ISSUE #66 / june 27, 2019
Central to Divinio Niño’s sound are their three vocals layering and weaving around one other. These Latino lads have been playing their signature soulful, dreamy sound and inspiring love and devotion around Chicago for years, but this album is a leap forward in production value. The tight layers of percussion are more prevalent in the mix which gives that must-move feeling. The rhythms are just one part of the glistening production of this album. It really shows off these guys’ ability to craft a great pop tune, like the bilingual message of love on “Quiero.” The hook is tight in both English and Spanish. I got shivers from the husky vocals on “Plastic Love.” The epic reverb, psyched-out vocals, and Latin-flavored guitar/rhythms of “Koda” really plug in to what makes their sound crackle. Give this album a spin, but be ready to swoon.
Their next show is July 8 at Empty Bottle $12
Herculean House of Cards
Sometimes the brightest among us cannot be contained. Their boundless creativity burns so bright it drives them to seek solace in innebreation. It’s a story as old as music, and unfortunately, local troubadour Trey Gruber was a victim of this affair. Since his tragic passing, which hit the Chicago music scene incredibly hard, his partner Jessica Viscius (of Bunny) and Mother, Désirée Gruber, dug through hundreds of live, studio, and home recordings to unearth this astonishing posthumous collection. A stunning piece of musical majesty, mixed by Paul Cherry, one of Gruber’s collaborators, Herculean House of Cards is a gut-wrenching listen. His mix of bedroom indie rock with flavors of ‘70s southern rock and psych-folk leanings was the perfect compliment to his impressively introspective lyrics. At times, it feels like he saw his own demise on the horizon and felt the need to document the process. Moments are brimming with vitality, while others like the ballad version of “Eisenhower To The West Side,” “Mama’s Way,” or the tear-jerking closer “Hammer Out The Edges,” are full of a devastating self reflection that is prophetic in its pure beauty. This is a must-own record for any Chicago music fan. Herculean House of Cards will be getting a self-released double LP (pre-order here). Net proceeds will be donated to the Gateway Foundation.
Plastic Crimewave Syndicate
Massacre of the Celestials
A psych rocket to the moon! Plastic Crimewave Syndicate have chronicled the end of life as we know it with Massacre of the Celestials. Ripping the lid off this sonically inventive story is Plastic Crimewave himself (aka: guitarist, Chicago scene documentarian, and cartoonist guru Steve Krakow) with his partners in crime Cosmik Jru (Drew Kettering of Twila Bent and others) on bass and Jose “The Beast” Bernal destroying the kit. Heady, acid jazz-influenced, sax from Tarialie Peterson (Spires That In The Sunset Rise) tears through these tracks with the force of an apocalyptic battering ram, and the mixture of influences, from funk to metal to ‘70s psychedelia, is dizzying in its scale and scope. Not for the faint of heart, Massacre of the Celestials drives right into your brain with an utter disregard for your sanity, to bring you right to the peak of musical ecstasy.
Their next Chicago show is July 20th at Reggies opening for Poobah and Dead Feathers. Tix are $10.
A full eight-piece band that delivers soulful rock with only smooth edges and three different vocalists who bring variety and amazing harmonies. On “Crazy About You,” they give us some Motown backup vocals and blaring horns. However, on “Sometimes,” we get a bit more of a ‘60s beach party feel... With horns, keys, guitar, and vocals all shining through at different points, “Dry Land” has that ‘go big or go hom- ballad feel. With some members from Chicago, we are sure to see and hear plenty from these guys.
