ISSUE #55 / April 11, 2019
After touring the country with a number of bands as a drummer, David Quinn returned to Chicago, where he began his journey, with a catalog of tunes and an Americana sound that harkens back to the days of yore. Seemingly straight from the heighdays of the Opry comes Wanderin’ Fool, a phenomenal time warp collection of originals shaped by Quinn and sought after producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Langhorne Slim, and Hurray for the Riff Raff) at his studio in Nashville with the legend Dave Roe on bass, and studio players Jimmy Lester (Hayes Carll, Billy Joe Shaver), Jon Estes (John Paul White), Micah Hulscher (Margo Price,) and background singer Alexis Saski (of Americana-blues band Muddy Magnolia.) A veritable pantheon of respected studio musicians lended Quinn a hand, and the quality shows with each of these tracks standing alone and together as testaments to talented songwriting. Whether it’s the two-step honky tonk of “In My Dreams,” thew rockabilly swing of “Gap Tooth Girl,” or the folk-style ballad “We Both Know,” Quinn captures the emotions and beauty of the American West with a talent that only graces some musicians. Chicago is lucky to have him call us home.
Under The Counter
A take-no-prisoners rock record from Chicago quartet Bandy that just plain hits in all the right ways. The Challengers contains no tricks, no fluff, no effects; just straight up rock ‘n’ roll for the masses. Featuring the rhythm section from fellow local rockers MAMA (Ross Howard and Paul Parts) and stand out vocals from Adam Cohen-Leadholm, they blast out of the gates with second track, “Need For Reefer,” a Little Richard-inspired number thats subject matter needs no explanation. And the hits just keep coming with shades of Circle Jerks or Black Flag in “Cool Boys,” Elvis Costello shining through in closer “The Truth Is A Lonely Place,” and MC5’s or The Stooges’ influence running rampant throughout. These are clearly students of the genre and have covered every base with this debut full-length with plenty of party anthems interspersed with just enough thoughtful material to not be all fun fluff.
Bandy is playing Reed’s Local TONIGHT! April 11th. With Easy Habits (Final Show) and Peach Fuzz. Check it out! IT’s FREE!
When I’m Alone: The Piano Retrospective
Stripped down to their natural essences, these tunes from Rock Island, IL native and pop songstress Lissie, show the gift of songwriting the accomplished musician is blessed with. Taking songs from throughout her career and bringing them into perspective by removing the electronic elements and backing beats shows prove her true talents. Interspersed with a few covers, (gorgeous versions of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and Dixie Chicks “Cowboy Take Me Away,”) these songs come from every corner of her career, and they are all tied together by her lush and striking vocals and the spare piano instrumentation, bringing to mind legends of the genre like Tori Amos or even Carole King and Karen Carpenter. Emotive to the core, these eleven tunes are sure to bring even the staunchest critic around by standout “Best Days” and closing power ballad “In Sleep.” If When I’m Alone is an introduction to Lissie, make sure to check out the rest of her catalog for a completely different experience.
Love Keeps Kicking
After a few minutes with Martha, the irony of the name of their hometown, Pity Me, will not be lost. Straight from the English indie-punk rock tradition, Martha has been producing irreverent, self-deprecating tunes full of adult angst since 2012, and their latest effort Love Keeps Kicking, further pounds out their excellent version of catchy pop punk. With clear lines to fellow UK acts like Los Campesinos! and The Spook School, among others, Martha is right there with the heavy hitters of the genre, sporting guitar-driven rock that inspires nostalgia for young adulthood without falling into the sappy trap that can swallow bands of the genre. From the fun of tunes like “Mini Was a Preteen Arsonist,” to the affecting “The Only Letter That You Kept,” Martha runs the gamut of what pop punk can be.
There are no U.S. Dates on their current slate.
Amidst the Chaos
Epic / Sony
I seem to enjoy covering beloved artists coming off a hiatus of sorts. Whether completely shying from the spotlight or drifting off into alternative forms of creation, when they come back swinging– I’m… also swinging. Sara Bareilles, who has certainly not been inactive since 2013’s The Blessed Unrest, is back with her first set of non-Waitress-musical-related tracks. Aside from the musical, she wrote a memoir and graced the stage in Jesus Christ Superstar. She’s been active, but fans were wondering if they’d ever get back the “Brave” girl that ‘chose us.’ What we get on Amidst the Chaos may come as a shock to those fans, but it’s a fine set of tunes, regardless.
