Monday, May 20, 2019

Someone I know directed another Juliana Hatfield video!


Photo by Stacee Sledge

I admit I haven’t seen Rachel Lichtman in quite a few years—she left Chicago for warmer, Western climes a while ago—but I’ve really been enjoying her experimental and delightfully quirky films on her Network 77 platform. We ran in the same social circles, but she was always part of the group that was a little above my pay grade when it came to the cool quotient, so it's no surprise she's still kicking out amazing work that is effortlessly, well, cool.

Earlier this year Lichtman received acclaim for her video treatment of "Lost Ship" off Juliana Hatfield's latest (and quite excellent) album Weird. It was dreamy and felt more like a feeling than a story, which suited that song well.

Lichtman and Hatfield collaborated on a second video from the album, and released it today. Whereas their first visual collaboration, "Lost Ship," was more a meditative and stately affair, the new video for "Broken Doll" take a far different route, mood-wise. From the opening introduction courtesy Pat Sansone (who has appeared in previous Network 77 shorts) you kinda have an idea that you're in for something a little (seemingly, but is it really?) lighter this time around. Check it out and you tell me what you think.

Oh yeah, Hatfield is on tour right now and hits Chicago for the outdoor Out Of Space event in Evanston on June 22. It's SUPER sold out—Hatfield is sharing the bill with Liz Phair—but maybe you can find tickets on the resale market if you're really lucky.

Still ramping up.


I’ve listened to more new music this month than I did January through April combined. I liken the feeling to getting your appetite back after you've been rundown with a long illness that killed your desire to consume anything at all because your body can't even muster the energy to process it. May has been a particularly introspective month for me personally, but it's also been the month that I changed my schedule up and instituted some major lifestyle changes that have taken hold in a number of healthy ways.

I'm still working on regaining my old vim and vigor when it comes to music and arts and cultural writing—the last 2 years took a particular emotional toll in that segment of my productivity. While my day-to-day 9-to-5 writing has remained strong I think that's because the section of my brain responsible for that has stayed sharp and focused no matter what my current personal situation has been. In some ways I've probably strengthened that section of output since it both allowed me to be creative and avoid inward thinking. Writing in the service of something outside of you can be really great when you're trying to avoid negative periods in your life.

Anyway, here's a peppy video about "bad vibrations" for you to enjoy off Josh Berwanger's forthcoming album Watching A Garden Die, out June 28. I'll share more on this closer to its release date, but it seemed just the right mixture of upbeat negativity for a Monday morning post built on the self-reflection of rebuilding positivity out of darker times.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Soft Bulletin was released 20 years ago today…

The Flaming Lips in 1999 looking almost presentable!


Most of you probably didn't hear The Soft Bulletin the day it came out, since the May 17, 1999 release date was for the UK version (the US version, with a slightly different track listing, wasn't released until June 22). It took me a week to finally track down the import version after stalking every indie record shop in Chicago on a daily basis.*

I had heard The Flaming Lips debut their new direction a few months earlier at La Zona Rosa in Austin during SXSW. I believe it was only their second live set as a newly configured trio (they played two days earlier in Dallas as a test run) and they went on well after their supposed 1 a.m. start time. I remember being confused by Steven Drozd being set up behind a bank of keyboards and VCRs. I had heard Zaireeka, but was expecting the band to play as a power trio, full of Wayne Coyne guitar squalls, Michael Ivins thunder bass and Drozd's monster drumming.

That was obviously not what happened.

The trio played three of their older "guitar" songs, reconfigured to match the new aural direction the band was headed, instead relying on one Zaireeka cut and a slew of material no one in the room had ever heard, including "Race For The Prize" and "The Gash." The band was still kicking out psychedelic anthems, but there was a whole new dimension and tenderness that flowed through the new songs that BLEW ME AWAY.

The piece I turned in recapping that year's SXSW for The Chicago Flame isn't online, and one day I'll dig through my hard copy collection of my writing to find it, but I do remember no one in the office believed The Flaming Lips would sound the way I described them. At the time they were still only known to mainstream audiences as the "She Don't Use Jelly" band who appeared briefly on an episode of 90210. And my music friends who had been following the band along with me since the late '80s didn't believe it either.