We just missed them at SPACE in Evanston
The Levee, is the second album by producer and musician, Sun Cop, also know as R. Andrew Humphrey has gained a following for his own music as well as for producing, engineering, and mixing bands like Twin Peaks, Paul Cherry, Divino Nino, and Calpurnia, to name a few. The Levee features an all-star cast of Chicago indie-scene musicians put together by Humphrey. Between finding ‘how-to-get-the-most-out- of-your-sound-equipment,’ to picking up and learning different instruments, his musical range is on full display. This piece of work for Sun Cop sounds like Humphrey soaking up every experience he has while being in the studio and working with other musicians and producers. He is able to fine-tune all of the things he learns to fit the sound he is going for. Transitioning back and forth from indie rock to psych-pop and keeping it all on the experimental side, The Levee, not only shows Humphrey’s masterful skills as a producer and musician, but also his song writing. “Give Us What We Want” is an anthem, calling for justice and wanting to shine a light on the disparity in the city. The title track, “The Levee,” is one of the coolest instrumentals with Mathew Roberts (Mild High Club, Paul Cherry, and The Fly Honeys) on drums, Paul Cherry(Paul Cherry) on bass, Colin Croom (Twin Peaks) on piano, Cadien James (Twin Peaks) on guitar, and R. Andrew Humphrey programming. This song encapsulates creativity and openness and allows for everyone involved to add their own unique touch.
Sun Cop does not have any upcoming shows.
Chicago band, Engines are taking the best of pop-punk (the punch and emotional immediacy) and giving it more dynamics. More ground to explore. More noise. The guitar on “Spring/Summer Train” has both definition and floating reverb. The drums are hitting front and center, but also drop out completely. The vocals are big and strong, and emotional. The music completely changes tone on the third track ,“The Marrow.” Suddenly we are at a ‘50s school dance. The transition is masterful. And the song is lovely. The slight dissonance putting it on edge and keeping it on that gritty garage-rock feel, so when the song opens back up to their more typical fuzzy power-chord sound, it is completely satisfying. That track alone is worth giving the whole EP a listen.
Sadly, no upcoming shows.
Imelda Marcos, consists of Matt Durso (drums) and Dave Cosejo (guitar) and are a powerhouse duo. This is their third piece of work and first out on Already Dead. Tatlo, is entirely an instrumental album of noise, prog, and math rock. (Still unsure if that still can accurately describe what you are in for when listening to this piece.) “Antlertounge” is probably the best place to start. This song is a good intro for a new fan, where it is easily approachable and still close to the uniqueness of Imelda Marcos. “Murmuration Nocturne” is a looping trance-trip. You just stand back and are left saying, “whoa.” The duo make each song a driving force by beating the songs into you. Not afraid to push the limits of music, Tatlo, is looking forward and racing to see where they can take it. Due to unknown reasons, Imelda Marcos’ show at the Empty Bottle got pushed back to July 12th; they will be celebrating their record release on that evening. I am intrigued to see Tatlo performed live for the experience of power brought forth by Durso and Cosejo. (Also, the album is good.)
Their record release show is at the Empty Bottle on July 12th. Tickets are $8.
Pulling from jazz, hip hop, electronic, funk, and indie, Chicago duo Bonelang is stretching the definition of rap: They are not the first, but this kind of experimentation is still risky. It takes a delicate touch to pull it off. The bass line on “Anvil” really brings the funk. They go indie with “Astronaut” That noise jazz on “No Use Cursing the Weather” stopped me in my tracks (and got my Lyft driver interested in hearing more). “Yellow Teeth Da Di” has some slamming electronic rhythms, but it is the lyrics that really caught my attention: It’s a hard look at societal violence, expectations, and structures. When the refrain comes in, “Choke bitch, choke bitch, choke,”as a woman, it can be hard to listen to. But the triggering language is important to the emotional heft of the song. It is condemning the patriarchy, not cheering it on. Expressing the endless cycle of struggle that is hustling to get ahead and being put down. Throughout, the lyrics are thought- provoking. Together with slamming music, I will be revisiting and unpacking this album for some time to come.
Nothing scheduled right now, hope to see that change soon!
