ISSUE #53 / March 28, 2019
Chicago’s resident guitar guru Bill MacKay returns with Fountain Fire, his second solo record for local imprint Drag City, and a stunning sonic adventure to heal the soul. Never one to shy away from the sonically adventurous, this collection continues his stunning achievements with the acoustic stringed instrument, bringing his compositions a bountiful sound with layers upon layers of gorgeously lush instrumentation. After his collaborations with fellow local Ryley Walker, MacKay emerged reinvigorated and Fountain Fire is another brick in his growing legacy. Whether it’s the quiet folk of “Birds of May,” the western country leanings of “Try It On,” or the peaks reached in the experimental compositions “Welcome” and “Arcadia,” MacKay never disappoints: producing a nexus of his styles drawn together and made whole by a true genius of the his instrument.
You can catch Mr. MacKay at The Hideout for a record release show this Friday March 29th. Tix are $10.
There is always a joyous cacophony at the center of Engine Summer’s music, and their new EP Indiana takes the dial and ratchets it up. From the Fugazi-esqe single “Outside the Curtain,” to country soul influences in “I Am a Pilgrim,” they fill every moment with enough frantic energy to light up our famous skyline. However, their stripped down three piece sound still leaves space to exist in; it’s between the notes and chords where the electricity lies. It’s more about what they don’t play at times rather than what they do. The threesome: Jeremy Marsan (guitar), Ben Kostecki (bass), and Ryan Ohm (drums) have known each other for years, but only came together as Engine Summer a few years back. They’ve grown into their own with the release of Trophy Kids in 2017 and this enigmatic release that shows off every angle of their attack. Groove filled bass lines and the dead-on drum fills leave all the room for the jagged guitar to cut across the front and right into your aural cavities. Sometimes friends have a way of bringing out the best in each other and these three guys from the burbs have a connection that very few acts can accomplish.
They are throwing an album release at Cole’s on April 26th. Cole’s is always FREE!
Slacker rock for the teenager in all of us, Juice Cleanse dropped False Start this week with a release show at The Hideout, and by all accounts tore it up with their brand of balls to the wall garage rock. They were in our very first publication, issue #0 back in Jan last year when they opened for Bully at the Bottle, and it’s clear they have made some strides since that set (where they happened to cover Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy”). Not much is available on these guys, but if you like a three chord power trio with a bit of snot nosed seventies punk inspired vocals and a generous dose of indie rock thrown in the mix, give this one a spin. This record is only up on bandcamp, so scoot on over and hit that play button for a journey through the Cleanse! If you’ve only got time for one tune in your life, peel into “If You Come Here,” their most mature and musically interesting track.
They appear on bills all the time, but they have no SM presence or website so we couldn’t find any show announcements.
Liano and Paul Cherry
A combination made in electronic music heaven, Liano (drummer for Cuco and an established L.A. DJ/groove creator) and Paul Cherry (local purveyor of all things loungy and smooth) have joined forces to create an off kilter drum and bass record for the lounge set. Cherci is a red lit room, leather couch, martini sipping, cigarette smoking, velvet sound machine. It’s eighteen minutes of pure put-your-brain- into-mute mode and lose yourself in their distinct style of electro instrumentation. Led by a distinctive futuristic vibe rooted in a soul glow, Cherci is a much needed respite from the crumbling reality that is the here and now.
Sadly neither artist has any upcoming gigs in Chicago.
My Finest Work Yet
Wegawam / Loma Vista / Concord
Whistling… a song about Sisyphus… Catalonia in 1936?! Oh shit, the Bard is back! The Chicago-bred violin-rocking indie legend Andrew Bird has never been afraid of cheeky, verbose melodrama. But I guess waiting for the listener to… you know… listen, was getting to be too much for him. While the humor usually isn’t obvious until the lyrics are heard, Bird comes out swinging here. (The title alone is in line with the cheeky rumor heard in interviews about the album being good enough to warrant its own streaming service.) He appears exhausted on the cover art, feather quill dangling after finishing the transcendent lyrical content. While these lyrics are certainly more political than what is typical of a Bird outing, they’re buried in enough classical and obscure historical references to not offend the mainstream audience. And perhaps most importantly, they’re quite hilarious. While he’s certainly been active (Handsome Family covers, a trove of instrumentals recorded in canyons and by rivers, and a myriad of other eccentricities), this is the first proper album of tunes since 2016’s Are You Serious.
