Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Why ever graduate 2nd Grade when it's this good?!

Photo by Julia Leiby
I was going to wait until the actual release of the new album Hit To Hit from Philadelphia's 2nd Grade to write about it, but in these times, why wait? Sure, it'll still be 10 days until you can hear the whole thing when it's released on May 29, but at least you can get a few of their songs stuck in your head before then so you can fully appreciate this 24 track monster in its full context in a week and a half. While Hit To Hit is 2nd Grade's debut, bandleader Peter Gill isn't new to the game, having spent time in other bands and releasing music under a number of different names.

2nd Grade lurves the '90s; early indie pop and Teenage Fanclub in particular. And if they don't lurve those things then they've certainly grown an appreciation for them through musical osmosis. The group has the lock on somehow mixing twee rock inclinations with power pop machinations that end up sounding epic and conversational at the same time. I can't tell if Gill and company know just how to push my buttons or if this is just another example of my personal tastes of the past realigning with the music cycle in the present. So if you hear this and immediately think, "This is so familiar, I must have heard this song before!" then the music is successfully doing its job.

You'll still have to wait a bit to hear the whole thing, but getcher feet wet with the handful of tracks below and brace yourself for when this currently-one-of-my-favorite-surpises-of-2020 lands at the end of the month.

Monday, May 18, 2020

I can't offer you any specific answers or reassurance, but I know we will make it to the other side of this.

Despite a torrential downpour last night, the basement in my building dod not flood, and I thank my landlord's efforts at protecting our basement from water.

I wanted to open the week with a positive sentiment, because on all other fronts right now ... I just don't know. Today being the third month since my office closed and everybody was told to work from home.*

I keep seeing that it's O.K. to not feel O.K., and that is certainly true. What's missing is what to do about it.

Some people feed that space with anger.
Some people feed that space with fear.
Some people fill that space with hope.
Some people fill that space with despair.
Some people fill that space with humor.
Some people fill that space with a tragic focus.
Some people fill that space with an optimistic resolve.
Some people don't know what to fill that space with because all of it seems so uncertain right now.

I don't know what to tell you to do about it. I kept intending to write a guide to dealing with isolation based on my own experiences over the years, but I don't feel anything I'm doing is especially different or offers additional guidance to anyone.

I suspect I'm doing the same things as many of you: staying home, walking a lot around my neighborhood, working from home with few time boundaries, wearing a mask in public when indoors or outside if it's impossible to stay distant from others, and having trouble at times differentiating between days.

The anxiety levels are high, but for me they are manageable because I am taking all the steps I can in order to keep myself and others safe.

We'll make it to the other side, eventually, I promise.

*I will be eternally grateful I was blessed with a job that was able to keep us all employed and working remotely during this pandemic. I know how incredibly lucky I am to be in that position.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Enter the multi-faceted world of Jeff Lescher.

Jeff Lescher was in Green, one of those Chicago area bands long known to music fans. Green was one of those groups everyone thought would break big, but they never quite did. Regardless, their influence remains. Lescher's solo album All Is Grace is 20 tracks sprawling all over the place. Some of it is lovely Midwestern power-pop and other segments fray and unravel with the excitement of a DIY bedroom project. It's even got a song I swear is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Guns 'N Roses' "November Rain." There is A LOT to take in.

The opening track, the chug-chiugging "Can't Do It Without You" caught my ear from the get-go, and but album's end I was still feeling its pull, so give it a spin below and then allow yourself to get sucked into the remaining 19 songs. It's a ride!

Friday, May 08, 2020

Worriers' "Relentless Noise" grabs you and won't let go. And you'll love it.

I was listening to the excellent new album from Lauren Denitzio's Worriers, You or Someone You Know. It was released just before the world shut down, so I don't believe it's received the acclaim it warrants, and would have received in different times. I hope that changes once this is all over, but I'm beginning to fear that 2020 will be the year of great music too few people hear. No tours and no festivals, paired with a news cycle that is (justifiably) focused on more life and death matters, means there are just so many non-blockbuster releases in the music world that aren't getting the blockbuster attention they deserve.

Tl;dr—You or Someone You Know is one of those albums that definitely deserves your time, and I hope it breaks through on a bigger scale once we start returning to whatever normal is going to be in the future.