Sara has not been shy about the socio-political inspiration for this album, but casually listening wouldn’t give away a thing. Lovelorn ballads and girl-power anthems are guises for the traumatic state the shift from Obama to Trump’s America most people have experienced over the half-decade and an attempt to find meaning again. If you look hard enough, none of the songs are traditionally romantic songs from a lyrical perspective, which isn’t surprising from the woman that made it big with the ‘fuck you’ anthem “Love Song.” A song like “Armor” is blatant in its defiant feminism, though, and god is it all the better for it. In front of a lumbering doo-wop piano melody flies Bareilles’s vocals in too many inflections and octave jumps to count. She’s always had one of the strongest voices in pop, albeit not raspy or brash enough to get name-checked like her contemporaries, but this song is the perfect vehicle to show it off in all its glory. It’s a girl-power song Tori Amos or Fiona Apple would want to write in 2019, but Bareilles beat them to it and set the bar impossibly high. “Saint Honesty,” the penultimate track, is the low-key highlight of the album. It’s the true ballad of the album, and perhaps the only real gospel track among them. It features a single note held long enough to get a glass of water before it ends, if you can pull yourself away from the moving imagery Bareilles presents. The song is, ostensibly, a story of a house in the middle of a storm, having everything inside ruined due to open windows. The message, however, is that there is something sacred in hard love, and where truthfulness with those we love is the path to happiness. You might get everything wet, but allowing the mess to happen forms stronger bonds once everything is dry again. (I’m for sure mucking up that message, which is why it’s better to hear her story about a storm.)
Production-wise, the album is not as bright or electronically influenced as Bareilles back-catalogue. Instead, it’s more akin to an Alison Krauss production - moody and delicate. Listening to Amidst the Chaos on headphones, the songs were well mixed and strongly featured vocals in the front, but the production truly shines on dedicated stereo speakers. Perhaps all that stage work has rubbed off her idea of album mixing which may explain hiring producer T-Bone Burnett. Burnett, known for analog, atmospheric wizardry, smartly plants the listener in the front row for her performance. This allows Bareilles and her piano, to sit firmly in front and the varied textures of strings and percussion to sit in their respective spots on the stage. If you close your eyes, you can visualize exactly where each musician is sitting. It’s a wonderfully joyous listen, and one I don’t hear often in modern pop.
Only 13 minutes to spare? Check out these 3 tracks:
Postscript: Armor will go down as my most-listened-to song of 2019-mark my words.
Fun Fact: Saint Honesty was record live with the full band, in one take. So all that crap I said about hearing where the musicians sit: not smug crap at all.
Sara Bareilles hits United Center on October 15th – tickets on sale this Friday.
The Seduction of Kansas
No band captures these trying times better than Priests. The D.C.-area has produced its fair share of punk legends, and Priests are quickly joining the ranks. With their second full-length The Seduction of Kansas, they have hit their stride, and pack a massive punch that tears down walls from corporate America to the rampant machismo of punk rock itself. Refusing to give in and staying independent with their own label, Sister Polygon, they have forged ahead with a sound that is immediate and timely, while still holding roots in the punk of the ‘70s- particularly X-Ray Spex, and The Slits. Even better is their understanding that punk is not about self-gratification, rather, inspiring the rising of the masses to a better future. The sacrificing of the individual for the betterment of all- something that has been lost to the genre over the years as the market shifted away from protest punk. However, as their peers may come right at the subject, Priests goes around it to find the meat behind the bone. From opening scorcher, “Jesus Son,” to the rolling beats of “Texas Instruments,” this is a complete record that is in the upper echelons of this year’s best releases.
Priests is at Lincoln Hall on April 22nd. Tix are $15.
Show Me The Body
American cities are in the fight for their lives against bankers, real estate developers, and the boomers, Xers, and the handful of millennials who have managed to land cushy jobs in marketing or some vaguely defined domain within the “culture industry” or tech sector who back them (See, Lincoln Yards). It feels like the ‘70s, but instead of landowners burning down their buildings to collect insurance money, they’re evicting longtime residents and businesses that serve the real needs of their surrounding communities in order to attract condo developments, bank branches, YETI cooler storefronts, and artisan cheese-hawkers. Functionally, both these uses of city real estate have the same blighting effect, but only one will cause your rent (and/or taxes) to dramatically spike. Of all the struggles that define 2019, the fight for the soul of New York City is the one that acts as the largest reservoir for the caustic angst of Show Me the Body’s second LP Dog Whistle.