As ironic as his confidence may be throughout this smart commentary on modern day life in the Trump era, he’s absolutely earned it. Vocally, Mr. Bird delivers his usual perfect pitch and sing-songy delivery. Musically, there’s something immediate to the jazz-inspired indie rock that has only been hinted at in previous releases. One has to admit that this is due in major part to the recording technique; with everyone in the same room and intermingling within the channels, rather than hundreds of individually recorded bits spliced together to make the perfect laboratory concoction. To me, this is the best way to experience Andrew Bird’s particular brand of adult alternative. Over the past 20 years, Bird has crafted his influences into something wholly unique – Appalachian acoustic romps, classical violin compositions, Baltic folk music, traditional Sufjan-esque guitar ballads, and of course… the best damn whistling in the business. His live shows are always something behold, as the elder statesmen unpacks classic songs in new and visceral ways, while generally being unafraid to unveil works in progress. You feel like you’re part of his process, ultimately taking part in the creative progression. This works wonders for the clearly reinvigorated Bird on tracks like the anthemic “Olympians,” “Manifest”’s Father John orchestral verses and onslaught of violins, and the crazy ⅞’s romp of “Don the Struggle.”
There are a few tracks that don’t seem to share this sentiment, but the majority of the record has a very flippant, yet supremely confident, attitude that we haven’t seen since Bird’s earliest efforts. After spinning his philosophical wheels for maybe a few too many years, it’s refreshing to hear someone as underrated as Andrew Bird be back in the business of making meticulously crafted pop albums.
Only 13 minutes to spare? Check out these 3 tracks:
Don the Struggle
Postscript: Is it his finest work yet? Time will tell, but I can’t tell you enough how good it is to have new tunes to whistle and hum all over the damn place. I own almost every Bird album on vinyl, and I think this will be a new addition to the dinner-preparing jukebox. If you can make the waifu and I break out into dance during mise en place, you got a winner on your hands.
Andrew Bird comes to Chicago Theatre July 16. Tickets go on sale 3/29.
American Football (LP3)
Perennially embraced by the indie music scene, Urbana’s legendary emo rockers American Football return with their second record after reuniting several years back. It took seventeen years, but 2016’s (LP2) brought together the original core who had produced the celebrated first record and then fractured apart right when they seemed poised enough to take over the first wave emo scene. Now grown men, they reunited for good it seems and (LP3) is a symphonic wonder of a record. Mellow, thoughtful, and intimate, with Mike Kinsella’s croon flowing over light, melodic tunes that tend more toward something from The National than an emo rock band, proving the enigmatic nature of American Football. Born from the ashes of emo pioneers Cap’n Jazz, along with Joan of Arc and The Promise Ring, Kinsella recruited scene vets Steve Lamos on drums and guitarist Steve Holmes to form American Football after the implosion of Cap’n Jazz. The trio released the celebrated American Football in 1999 and soon disbanded to pursue other projects. A cult following persisted for years, bleeding into Joan of Arc’s fanbase (of which Kinsella is a member). A reunion in 2014 led to their second record and now they seem to be on a roll. While the first record railed at youth and the nagging expectations of oncoming adulthood, Kinsella now seems to be struggling with the vexation of middle age years and the ever present specatar of life's degeneration. (LP3) is a quiet rumination on the small moments and desperations that come with living out this existence day in and day out.
They have a Sold Out show at The Metro this Saturday March 30th. You may still be able to find tix out there. Good Luck!
