ISSUE #73 / August 22, 2019
Runaway With Jungle Green
Sweet, breathy vocals that venture into falsetto, set over a dense, yet just-so arrangement of instruments, all wrapped up in a lo-fi recording, it is exactly the kind of ‘60s throwback sound I like. The lo-fi sound belies the way all the elements work together so perfectly. Instruments peeking through the mix for their featured part and then melting back into the ensemble. It is so picture-perfect, it is a must listen in headphones album. “I’m in Love with You” is a peppy number with reedy keys punching through. I caught a phrase, “oh baby it's true, I”m feeling so blue, I'm in love with you” which seemed in delicious contrast to the bounce of the music. If you only listen to one song off this album, you must start with the yummy funk track “All My Life.” It is the kind of song that will get you moving. But then there is the pinnacle of 60’s sound, the torchsong. “Please Run Away With Me” has pulled from the vault perfection.
No shows right now, but keep an eye out for this Chicago band to pop up.
Straight from the Twin Cities comes this modern example of a psychedelic rock record from Kazyak. Recorded live, Odyssey captures a band on to something remarkable. The Minneapolis five piece delve into realms of space soaked reverb and layers of guitar laden grooves that would make any jam band grin with envy. Kazyak may claim to be indie rock, but they’re fooling themselves, Odyssey is straight up psych jam perfection from start to finish. “Contravertical” opens the record with Pink Floyd esque synth bars and drum beats over a sample that is as acid flashback inducing as it is evocative. By mid album they’ve captured the mind in an ever opening wormhole of fascinating vibes. With highlight “Smoke Jumper” they launch into the stratosphere of stoner rock excellence, and closer “Be the Sun” wraps the whole package in a seven minute plus bow of full circle magic. Clearly Kazyak spent some quality time laying out the shape of this record at its core, and all the extra fixings just add a well glossed finish to the beauty contained within.
No shows outside the Twin Cities are planned for now.
Lillie Mae’s sophomore album is a spirited mix of country, folk, and bluegrass that takes a walk on the alternative side of each of those genres. The Nashville singer is creating her own lane that is taking in the inspirations from the music city’s past and moving the music forward. At times the album has the sound of the traditional aforementioned genres but then takes a cosmic turn. Other Girls like her debut album Whole Blue Heart, was released on Jack White’s Third Man Records. Mae’s time with Third Man Records has seen her release two albums through the label, contributed to Jack White’s Lazaretto, and toured with White. On Other Girls, Mae is taking aim right away at those who have slighted her in the past. Whether it is finding out the person you loved had multiple partners, love lost, or being able to coexist in shared social environments. “You’ve Got Other Girls for That” and “At Least Three in This Room” plot out how Mae has been apart of relationships that ended up with her finding out that her partner was cheating. “I Came for the Band (For the Show)” though Mae may be bitter, she is not going to give up something she loves doing just because of the chance of running into a former partner. It is one thing to write about break ups and love lost but to show a maturity of wanting to be civil about is another. To lay out the amazing feelings of being in love and have it taken away and know that your partner was really in love with someone else the whole time would warrant a whole lot of anger but Mae keeps it in check. Turning your songs into instrumental mind twists could be the only way to let go off the anger and start anew.
Lillie Mae does not have an upcoming Chicago show.
No Hot Ashes
You can hear the Manchester in the vocals from the get go. But my obsession with Isaac Taylor doesn’t stop there, he knows how to use his vocals as an instrument in the music. Through rhythm and pronunciation and tone. It brings massive amounts of personality to the music. “Trouble” is a perfect example of this, a quick succession of lyrics, with a squeaky falsetto making a grand impact, and then that stuttered “T-T-T-T-T-T-T-Trouble.” When that is backed up by big band level bombast and psych waves of music, I am head over heels for this band. I am all about the first four tracks on Hardship Starship, but you might as well let it play out. The anchor track, “Hey Casanova” is pretty smooth as well. You have to admit. The Brits just know their way around rock.
No shows listed. Let’s start a come to the states campaign!