Show Me the Body is an NYC hardcore punk band that draws equally from that city’s venerated histories of youth crew chants and circle pits, discordant high-concept noise rock, and dragon-clawed, truth dealing hip-hop. Imagine if you will, Death Grips, in a gambit to shed their bougie fan base, leaping into a gambit to make a Helmet album, and ending up a desperate mangled mess, clawing its way to level ground somewhere between The Jesus Lizard and The Body. It’s the sound of a city and a people on the edge of extinction... The sounds of a culture being culled. A purge of people that clears the streets so that they can be clean, sterile, and most of all- empty. Sentiments effectively given voice on “Camp Orchestra” (a reference to the bands prisoners would form at death camps like Auschwitz) begins with a stinging, lamentful banjo riff with a rising tempo that heats until it boils over into the sludgy mallet draw of guitars while vocalist Julian Cashwan Pratt reminds the listener in a harsh pleading tone that economic forces beyond your control often render autonomous efforts futile, repeating the phrase, “no work will make you free.” “Drought” begins in a similarly unassuming and eerie manner before slipping down a manhole to plot something fraught but necessary in the sewers below, to a rashy rhythm and a nervy, skull-cracking beat. The dark, pulsing hip-hop of “Not For Love” sees the band limiting its speed to concentration their mugging of deserving targets while turning their focus on things that sincerity and ingenuity care can’t fix. Later, “Madonna Rocket” deals with disillusionment and the need to fight for a place for your loved ones amongst rushing, rending guitars and Pratt’s increasingly insistent and horse vocal rasp, and the album closes out with a defiant Zach Hill-esque noise rock slurry-slide of tortured feedback. If Dog Whistle can’t convince you to fight for your city, I’m not sure anything will.
Show Me the Body will be at Subterranean on April 13 with Rash. Tickets are only $12!
Ages and Ages
Me You They We
Needle and Thread
Earnest and addictive, Ages and Ages’ newest effort Me You They We just feels right. From the irresistible pop of opening track “Way Back In,” to the gorgeously luminescent “All the Sounds of Summer,” to the very Whitney-esqe “Day From Night,” Tim Perry and company have outdone themselves with their fourth full-length. The Portland collective have produced a record chock-full of the equally melancholic, yet joyous tunes that Ages and Ages are known for. It’s an emotive journey that ultimately ends on the touching and poignant cul-de-sac to nowhere- which as cul-de-sacs do, leads us right back to the start. Hit repeat, and let Perry take you on this touching journey once again.
Schubas is hosting them on May 31st. Tix are $12.
The most straightforward pop record of Natalie Mering’s career, Titanic Rising finds the once-experimental project Weyes Blood venturing into symphonic pop that is more akin to The Carpenters than the droning force of debut, The Outside Room. Growth is a part of any artist’s career, but Mering has slowly shifted her sound into this gorgeous concoction. While others tend to make dramatic shifts, she has prefered to alter her sound over a period of records, and in so doing has quietly become on of pop’s unsung heros. Take the Beatles-esque beat of “Everyday,” or the symphony of strings in “Wild Time,” (her most Carpenters-styled tune of the bunch), and you start to see where she is taking this project. What the future holds for Weyes Blood is, of course, a mystery, but we will be waiting patiently to see how far she can stretch her songwriting into forms that are a ying to her beginning’s yang.
She is stopping at Lincoln Hall on May 22nd. Tix are $16 ($18 doors).
American singer/songwriter Khalid releases new album Free Spirit, after teasing new songs and releasing the EP Suncity back in October. The 17-track album describes Khalid’s emotions and self consciousness, revealing his pains and mistakes in relationships with others as well as with himself. The singer begins the album with his electronic, emotionally dynamic, power ballad-heavy melody, “Intro,” where Khalid speaks to a lover and weighing in so much self doubt and negativity,he seems to know they will leave him. The smoother electric guitars and hip-hop beats of “Bad Luck,” leave Khalid’s lyrics describing his personal relationship with his inner demons and letting others know that his love comes as a whole package. While rhythmically similar, “My Bad” talks about a casual relationship; when the other person wants to get serious, he blows them off leaving what they had in the past. The singer showcases he’s human- experiencing the ups and downs of life- and brings in slower songs from the Suncity EP such as, “Better,” and “Saturday Nights,” as well as his collaboration song, “Talk” with producer Disclosure. Khalid also adds musician John Mayer in “Outta My Head,” where the duo sing a love song in a subtle pop melody along with Mayer’s electric guitar solo. Khalid also features Toronto rapper SAFE in another smooth melody, a song about calling his lover so many times without getting a response, contradicting to “My Bad.” In song’s “Heaven,, “Free Spirit,” and “Paradise,” a slower melody produces a more serious Khalid, all referring to a place of eternal nirvana for him and his love. With acoustic guitars, drum beats, and pianos, Khalid mentions spending an eternity with his love because it possibly may seem better than what he is experiencing here on Earth. The album is a weighing scale of Khalid’s battle between loving others and loving himself; the flow of the album allows listeners to hear boths sides of the spectrum, allowing them to relate to either side.