Everybody One of a Kind
Chicago born brother and sister duo Wild Belle are up to their old antics once again, producing potent genre blending dance music that compels your hips to sway and your feet to move. Taking cues from reggae and dancehall, funk and afro, new wave and synth pop, siblings Elliot and Natalie Bergman create a sound that is all of these and none at the same time. Filled to the brim with lush instrumentation and subdued grooves, Everybody One of a Kind takes the styles they pursued in their previous two records and seamlessly suffuses them together with an ease that belies the level of talent these two contain. From the reggae heavy “Ferrari” and “Rocksteady,” to the afro/hip hop combo of “We Are The Future,” to the harmonically percussive closer “If I Should Lose My Mind,” the entire record is a celebration of every musical style under the sun. Everybody One of a Kind is the kind of party record that will please everyone on the dance floor.
They are hitting Chicago twice in the coming months. At the Metro April 21st. Tix are $22. And at Northerly Island on July 31st the first on a bill with Spoon, Cage The Elephant and Beck. Tix are Sold Out as far as we can tell.
Miss Universe is a stunning full length debut from the young London singer/songwriter Nilüfer Yanya. After emerging several years back with her affecting solo performances and equally effective lyrical content, the now twenty three year old has released an absolutely killer LP that shows off every tool she has to the utmost. Structured as a concept record around the fictional WWAY HEALTH Company, with spoken word skits between tunes perpetuating the storyline, Miss Universe is not only musically adventurous, it forces you to consider corporatism and advertising in a new light. With influences ranging from indie rock, soul, modern pop, and folk, Yanya combines them all together to create a gorgeous mixture that is purely her own. Rarely has an artist this young created something that so defies categorization. With such intelligence and grace, she will soon join the ranks of fellow genius artists from across the pond like Sinead O'Connor and Annie Lennox. Yes, it’s that good.
She was just here opening for Sharon Van Etten, but we have a feeling she’ll be back this summer in a headlining spot.
Rips felt like a breath of fresh air back in 2014. In those simpler, saner times, a band could bust out driving cheesecake power-chords that could ride a stone-skipping rhythm without missing a beat, and it felt like they had solved a kind of magic rubik's cube. On their first album, Ex Hex cut through the self-aggrandizing navel spelunking of fading ‘00s indie rockers in favor of solid guitar rock fundamentals that didn’t cash-in for a cynical nostalgia review like the Black Keys. It was a perfectly balanced cocktail of keen rock sensibilities that still has a kick to it half a decade later. It’s Real really isn’t like it’s predecessor at all. Mary Timony and cohort haven’t changed their style, they’ve just eased back on the accelerator and the put the car into neutral. Nothing here reaches the woozy, dipping sugar-high of “Waterfall” or the sweaty, pool-hall pulse or “Everywhere.” Instead, It’s Real serves up half-tempo, unpolished Thin Lizzy apers like “Tough Enough.” It’s not bad, but if you’re listening sequentially, you’re going to be waiting a while before you land on anything that will put you in a mood to move. Once you reach the halfway mark, the simmering harmony driven flex of “Another Dimension,” the spacey gamma-ray fuzz of “Cosmic Cave,” and the bucking heat of the lovelorn “Radiate” pick up right where the band left off on their debut. The skronky strut of “Good Times” is also a welcome addition to the mix but it isn’t strong enough to carry the first half of the album on its own. Too many of these tracks lack momentum or a reason to be and it make It’s Real feel more obligatory than fun. It’s hard to tell if the band had said everything they needed to on their debut, or if they just needed to flush the pipes before shifting gears. I guess we’ll know for sure if or when album number three hits shelves.
Ex Hex will appear with Moaning at Thalia Hall on April 10. Show starts at 7pm. GA tickets are $20.
