ISSUE #51 / March 14, 2019
Jirdboy / Jessi L. McIntosh
A single banjo strum begins opening track “America,” then the drums and bass come in, then a single clear trumpet, and as the sounds build, all cut through by Jess McIntosh’s crisp vocal, the track becomes a metaphor for the entire record. Joybird’s newest release, Landing, takes the Chicago americana quartet to new heights behind McIntosh’s versatile songwriting and instrumentation, Bill Harris’ inventive drumming, Aaron Smith’s understated support on bass, and new member Emily Nott’s multi-instrumental stylings. What starts as a straightforward folk album soon blossoms into Appalachian, country, roots, and indie rock all rolled into one glorious package and by the time life-affirming closer “My House” rolls through, the beauty has washed across the face of your soul and made you able to stand straight against the rolling current of our modern sphere.
Joybird has multiple gigs coming up in the city: March 28th at Nonny in Arlington Heights, March 29th at The Hungry Brain, and April 17th at Tonic Room. Check out their event page for info.
The Moses Gun
Waltz of the Conflicted Yellowjacket
The Moses Gun / James W Kendall
Not to be confused with Moses Gunn Collective (from Australia), this local power trio has been going strong for a decade now. With a range of influences running from post grunge (think TV On The Radio)
to ‘80s metal (shades of Iron Maiden or Megadeth) to the punk of their youth (Bad Brains comes to mind), The Moses Gun consists of lifelong friends Vell Mullens and Rich Harris found drummer Jim Kendall in 2010 and the three have been producing some of the best alt-rock Chicago has to offer ever since. Their latest effort Waltz of the Conflicted Yellowjacket follows the excellent EP Triage from a few years back with a powerful collection of tunes that carries the momentum all the way through. Whether it’s destroying on the metal instrumental title track or pulling it in close to the chest on power ballad “Goodbye;” these three know how to construct a record and these ten tight tunes show all their sides with near-perfect skill.
They just had a release party at GMan last weekend, but currently don’t have any shows on the books. We’re hoping they do a street fest or two this summer. They’re approachable sound is perfect for jamming on the block!
Meredith Johnston is a warm human. This is also the name of her band. Johnston’s debut album Ghastly was mostly recorded in her apartment in Logan Square, and with the aid of her mechanical roommates (an 808 and a DX7), she has managed to make a bedroom-pop album with much grander presence than its humble origins suggest. As she describes it, Ghastly is an album about all of the emotional dregs that haunt you after a relationship ends. Opener “Worst Kind of Girl” appropriately sets the tone for the rest of the album with reedy guitars, folding beats, and phat gooey synths recounting the end of a toxic relationship, extricating herself from her ex's self-serving crapulence with the phrase “you’re standing in my shadow, hope YOU like the view.” “Hat” is more playful with a marble-like bass groove that cuts through spouts of hot percolating synths, and that rolls along the curvature of Johnston’s righteously irritated and correctly accusatory vocal delivery, as she demands her “f*cking hat back” from a former friend. “Dog Years” follows with somber, stressed brass accompaniments and a validating chorus of overdubbed vocals, while “Give up the Ghost” leans hard on an elastic synth groove to create a hollow in which uncertain emotions are allowed to pool at the midway point in the album. “Eat” picks up where the spritely “Hat” left off, with a clambering of NES sound card impersonating beats and a languid vocal delivery that suggests an equal measure of vulnerability and perseverance. Ghastly is the spirit of a woman escaping her past, her apartment, and the confines of her compulsions (Johnston is recently sober) to live her best (after)life and breathe new life into dance-pop playlists this spring. Don’t ghost on this one.
It doesn’t appear that Warm Human has any upcoming shows in Chicago. She might book some when she gets back from SXSW though. Stay tuned!
Spencer Radcliffe is an insanely talented individual. Not only does he perform in the indie rock collective Spencer Radcliffe and Everyone Else, but his solo experimental work as Blithe Field is equally wonderful. His new work, Ward Unbending, is a stylish and compelling collection that weaves layers of synths, guitar, horns, drones, found-sounds, and even harmonica into a contained cacophony that could only come out of the supportive Chicago experimental scene. Throw this one on and take the half hour journey through this intimate, playful, and soul-stirring soundscape.
It doesn’t appear that Radcliffe has any dates as Blithe Field at the moment, but he is performing with Everyone Else at The Hungry Brain on April 13th. It’s FREE!