Obviously The Soft Bulletin is now lauded as a modern classic, and that Austin show I saw bore the genesis of Coyne's turning to theater props to help convey the weight of the music since he no longer had a guitar to bash away at. Back then the DIY stage show aesthetic had always been a part of the band's DNA—their shows were visual spectacles even if it was merely through draping every piece of gear with Christmas lights and setting up a bunch of strobes they carried in themselves—but in The Soft Bulletin era they took the visual component up a notch. And since then have taken it up about 10,482 notches with varying degrees of success.

I'm older, so to me I'll always prefer the albums of the pre-Bulletin Lips when considering my favorite portion of their body of work—it's just the stuff I heard first that hardwired the band into my brain, I'm totally O.K. with folks who only love the era Bulletin kicked off—but I don't think they ever released anything in that period, or are likely to do so in any later period, that caught me so totally off guard and filled me with so much melancholic joy.

*This was back in the days when music wasn't immediately online for bands like the Flaming Lips, so all I had between the show and the album's release was the memory of the music (I hummed the melody of "Race For The Prize" on a daily basis between that March and May, for sure—it was all I had). Yes, Napster and its compatriots were certainly rising, but they were still depending on more mainstream releases pilfered from CD packaging plants and the like to fill their online offerings. The Flaming Lips didn't qualify as a band early pirates felt the need to obtain and disseminate online. Yet.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Checking in.

Looking toward a brighter future!
One year ago today I was in the the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack. It was the second time in less than a year I found myself in that same emergency room with the same fear that I was surely dying. The first time Mich was by my side, but this time I was totally alone. It turned out my ticker was fine, but my stress levels were through the roof, and they weren't going to come down any time soon. One year later I'm in a much better place, but my life is still far from perfect. Though I do keep a gratitude journal to remind me that good things do happen to me every day.

But I'm still filled with the deepest sadness that I lost her. In the month leading up to her deciding divorce was inevitable I honestly thought I'd be able to turn it around. To my (minor) credit at least I didn't harangue her to change her mind for months on end. I made a few attempts to dissuade her from ending the marriage, but for the most part I accepted her decision.

Maybe somewhere deep inside I was still in denial.* Maybe? I'm sure I was.

A little over a year ago was probably the toughest period of time in my life for a number of reasons I no longer feel the need to rehash. But I do remember it was right about now that the more public-facing evidence of the destruction of my life had started to ebb and I began to focus more on making things right with myself for the sake of my future. (The timing couldn't have been better since I was about to lose my job to a company merger the day after my heart attack scare. What timing!)

I've thinking about the future, and am struck that I am at the almost exact same place I was 20 years ago. 20 years from now I should be ostensibly retiring (though I don't see how that can possibly happen at this point). I thought I led a charmed life, and the fact of the matter is that I really did. And then I squandered it, blew things up, and threw myself all the way back to square one.

Therapy helped me identify a few milestones that led me to where I am now, and of course now that I see them clearly I wish I'd noted those warning signs and adjusted my decisions accordingly. The period between buying our house and the sudden closing of Chicagoist was probably the steepest downward slope that found me skiing out of control and straight into losing the best thing that had happened to me up until that point in my life. Other people probably saw the signs more clearly than me. I remember having a "wake" for Chicagoist at our house and I'm pretty sure most people in attendance could tell something was wrong with my relationship before I did. I was too wrapped up in my own selfishness to truly be able to self-evaluate, that's for sure.

So where am I now? I live across the street from the house we once owned, in an apartment that's too big for a single person—no single dude really needs 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, but I just wanted to move and make it as simple as possible. But it is the right size for me to at least fit all my stuff into instead of renting a storage unit. I've settled down after months of heavy dating—and by that I mean many "getting to know you" dates; this isn't some sort of hook-up humblebrag. I have a nice freelance gig at an agency I really like, but of course would prefer the security of a permanent job. I've made a lot of changes regarding what I eat and drink, along with physical activity, and am enjoying feeling more clearheaded and energetic than I have in far too long. I'm grateful for the friends who stuck around, since I lost most of them during the course of the divorce. I don't blame them, but it still hurt.

There are still a few special people that bring flashes of color to my life when they're around—there's one person in particular that entered my life over the winter that makes me especially happy, and I hope I'm doing the same for her—but for the most part I still feel as if my world has largely turned grey when I'm alone. I suspect it will be for a while longer, and even though it seems like it will never return to the Technicolor glory I enjoyed not all that long ago, I'll keep holding on hoping for that more permanent saturation of color to manifest.

There's really no other choice.

