ISSUE #57 / April 25, 2019

Pink Avalanche

Sounding like they scrapped themselves off the ground of a Chicago back alley, the sludgy, grinding trio Pink Avalanche’s third record (simply titled, III) is an exercise in musical patience. They take their time with every element, building a coordinated dark aura through opener “Before the Bullet Leaves the Barrel” before systematically letting the leash out over the next track, then destroying in the final minute of highlights “Analogues” and continuing to rage through “Int1,” until they rein it back in... An effective method employed throughout III: constructing a mood over several tracks and then tearing it down in a searing swirl of crunching noise. With Che Arthur on guitar and vocals, Kortaland Chase rocking the bass, and Adam Reach tearing up his kit, Pink Avalanche is one of those power trios that isn’t afraid to stretch its limits, creating a sound much bigger and broader than the traditional trio.


They just had their Record Release party at The Empty Bottle last weekend, and are on a short East Coast run, we hope they are back on a Chicago stage soon!


Professor Fox

With a deep emotional streak, local pop duo Vesper has released the revelatory Years upon the world. They stand by the “belief that dance music can still be earnest,” and the two stand by that claim with a deeply poignant and incredibly rhythmic record that weaves the gorgeous vocals of Samantha Humphreys with the bright, or mellow, electro pop of Professor Fox in a seamless combination. (Think Chvrches without the cryptic messages or Phantogram with a more spare focused edge, and you start to get close to Vesper’s magnetic sound.) Easily transitioning from ballads like opener “Bells,” and the affecting, “Better,” to bangers such as “Rooftops,” and “Bird,” Humphreys and Fox have produced a debut full-length that is well crafted, diversely styled, and ingeniously tailored to their strengths.


The Empty Bottle hosted their Record Release last week, and they currently don’t have any local shows lined up, but be on the lookout cause they are not to be missed this summer.


Pivot Gang
You Can’t Sit With Us
Pivot Gang

A massive amount of Chicago flavor and references pepper the first full-length from Westside hip-hop collective Pivot Gang. Full of groove-induced beats and smooth flows (the same mellow mood that member Saba rode last year to make an impact on the national scene), You Can’t Sit With Us is yet another testament to Chicago’s growing influence on the indie hip-hop scene. A family affair, Pivot Gang is made up of brothers Saba and Joseph Chilliams and brothers Frsh Waters and SqueakPIVOT, fellow rapper MfnMelo, producer daedaePIVOT, DJ/producer Dam Dam, and the late John Walt (the co-founder who passed in 2017. They pay tribute to him on the album cover while gathered in front of his portrait.) Joined for features by fellow local artists Mick Jenkins, Benjamin Earl Turner, and Smino, the squad has produced a cohesive collection that feels like it belongs in the upper echelons of both hip-hop’s local and national consciousness. With plenty of lyrical acrobatics and intelligent rhymes, every member flows through their verses with an effortless ease. This is serious hip-hop for the dedicated fan.


Hopefully they get together for a show sometime soon. It’s been a few months since they honored John Walt at Concord back in November.


The Story Changes
To Hell With This Delicate Equation
The Story Changes

Ohio emo-rock supergroup The Story Changes have done it again with the arresting To Hell With This Delicate Equation, the trio’s fifth record since forming over a decade ago. Made up of Hawthorne Heights members Mark McMillon (vocals, guitar) and Christopher Popadak (drums), and The Stereo’s Chris Serafini (bass, vocals), they have combined the two bands’ aesthetic into a powerhouse of modern rock that hits on all cylinders. Recorded in a studio they built between tours in McMillon’s home in Dayton, they worked on the record in a relaxed setting over the course of a year- an experience that allowed them to experiment with the band’s eclectic sound that runs the course from ‘90s hard rock, to second generation emo, to modern radio rock. From the punk leanings of “Where to Start” and “Golden Age” to power ballads “Bend and Break” and “Cleveland,” the three combine to make some truly affecting rock that pays tribute to those that came before while looking toward the future of what 21st-century rock will become.