Take This To Heart
Catchy, sing-along jams is not Telethon’s M.O., yet the latest release from the Wisconsin rockers is chock full of bright chanting choruses and pop hooks that just won’t let go. Hard Pop finds the inventive five-piece venturing into new territory. Gone are the high concept rock operas, skits, and gimmicks; in their place are ten solid pop punk gems (not a skipper among ‘em) that shine as bright as they are infectious ear worms. Obviously they are having the time of their lives playing these songs, and the pure joy that exudes from the ska influences in “Wanderparty,” and the emo stylings in “How Long Do I Let It Go For?” and closer “Manila,” offset the raucous pure punk of “Chimney Rock” and the latter half of opener “Loser / That Own Private Hell.” A delightfully light affair that disguises its darker undertones with plenty of shining pop gloss, Hard Pop is one of this week’s most intriguing listens.
Unfortunately they were just here last week and don’t have any more Chicago dates on their current slate.
Watching A Garden Die
Josh Berwanger is a Kansas City institution. His influential work with the Anniversary, the Only Children, and now supergroup Radar State has led to a solo career devoted to the exploration of a classic rock sound mixed with indie rock spirit. His latest project, Watching A Garden Die (out this Friday, June 28th), is chock-full of tight harmonies, hooky indie pop ballads, and his lyrical observations that pull at the gut while warping the soul to his whim. With “Paper Blues,” Berwanger channels Beatles-esque harmonies into an affecting tune that sticks around long after its last chord fades, while “When I Was Young” captures middle-age nostalgia with near perfect aplomb. Final track “Remain Untamed” rounds out the record with its perfectly syncopated beats and chorus: “Don’t change, even if it don’t work out / Nooo / Wild horses will remain untamed / Don’t change, even if it don’t work out / Always know, a small victory is how you grow.” Young musicians are perennially full of hope and vigor, but it’s the seasoned pros who can continually surprise.
We’re hoping for a tour in the future but for now it appears Berwanger is keeping it close to home.
Harriette Pillbeam wants to put your heart in a locket and string it around her neck on a golden chain, just to feel it beat next to hers all day and on through the night. Keepsake is the Australian singer and songwriter’s debut LP under the name Hatchie and takes the lovelorn, swooning motifs of the Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star and dresses them up in modern bedroom pop sensibilities of Japanese Breakfast and Sir Babygirl, with flares of New Zealand’s Broods to help give accent to the assembly. It’s low-key pop that rumbles with self-assured dignity, relishing in the burning glow of its own desire as it roars in a pillowy sanctuary of blooming gusts of sugar-glazed distortion and warm carbonated synths. Bubblegum for the bedroom, hard taffy for the streets. “Without A Brush” opens with a buoyant swell of rhythmic sound reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine at their most inviting, patient, moments, inventing a ribbon-dance as it twirls forward, skimming the surface of boney synth cords and a lusciously languid melody. “Obsessed” takes more direct post-punk ques, allowing its Cranberries-esque melody to rest comfortably on a bed of furry feedback and cooing angular guitars with an airtight beat for a backboard. “Unwanted Guest” pushes the listener away only to reel them back in with a twist of its wrist in an intimate tango of tenses and releases that is impossible to resist. If Carly Rae Jepsen was planning to release a shoegaze album, I regret to inform her that someone has already beaten her to the punch. Keepsake is a promising debut that gleefully anticipates and relishes your attention and adoration, and desperately wants to share the high of its vibe with the audience. It invites us to participate in its ecstasy and excitement and to never keep our feelings from ourselves, or others.
Hatchie will swing through Chicago to play the Empty Bottle on September 12. Tickets start at $15.