Strand Of Oaks
Tim Showalter wastes no time revealing his state of mind on his latest Strand of Oaks record, Eraserland. Early on, in opener “Weird Ways,” he warbles a phrase I think most of us can relate to as we age: “This scene… isn’t my scene anymore.” Whether in a career, relationship, artistic endeavor, or sudden influx of responsibility, there’s ultimately going to be a time where you look around and wonder if everything has changed or it’s just that you’ve been out of the game for long enough to notice the harsh reality of what’s always been. When that happens, I can’t fault someone for folding inward and giving up. So I don’t fault Showalter for almost not making this record.
Coming out of hiding two years after the blistering Hard Love and the birth of his son, (and only because the majority of My Morning Jacket forced him as his new backup band), Showalter offers an hour of the introspective folk rock we’d come to expect from the Strand of Oaks project. But, his is a sound that appeals to classic rock aficionados as equally as all the amateur indie critics. With a dusty Midwestern classic rock sound, and lyrics that ponder just what the fuck you’re supposed to do as an aging rocker still trying to make it in LA, this may be, ironically, the most accessible Strand of Oaks record yet.
Over 11 songs, you’ll find Crazy Horse psych-rock jams, spacey instrumentals, power pop, Petty-style heartland rock, and early U2 arena rock anthems. It’s hard not to hear all Showalter’s influences in each track – War on Drugs clearly shine through as fellow Philadelphians and harbingers of the undying, aging rock sound. I don’t mean to slight the band that helped him create two wonderful reverb-soaked folk-rock albums, but maybe the upending of Showalter’s life as he knew it allowed him to truly find the voice he’d been anxiously searching for since 2014.
Only 15 minutes to spare? Check out these 3 tracks:
Postscript: I feel like I tend to write about musicians coming back from a hiatus after having a kid. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something.
Fun fact: Keep an ear out for the earth-shattering solo from Jason Isbell – another goliath of the genre that helped resurrect this rocker and create a cathartic record for those that aren’t sure what to do next.
Strand of Oaks swings through Lincoln Hall on May 3rd – tickets here.
On The Line
Indie rock’s resident Queen Jenny Lewis has been melting hearts and causing tears to flow since her days as frontwoman of the majorly influential Rilo Kiley and teaming up in the supergroup The Postal Service. Her third solo record On The Line continues her personal musical revelations with a country-folk leaning collection of tunes that can come off as a collection of singles; however, several listens form into a moody, fused-together tale of her life as it stands. Middle-age finds the artist bemoaning past choices in “Wasted Youth,” reflecting on married life with “Hollywood Lawn,” and mourning her recently-deceased mother in “Little White Dove.” Lewis has been a mature artist for many years now, but On The Line is her first work to intensely explore getting older and the choices one has to face as life starts to reach its inevitable conclusion. This is Jenny Lewis coming into her own as a solo artist, and the future sure looks bright for the heroine of every teenager’s indie rock dreams.
Ms. Lewis is hitting The Riv this Saturday, March 30th. Tix are $35.
Just Calm Down
Formed around guitarist and songwriter Elena Nieto and drummer Martin Muñoz, this young punk duo from Madrid could be lumped into the current wave of Spanish indie rock with the likes of Los Odio, Melenas, and of course Hinds. But what stands Yawners apart is their no nonsense, intensely emotive look at youth. Young romance, drug use, fights with friends, and inevitable breakups; Just Calm Down rolls through all these subjects and more. As promising as debut records come, this one is filled to the brim with impressive moments like Nieto’s vocal chops on tunes like “Arco Iris” and “La Escalera,” and the quick drum fills from Muñoz throughout. Plus, if there is any justice in the world, closer “I’m Not Gonna Miss You Anyway” should become a teen anthem the world over.
No Stateside dates for these rockers yet.