To Hell With This Delicate Equation releases this Friday, April 26th, on all streaming services and vinyl and CD via Magnaphone Records.


Ari Roar
Best Behavior
Bella Union

Light and breezy with a finely crafted stirring punch to the gut hidden inside, the music of Dallas, Texas’ Ari Roar really hits close to home on new record Best Behavior. While the tunes remain decidedly jangly and upbeat, the unassuming Caleb Campbell lyrically spills his guts on everything from pent up anger (“Let Out”) to seeing the world with a new perspective (“In Your Shoes”) to life’s events becoming overwhelming (“My Luck Is Up”). While last year’s debut Calm Down was a storytellers record with a fine craft already in place, the talented Campbell has succeeded in topping it with the follow up, juxtaposing psych-pop craft with a patently questioning nature that holds a microscope up to our modern life, and doesn’t always like what is revealed.


He is currently not on tour, but you can order the record through Bella Union!


Daniel Norgren
Wooh Dang

Bedroom-pop mastermind Daniel Norgren has created a gem of a record with Wooh Dang. The Swedish singer/songwriter crafted a gorgeous album for his first international release. Steeped in Americana, pop, and indie-rock, with sounds influenced from the likes of Van Morrison and Neil Young to Andrew Bird and Jim James, Norgren utilizes a myriad of conceats to create something wholly his own. From the rollicking bluesy tune “Dandelion Time” that would be right at home in The Big Easy, to intense ballad “The Flow,” containing Bird-like whistles, Norgren captures an amalgamation of pure Americana glow to propel Whooh Dang into the stratosphere of excellence.


He has no U.S. dates on his current tour.


Cuz I Love You
Nice Life , Atlantic

Singer Lizzo brings raw, female-empowered, and sexy elements to the table for her 11-track third album, Cuz I Love You.  Lizzo introduces the album with soulful first song, “Cuz I Love You” while hitting notes beautifully against a backdrop of a slow tune and heavy instrumentals. This song also boasts funny lyrics about Lizzo realizing she wants to change from her outgoing ways and settle down. “Jerome,” another soulful song in the album, celebrates Lizzo’s deep vocals and lyrics, shouting out a heartfelt breakup song for a booty call. Lizzo brings not only female-empowering songs but self-empowering songs as well, such as “Like A Girl,” where she praises women of all shapes and sizes with an amazing chorus, and “Tempo,” featuring fellow Minnesota native Miss Elliot with a hip-hop/pop melody seducing listeners to not only the beat but their love their full figures in the lyrics.  Lizzo also features rapper Gucci Mane in song “Exactly How I Feel,” a very up-beat pop song about honesty and not sugar-coating feelings, regardless of whether people choose to love or hate. Cuz I Love You ends with a sweet and sexy song, “Lingerie,” with a slow R&B and jazzed-infused melody and soft, supple vocals that gradually lead up to her climatic vocals with a heavy electric guitar. Lizzo features vulnerability in her vocals and lyrics to describe herself in lingerie while waiting for her man to get home. This album is a fun listen where Lizzo brings her artistic talents vocally and lyrically. With only two features, the album focuses on the artist and her look onto modern life situations and personal stories.


Lizzo has sold-out shows May 3rd and 4th at the Riviera Theater. (3rd-party websites have them starting at $98; they can be bought here.)