Khalid will be at the United Center on July 25th. Tickets start at $68 dollars and can be purchased here.
Melodic, while remaining edgy, Club Night is one of those perfectly indescribable acts that hits all the right buttons. On What Life, the Oakland six-piece clearly knows what they are doing, producing eight compulsively listenable tunes that never stop surprising. “Path” explodes from the start with off-kilter guitar and a syncopated beat that sets up the rest of the record with flawless precision, and by mid-record, standout “Trance” fully hooks with its minor notes and chanting vocals. By the time closers “Village” and “Thousands” come around, the addiction is complete, and repeating the experience is a compulsive action.
A tour does not seem to be on the horizon at the moment.
PUP / Rise / BMG
Winning the award for the most on-point album title goes to PUP (stands for “Pathetic Use of Potential”) for Morbid Stuff, a record packed to the gills with exactly that. Brutally honest and candid, the Toronto quartet has filled their third record with infectious, hooky tunes that are shout at the top of your lungs anthemic, with smart, irreverent lyrics that buck the status quo without slipping into the too-serious or depressing. Morbid Stuff is punk rock for the bitingly sarcastic, sensitive ass in each of us.
The Metro is hosting them on May 3rd and 23rd. Both shows are very SOLD OUT!
Passionate & Tragic
Noisy, gender-bending hardcore out of Belgium that comes at you with a fistful of glittery weirdo charm in one hand and an equally large gob of righteous feminine attitude in the other. Cocaine Piss have a unique sound, enhanced by Chicago’s own Steve Albini’s recording of Passionate And Tragic. The bass is damp and grimy, the guitars are cold and cheese-grater grade, and Aurelie Poppin’s squeaking howls are terminally enduring. The band describes themselves as crust punk, and it’s refreshing to hear a group without any black metal influences take up that tattered nomadic flag. Think The Ex sharing the stage with the Bad Brains led by an amphetamine amped Bjork. If you have a 20-minute train ride somewhere in your future, you could listen to this bad girl front to back- twice. Very accessible in that regard. Highlights include the soppy, trash-bag funk ‘n roll of “Eat the Rich,” the pliable and punchy “Body Euphoria,” and the Dead Kennedy-indebted, brief but brutish anti-assault screed “My cake.” Decadent, deviant, and seriously delightful.
No Chicago dates on their current tour. Life is cruel.
Something Wicked Marches In
Season of Mist
So 2019 seemed like it was going to kick into full gear without a genuinely badass, straightforward death metal album. Which would have been a shame because, really, what is spring without a death metal hit or two to remind us of the morbid embrace of winter during while it becomes progressively more bearable outside? For those keeping score at home, this year has already had some stellar hardcore-death crossover releases, and if brutal metal-punk homunculi are your thing, then check out the vicious tech-core of Venom Prison’s Samara and the purging fire of Whitechapel’s The Valley (both of which I review for this very magazine). In the pantheon of death metal Vltimas’ debut Something Wicked Marches In isn’t even in the same genus as these other releases, or any other release with a “death” modality in its descriptor this year.
For starters, Vltimas approaches to the spotlight with a fog of heavy air and high expectations. Comprised of guitarist Rune Eriksen of Aura Noir and ex-Mayhem fame, surviving member of Cryptopsy drummer Flo Mounier, and lead growler and bassist David Vincent, best known as the original rasping hyena of Morbid Angel, there really couldn’t be a line-up that raised more eyebrows short of exhuming and reanimating Chuck Schuldiner and chaining him to a stack of amps. As is probably clear to you at this point in a review with this much build up, there are only two ways this can go. Either the record is phenomenal, or it stinks on thin ice. If you guessed the former than you’re already two steps ahead of the other guy. Something Wicked Marches In is as potent and rightfully presumptuous at its name implies.