Headed by songwriter Aymen Saleh, the Milwaukee by way of Canterbury, UK indie pop project Holy Pinto produces a deeply personal sophomore full-length that runs the gamut of subjects. From the homesickness of “Daisychain,” to the complication of family life in “Brother,” to break up tune “Salt;” new record Adult, examines the difficulty of growing up and the experiences that shape us along the way. A brief and warming record that is as awkwardly observational as it is inspiring.
Saleh just had his record release party last weekend at the Cactus Club in Milwaukee, and doesn’t have any more dates at the moment.
Burn in the USA
Tongue-in-cheek party rock that warms every bone while careening toward the cliffs of insanity would be an apt description of local trio Chicken Happen. Their latest effort Burn in the USA continues the trajectory they’ve been laying down since their 2013 self-titled debut: stoner post-punk for the new age. Frontwoman Lilly Choi’s impassioned vocals bring to mind the heroes of post grunge like Sleater-Kinney or Screaming Females, and their lyrics can switch from witty humorous puns to gut-wrenching, honest moments within a single tune. Along with fellow local rockers Bleach Party, Ovef Ow, Absolutely Not, Retirement Party and many more, Chicken Happen is making it happen! It’s about time that women just take over rock, it’s so much better to have more than a testosterone-laden perspective. If you need a laugh, then a cry, then a laugh-cry, just throw this one on and proceed to be entertained.
They just had a release party at The Empty Bottle on Monday and don’t have any more gigs planned as of now.
Death Race For Love
Grade A / Interscope
Setting himself apart from the city rappers, Calumet Park native Juice WRLD spins tales of drug-fueled depression and passionate love songs that stand in direct contrast to the protest rhymes of his fellow Chicago-area contemporaries. The twenty-year-old hit it big with last year's Goodbye & Good Riddance and WRLD ON DRUGS, a collab with Atlanta rapper Future, and follow-up Death Race For Love is just as truthful and hard-hitting. Deeply personal and at times disturbing, the work of Juice WRLD is helping to usher the art of Soundcloud rap to the mainstream, where drug use and emotionally wrought content is commonplace. With his laid back flow and smooth, melodic production, it will be no surprise for the young performer to really take off with this one. In the world of hip hop, the sky’s the limit, and Juice WRLD is destined for stardom.
He is hitting Aragon on May 30th. It is Sold Out but there are plenty of tix on the resale market if you wanna lay out the big bucks.
The Devil You Know
The Atlanta post-punk power trio The Coathangers return with their sixth studio effort, full of their signature swirling guitar and overlapping vocals that is still effective after over a decade on the road. It’s no secret a maturity has entered their work the last several projects replacing the fun-loving titles like “Nestle in My Boobies” with serious tunes- standouts “F the NRA” and “Lithium” being among them. It’s no surprise they have grown into adults within the context of the band, and The Devil You Know may be their most confrontational and anthemic release to date. From the sexism they experience in opener “Bimbo” and “Step Back” to personal confessions like “Stasher” and “Memories,” the album is a reflection of the times drawn in big bold letters with some fine print below the surface.
The Coathangers are swinging through The Empty Bottle on April 9th. Tix are $15.
This Is How You Smile
This is How You Smile, the sixth LP from Helado Negro, is another strong addition to the Brooklyn electro-folk artist's catalog. The cover features him and his brother paling around, arm-in-arm. It’s a charming portrait of innocence and familiarity, nestled in the plain text of the album’s title, like a theory put to practice. Major indie publications have already mangled innumerable blameless similes and metaphors in their write-ups on this release, but all their garish superlatives obscure more than illuminate the character of this album. So what is This is How You Smile under all the artifice others have heaped on it? Simple; It’s an invitation. An invitation to like who you are, and where you came up from. Bundled with the bright synths, Latin guitars, and hip-hop inspired beats, it is an album that serves up twelve individually packaged reminders to ruminate on one’s past in the hopes of finding the subject of your inward gaze deserving of love. This is How You Smile is an album that views the world through a softly-focused and inviting lens. A fact which can lead to some unfortunate blurring of details around the edges of the frame, but which helps to keep the attention of its audience on the central focus of each song, namely, Helado Negro's midrange croon and the stories he chooses to tell with it. The experience of listening to this album can be underwhelming at times, but the passionately curated songwriting, and emotions the words draw their inspiration from, more than make up for it’s sleepier moments. This is How You Smile is well worth your time, whether you’re in the mood for self-discovery, or just in the market for a folk singer who isn’t a quaf white dude working conspicuously hard to keep urban-rustic a “thing.”
