Friday, May 07, 2021

5 albums to snag on this (potentially) final Bandcamp Friday!

I've been meaning to write about a few of these albums for a while now—though there is one surprise in here, even to me!—and rather than let the final Bandcamp Friday (for now) pass by I wanted to alert you to their existence in hopes you'll dig them too and give the artists all the dough. SO....

PONY's TV Baby was one of those albums I found in a weird corner of the internet, listened to, and immediately bought a physical copy of it because it absolutely slays. All really big crunchy guitars, great vox, and super catchy. LOVE IT. It's short, sharp, focused, fun. DO NOT MISS OUT.

I was going to save the "surprise" for the end, but I'm just too excited—Analog Radio finally released a new EP! The group got their start in Chicago, and were on a loooooong hiatus, but the members managed to come together (virtually, I assume?) from their various locations and started making new music again last year. But I didn't expect this to drop today! Also, for Bandcamp Friday, they are matching all proceeds and donating everything to the NAACP legal defense fund. So hop to it!

Tamar Berk played in a bunch of Chicago bands and led her own project Starball, before heading west. She's kept making music, most notably heading down the slightly prog classic rock route of Paradise. On this new album the restless dreams of youth sees her returning to a grittier power-pop, and it is fantastic. She also just announced a limited vinyl release of the album, so pick that up too if you dig it!

What would happen if Ted Leo and Joe Jackson started a band together? It would sound like Proper Nouns' Feel Free. This is an absolute furnace blast of frenetic guitars and impassioned vocals that are buried in so many hooks nothing ever sounds melodramatic. It just feels real, and big, and excellent.

Sparked by his break-up with his Rubblebucket bandmate, Tōth worked through it by writing music. And the first song that leapt out to me while listening was "Guitars Are Better Than Synthesizers For Writing Through Hard Times," which I discovered turned out to be the starting point that led to the rest of the album. And it's a lovely album, managing to weave in the occasional horn line and other little sonic flourishes that just make the ol' ears perk right up. Perfect for getting lost in or winding down with.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Wanna see live music again? Get vaccinated!

 I posted this on my Facebook page a few days ago, and realized it was worth sharing beyond that circle. Mainly because I admit my personal social circle seems to have no issues getting vaccinated ASAP, so maybe this will help sway one or two readers of this site to take the plunge and get poked in the arm. Trust me, it is so worth it.

So, you want summer music festivals? Then tell every single person you know who believes they don't need to get vaccinated to do so ASAP.


All the current headlines last week were joyously announcing the return of summer festivals in Chicago in 2021, but the capacity limits in place won't make any of them profitable enough to actually happen. 

15 people per 1,000 square feet is not a ton of people, really. And if you want those limits raised—something I believe every single fest currently planning to happen this year is counting on—the vaccination rate needs to be higher and the infection numbers have to keep dropping.

If we don't? While something like Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park with only ~10K people would be lovely, it simply wouldn't be able to pay for itself.

So don't just sit on your laurels thinking your vaccination card is the entry ticket for a world of wonder this summer, because it'll be worthless if capacities aren't high enough to justify actually having a large, live event.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The day I became a man.

The scene was Annapolis, Maryland, in a Catholic high school freshman english class, sometime around 1986. As the teacher went around the room calling roll call on the first day of class, we were supposed to answer with our preferred nickname, if we had one.

TEACHER: James [start trying to pronounce my last name]

ME: I go by Jimmy.

TEACHER: Boys are named Jimmy, men are named Jim.

ME: Jim it is!

And that is how I became a man.

Friday, April 09, 2021

St. Vincent's got me very stoked about her new album.

It's been a week since I heard the second song teasing St. Vincent's forthcoming Daddy's Home, and it's still stuck in my brain. Maybe it's the obvious Bolan + Bowie nods mixed with a weird psychedelic California vibe that makes me such a sucker for this track? Which is a little funny since the album is supposed to be very "New York," at least according to the narrative around it. But who cares? It sounds great! 

My personal history with Annie Clark goes back years and years to my initial shrugs at her early singer-songwriter, more straightforward indie efforts, but ever since her fourth self-titled album I have loved experiencing each step of her evolution. Early signs point to this being the album I always wanted from St. Vincent, even if I never knew it before now. I can't wait!