This Is Not A Zen Garden
Last Night From Glasgow
Containing a wall of sound befitting the UK shoegaze greats comes Scottish five piece Domiciles with their debut full length This Is Not A Zen Garden. A patient popping beat backs the layers of distorted guitars and dark drooping bass lines with the ever present vocal drones of Nick Young and Rory Cowieson flowing through it all with a melancholic air. Full of textured overlays and and a mesmerizing tone, This Is Not A Zen Garden is one of those special albums that drifts from track to track without any real separation. The result creates an atmospheric journey through Domiciles worldview: from the bopping rocker “Bluer Than Blue,” to the fuzz covered “Want/Need,” on to the blistering epic closer “The Drug Is Not Enough;” each twist is solid, every turn is expressive, and there is pure enjoyment in getting lost in their waves of reverb.
It doesn’t appear that Domiciles is making a trip across the pond anytime soon.
basking in the glow
This band uses dynamics in their emo pop indie sound to make their music sooth and rock and snap into focus. When we get to the full glistening sound of “the view” I am rocked to the rhythm of the music. “The way I’m looking for everything I wanted. My eyes lit up when I saw it. The view from where you sit." The album is filled with tracks that are hopes and dreams and searching lyrics. But it is the masterful use of dynamics and song craft that draw me into listening to the lyrics. With sharp clear guitar melody against fuzzy chords, “dig” catches me from the beginning. When the vocals come in with percussive rhythm, I am in. The song completely drops out and builds again, as a heavy chorded near thrash instrumental. Brief but effective, especially in setting up another contrast with the next track "one sick plan." The lofi acoustic sound is not anywhere else on the album, but lyrically, it might be my favorite track "Will it ever be enough to have some free time and some stuff? No I need heaven, I need you, I need your perfect point of view...I don’t even know anymore, I open up just to shut it down...I see my demise, I've got one sick plan to save me from it...I’m just a puppet that can sing, Only she knows how to pull my strings"
They are hitting Beat Kitchen, September 18, Tix are $15.
A Healthy Earth
With their first release as a trio, the once solo effort helmed by Peter Katz, has flushed out into a full spectrum, kaleidoscopic journey through the search for connection and focus in an ever evolving society. Employing what they dub as “subtle math rock” Brooklyn based act Peaer (pair or pa-yer, possibly depending on your mood) have crafted a modern day fable album as deep and complicated as the stratified rocks in the famous cliffs of Katz’s native Connecticut. A Healthy Earth is chock full of anxieties, reassurances, and examinations that will connect with even the most unobservant listener. The everyday toils and troubles of the artist has been a rock trope for generations but Katz takes the minute details of his stories to a heightened level in simplified terms, backed by inventive tunes that only heighten the mood of hopelessness that permeates our day to day lives.
Peaer will be at Downstairs at Subterranean on October 19th. Tix are $8.
Top Shelf / Desolation Yes, Hesitation No / Where Have You Been
Joining the fray of acts trying desperately to find a way to cope with the ever increasing onslaught of disinformation and crippling anxiety, Brooklyn quartet Field Mouse have returned with their own search for Meaning. “I’ve still got a heart of gold,” croons Rachel Browne in the scorching chorus of “Heart of Gold,” but somehow she doesn’t sound so sure. And as they explore the contemporary landscape in tracks like “Apocalypse Whenever” or “Plague No. 8,” all backed by a bubbly indie rock gleem, Browne’s confident exterior cracks open to reveal an artist in crisis. Not sure where to turn or what to become; just that she has to produce to stay sane, to connect, as they end the record with the metaphorical question “why do they shoot horses / when it’s just a broken leg?”
Field Mouse has no Chicago dates planned as of now.
