Thursday, August 18, 2022

Get lost in the meadow with Eli Miller.

Photo by Julia Dratel
There's not a ton for me to say about Chicago' Eli Winter’s self-titled album that's out this Friday, other than I highly suggest you check it out. I'm not a person who usually gravitates towards the folkier side of the spectrum, but the intricate guitar work here elevates this onto a different plain. And as I've found myself drawn to music that is truly transporting—that will remove me from the current moment and plop me in the middle of another world for 30-50 minutes—this seems like a lovely culmination of all the things I like when it comes to playing in that arena. Or occupying that meadow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Keep For Cheap delivers a bundle of tunes soaring above the Midwestern prairie.

Keep For Cheap, looking mischievous yet subdued, photo by Morgan Winston
Everything I've been sent from Keep For Cheap includes the line "Prairie Rock out of Minneapolis, MN" and I have to agree that the band saved weary music critics from having to come up with their own, less accurate definition of the band's sound.

Bundle is the band's debut full-length, following a series of singles and EPs that clearly define the group's progress over the years from a gifted almost-folk act into their current confident balance of softer sounds, energetic rhythms, and voices that blend as if bonded by blood.

I'd been waiting to write about the band in hopes of linking it to a Chicago show, but it appears the group is currently playing shows only in the Minneapolis region. But today, the band released a video for their latest single off Bundle, "Hide My Emotion," a song that runs along the band's softer contours of sound.

I can see you sitting there (or standing there) watching the video above and asking yourself, "Well this is nice, and I can see why he likes the video, but what else can they do?"

So here's the second-most-recent single off Bundle, currently on YouTube with the caption "The Time is Keep for Cheap's third and final single off their debut album." So I'm happy that turned out to not be true and they had another single / video in 'em! So give this a peek and you'll see the energetic side of the group that clearly also hits me directly in my aural happy spot. 

See? Between these two videos, I think you can see what it is I find so alluring about this group, and I really hope they do tour a little farther from their home base in the near future because I'm eager to see what their live shows are like.* But in my head, they are super fun.

You can give the whole album a spin below, and snag physical** or digital copies of Bundle if Keep For Cheap knocks you off your feet as clearly and cleanly and they did me.

*Private message to Keep For Cheap: C'mon, come play Chicago!
**I picked up the 12" Red Swirl vinyl for myself, just in case you were wondering.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Thinking of you, thinking of Bloods, and wanting to dance in the sun.

Bloods hails from Sydney, Australia and applies equal parts pop sheen and rock grit to their danceable tunes. They've got that thing where the band can sound poppy as all get out, but you also get the impression they've played in a few rough bars along the way and wouldn't stand for anyone calling them soft. Maybe it's the continent—INXS had a similar vibe to them in the earlier days they never fully lost despite becoming mega-stars in the late '80s—but whatever it is, it's working for Bloods.

Their new album Together, Baby! is out next month, but the track "Thinking Of You Thinking Of Me" is 110% a summer bop, and it seems criminal for you to not enjoy its pleasures immediately. So give it a listen, put it on repeat, and deploy as needed to either enhance (or make up for lack of) a summery sunshine day.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Midwestern-sounding power-pop via Sweden? That's Capricorn!

I realized I'd been sitting on this album since January, waiting for its release, and then never ever posted about how awesome Capricorn is! But holy shit, this track sounds like old Tom Petty meets Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty;" high-energy stuff that's polished but never plastic, and I can feel the sweat hitting the guitar strings as they push the good times forward.

The video above is just for the opening track, but the whole album fires at this level. And you can sample the full-album playlist on YouTube or go ahead and order yourself a copy of the band's excellent For The Restless LP.

Monday, August 08, 2022

A 100% guaranteed musical shot of joy.

Today marks a number of important anniversaries in my life, and that made me think of the songs I always turn to when I need a dependable boost. One of those, I Was A King's "Norman Bleik," has worked for me 100% of time when I needed it, but it's been hard to track down in an easily sharable form, so I've always kinda kept it for myself, despite believing its power may be strong enough to energize anyone within listening distance.* It's not just one thing about the song that works—not the lyrics or melody or arrangement alone—it is the song working as a perfect whole that gives it rejuvenating powers.

But today I ran across it as a track in a label sampler, so if you don't want to dig through used record stores for your own copy of the band's 2009 self-titled album (or the actual single!), this should do the trick when you have need of a pick-me-up!**

And while I think many would argue this song is well known and helped the band break through to a wider audience, in my mind it has never reached the influential heights is power should've imbued the song with the power to do.

*Keeping in my mind I prefer to not share Spotify or Apple Music or Tidal or any of those kind of streaming links. Once, this is my interpretation of "easily sharable."
**Naturally, I will always prefer having a copy of the actual album, and highly recommend it!

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Hello, hi—you'll definitely want to stick around!

