brooklyn transplant Clarence Greenwood’s sixth studio effort blends his signature efficacious and genre-bending sound to new heights. He tackles “cultural themes based around societal struggles, political manipulation, relationships, self awareness, and spiritual enlightenment.” And while it may seem like a big bite to chew on, Greenwood approaches his subjects with a sensitivity and daring that few can match. From the reggae-leaning protest tune “War,” to blues-oriented “Sally Walks,” to affecting closing ballad “Forbidden,” this record is full of gems. Titled after an encounter with legend Santana, who told Greenwood to “stay away from the two H’s,” this rather killer record is a fitting continuation of an already storied career.
Citizen Cope is hitting the House of Blues on April 12th. Tix are going for $39.50.
Violets As Camouflage
Mary Bragg , Tone Tree
Whenever I think I’ve heard enough country to know the emotional turmoil every country singer goes through, I listen to Mary Bragg’s new album Violets As Camouflage and am reminded there are more emotional tribulations than what the standard country singer endures. This 14-track album starts in a slow, somber mix of guitars and heartbreak where Bragg sings very beautifully and earnest-like, especially in her first song, “I Thought You Were Somebody Else.” Starting off the album with such a great deal of vulnerability, the slow and melancholy guitars and violins set the tone for how much this artist will reveal her life to the listener. Scattered between the sad and revealing songs, Bragg brings out the acoustic guitar and sings about drinking, self-love, and falling for someone. Bragg even has a more traditional country song, with the hard hitting acoustic guitar, talking about old school cars (her ‘86 Pontiac), and going through life’s trials. “Faint of Heart” is a song that encourages the listener to just get through it. Bragg brings traditional country, and at times, mixes it with contemporary indie and folk. In her song, “The Right Track,” she talks about the feeling of giving up, but with the chorus singing alongside her with a blend of electric guitar, drums and her acoustic guitar, the song is soft yet empowering. Braggs successfully brings vulnerability in her album and embellished it with the melody to create an emotional setting within her lyrics.
Mary Bragg will be at the Haymarket Brewery on April 11. Tickets are not on sale yet.