Helado Negro was just in Chicago. I’m sorry if you missed him. By all accounts he put on a solid show. Maybe he’ll be back this summer. You’ll have to keep an eye on his website for the deets.
Beware of the Dogs
Inspiring, daring, and downright lovely, Stella Donnelly’s debut full-length is every bit as biting and beautiful as last year’s Thrush Metal EP. Beware of the Dogs examines so many subjects over its thirteen tracks, it would be a whirlwind to list them all, but highlights “Old Man,” “U Owe Me,” and the re-do of hit “Boys Will Be Boys” all target a misogynistic world that the young Australian is at constant odds with. Mainly performing solo, her peach Fender and a microphone standing between her and the crowd, she is a revelation live; a heartwarming presence that is as magnetic as any seasoned performer. On record, some of that immediacy is lost, however, she is able to capture the spirit and daring that her songs imbue. This is a star on the rise and the people of the country continent should be damn proud of this export.
Schubas is hosting her on March 29th. Tix are only $12!
Gassaffelstien , Columbia
French producer Gesaffelstein brings nostalgic beats and appreciation to music in his new ten-track album, Hyperion. The album is something out of a sci-fi time machine featuring melodies from late 2000’s techno beats, ‘80s house music, hip hop melodies, and ‘70s funk. All of these are mixed together bringing a futuristic melody and feature singers such as The Weeknd, Pharrell Williams, HAIM, The Hacker, and Electric Youth. What’s interesting about his album is the song list, the songs without features have no lyrics, no one singing in the tracks, and all listeners hear is the beats and melodies. The album starts off with this fast paced mixed singular beats in its opening track, “Hyperion”, sounding like multiple electronic piano keys pressed together in a loop, Gesaffelstein starts listeners off with this minimalistic tune. “Reset”, the very hip-hop heavy beat is the type of genre the French producer is very familiar with but gives it an electronic undertone. The collaboration with The Weeknd in the song, “Lost in the Fire”, is a style that the singer is used to with the electronic meets funk meets R&B beat against the singer’s high-pitched vocals. His collaboration with singer Pharrell is very funk and disco heavy melody in the song, “Blast Off,” a very fun tune listeners can dance to. Gesaffelstein ends the album with techno tracks that homage to various famous techno songs and beats in the early 2000’s. The album is very different than what is normally played currently. What Gesaffelstein has brought is a time’s past and modernized it with current collaborations and listeners who appreciate the music.
Gesaffelstein will not be in Chicago any time soon, but hopefully we will see him in an upcoming festival.
Exploding In Sound
Fresh out of St. Louis, this sophomore effort from indie pop outfit Shady Bug contains shades of shoegaze and jangle-pop battling back and forth throughout, creating a complex and compelling record that earns the title Lemon Lime. Hannah Rainey’s sing-songy delivery perfectly matches the work of guitarist Tom Krenning, bassist Todd Anderson (now replaced by Chris Chartrand), and drummer Aaron O’Neil that patianelty lurks through these nine tracks like a snake coiling itself around the fabric of their sound before lashing out at the end of closer “Flake.” A full album peak. An explosive cacophony thirty minutes in the making. It’s worth a listen just for that thirty seconds of pure rock release.
They currently don’t have any plans to hit Chicago, but due to their proximity we don’t doubt they will turn up on at least one bill this summer.
Still On My Mind
I’m not crying. I was just chopping onions. I’m not crying. It’s just been raining… on my face. And if I am crying, it’s because I’ve been listening to Dido’s first album in six years. Full of lush melodies and lyrical content treading familiar territories of love and loss, the longing and ethereal singer brings one of her most complete works of her career on Still On My Mind. Blending her moody roots with tracks like “Give You Up” (seriously, my bourbon is currently half full of tears with this on repeat) and “Still On My Mind” with a decidedly modern and reinvigorated voice on “Hurricanes” and “Hell After This,” we get traces of Enya and Depeche Mode in a jam-packed album of surefire hits. Starting a family has really given a drive to Dido that has been only hinted at in her earlier works.
Only 12 minutes to spare? Check out these 3 tracks:
Give You Up
Still On My Mind
Postscript: Two decades after her career started, and long since her breakthrough as the only thing I liked about any Eminem song (fight me), Dido is hitting a second peak. I hope we don’t have to wait another half-decade for more, but if it’s anything like Still On My Mind – it’ll be well worth it.
Dido is bringing tears and great tunes to the Vic on June 13th. Tickets here.