*If we're going by the traditional 5 stages of grief I think it's worth noting I went through all of them except "anger." I'm definitely now in acceptance, but that doesn't mean I'm not still depressed by what happened. I don't think the sad part will ever totally go away.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

American Football isn't playing games, they're playing moods.

Photo by Atiba Jefferson

I know it’s gonna sound blasphemous, but I was never a huge American Football fan. That's probably got more to do with timing than anything else since they seem to be fervently adored by folks just a few years younger than me, for the most part. Even though I wasn't following their every move, though, I did enjoy their music.

On their third self-titled album the vibe remains subdued, the lyrics are still introspective, and the song-craft is meticulous as ever. American Football isn't a group about letting loose their inhibitions, they draw inward to create miniature pockets of air intent on unraveling inner mysteries.

The album came out in March but I'm choosing to share this song today because it matches by mood as of late. I wouldn't say the lyrics wholly connect to my actual feelings—though there are snippets of truth in there—but the tone of the song as a whole does. Often I take music as more the whole sound of all its parts rather than dissecting vocal meaning, and this is certainly an instance where that inclination of mine of driving my fondness and finds this song popping u on my daily playlist more often than not.

American Football is on tour now, so if they come through your town you probably want to see them since they said on a recent podcast that this could be the end of the line for the band, at least as far as live shows go.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

I'm still "Falling" for Dude York, that's for sure.

Photo by Eleanor Petry

Dude York's new album Falling isn't out until July 26, so you'll have to wait until closer to that date for my full review. What I will say is that the band continues to grow artistically at an astonishing rate.

I was a big fan of 2017's Sincerely, and their Happy In The Meantime EP, released earlier this year, proved the band was moving in a more refined direction. Don't take "refined" as meaning polite or any less urgent than their previous work. Instead the trio has continued to hone their approach, resulting in sharper songs and evolving melodies. The first single "Falling" sees the band working their strengths as Peter Richards' guitar zooms right along as Claire England's vocals twinkle and shine, all driven by Andrew Hall's pop-along drumming.

Stream the single below, and if you like it consider pre-ordering Falling since you'll immediately get a download of the tune to take with you on-the-go.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Get A Life, get a job, get a band.

Photo by Anthony Flores

Get A Life is the one-person band conceived by Chase DeMaster, and his debut This Band Could Be Your Life Or Debt is a lo-fi but engaging listen. Apparently the first song he wrote that ended up sparking the project as a whole was "Get A Job," whose refrain of "I'm going nowhere fast" gives a pretty good idea of the direction of both the song's interests and the album as a whole.

Yuuki Mathews of The Shins produced the album, though to my ears that is more in the interest of connecting a "name" to the release of an unknown indie rock endeavor. Maybe Matthews cleaned things up a bit? From the press release it seems like he may have played more of a mentor / encouraging role than anything else. Whatever—if it helps get the album to more ears then that's a good thing!

Anyway, here's the song that started it all. It looks like Get  Life just wrapped a short tour with TV Girl, but here's hoping they've got something in Chicago coming up since I'm really curious to see how these songs take shape on stage.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Oh, there's the big twist!



Watching a late night host prove to his writers that a bit isn't going to work has never been funnier.

[h/t Slate]

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Walking Bicycles return to take you on a dark ride.


Walking Bicycles disappeared from the Chicago scene for five years before returning with last month’s Chooch. In the world of independent rock and/or roll that is an eon and a half. So does this quartet that's been kicking around since 2004 warrant a heralded comeback?

Hell yes.

I was never a close follower of Walking Bicycles—in the Chicago scene I'm not even sure which clan they fell into back when they were active the first time around. I feel like I probably put them on a bill I did at some point in the mid-aughts when I was still actively booking and promoting shows, but they could have been added at the request of one of the other bands. It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that the band as it currently exists is worth your attention.

The music is dark, but it ain't depressing. It just feels like a heavy, warm, wet and woolen blanket is draping the sound and suffocating you with its weight. Singer Jocelyn Summers yelps and sneers throughout the claustrophobic maze of sound as the instruments fight against barriers and attempt to break free. Check out the wandering bass lines that bump up against the guitar drone and waves of drums on "Statutory Basement" for an obvious example of this, though it is a characteristic of the band's sound as a whole.

There is also something refreshingly simple in their approach; in this instance repetition isn't hypnotic as much as it's bracing. So open the hatch, climb down the ladder into Walking Bicycle's subterranean sound, and enjoy the band's unexpected return.