My favorite track on the album is "Relentless Noise." Lyrically it's just, well, almost too much for me emotionally. Something about Denitzio's phrasing and word choice feels like they're in my head, which also means they managed to find something so specific it has universal appeal. I mean, that enough would have me head over heels with this tune—even more impressive since I'm not always a big lyrics guy—but then there are some dual guitar riffs that just slay, without sacrificing the authentic emotional urgency of the song. In other words, to me, "Relentless Noise" in an impressive piece of rock and/or roll alchemy that blends the fist-pumping with the tear-jerking.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

When dreams come true...

I fell asleep on the couch Sunday night and had a weird half-dream that John Oliver had retooled his weekly show for a cat audience. I woke up Monday morning, just thinking "how weird was that dream?"

Last night, after work, I sat on the couch with Pickle the Kitten to watch the latest episode of John Oliver I had slept through the previous evening and discovered CAT WEEK TONIGHT WASN'T A DREAM!

Monday, May 04, 2020

You bet your Ash this compilation is terrific!

Sometimes a review is hard, and you spend a lot of time trying to craft a convincing stance with the hopes of the reader checking out something new.*

During these pandemic times, I had the notion this would be an ideal opportunity to review a couple collections and/or box sets for people that might not be fans of a band, but might find these collections and/or box sets useful and perhaps even pleasurable and for sure illuminating.

Today's was an easy-to-write quick review because the item in question is a no-brainer.

Everyone has heard of Ash. Even if you don't know Ash, you know Ash. Either you heard their song for the Danny Boyle film A Life Less Ordinary titled "A Life Less Ordinary" or you've heard "Girl From Mars." Trust me, you've heard them.

While Ash is relatively unknown in the U.S. these days, they are still a force overseas, so while longtime fans here have access to all their work, we  don't tend to have fans around us to share or discuss said music with. And Ash has released a few "career compilations" over the years, and unlike other compilations they don't seem tailor made to annoy with each iteration of the "greatest hits" since the compilations tend to add tracks instead of removing one or two tracks that are on every other compilation.

So this year, when Ash announced yet another collection off their music titled Teenage Wildlife: 25 Years of Ash I was like, O.K., this seems fine, even if I'm not sure how they'll expand on the previous "greatest hits" I had, until I clocked the 3 disc version of the compilation stuffed with all the hits and a bunch of rare goodies.** Plus, this is the cover!

So Teenage Wildlife: 25 Years of Ash wins my complete endorsement. If you already own a ton of other collections from Ash, or all their singles and b-sides ... you'll still find this delightful. And if you are a casual fan or passive Ash listener, this is an excellent argument for devoting more of your time to discovering Ash's genius with loud guitars and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of hooks.

Yeah, this one gets a thumbs-up!

*Even more rarely they attempt a convincing stance on why the reader should not check out something new, but these days those reviews are far less frequent and in today's environment—IMHO—less helpful. In this instance, some of my reviews mentioned in the following paragraph will be "warnings" to all but the most fervent fans.

**In fact the only letdown was discovering that disc 3's final track, hidden but entitled "Devil’s Haircut," is not a Beck cover. That would've been neat.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Get a taste of The Lemon Twigs live and in concert from the comfort of your couch while benefitting a good cause!

The first time I saw The Lemon Twigs was at Lollapalooza a few years ago. My companion had it on her list of bands to see and I tagged along because there was nothing I wanted to cover in that time slot. It was yet another example of how smart that companion was, and her talent for discovering music even I had overlooked, due to her disciplined habit of checking out streams of just about every act playing the fest each year beforehand.

Anyway, The Lemon Twigs were electric. Amazing. And truly unpredicactable. The two brothers leading the band would jump around instruments, and the younger sibling came across as a balance of Keith Moon and some outer space glam alien. I had no idea what to expect but their mist cure of brawny rock, twisting hooks, theatricality and purse physicality won me over. By the end of the set the group had won over at least two more fans for life.

Their recorded music varies in quality, so while I enjoy their albums, none of them capture just how wild and loud The Lemon Twigs are IRL, but yesterday they released The Lemon Twigs LIVE, a live album stitched together from performances on their latest 2018-2019 tour. And I am so happy to finally have a reasonable document of the group's onstage power. Even better, The Lemon Twigs are donating 100% of proceeds from sales of the album to Coalition for the Homeless.*

Give it a listen and buy it! I should also note, that if you wait to buy The Lemon Twigs LIVE until tomorrow, Bandcamp is waiving all their fees again on May 1 to support the artists on the platform, so even more of your cash will go to charity.

*I'm really enjoying bands releasing live benefit albums right now. Everybody wins! The first I bought was from Father John Misty near the beginning of our unified lockdown, so I think it's super funny there's a long Father John Misty story told during "Hi+Lo" on this album.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Save Chicago's music venues, because they are being crushed right now!