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Dancing in the sunshine with Psymon Spine.

Photo by Rachel Cabitt
Psymon Spine just really, really wants you to dance yrself ... into a frenzy. 

I've been trying to write about this album for months now, and kept running down an LCD Soundsystem rabbit hole since Psymon Spine clearly considers Murphy and his crew—and the general NYC scene of the early aughts—major influences. But music criticism 101 basically states that it's lazy to bring up other bands when making comparisons, so I kept struggling. It's not that Psymon Spine isn't their own band, with their own sound, but there is no way a tune like "Currents," which fires up halfway through the album, isn't gonna make you do a double-take and wonder if this is an unreleased LCD Soundsystem b-side.

Now that we've got that out of the way, it is important to state again that while Psymon Spine may have obvious influences, they are wholly their own band. And on Charismatic Megafauna they take you on a very particular journey. Lots of wobbly synths paired with steady rhythms initially dominate the music, but this ain't easy listening. They're just buttering you up and getting you comfortable so that when the dance party kicks in, your limbs are all relaxed jelly and ready to go with the beat. It's like a sunny autumnal mood slowly giving way to a hot summer night party, and you are ALL IN.

But this is also an album for the headphone set! There are all kinds of little production touches, creating the sensation you're really in a shared space and sounds keep popping out from various sonic corners to tickle your ears. It's a delight.

I just picked this up on vinyl this week, so if none of the above sways you, maybe the knowledge that even I plunked down my hard-earned cash for this album will be a strong endorsement to get you to give it a listen!

Friday, March 26, 2021

Spring awakening in the brain.

Weird things have been happening in my brain, and I realized my personal creative sparks were returning and I didn't quite recognize them any more! During the pandemic I've had to protect what goes on inside my head from becoming too overwhelming, and quite honestly my 9-to-5 has gotten pretty much all of my creative focus. And that's O.K.! It's been my lifeline over the past year and at least kept the creative juices flowing! But on my recent long walks the origins of short stories are starting to unexpectedly pop up, and music ideas, and illustrations have started building in the brain and leaking out through my hands, and (UGH!) even lines of poetry that'll probably turn into lyrics at some point are making an appearance. I've been keeping tons of notes and voice memos of disparate thoughts over the last year to keep the idea machine going, but I'm beginning to see the old doors crack open again, revealing an endless landscape of infinitely engrossing opportunities for exploration. And the connections are starting to make sense again.

So that's good.

What about the music writing, Jim? Didn't you say you'd keep that up just to keep those muscles working? And yes, it's coming. But I don't think I can quite explain how much my own relationship to music (and the arts) has changed in the last 3 years. I didn't even notice it until I had, you know, a year pause from any music writing that had any sort of actual deadline. I just lost the fire. So yes, I kept trying to turn you onto new stuff over the past year but also yeah, it'd gotten really emotionally hard. I've been doing this for over 30 years now, and most folks have problems keeping it up for 3 months, so I think I'm allowed a period of reflection, right?

So I thought of throwing in the towel. I mean, are my opinions relevant or valuable at all any longer? But that's obviously a leading question, since obviously I think they are both those things and I wouldn't be writing this otherwise.


I was thinking about the fact that my first email newsletter started 25 years ago (and introduced "Tankboy" to the world, so no, the nickname has never had any connection to Old School or drinking or any of that and if you're still confused you can read this) and then came this blog and nowadays everyone has moved to email newsletters and are moving back towards blogs, so I'm so far ahead of that game by never leaving it'd be a shame to do so now!

So, I'm not going anywhere, and there's gonna start to be a lot more to come!

Thursday, March 04, 2021

It's a "Winter Western" with Local H and friends!

Whenever I get to my best-of list for 2020, Local H's LIFERS is one of the few albums that snagged its spot early and never let go.* So while I'm still agonizing on how to cut it down to 20 entries—and I will, sometime this month, I sweartagawd and am setting a deadline to force me to make some hard choices when culling albums—this tune is definitely on an album that will definitely make the list and this video is definitely not what I expected and definitely far more entertaining because of that. 