Twenty two albums in, Oh Sees are continuing to make psychedelic garage music a thing of beauty. Like keeping with the ever changing name of the Oh Sees and the amount of work the group has put out, Face Stabber, is equally as difficult to keep up with. The looping and mind swirling vision of John Dwyer puts you in an impending trance. Get strapped in for this one, running at an hour and twenty minutes, this journey is more than a jaunt. Trying to figure where the album is going next is an exercise in futility and just letting it bathe over you is your best option. This piece of work drifts in and out of up tempo garage rock, (“Face Stabber,” “Gholu,” and “Heartworm”) and pure psychedelic (“Scutum & Scorpius”). “Fu Xi” sounds like the a time clock counting down to damnation while Dwyer’s lyrics ends your doom with the final line “Last breath before death.” During this terror all you can think of being chased down the massive primal goblin from the cover of the album. It would not be hard to mix this album in as jam band album. There are plenty breakdowns of precise guitar solos, the essences of picking up where a song left off a few songs later, and fourteen (“Scutum & Scorpius”) and twenty one minute(“Henchlock”) songs that would test the mental capacity of someone who has seen Phish over two hundred times.
No Man’s Land
Xtra Mile / Universal / Polydor
Frank Turner has stirred up a bit of controversy with his latest album, No Man's Land. Here is a white Englishman taking it upon himself to tell the stories of 13 women from all kinds of backgrounds. It has always been the folk tradition to tell stories. Feminists, and marginalized groups in general, would say that the first role of an ally should be to listen, then to elevate the minorities’s voice. Writers of all mediums take on the voices and tell stories that explore the experiences of others (with varied results). Writers often describe it as the voice that spoke to them. The story that kept revealing itself. When I listened to the first few episodes of Turner's podcast that is exactly how he described it. His podcast gives you a chance to learn the true stories behind the songs. To fulfill our natural nerd curiosity. My first thought when I heard about the podcast was, he better be talking with women on the show and not just mansplaining Women’s Studies. So I was pleased when I started the Sister Rosetta Tharpe episode and he had two women. A fellow musician that had also written a story song about Tharpe, and a historian at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. He was enthusiastic to hear what these women could teach him, as well as sharing a few tidbits of his own.
Enough about the concept and controversy, what about the music???
On first listen, I found the music to be pretty typical of Turner’s work. If a lot more folk and a lot less punk. He has never been afraid to slow it down to best convey a subject. And he has always taken different influences from rock history to tinge his brand of folk. In these songs he does so smartly when it truly fits the song, otherwise falling back on his native English folk sound. My fav tracks are:
"Jinny Binghams Ghost" has a great rollicking drinking song swing to it.
“The Graveyard of the Outcast Dead” reminds me of the Pogues classic, “Fairytale of New York”
"The Lioness" is pretty close to the full on rock I love Turner for.
Frank Tuner will be in town October 17 at the Athenaeum, tix start at $35
The Center Won’t Hold
It is hard to say something that has not been said already about the Rock legends Sleater-Kinney. This feeling may have been why the band decided to enlist St. Vincent to produce their latest album, The Center Won’t Hold. As Joni Mitchell once said “You have two options. You can stay the same and protect the formula that gave you your initial success. They’re going to crucify you for staying the same. If you change, they’re going to crucify you for changing. But staying the same is boring. And change is interesting. So of the two options, I’d rather be crucified for changing.” When Sleater-Kinney broke a ten year hiatus and released, No Cities to Love, a throw back to what made them was well done and made sense. With the new direction Sleater-Kinney has taken on The Center Won’t Hold, is essential to SK continuing to progress as a band and to stay at the top. You cannot be this leading force so many years that inspired so many contemporary musicians just to come back and make the same music that they are making. You have to continue to looking for what is next and show them you still got it. The new direction created conflict within the band and after finishing the album, Janet Weiss decided her time with the band was up. Weiss spent over twenty years with the band and her presence will be greatly missed. This move could be a sign that the band is planning not only touring off the album but also continue to make new music moving forward. The speculation of a new sound for the band was an immediate thought when the band announced that St. Vincent would be producing the album. Then once the band released the first single “Hurry on Home,” it was more clear to see what that new sound would be like. There is plenty of remnants of vintage Sleater-Kinney to find along with the different elements that the band is trying out. There are pieces of industrial, electronic, pop, and much more that make there way into this piece of work. Going in with the mindset that this album is going to be like something in the past is wrong. There needs to be an openness to change because SK did an excellent job in changing up their sound and recreating themselves.