Ibibio Sound Machine
What started out as a lab test of cross-pollinating West African funk and British drum and bass at the end of the ‘00s, Ibibio Sound Machine has since blossomed into a flourishing garden disco-ball spinning perennial that is quickly taking the world by squenced storm one funky flower patch at a time. Lead in spirit, and secured in substance by vocalist Eno Williams, the eight-member band approaches afro-beat like it was a message of peace, hand-delivered to them by a race of extraterrestrials whose appearance is suspiciously reminiscent of the members of Kraftwerk. Their guitar tones are surprisingly damp and warm for a group who draw such deep inspiration from such unsaturated sources as the Talking Heads, but I think the Tony Allen influence helps keep the blood pumping through these mixes. Their third album Doko Mien continues to refine the sound that has defined them and rightfully earned them the divine critical providence they enjoy today. With some marked departures into deep-groove, lip-chewing R & B like on the velvety “I Know That You’re Thinking About Me,” which is more reminiscent of a sub-Saharan TLC then Fela Kuli. It’s good to see the band exploring their sound without losing their way. Other than the handful of silky slow jams, Doko Mien is every bit the follow up you’d expect to 2017’s Uyai. Opener, “I Need You to Be Sweet Like Sugar (Ngne Nte Suke),” is a golden, flaky sonic confection with a funky fudge center and krautrock icing. The catchy “Wanna Come Down” has a hip-swiveling, ear-bending gravity to it, while the deliberate slap-and-shuffle of “Tell Me (Doko Mien)” picks up the momentum and the insistence with which Williams demands her audience’s attention and affection. On the album’s second half, the group boldly goes where few funk bands have gone before with the hyperspace voyage, “She Work Very Hard,” and the nebula parting amble of “Kuka.” Whenever you think this band has topped themselves, it turns out they’re just getting started. Doko Mien is just further proof that Ibibio Sound Machine is untouchable.
Ibibio Sound Machine only have four tour stops in the US this year. None of which are in Chicago. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
Always experimenting with the form, hardcore standouts La Dispute have released another opus with Panarama. Delving deep into everyday stories and news events, singer Jordan Dreyer has never shied away from the uncomfortable or emotional, and this new collection finds the Grand Rapids, MI group at possibly their most raw and exposed. Intensely focused, Panorama takes snapshots of real life and explores it with a microscope. Dreyer’s humanistic viewpoints take center stage while the melodic, backing moments are interspersed with heavy doses of hardcore mania. It’s typical La Dispute foder, but the tight production and inspiring instrumentation takes their Epitaph debut to new heights of post-rock glory.
The Michigan hardcore collective is coming to Thalia Hall on April 23rd. Tix are $22.50.
After leaving FIDLAR as they started to reach punk stardom, Danny Nogueiras was searching for himself. After building a recording studio he named Balboa, he was inspired to write and record this phenomenal pop punk masterclass. True to the form, this is as personal as music gets- he explores his years in his hometown of Downey, a sleepy suburb south of L.A. Hindsight is always an element of melancholic pop punk, and Nogueiras explores his salad days with a fine-tooth comb, uncovering dreams long, unfulfilled, romances of the past, and the days and nights gone by when the party was all that mattered. Recorded with scene vets Jeff Enzor (Joyce Manor), David Jerkovich (Kind Of Like Spitting, Novi Split), and Juan Liñan, and engineered by John Goodmanson (Blonde Redhead, The Posies, Sleater-Kinney) the cohesiveness of downey is undeniable, and NO WIN should have a bright future in the always fickle punk scene.
They are opening for Failure and Swervedriver at The Rave/Eagles Club in Milwaukee on April 7th. Tix are $30.
Mary Lattimore and Mac McCaughan
New Rain Duets
Enigmatic harpist Mary Lattimore and the equally hard-to-categorize frontman of Superchunk, Mac McCaughan, have joined forces to bring the world their first collaboration, New Rain Duets: a 45-minute, four-part suite of ambient beauty. A sonic tour de force, Lattimore has been producing solo harp music for years now, and now joined by McCaughan, their duo knows no bounds. It’s meditative, velvet exterior is peeled apart layer by layer until the real meat beside the bone is exposed. This is not your typical ambient record, as Lattimore’s deft fingers drift across her instrument with a calm resolve born only from decades of familiarity with the most difficult of crafts while McCaughan creates a soundscape equally as compelling for the harpist to play within. This is two true artists blending their collective will to birth sonic magic.