If you like your rock raw and fast and angry, Mannequin Pussy has a new album just for you. (And of course, they are aggresively, strikingly feminist.) If you can’t handle it, you best look elsewhere. But if you can manage to say their name out loud, you might just be worthy of receiving their exploration of modern womanhood wrapped up in guitar-centric garage/punk/thrash rock. They know how to go from fuzzy wash to cutting riff. Scream to sigh. They start strong with the pop-punk bouncy title track, “Patience” and follow that strength with another. The single “Drunk II” came out ahead of the album and is the most dreamy pop/hook driven on the album. Just in case you are getting too comfy, they follow it with a screaming thrasher in “Cream.” Really a brilliant trio to give you a preview of what Mannequin Pussy has to offer. Can I just tell you, my fav track is the last on the album, “In Love Again?” I love that they end with a note of optimism… I suppose I am a romantic at heart.
September 11 at Schubas, $12
A Beacon in the Husk
Abyssal is an aptly-named British death metal band who you likely are unaware of because their members are, for the most part, anonymous, and you probably haven’t spent much time at the bottom of the ocean (which is what their name means according to Google). Yes, friends and fiends, it’s time for 20,000 leagues under Portal, in a leaking submersible driven by one of the blind dead from a Hooded Menace album cover. Abyssal’s style of death metal is fathoms deep, with multi-phased tempo transitions, back-stepping melodies inspired by jazz noir, resolve-draining crescendos that batter the mind like the billowing torrent of a monsoon, and crushingly claustrophobic production guaranteed to crack the glass viewer of your pressure gage. You don’t absorb it, it absorbs you... A Beacon in the Husk is the group’s fourth LP and appears to follow the theme of self-exploration, albeit not necessarily a liberating or enlightening one. The songs are divided up into three chapters (“Recollection,” “Discernment,” and “Descent”), bookended by theme-illuminating pronouncements in the form of an intro (“Dialogue”) and an outro (“Soliloquy”). The opener, "Dialogue" with its blackened guitar interludes, intimidatingly forward death growls, and twisting tempo changes is the most traditionally death metal song on the album. This transitions into the cavernous and hauntingly hallow echo-chamber of “Recollection: Shapes Upon The Retina,” the resonate qualities of which are enhanced by chiming bells and the soft draw of a violin. The second chapter hits its zenith with “Discernment: Khyphotic Suzerains” a rumbling ascent through a crumbling tower of quickening crescendos, controverting conversational grooves, and lofty builds that suspend gravity just long enough to make the force of the inevitable and ensuing fall back to Earth all the more dreaded and painful. “Khyphotic” releases you into the final punishing antechamber, opening with the cacophonous “Discernment: The Triumph Of Fools,” which transitions into the combative rhythms and open-hearthed cremation chamber “Descent: We Who Beheld The Fall Of Axioms” with chord progressions that spin and spill in pari passu with the ballast chucking beat, and finishes with the flesh-gouging saw of the title track’s (“Descent: A Beacon In The Husk”) inverted Slayer-thrash chords and menacing melodic navigations. A Beacon In The Husk is a journey into the wet, inky depths of the human psyche. What discoveries lay at the end of this passage may be undisguisable from a watery, unmarked grave.
Abyssal will not be emerging from the depths to play Chicago anytime soon.
Payday , Ultra, PellYeah
Pell drops his debut album after keeping fans waiting for the end of a trio of pieces. His last release back in 2015, Limbo, was an EP and the second installment. The mixtape, Floating While Dreaming, came out in 2014 and was the beginning of the trilogy. Pell has been quoted as saying, Gravity, is the “emo of the trio.” Gravity, is an emotional album for Pell.. Self reflection is another big theme through this 13-track album and sees Pell remembering what got him to this point. Not wanting to have to work a 9 to 5 job or drive Honda Elements or Nissan coupes, Pell has had his sights on making his career as an artist a success. Pell moved from his New Orleans hometown but he hasn’t forgotten his roots and love for the city. Pell has a very natural and effortless flow to his verses and easily combines speeding up and slowing down. Some rappers struggle with being able to sing, but not Pell. He showcases his abilities right from the beginning with “Petrichor.” It can be easy to forget to take a moment and make sure you are working towards your goals. Gravity will help remind you to do so and make sure your priorities are in check.
Unfortunately Pell does not have an upcoming Chicago show.