You can catch Walking Bicycles at The Hideout this Friday, May 10, so getcher tickets here.

P

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Snowball ii returns with a short blast of new songs (and I want to hear more).

Jackson Wargo of Snowball ii
It's been two years since Snowball ii last released an album, so the arrival of the Eaton Super 10 EP is quite welcome. The Los Angeles-based group is led by  Jackson Wargo, who handles most of the instruments here with the exception of the drums and one of the bass parts. So, much like 2017's Flashes Of Quincy this is largely a one-person affair.

Eaton Super 10's five tracks fly by far too quickly. It's not that they're unusually short, most clock in between 3 to 4.5 minutes so that feels pretty average, but each time the EP ends I find myself wanting more. Opener "What Pressure?" starts off delicately, largely driven by sparse sparkling guitars interrupted by occasional crescendos of noise that mirror the narrator's inner journey. It's rumination that gives way to exclamation, and it's a slightly more nuanced approach than much of Snowball ii's previous work.

From the point on we're back in more familiar territory, with guitars courting melodies that sway back and forth between sweet and slinking atonality that never grows jarring. Listen to the dazed-n-confused guitars winding their way through "The Air In The Mean Time" and you'll see what I'm talking about.

"Lost in Juarez" flirts with shoe gaze tropes without ever tripping over them, before depositing us in the soft borderline psychedelia of "Spring Breaks Eternal," another sonic departure from the band's past. Don't get. Too cozy though, closer "Which Way To The Egress?" ensures you leave Snowball ii's latest collection in a wash of sonic fury.

Eaton Super 10 is currently available to stream or download for free (see below), although if you like what you hear it's always a good idea to throw a band a little dough through ye olde Bandcamp interface. Sadly it looks like the band never really gets far from California tour-wise, which is a real bummer because I bet these songs slay live.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Check out some sunny, buzzy, wistful pop from The Beths.

Photo by Mason Fairey

I think for the rest of the week I'm going to highlight songs or albums that are setting my mood on "summer."

I got a text from a friend yesterday asking if I'd heard of New Zealand band The Beths. I admitted I hadn't and then did a quick search through my email to discover I'd actually been sent their 2018 release Future Me Hates Me earlier this year ahead of a U.S. tour. And somehow I totally missed it, which has me kicking myself in the seat of my pants twice as hard since bands from New Zealand don't exactly hit Chicago all that regularly.*

In case you couldn't tell form the "kicking myself" aside, The Beths are pretty great, ergo my despair at missing their Chicago stop last March. Future Me Hates Me is an effortlessly buzzy collection whose music lifts you up even as the introspective lyrics pull you down. Singer Elizabeth Stokes has the kind of delivery that is world weary without being sad. Her delivery is understated and conversational, drifting along atop melodies I can only describe as melancholic rays of summer sunshine.

I shouldn't even say this since I tend to avoid the whole "so-and-so sounds like" or "RIYL" shorthand—outside of social media teasers where I'm trying to get someone to read a longer piece—but I'll just put this out there. Stokes' style of delivery is rather reminiscent of Courtney Barnett. I do not say this to diminish her talents or set them up for comparison. Instead I mention it because it's incredibly hard to make lyrics sophistication sound so effortless. So if that shorthand gets just a few more people to give the album a listen than I am happy to employ it.



*Luckily I, and quite possibly you, will get another chance to catch The Beths since they announced a summer U.S. tour. It hits Chicago's Logan Square Arts Festival on June 30 (my birthday!).

Monday, May 06, 2019

Let's get started again, set the clocks at the same time.


Clearly I have decided not to shutter the site. After getting feedback from friends and readers I think it's time to ramp things up again and return to your regularly scheduled weekday posting. A couple other changes in my life have me feeling back on track (I can NOT stress enough how resetting a regular sleep and gym schedule helps with mental acuity and physical energy) so I'm ready to get back at it. It's been a really challenging year-and-a-half, and I still have a lot to work through and put to rest, but I'm in a much happier place now. And that also means I feel creatively inspired, which is good for everyone.

So let's go!



[Title of this post courtesy Frisbie, as you can hear above.]

Friday, May 03, 2019

Just what I needed.


I previewed Partner's EP and their upcoming show at The Hideout this Sunday evening. If you need a pick-me-up like I do (or are just in the mood for some dang fine hooks) then you should check them out.