The two are about to embark on a tour together, but alas it does not contain a stop in our city.
Dead Tired / New Damage
Buckeye state hardcore band Dead Tired have assembled their first three EPs into an LP they’ve christened Full Vol (appropriate tited as a descriptor of both its contents and its decibel levels). You’d be forgiven for mistaking the album for a reissue of a recently recovered ‘80s Bay-area gem. There is a discernable disdain for post-production, favoring a rough and ready recording, balanced just enough to capture the pummel of the group’s performances. They’re clearly fans of Keith Morris-era Black Flag, but the influence of late coming, booze-infused, Americana atomizing, brain-boilers Annihilation Time is undeniable and looms ominously over the proceedings, like a demon leering over the headboard of a sinner’s bed in a medieval woodcut. This is especially true for the razor-wire rollercoaster “She’s In My Eyes.” In addition to being a solid hardcore band in their own right, Dead Tired is also an impressive second act for lead singer, George Pettit. Pettit's previous band Alexonfire typified the accessible, supine shrieking post-hardcore that meandered its way up the charts back at the turn of the last century. On a personal level, I’m always intrigued by musicians who make the transition from radio-friendly emo-adjacent rock to more straightforward hardcore. It’s not supposed to work that way, but it's a fascinating transaction to witness when it occurs. It's like watching a house cat give birth to a king cobra. You can’t be sure how it happened or if there is some black magic involved, and you're probably better off not knowing either way. I seem to have gotten off topic. Anyway, listen to Dead Tired's new album! I guarantee that it will unnerve your roommates some degree less than the sudden appearance of a poisonous reptile in your rental unit.
Dead Tired unfortunately doesn’t tour much.
Cows On Hourglass Pond
Of the three main artists to make up Animal Collective, it is obvious that Avey Tare (aka David Portner) is the melodic one. The members grounded their music and added the poppy, catchy glow that appealed to the masses when they hit it big late last decade. While Panda Bear has enjoyed the most success as a solo artist, due to his prolific output, Avey Tare has prefered to take his time and craft well-honed, elusive-to-categorization releases that only further reinvigorate the Animal Collective mythos. Cows On Hourglass Pond finds him exploring his melancholic side with a body of tunes that has a lo-fi exterior surrounding the endearingly complicated interior thoughts of a man conflicted. At odds with nature but wanting to embrace it, seeing age clearly creeping in while rejecting its influence, and knowing the end is coming for us all while refusing to accept the inevitable, are all themes that creep throughout these ten tunes. Possibly his most accessible record outside the Animal Collective fold, Cows On Hourglass Pond just adds a fitting chapter to the legend of Avey Tare.
He is coming to Co-Prosperity Sphere on April 6th but it Sold Out long ago...
Violen Concerto - “Eleven Eleven”
Amongst great movie composers such as John Williams and Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman has moved movies emotionally through his music and songs. Remembering classic favorites such as Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, and the Tim Burton Batman movies, Elfman’s composing has brought dimensional emotions to love scenes, action scenes, and he’s been blessing fans with his voice in musicals. His new piece, Violen Concerto- “Eleven Eleven,” stamps Elfman’s style with a symphony of strings, percussions, as well as a airy sprinkling of lighter instruments, a well-known musical choice. The concerto moves beautifully between the solo violinist and elongated strides of depth in the saddening tune, leading to the orchestra pieces that give off this dramatic battle between percussion and strings. Eflman pieces this nine-track album creating a lyrical story and emotional depth that resides in the movies he composes for. Listeners can create a movie in their mind while listening, balancing the dramatic and playful in this concerto album.
No Chicago shows for “Eleven Eleven” in concert, hopefully we will see Elfman later on this year.