Sleater-Kinney will be performing two shows at The Riviera on 10-18,10-19. Tickets are still available for 10-19.
The Hold Steady
Thrashing Thru The Passion
When you’ve been together for fifteen years it has to be tough to keep it fresh, especially when you have as solid and lasting sound as The Hold Steady. However, with Thrashing Thru The Passion, their first full studio album in five years, they have captured a moment where they are as sparkling as ever. Craig Finn’s rambling story lyrics are deftly backed with the joyful classic rock influenced sound that has garnered them one of the most dedicated fan bases in modern rock. Once you hear The Hold Steady, you’ll always recognize Finn’s distinctive vocal style and with these five new tracks and five previously released singles collected under one umbrella, they’ve grabbed the reins of rock once again to show everybody how its done.
The Hold Steady is in Chicago this weekend on one of their patented three night runs. They will be at Thalia Hall on Thursday 22nd: $40 - $50. At Empty Bottle on Friday 23rd: Sold Out. and back at Thalia Hall on Saturday 24th: also Sold Out.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Infest The Rats’ Nest
Flightless / ATO
It can be said that if you are displeased with a King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard album, you don’t have to wait long for the band to pivot. This trend continues with King Gizz’s latest album, “Infest The Rat’s Nest,” which is the band’s second of 2019 and 15th overall. While their previous album this year, “Fishing For Fishies,” was a jaunty, if bloated, foray into electric boogie-pop, then “Rat’s Nest” is a stripped down, environmentalist thrash metal. This kind of sonic whiplash, as well as prolific output, has come to define the Australian psychedelic rockers and launched them to the forefront of rock. Even a trimmed lineup of Stu Mackenzie, Joey Walker, and Michael Cavanagh produces a sonic barrage that few in mainstream rock can match. That full frontal attack is aided by the clear respect that this King Gizz lineup has for their metal forebearers. This is not a tourist expedition, but a conscious choice to utilize the ideal genre for the story of “Rats Nest.”
The lyrical content of this album is the other major departure from Gizz standards, and perhaps what sets it apart from the rest of their catalogue. Instead of time traveling robots and ancient beasts, “Rats Nest” is a sobering take on our current environmental crisis. Instead of the standard musical approach to this subject, which offers hope through individual action, King Gizz offers nothing but a bleak look at a species on the brink of a self-inflicted extinction. “Planet B” reminds us that this is the only home we get, while “Superbug” discusses the prospect of a remorseless super virus borne out of the ecological disaster. Moreover, they have no intent of offering the listener an escape from personal responsibility as Mackenzie’s guttural howl sounds like a sneering indictment, as if to tell you, “this is our fault and we deserve it.” Gizz can’t help themselves, as there is still a bit of science fiction inspired showmanship, with a group of humans possibly finding refuge on Venus, but this, fittingly, ends in disaster. By the closing track, aptly titled, “Hell,” it seems the human race is damned in every sense of the word. As mercilessly unpleasant as the content can get, it is refreshing to see someone willing to speak on this crisis with raw, unrepentant anger at our collective disinterest in the dire state of affairs that is the environment.
Musically, King Gizz is in rare form. While they’ve dabbled in heavy metal before, most notably on 2017’s doom metal-infused “Murder Of The Universe,” this is perhaps the most pure metal output. As noted before, Mackenzie has chosen to adopt a classic, thrash bark while the instrumentals are equally as forceful. There are a few moments of respite from the machine gun drums and screeching guitars, such as the sludgy breakdown on the back half of “Superbug,” but with Mackenzie still preaching gloom and certain doom, this only serves to turn up the heat a bit further. At only 9 songs over 35 minutes, this is a breathless album that is an unexpectedly heavy turn for the Aussies. Still, Gizz manages to legitimize their metal chops by keeping things moving at a fiery pace that occasionally slows down, but never eases up on the intensity, which allows the album to be eminently listenable, in spite of it’s grim, but necessary, message.
So then, if “Infest The Rat’s Nest” is destined to be the soundtrack to the end times, at least it’s going to be a hell of a party.
The funky doomsday fiesta rolls into the Aragon on August 24th. $35 + fees, ya goobers.