I mean, this video combines the talents of four artists I really respect and enjoy—Scott Lucas and Ryan Harding, Juliana Hatfield, and  Rachel Lichtman—and extrudes them through the filter of iconic imagery from a massively successful children's television show to create something simultaneously very now and very always. And very entertaining.**

*I believe I personally have two copies of LIFERS that I purchased, in addition to the promo sent before its release, so my money is literally where my mouth is with this one.
**It's The Electric Company. The massively successful children's television show I'm talking about is The Electric Company. I was just trying to be grandiose and/or funny and I'm not sure that phrase was either, but there you go.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Looking back on an amazing Alex Lahey album I totally missed!

This amazing photo via Alex Lahey's Facebook page, and how could I NOT use it?!

I was going through ye olde tankPHONE over the weekend, digging through old playlists for albums I might be able to finally delete and open up a little space, and of course instead of finding stuff to cut I stumbled across artists I had lost touch with and ended up adding more than I deleted.

Alex Lahey was one of those artists, and as I rediscovered 2017's I Love You Like A Brother on my phone I wondered what happened to Lahey.

I was sent a couple earlier releases from  Lahey when they came out but I had forgotten all about her and a little digging revealed she had been far from quiet the whole time. I must have fallen off whatever PR list serviced her 2019 album, The Best of Luck Club, so even though I missed that one a quick listen to some of its content had me spinning the album on repeat ASAP. So the end result was that I had the pleasure of discovering a fantastic "new" album to add to my collection!

It's also an album that had I heard it in 2019 would have had a pretty good chance of ending up in that year's best-of list. Sample a few of the tunes Lahey has made available from that album below, and then I think you'll find yourself doing the same thing as me, feeling you just have to own this album.

And me? I think I may have to check out some of the other releases of Lahey's I missed out on over the years since I last wrote about her. Wait. What, I've never written about Lahey before?! How is that possible?!

My bad! Go listen to and buy all her music so I don't feel so badly about waiting this long to tell you about this fantastic Australian import!

Monday, March 01, 2021

Big Kids wants to thank you...

To reassure all that things are fine around these parts despite a dearth of posts in the month of February—I mean, c'mon, we've been locked down for almost a year so...—here is a fun song I stumbled across. 

It's a song from a Chicago eatery thanking patrons who have decided to support them.

I do not have any personal experience with Big Kids, though I have confirmed they do indeed appear to be a Chicago restaurant, but after hearing this song I will have to pay them a visit when things open back up even more. 

Also, private to the Big Kids crew, maybe include a link to get food from y'all from the Bandcamp page. Just a suggestion!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Chase away the winter blues with 'Love Sign.'

I was puttering around the house this morning and saw the above pass that's been stuck to my dresser for nearly a decade now, and it reminded me how much I missed Free Energy.

You may not be familiar with the band, they had a brief run that resulted in only two albums, but those albums were amazing and their live shows never, ever disappointed. Whether I saw them play in the cramped corner of a dance club in their early days, or commanding larger stages later in their run, they always came across as one of the best, most funnest rock bands in the world.

Today seems like a good day to crank their last album to 11 and chase the winter blahs away. That's it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Hi there, nice to be with you, glad you could stick around!

Been a while, huh? How've you been? How're you doing? How's it going?

Don't worry, I don't actually expect you to answer that.

Since you're here though, you're probably all like, "Where has he been? He's not usually this quiet, right? And I just know he's been listening to a ton of music he wants to turn me on to."

And you would be correct!

Don't say writers block is the reason I've been quiet, though. That would be incorrect.

I mean, there is the whole "am I relevant and who cares what I think about anything anyway" thing, but I've grappled with that since the first time I wrote about something for a wider audience waaaaay back when I was a teenager. It never goes away. But that's just a fact. I came to peace with the notion of "I write because I have to write" long, long ago.

And these days there is plenty up there in the ol' twisted labyrinth of pathways and cathedrals and alien spaces that make whatever it is that results in my mind—I'm being kind here—but there is SO MUCH trying to get out I am having a hard time regulating it into a flow that makes sense. It's more work than I'm used to, but the times they have a-changed, and I guess that even my personal creative workflow has to adjust.