This duo met in Austin when Grammy Award-winning guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada was turned on to a Motown group busking on the streets. Quesada says he was drawn to Eric Burton’s vocals in particular, and he wanted to work with him. It’s easy to see why. Burton brings smoothness, falsetto, and gruff in all the right places. The textures of Black Pumas are pure soul. Soul requires a blend of pain and hope. It is complex and elemental. Many bands reach for soul, but not all of them get it. The lyrics on their self-titled debut album remind us that no matter how dark things might get, the people we love will help lift us up. The hope found in “Old Man” is all over this album; “Sure enough brother, sure enough sister, the sweet power of love will keep us elevated.” The positive simplicity of the lyrics in "Stay Gold" (I can’t help but note is the name of a venue in Austin) lets the composition shine, showing off the complex mastery of the full band playing on much of this album. When they change tone for "Sweet Conversations," it is a welcome and gloriously airy tapestry of vocals, guitar, and simple, distant percussion. Their use of space in that track makes it one of my favorites.
This will def be the hottest show outside of Pitchfork, performing July 19 at SPACE. $15
Returning to their punk rock roots, Brooklyn-based quartet Titus Andronicus launch a full tilt auditory onslaught with An Obelisk. After years of tinkering with the sound of the revolving door band, frontman Patrick Stickles has brought it all back around with a searing sound that pays tribute to punk legends while keeping some of what worked in the experiments that have populated their later records. With standout singles like “(I Blame) Society” and “Tumult Around the World,” it’s no secret what Stickles is after here, and he hits the mark with startling perfection. Full tilt rock, with a conscience, and plenty of verve from the production by Bob Mould; An Obelisk is proof that punk rock is alive and well, even if it takes four middle age dudes to confirm it.
The Empty Bottle is hosting these modern legends on September 6th. Tix are $17.
Car Seat Headrest
Commit Yourself Completely
Will Toledo and company have outdone themselves with a collection of nine live versions of their best tunes that are stretched and reworked to utmost perfection. From the ten and a half minute opening “Cosmic Hero” to the near nine minute “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” the thirteen minute “Beach Life-in-Death” the indie rock heroes of the latter half of the aughts absolutely kill with Commit Yourself Completely. It’s no secret that Car Seat Headrest is adored by critics and fans alike, and with Toledo’s effacing onstage demeanor and the band’s swirling jam-fueled persona doing the talking, it’s no wonder they have captured the indie rock moment with tunes that reflect the millennial angst and desperation of the times without falling into any of the tropes that trip up a good number of their contemporaries.
Gold Past Life
The music of Fruit Bats has always been a spiritual balm. Even when Eric D. Johnson got dark and gloomy in the middle part of this decade while working his way past life-altering events in EDJ and Absolute Loser, his life-affirming indie pop gems took a positive spin on even the grimmist events. In Gold Past Life, his first record for indie stalwart Merge, Johnson returns to form with some of the most bewitching songs of his long career. From the beauty of piano ballad “Barely Living Room,” to the swirling guitar in the background of “Dream Would Breathe,” to the spiritually affecting acoustic strings of “Ocean,” Johnson’s countrified indie rock is the perfect summer backyard jam.
Fruit Bats is swinging through Thalia Hall on August 9th. Tix are $20 - $28.
A searing post-rock debut from the quartet taking London’s scene by storm, black midi’s dark and progressive sound comes to fruition on Schlagenheim. Featuring a combo of genre-melding musicians that are in a “constant state of flux and development,” black midi has to be experienced to understand the raw musical and intellectual power contained within this fantastic record. In essence: words do not suffice. Do yourself a favor and plug into this one right now!
Hitting up Pitchfork Music Festival on July 21st, black midi will be lighting up Union Park with their art rock extravaganza. Tix are still available to the iconic indie fest.
They will also be at The Hideout on July 20th, with local heros ONO opening. Tix are $12 ($14 doors).