Right-click, snag this, and share!
Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL) is a coalition of more than 20 Chicago music venues, including Avondale Music Hall, Beat Kitchen, CafĂ© Mustache, Cole’s Bar, Dorian's, Empty Bottle, GMan Tavern, The Hideout, Lincoln Hall, Martyrs’, Metro, Park West, Patio Theater, The Promontory, Reggies, The Riviera Theatre, Schubas, The Silver Room, Sleeping Village, Smartbar, Subterranean, Thalia Hall, Tonic Room, The Vic, and The Whistler.

Last week CIVL announced a partnership with the newly-formed National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which currently includes over 1,000 members representing all 50 states.

From what I can tell the partnership is to elevate and unite venues and fans amidst the crisis facing all in-person live music performances right now. You may have seen this elsewhere but perhaps these purely Chicago numbers (below) reported from 16 local venues participating in CIVL might provide the shock you need to realize just how huge an economic impact to COVID-19 pandemic is having on your favorite local venues. And this doesn't even highlight how much artists are being decimated by not being able to play to promote their work. The number of spring album releases that aren't The Weeknd is turning into a virtual graveyard of stillborn ambition.

But for those of you that love numbers, here's the effect the closure of music venues had in Chicago between March 15 and April 30:

Venues (reporting): 16
Cancelled events: 1,219
Audience lost: 297,815
Lost Revenue: $7,176,253
Full-Time jobs affected: 206
Full-Time wages affected: $1,336,698
Part-Time jobs affected: 1,702
Part-Time wages affected: $2,119,810

That's just a month and a half. And if you look at the list of participating venues you'll see these numbers only reflect the trials of a small percentage of all the live music venues in Chicago.

And, honestly? These numbers are just a small percentage of the broader economic fallout afflicting both venues and everyone who utilizes them (from the biggest touring acts to the single, individual fan) so while these numbers are sobering, they are a mere glimpse into what's ravishing the scene right now.

I ... I ... I ... I can't even really process all of this. It's just too scary! But we can all do little things to help keep these venues afloat in the short term. To that end, this is an excellent list of resources to donate to for some individual venues, and here is CIVL's own list. And keep hoping. And praying. Because we need live music and the venues it gets played in, and when this pandemic finally subsides, we're gonna need live music more than ever!

Monday, April 27, 2020

That cat is one really versatile actor!

This week's Saturday Night Live displayed huge technological leaps over the previous episode, as far as filming everyone in different locations ... and I bet no one ever expected to see "Pete's mom" as a director credit on one of the earlier sketches. And I felt that it was also a pretty solid episode, even without the caveat that it was produced during a pandemic when no one can be in the same room together.

But I'm spending a LOT of time in the same room with one other living being, and that is Pickle the Kitten! The above was both our favorite sketch of the evening, for obvious reasons.

Friday, April 24, 2020

'Blade Runner' as you've never seen it before!

I saw this a few days ago and saved it as a curiosity and now I need everyone I know to watch it and tell me what they can make of it!

I'm not gonna prepare you for what to expect at all, just carve out 20 minutes and GO.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

You don't need to celebrate (or smoke) 4/20 to love White Mystery's 4/20 Fest!

I am acquaintances with the White Mystery folks and have long been quietly in awe of there fun events they've either created or played a part in over the years. (I also quite like their music.)

They always do something fun around the whole 4/20 thing each year, and obviously this time around they had to get even more inventive than usual. So they corralled a bunch of their musically talented friends and created a virtual fest that is far more satisfying to watch than whatever that thing that took over network television last weekend was supposed to be.*

My personal favorite performance comes in around the 27:30 mark, but the whole thing is packed with celebrities large and small!

*I'm talking about the broadcast of the network thing, not the 8 hour streaming version of it because, even in this weird situation, who has time for that?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Musical blindspots—Feltworth!

The great thing about music is we all have plenty of blind spots, which means we're all open to the discovery of new things or art that challenges us!

But there are the glaring blindspots that are nigh inexplicable—like finding out one of your favorite bands on the planet had a side project purportedly performed by puppets in 2017 you were completely unaware of, despite meeting members of the band numerous times and growing an honest friendship over the years with people working within their camp. And, you know, thinking you owned just about every piece of music created by members of that band since, as we mentioned, they are one of your favorites on the planet.