I also shot myself in the foot by saving up bands I really wanted to write about until just the right moment, and many of those perfect moments passed because I was busy trying to stay emotionally afloat during some pretty turbulent seas over the last year, and for once none of that turbulence was of my making! But I did have to manage that ride, and it honestly does take a lot out of me.

So consider that your explanation. 

I am amused that through the last two  decades and change, as I've kept this little corner of the internet going, that people are beginning to return to "blogs"—newsletters are basically blogs again—because they are unfulfilled by the major media outlets out there. So while this might have been the year that broke many things we didn't want broken, I think that may be one of the rare positive trends to emerge. I think people forgot they liked reading stuff that made them feel and grow, instead of stuff that kept them up-to-date on whatever press releases delivered on that day.

So I'm feeling positive. Even optimistic! We'll see, right?

*The absolute biggest discovery during all this is just how much I depend on other humans when I write. So much of what I do is informed by conversations with friends, and testing lines out here and there without people even being aware of it. It has always an integral part of my process, to ensure that the weird vagaries in my head were translatable. I remember my ex being impressed I could knock out an entire festival review in one sitting, and I would tell her it was because I already wrote it in my head, with her help, as I walked the fest grounds. So I was always aware of, and thankful for, others' roles in my own process, but I don't think I ever quite grasped how much my supposed "solitary" endeavors relied on all the humans around me. So much for me being a rebel! Or a loner!

Friday, February 05, 2021

'Postcards From The Edge' pushes you into unexpected realms.

Photo by Lael Neale
I only listened to Guy Blakeslee's new album Postcards From The Edge for the first time a few days ago, and admit that as it started up I was ready to write it off as reverb-drenched, morose, singer-songwriter indie stuff. But there was something about his voice; strong yet vulnerable, cutting through like a laser slightly wobbling through waves of light. By the second tune I realized it was a sneak attack and Blakeslee's slow opener in meant to lull you, so you don't even notice you've entered a kind of dream state where things get progressively weirder.

Blakeslee recorded the album using the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's studio in New Orleans, and when I first read that I wrote it off as just a potential press hook. But the environment is important, and I can't help thinking the studio had an effect on pushing Blakeslee, pardon the pun, over the musical edge of expectations into a weird swirling canvas that mixes conventional structures with wild arrangements and studio trickery. It all somehow sounds totally organic, though they must have taken an incredible attention to detail in order to pull it off without it feeling like a lot of effort.

I believe this "dream state" I describe is intentional though, and like a caring partner after a particularly emotional day, he even tags on a musical coda at the end of the album's final track that slowly brings in sounds of the city—cars, planes, trains, softly falling rain—gently into the mix, creating the overwhelming impression you're slowly waking back up and entering the "real world."

Here is the point. I would usually say, "It's Bandcamp Friday, so you should buy this album from there right now!" but for some reason the pricing of even the digital album is unusually high, so maybe stream it below and then go price-hunting through the various outlets the album is available from if you don't want to use Bandcamp.

*To be fair, the higher price on Bandcamp also includes lots of goodies, so if you love the album, maybe you'll want one of those packages too. 

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Making Bob Pollard look like a slacker—Ryan Allen just can't stop!

While many have struggled creatively during this pandemic, a rare few have taken all this "free time" as an opportunity to just kick out as much music as they can. And few have kicked out as much music in the last year as Ryan Allen

Allen has always excelled at cranking out crunchy power pop gems with an edge under the Extra Arms moniker, but in 2020 he released a number of albums and EPs under his own name and a number of other guises, including a late '80s-stylee hardcore EP about quarantine and another EP with some light shoegaze ditties

So I would've understood should the man take a break to catch his breath in 2021, but I should've known better.

His latest album, What A Rip, comes out tomorrow, February 5, and while I would have forgiven Allen for releasing something even average after his recent avalanche of releases, it appears he will have none of that and insists on writing taut, sizzling numbers that will make you want to buy a guitar. And maybe some drums. And definitely try and figure out how the dude is doing all of this from home, and largely on his own!