Future Perfect, Present Tense
Some Kinda Love
The Indie Rock darlings from London are back with their sophomore effort, Future Perfect, Present Tense. Their debut album, Hit The Light, was filled with ringing guitars, driving synth, and even a touch of americana—a real getting out of this town with the windows down type of vibe. This time around, Ben Moorehouse and Leo Duncan find the restraint to create moods for the backyard instead of the freeway. Instead of The Boss meets The War on Drugs, we now have Fleetwood Mac meets The War on Drugs.
As I listened to the album, I was waiting for the big anthemic song, because that’s what we know from these lads. But it never came. For the Ten Fé fans out there, some call it discipline, others may call it a missed opportunity. There’s more of an acoustic and piano focus on Future Perfect, Present Tense. The opening tracks set the vibe immediately—ethereal but delicate. You won’t want to conquer the world, but you also aren’t reaching for the bourbon. The speed of the album is what really sticks out. It’s a wonderful compliment to their first album, and it also sets them up to be a dynamic live act.
Not having a repetitive sounding setlist can be a tricky thing for a young rock-band. And, in the digital age, it’s hard to cut through the noise and be different, but with these two albums, Ten Fe has a chance to make a name for themselves on the club circuit. A diverse setlist showcasing both sides of the band will be an absolute treat for the fans.
Big melodies, melodic guitars, and a rock-solid rhythm section is Ten Fe’s formula. Keep it simple, stupid.
Ten Fe will be at Schuba’s on March 30th. Tix are $12 ($15 doors).
I’ve been fighting against country music for three decades now. My dad tried to pump it directly into my veins with the likes of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams Jr, but I was more interested in “faster and louder is better.” I now think he was playing the long game. I’ve been sinking into the country genre slowly but surely over the past decade, as a longtime uber-fan of a man we won’t name here, new outlaw Sturgill Simpson, and I think I’ve told KPL how great Kacey Musgraves is once or twice – I’ll remind you again that hers is a great album and absolutely deserved the best album of the year trophy. Well shit, now we have another female country artist tipping the genre on its head and redefining what twang can be...
Maren Morris had a pretty good debut with 2016’s Hero, but the big standout was the crossover hit “The Middle” with producer Zedd. It wasn’t country, but it wasn’t firmly planted in country either. Similar to Musgraves, Morris took the stance of “if mainstream country isn’t going to recognize me, then the hell with ‘em.” With this year’s Girl, she jumps head first into that mantra – the album is spacious, dazzling, and glossy-smooth. Part of this is due to the typically magnificent work by producer Greg Kurstin. He’s been at the top of my producer list since his first album with the bird and the bee, and is rightfully getting the respect he’s long deserved.
The two of them craft a wonderfully smooth mash up of genres as varied as Americana, indie-pop, soul, and traditional rock. Because it’ll just bug the hell out of KPL, I’ll bring up Musgraves again – where she spent most of her time ribbing the industry with tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Morris goes right for the jugular. She’s “cooking up her own flavor” with stark melodies and lyrics that leave zero room for interpretation. It’s a ballsy move, and may result in even less radio play, but I think country as a genre needs a group of younger musicians to revitalize what was once a rebellious corner of the industry. Even on her sophomore effort, Maren Morris sings with the confidence of those with decades more experience than her. She’s going places for sure. Get on the boat before the entire genre shifts and you’re left in the dirt.
Only 12 minutes to spare? Check out these 3 tracks:
All My Favorite People
Postscript: 2018 was JCB babbling about Kacey Musgraves. Will 2019 be the year of Maren Morris? Time will tell.
Maren Morris is swinging through Northerly as part of Lake Shake. If that’s your thing, dust off your boots and grab your cowboy hat.
The Wild Reeds
Spirited and propulsive, the new album from L.A.based folk rockers The Wild Reeds is a joy of a record. The follow up to their breakout LP The World We Built, Cheers just keeps trucking from top to bottom. Their three-part harmonies really pop on this one, and they are embracing a more pop dynamic that was only shown in shades before. All three founding members Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee, and Mackenzie Howe share songwriting duties which could leave for a disjointed record, but Cheers is as solid and consistent as if it were written by a single individual. That’s most likely what six years touring will do, make a hive mind on the bus. Whether it’s harmonic ballad “Run And Hide” or synth pop styled “Lose My Mind” or garage rock of “Telepathic Mail” it all forms a cohesive whole that could only come from The Wild Reeds.
They are rolling through Sleeping Village on April 6th with our favs Valley Queen in support. Tix are $17.