So it was that I discovered that members of Sloan were also creating music as Feltworth, "a 4-piece rock/pop group [of] former children's entertainers" personified by puppets.*


Well, now I do, and now you do, so we can both bask in the glory that is the sole 7-inch Feltworth released, and VOILĂ€ it's like hearing brand new Sloan tunes in 2020!

*And boy oh boy do they have some thoughts on Tame Impala...

Monday, April 20, 2020

Monday musings.

Hi there. Happy Monday! So here we are again, only I took Friday off of work so this actually does feel like a Monday to me! For the first time in weeks. In a good way—I'm refreshed and raring to go!

The only thing I listened to all weekend was the new Fiona Apple album, something I believe should be distributed universally and is also her finest album. Tidal will always be the "big" album when writing the history of her impact, but Fetch The Bolt Cutters is astounding. I can't really say much more about it that that at the moment. I'm still processing it, and I suspect that will be the case for weeks and months to come. And that's awesome.

What else?

Is everyone getting their steps in each day? I'm still breaking 10K steps a day, but my average is down under 11K. I need to work on getting that number back up above a 12K average to match my pre-pandemic goals. I know this doesn't sound important, but maintaining whatever routines you have from the olden days feels really important right now. Or adapting those routines. Either way, routine is important! We all need something to latch onto as an anchor of sorts, and routine is one of those things we can implement, control, and feel good about. You already know that, but a reminder never hurt anyone,

What else? Oh! I know!

I hope you have an amazing Monday. That's what else!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Losing feels good with Hello Emerson.

I was listening to Hello Emerson's How to Cook Everything this morning and was immediately comforted by its warm and intimate vibe. "Warm" and "intimate" are not usually connected to the music I immediately respond to, since songs in that style tend to pique my interest if I sense something deeper going on, but often require a few additional listens before really getting their hooks into me. And I was pretty sure How to Cook Everything would follow that pattern.

The majority of the album's songs follow the same conventions; gentle strumming, the occasional pedal steel, sparingly used but judicious strings.

Quite lovely, really.

I finally read the band's bio and felt a rush of recognition when I saw they were from Columbus, OH—of course they sound like The Decemberists on a nature retreat with The Mountain Goats! But the song that snapped me to attention was "We Lost"—the whole album is erudite and thoughtful, but only this song amps up the wattage and throws everything the band has at their fingertips at you. And it works!

Losing rarely sounds quite so triumphant.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020


This morning's walk in the snow is
definitely going in the gratitude journal today!
Just realized I hadn't written anything non-9-to-5 related since last Friday! I won't trot out the whole "what day is this" trope since by this point it's not funny, but it is universal. I am lucky enough to still be working from home, but things have changed so much since I was last physically in the office.

So, a few days ago I started a gratitude journal. I attempted to keep one back when my marriage was crumbling in order to remind me of the good things in my life, but that fell by the wayside as the bad things took over. Of course, that was the time when I probably needed reminders of all the positive elements around me, but I wasn't ready to see that.

Since the whole COVID-19 lockdown started I've been busier than ever with work, but I've also had more quiet moments of reflection to enjoy on my many walks around my neighborhood over the last few weeks. I've been discovering parts of my neighborhood I'd somehow missed over the last 2 years of living here. I've also been buoyed by the signs of community all around me, even if we can't get close to each other. Sidewalk chalk art, lotsa bunnies and squirrels, so many waves from across the street from neighbors showing silent solidarity in our social distancing, so many things I've decided to open myself up to seeing that have resulted in a smile and the understanding that while those with largest bullhorns are doing us no good in this trying time, we are all trying to look out for each other at a local and neighborhood level.

So I started a new gratitude journal, because I'm finally ready to embrace the view that my world is still filled with wonder and joy and magic. That was something I truly thought no longer existed for me. I'm so happy that it does, and if it exists for me it must exist for you too!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Should Lollapalooza be cancelled this year?

Photo by moi
Yesterday Governor Pritzker shared his viewpoint that all summer events should be canceled, though Mayor Lightfoot is less comfortable making that call ... yet.

My personal history with Lollapalooza goes back the the fest's inaugural tour in 1991, and I've made it to just about every single Lollapalooza since then—only missing a few as it turned toward its "metal" period, but picking it back up and attending every Lollapalooza in Chicago once it found a new home in Grant Park. So I've seen almost every incarnation of the festival.

I wouldn't classify myself as a Lollaplooza apologist since it made its home in Chicago, but I have adapted to its changing identity more than some others music writers as it went full on mainstream and grew to the size of a small city each year. But accepting it for what it now is doesn't mean I feel the same way about it, and this was the first year I was considering skipping the whole thing altogether.