Musically, Allen sticks close to his strengths on What A Rip, relying on a bottomless bag of hooks and memorable, hummable, sing-alongable vocal melodies that burrow in, ready to warm the space between your ears in even the most frozen winter months. It's summer in here, dammit! But he does play with tempo a little more than on his last few albums, so maybe that's a sign the anxiety and adrenaline I suspect may have driven the recent spate of Allen's releases have dropped to manageable levels? If so, it certainly hasn't hurt his drive, but it has introduced some new varieties and flavors to his songwriting I haven't heard in there before.

The lovely, loping bassline in "Feeling You Feeling Me" is definitely a newer move for Allen, and much of the album seems to draw from older inspirations, including the dustier corners of the Beatles' catalog and even some latter-era Monkees of the Head variety. While these inspirations drive the music on What A Rip, it always sounds 100% Allen. 

I've loved everything he's put out over the last year but What A Rip is the first time it's felt like Allen is slowing down to explore a little bit more, and the new terrain he uncovers suits his travels well.

Give it a spin and you'll see what I mean.

NOTE: So, while I know Allen would be somewhat groaning at that headline since it includes a comparison to a hero of his he might not agree with, it is true. Eat your heart out Robert Pollard!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Madisyn Whajne is here to save our hearts (and ears).

Photo by Jen Squires

I've got a really annoying habit of putting off listening to stuff that I'm excited about as I work my way through the music I get. But during the pandemic this strategy of delayed gratification means has been essential.*

Madisyn Whajne's debut album Save Our Hearts piqued my interest when it came through last month, and a quick aural skim to set expectations resulted in me going, "This is one to hold onto until you can really sink into it." Also, her press release name dropped The Primitives and Best Coast so, yeah, the only this album could upset me is if the writer of said press release was way off.*** 

The writer of that press release was not way off. 

Whajne writes sprightly, zingy pop-rockers that definitely have their roots in the late '80s UK indie scene, and then adds crunchy fuzz over most of the tunes to amp up the volume, but never so much that it obscures the delicate craft laying underneath the noisier bits. In fact, while The Primitives comparison is apt, Whajne's approach really reminds me of The Darling Buds, another band from the late '80s with a similar sound.**** And the opening track on Save Our Hearts, "Summer Love," has proved an instant tonic when my moods dips too low. Which, these days, is a  valuable than ever quality to enjoy.

Today is the day that you become as big a fan of Whajne's music as I am. Enjoy! 

*This really is a pandemic-specific development in my workflow made in light of both my own mental health and the current state of the music scene. That state being it's not exactly pressing to write about the newest release the day it's released. There're no tours or other things that might require music journos to write against a specific deadline these days, and to be honest I am not complaining. Most big music sites have been regurgitating press releases for years, and with nothing going on, people are actually listening to the music again, and writing about it. It's exciting.**

**I have nothing against pulling relevant info or facts from a press release, especially these days when it seems most music PR folks are better writers than many music critics out there nowadays. Which, believe me, is super weird for a guy like me to say when I came up in the '90s and early aughts when PR peeps and critics were always in a state of tension when it came to each other's objectives. 

***I couldn't resist. After making that much noise you had to know I was gonna pull something from a press release, just to see you smack your forehead (and hopefully chuckle).

****In the interest of full disclosure I should note that The Darling Buds' 1990 release Crawdaddy is one of the handful of albums I love from start to finish, always have with me in some fashion. Which only means I was set to love Save Our Hearts, though I'd be very shocked to discover Whajne was even aware of The Darling Buds. But I didn't want to leave it as just a lone "RIYL" kinda thing, you know? 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Oh oh, it's AWEFUL!

It's been a while since I wrote about AWEFUL, but the Chicago trio just dropped a new video that is total fun, and should turn a regular Friday into and OUT OF THIS WORLD FRIDAY.

You'll see.

The video is fun, but if you buy the tune from AWEFUL's Bandcamp page they're donating half of all digital sales to NIVA, too.

Do it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Joe Biden is President, Kamala Harris is Vice President, and the world breathes a little easier today.

President Biden's speech was inspirational, but his decision to turn the stage over to a 23-year-old poet was truly inspired.

Change takes time, but change is coming.

We're gonna be O.K.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

I look into Pearl Charles' 'Magic Mirror' and find myself drawn through its lens into a better world.