Tracks like “Praevalidus” (Latin, roughly translates to “power”) and “Diabolus Est Sanguis” (Latin again, this time for “devil blood”) make an immediate and impactful first impression, with head-turning double bass work that pulls the songs through a deep acidic marsh of atmospheric guitars and eviscerating vocal performances that meet the listener’s vulnerable flesh with greedy, open jaws. A perverse regal air hangs over the trepidations “Monolith” where boney riffs prowl in an around a babbling river of blast-beats like a pack of half-starved she-wolves. Among the many unique elements that set Vltimas aside from other death metal bands, is its sleek, dry delivery, reminiscent of Gatecreeper and the current Steve Tucker lead incarnation of Morbid Angel. But while this aesthetic can lead to dry rot (not the good kind) when stretched out over the course of an entire album by other bands, Vltimus’ sound feels fresh from the start and retains its stainless veneer upon multiple listens. The care the band has applied to crafting their sound and their mastery over it is most apparent on the (comparatively) slower numbers “Last Ones Alive Win Nothing” and “Marching On,” the former of which opens with a touch of mournful, doomy blues before transitioning into an unyielding, skyward cursing march, and the later has a circuitous python like quality that salivates with anticipation of stealing your breath away. It’s fantastic to see a talented metal band slow things down without losing any of their momentum. Something Wicked Marches In is going to be a hard album to top this year, but I can’t wait to see some death-heads try. Could it be the best death album of 2019? It’s way too early to say, especially with a new Possessed album dropping next month. For the time being, Vltimas shall reign supreme!
Vltimas’s HQ is in Portugal and are currently on a tour through Europe. No word on any US dates added time. Maybe we’ll get lucky this summer.
Streets of the Lost
Do you have a threadbare bathrobe you wear every night despite the side-eye your SO slides your way? How about a blown out pair of sneakers sitting in the back of your closet that you can’t bring yourself to chuck? Or maybe you sleep with a childhood stuffed animal tucked under your pillow. Everyone has things in their lives that are so melded to the fabric of their existence and so imbued with memories, good and bad, that they couldn’t imagine life without them. Big Eyes is one of these things for me. (But in musical form.) They’re like a soundtrack that follows me around, guitar parts playing over the din of the L, lyrics unearthed in my mind by conversations with passing aquatics. I can’t really remember a time when the chorus of “Back From the Moon” wasn’t on the tip of my tongue, and I feel like my life is better for it.
Big Eye’s fourth and latest LP is like their others, towering hooky riffs and bold surging vocal harmonies anchored by the timeless, fun-loving image of lead singer and songwriter Kate Eldridge weaving and anxiously smiling from stage of your local watering hole. Named for a 1983 Mary Ellen Mark photo essay of the same name, Streets of the Lost is everything you’d expect from the band, but more- so much more! I could go to war for the hooks on Almost Famous, but the way that the vocal and guitar melodies Streets are layered attains a level of enlightenment that exceeds even the high sonic sanctity of “Nothing You Could Say” and “Can’t Catch a Break.” Years of road-proofing and brow-sweet tempering have forged a band capable of channeling any of the greats from rock's storied pantheon while maintaining their sense of self. “Suddenly Nowhere” could make the boys from Cheap Trick asphyxiate themselves with their own envy, “Young, Dumb and Board” gives us a taste of countrified Pete Shelly, “When Midnight Comes” slinks and snarls like high-kicking Joan Jett homage, “Streets of the Lost” is a buzzy dark cruiser in Pat Benatar’s lane, “Lucky You” is a straight-shot of lite-beer gilded prickly R&B, while “Hourglass” was conjured for the bespoke Thin Lizzy diehard lurking in all of us. It's more than I could take in on a single listen, and repeated spins only revealed additional facet to hang my appreciation on. Big Eyes make it look too easy, but I’m not complaining.
Big Eyes is currently on tour. They have four dates in Texas. None in the midwest. I’m not mad, just disappointed.
Bachata singer and legend to the Latino and Latina millennial generation, Romeo Santos, has teamed up with other famous Bachata artists to create this full album with features from Mochy y Alexandra, Luis Vargas, El Chaval de la Bachata, and many more including his previous group Aventura. The 13-track album, Utopia, is truly a utopia of Bachata artists a lot of fans grew up listening to at home and at dance parties. Bachata is a romantic-style, Afro-Dominican-based music where singers always talk about love or heartbreak. The New York-born, Dominican Santos introduces the album with a solo song, “Soy Dominicano,” or “I am Dominican;” a song that doesn’t contain any instruments, foreshadowing that most, if not all of the artists, are Dominican. The faster-paced songs in the album such as, “Millionario,” (a song about robbing a bank to become a millionaire), and “ilseso,” a song about a woman’s deception, features electric guitar plucks and rhythms, and conga drum beats. Slower and romantic songs, such as “Anos Luz,” and “Inmortal,” are Santo’s specialty. Singing about romanticizing a woman, he always describes how much of a hopeless romantic he is- always trying to get the girl. The album is full of richness and culture, as the New York-born singer brings together the best in the Dominican Republic to create a collaboration for listeners of all ages to enjoy.
Unfortunately, there will be no upcoming tour for Romeo Santos or the Utopia album.