After The Burial

Founding guitarist, and sole remaining original member of After the Burial, has gone on record saying that Evergreen is a “wholehearted After the Burial” record. (Without knowing more about the band, this may seem like an odd statement.) You don’t hear many bands describe their new release in such “yup- sounds like us” terms and feel like you have much to look forward to, but After the Burial isn’t just any other progressive metal band. They are a band that helped write the playbook for the technical metal with mass-appeal in the ‘00s. When you hear the genre signifier “djent,” there are only a handful of bands whose sound the terms should bring to mind. One is Meshuggah, another is Periphery, and close behind these two is After the Burial (who also join Periphery in the league of “progressive metalcore” progenitors). This is a band known for their experimentation and willingness to test boundaries, and who have struggled somewhat to regain their footing since the tragic death of founding member Justin Lowe in 2015. Therefore, releasing a record that is definitively “them” is worth taking note of. Evergreen opens strong with “Behold the Crown,” featuring rotating, siren-like guitar shrieks that break into a galloping clash of undulating chords and burning, blast-beat rolls that sound like the gears of a massive war machine rapidly mobilizing to begin a devastating campaign against an odious and deserving foe. The momentum of the album is maintained by the serpentine, fire-whip of “Exit, Exist” which delivers a battery of guitar rhythms that are as concussive as the furious drum work they accompany. Tracks like “In Flux” and “The Great Repeater” revel in the band’s more straightforward hardcore influences, like a shamelessly down-tuned Incendiary, orphaned at a young age and raised by wolves, who themselves were raised by pitiless Meshuggah-worshipping militia. The highest point in the album is appropriately summitted at the midway-point with the sunbathing, clean guitar tones of “Reprise,” a song that is epic in its defiance of expectations, leaping to ever-higher peaks of technical and melodic excellence with each scorching verse. In the midst of a ‘00s revival, where even nu-metal is receiving a serious cultural reappraisal, there could be no better time for After the Burial to replant their flag in familiar ground and to remind us of their rightful place in the modern metal pantheon.


After the Burial won’t be in Chicago this spring/summer. If you want to catch them with Killswitch Engage you will have to venture up to Milwaukee on May 16 to catch them at the Rave.


With This Thread I Hold On
Good Fight

On Chokehold’s reunion album With This Thread I Hold On, the Canadian-heavy hardcore home-skillets make it feel like 1995 again. Not in the, “life is but a dream and this economic boom will never end so let’s order a pizza, dream about our bright futures, and while we gossip about the will-they/ won't-theys of the last episode of Friends” kind of way, but more like a kid in an dirty Earth Crises giving you an unsettlingly hard look from the corner outside of a 7/11 as you speed past him with a McDonald’s cheeseburger hanging out of your mouth on your way home to catch the season opener of X-Files: that '90s. The kind that most people only ever caught a glimpse of. The parts of the '90s that inspired a striking, but ultimately fleeting realization, that someone with fewer means than yourself knows more about the world than you do, and what they know about the world you share is too ugly to contemplate from your protective bubble of relative privilege. Chokehold was one of those bands at the forefront of anti-homophobia, pro-choice, and animal rights movements who presented positions that seemed radical at a time when Boy actually Meets World, but today are thankfully more commonplace (at least amongst decent folks like you and I). It’s fitting that almost 25 years after Content with Dying cratered into the punk scene, that Chokehold offer With This Thread I Hold On to a world whose better parts they helped to cultivate. Beginning with “2.0,” the band picks up where they left off many moons ago, with chugging three-beat sucker-punches, teeth-rattling Infest-esque vocal haymakers, and down-tuned back-swinging guitar hooks. “Profit Over People” and “No Shelter” give us a taste of sour ‘90s sludge with a dusting of Unbroken, the latter of which reaches up to pull elements of Quicksand and emo-core into the suffocating embrace of its sticky breakdowns. “Silenced” imbibes an intimidating swill of Converge brand d-thrash refined gas which it then spews into an open flame in a warehouse full of sawdust, and “G.O.D.” begins by applying downward pressure and refuses lets up until the feedback from the final super-compressed chord dissipates over the pulp that's left between your ears. At a time when western governments are flirting more openly with nationalistic hate-mongering than ever, and seemingly no will political can be mustered to combat racist murders, the highjacking of free speech by bullying man-children, a system that enforces economic insecurity, and the possibility of a looming planet-wide extinction, music as potent as Chokehold’s gives me and others the strength to fight another day.  


It looks like Chokehold is keeping pretty close to the east coast this summer. No Chicago dates in sight.