I have listened to Pearl Charles' Magic Mirror a LOT over the last couple months. Her mixture of old school '70s rock and pop is balanced by a modern sensibility that allows the music to hang like sparkling points sunlight evinced by the sound of that era, with none of the sentimentality. At times Charles channels Abba, The Carpenters, and to my ears, even envisions what The Eagles might've sounded like if Linda Ronstadt had gone on to lead the band instead of a bunch of coked-up macho doofuses.

That also means I've been waiting months hoping Charles would release the lead track off Magic Mirror so I could share it with other people.* But I'm kind of glad she held off sharing "Only For Tonight" until just ahead of the album's release tomorrow. I love the tune, but if it had been the main thing out there to set the table for Magic Mirror there is an excellent chance people would've expected an album in the vein of Swedish dance pop, instead of the wonderfully textured quilt of various influences that it is.

But this tune is so awesome.

Am I wrong? No, I am not.

If you're reading this before January 15, you still have to wait a few days to hear the whole album, but there's nothing stopping you from sampling a few of the other tracks Charles has made public ahead of its release. And there's plenty of time to plunk down a few bucks and ensure the album is there, ready and waiting to be listened to on repeat when it drops this Friday.

*Seriously. I was checking in every few days to see if it was on her Bandcamp page because I couldn't wait to share it. Also worth noting, as an aside, that this album has been a lifesaver when I needed a pick-me-up or quick escape for a spell here and there over the last few months.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

What's next?

Yesterday I was waiting to write until after the election was certified, in hopes of celebrating that and the Senate wins in Georgia, and then adding in an unrelated coda celebrating the life of Betty the Beagle on the anniversary of her exit from this plane. 

I expected a bit of turbulence getting to that point in the day, but I did not expect an insurrection to occur.

And now, now I just don't know.

I think I'm still in shock.

What's next?

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Analog Radio returns!

What a bunch of fresh-faced young fellows!
Earlier this year Analog Radio resurfaced after a loooooong hiatus (don’t call it a break-up!) and launched a Bandcamp page with a very precise bio:
Chicago/Portland-based power pop quartet. Back together after 16 years, although we haven't told either of our fans yet.
This is a fact—they didn't tell me, I had to stumble across it myself.* I haven't told their other fan yet either, so let's just say this is that. Hello, other fan!

Back in the early days of the new millennium I would book these fellows as much as possible because I loved their smart, lo-fi, bedroom power-pop. Most of the band also loved Sloan, so we always had something to talk about during soundchecks. 

Ultimately Analog Radio put out a few albums that I wish they would re-release on band camp so y'all can hear how terrific those were, and how they deserve the attention of more ears than those of their two longtime fans. 

Until then, I recommend you curl up with these two nuggets of sunshine they released earlier this year, and hold out hope that their promise of a new album in the works reaches us more quickly than, say, the next Wrens album.

*This may not be true. Dann may have actually mentioned it to me at some point this year, but I don't trust my memory. So I'm sticking with this version of events!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Revisiting Imperial Drag ... and discovering you now like them!

I never got into Imperial Drag back in the day. I remember borrowing their debut from a friend—because even though I loved Jellyfish, buying CDs still required more money than I often had at the time—and being less than impressed.* Part of it was because I loved Jellyfish and, to my ears, Imperial Drag only seemed to retain the characteristics of that band I found the most frivolous portions of their predecessor's music. 

Of course the actual answer is that I had moved on from the technicolor attack of Jellyfish and fallen under the sway of the more obtuse and exploratory sounds of indie bands at the time, so Imperial Drag's simple injection of additional glam into the power-pop formula that worked so well for Jellyfish might not feel as vibrant to my ears in those days. 

I think the song shared above was a "hit" at the time, but I barely remember it, and definitely do not remember the video, which is just about as mid-'90s as you can get. But recently I revisited their self-titled debut and discovered that whatever didn't speak to me back then was cranked up loud and clear now. Yes, some of it is obvious, but it all makes more sense to me know, and is engaging on its own terms.

So, there you go. Let's all groove on this one together until I find something else totally random to try and entertain you in this final week of a most terrible year.

*It just occurred to me you may have no idea why I would be writing about Jellyfish and Imperial Drag, if you don't know that when the former imploded, two of the members went on to form the core of the latter. If you didn't, now you know!