Lollapalooza isn't just a music festival. It's also a huge source of revenue for Chicago and Chicago businesses, and it supplies a LOT of people with jobs. Most people that work festivals work a festival circuit, and depend on them happening as major sources of incline throughout the year. So, much like my personal feelings about SXSW—another festival I long ago lost any personal warm feelings towards, while simultaneously appreciating its importance to the city and residents of Austin—cancellation isn't something I worry about affecting organizers and attendees as much as it will decimate the living of so many people who work on the ground to make it happen.

So it's a difficult question. I'm assuming that both Lollapalooza and the Pitchfork Music Festival—the two major festivals most in danger right now—have done their due diligence and investigated how many acts they could keep if they had to postpone until later in the year, and decided that would be difficult to impossible.* And it grows even less less possible with each day as other musical acts have to move their tours to the second half of the year. So while we potentially face an overabundance of great concerts to choose from come the fall, it will also potentially be a period where we experience a musical glut. And that glut is standing in the way of rescheduling things for the big fests.

Clearly Lollapalooza is hoping that by the end of July we will have returned to a state of being where gathering 100,000+ people in downtown Chicago will be an acceptable option. But that's looking less and less likely.

So it's a thorny question; should Lollapalooza cancel? I don't know about should, but I'm having a really hard time seeing things getting back to normal enough that they won't have to cancel.

We'll see! I'm trying to remain optimistic, mainly for the legions that depend on the money Lollapalooza brings into Chicago, but I'm not feeling great about Lollapalooza 2020's chances.

*A side note: I imagine Lollapalooza the business could survive a year off, I'm not certain Pitchfork Music Fest or Riot Fest would. P4K's chances look a little better since they're owned by a corporation, while Riot Fest is still primarily a DIY affair despite the size of the event. I've mentally steeled myself for P4K not happening, as well as Lollapalooza, but if things were so bad in the fall that even Riot Fest got canceled I can't even imagine what Chicago's music scene will look like a year from now.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Take a break from the apocalypse and get lost in the entrancing sounds of Locate S,1.

Usually I wouldn't mention someone's romantic relationship when writing about a musician, but in the case of Locate S,1 the fact that Christina Schneider is partnered with Kevin Barnes from of Montreal is relevant. He produced her latest album Personalia and played most of the instruments. This is clearly a two-way street since Schneider's influence is all over of Montreal's latest album, and one of my favorites from them in a long time, UR Fun.

Personally, I find Schneider to be a more focused songwriter than Barnes has a history of being—there are plenty of grooves here but none of the ADHD arrangements that sometimes makes her collaborator's work a little harder to digest at times—making this a lovely indie pop album with expansive aspirations. The tunes work well on a loud stereo as a (for now stay-at-home) dance party but also reward closer listing on headphones as the full panoramic use of sound reveals itself in Schneider's songs.

Give it a listen before and, fingers crossed, she'll tour behind this once things start to return to (relative) normal. Just another thing to look forward to!

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Kleerup is back and is just the aural release our ears, brains and boogie-machines need right now.

It's been a while since I last listened to anything from Andreas Kleerup. According to his own artists bio, he's been dealing with various personal issues over the past few years, so that would explain why there's been such a long wait for another proper album since his debut, Kleerup, in 2008. But here we are, and earlier this month Kleerup finally released his proper sophomore effort, 2.

One track from that album, "UR" featuring the vocals of Rebecca Facey, popped up in my earbuds this morning and reminded me I hadn't given the whole thing a proper listen. So I did. The first note I wrote was:
Kleerup continues to push forward that dance producer goes pop thing and the results are so smooooooth. Equally perfect for late night jams, early evening power-ups, and creating a fabulous sense of playful sophistication that'll turn any living room into a late-night danceteria.
Also, the album's a real grower, as the songs hold up and blossom under repeated spins.

Here's "UR." If you dig this taste, you'll definitely love the whole meal that is 2.

Monday, April 06, 2020

It's here! Positive bursts of content to brighten your Monday!

Two new things you should watch today.

First, this made me smile, and then cry, but a truly happy cry. You should watch the whole thing, but those impatient for the "big turn" should fast-forward to the 10:15 mark.

And second, I don't for a second believe this is "live"* but The Struts covering The Spice Girls is positively delightful.

Happy Monday, and please stay safe, y'all!

*But maybe I'm wrong? Either way—delightful!