So, while I've always enjoyed Ty Segall's stuff, I confess it's always fit more in the "I dig it, bit it doesn't really stick with me" category of music. But the nice thing about that category is that when something does hit, it hits hard! And with "Hello, Hi" Segall made me into a believer. Heck, as you can see above, I even shelled out hard-earned dough for the vinyl of this album!

On "Hello, Hi" Segall mixes lower-key acoustic numbers with some real '70s chugging, choogling rockers. The whole thing is tight, flows perfectly, and actually sounds like an album I'd've asked my mom to play in the '70s. I won't go into all the influences I hear here, you should enjoy the fun in that instead of me spelling it out for you, but this is a really, really lovely standout of an album.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Bastien Keb's 'Organ Recital' is a dusty and tender slice of future-funk-lite.

Photo by Max Finnis
On Organ Recital, Bastien Keb fashions a funky soundtrack for a forgotten era. Maybe "forgotten" isn't the right word, since the music on this album feels like a mushy mash of various idealized timespans, where maybe the music developed along a slightly different path than it did in our world.

So let's call this "cool stuff from another dimension," since to me Organ Recital also sounds like a soundtrack to a future season of High Maintenance that will never happen. And its rubbery, woozy, sexy vibe may act as if it's unsure of itself, but that's only because Keb knows if you stick around past the first song, he's got you for the whole run. And as that run progresses, things actually seem to get progressively more chill, making this a lovely album for a late weekend afternoon outside, supine in the shade.

Enough words; this is one where just listening to it is probably the better bet when it comes to convincing you of its merits. So tap below and listen away!

Friday, July 22, 2022

In Chicago and looking for some weekend activities?

Keeping it short and sweet today, but I did a little piece on Local H ahead of their headlining set at Wicker Park Fest this evening. So check that out (and go to the show, if you're up to it)!

Tomorrow, The Handcuffs—who I also recently wrote about—play a show at Liar's Club with TAFKAV and Poison Boys. I can tell you from personal experience two of the three bands are a dependably awesome time when they play, and I listened to a few Poison Boys songs and think they'll more than be able to deliver the goods. I mean, I haven't seen them play yet, but all signs point toward them being a raucous good time and an excellent fit.

Good times ahead, I hope!

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Ian Blurton's Future Now's new album fits perfectly, just like a ... 'Second Skin!'

Photo by Rick McGinnis
The first time I played Second Skin, the new album from Ian Blurton's Future Now, I wasn't sure I was in the mood for heavy tunes. Then Blurton and crew proved to me that their heavy tunes are right for just about any time.

Second Skin opens with a taut rocker to set the stage before the title track kicks in with its 7+ minute journey through mind-twisting landscapes driven by this hard-charging bunch. The group may be a quartet, but the sound they emit could come from a rock and/or roll army and it was from this point on I was hooked and just strapped in for the ride. 

The swirl of sound laps upon the shores of multiple genre tweaks and turns, so as long as you're a fan of well-constructed tunes, most played at maximum volume without sacrificing shades of delicate melodic shifts, this will hit you directly in yr soul-ar plexus and leave you—quite happily—gasping for air.

In short? Second Skin's got a real lived-in feel while striving toward epic heights, so I think there's a little something here for just about anyone of any age. The album's out tomorrow, and you can either snag the CD, vinyl, or digital copy from the band; or turn to their label if colored vinyl is more your thing.*

*I opted for the color spatter version of the vinyl. In case you were curious.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Post-staycation check in!

When exactly did I turn into such a nature boy?
As mentioned last week, I didn't "go" anywhere for my vacation, but I still packed a lot into it. And yes, I did manage to blow up my routine enough that by the end I was truly growing relaxed and enjoying—you guessed it!—the ability to spontaneously pursue whatever I felt like doing. And while that was mostly just keeping on the move, general freedom from the more constricting views of time really does help me recalibrate and emerge refreshed.

A handful of highlights included, but were absolutely not limited to, the following:
  • Did a lot of walking; my apologies to anyone who's FitBit friends with me since I kind of blew up the leaderboard with over 60 miles of walking in the first week off work alone
  • Got a bunch of original art framed (and realized it was the first time in my life I was getting something framed as opposed to everything in frames on my walls right now having been a gift at some point in the past) 
  • Visited the Chicago Botanical Garden and wondered why it had taken me so long to visit and holy heck I'd buy a membership if I thought I'd make it out that way often enough ... but it's gonna be a regular spot to visit for me in the future!
  • I got my first haircut in almost 2 years, and while I honestly never expected to grow my hair out again so it seems like I should enjoy it before it's all gone. So while it's still long it feels so light and bouncy on my head now that layers of frizz acting as velcro have been removed. And a HUGE shout out to my stylist since she has to deal with a customer who doesn't wash his hair or use any hair products, but still wants his naturally curly / wavy hair to behave and look nice, and if you think that's "simple" I think it is the exact opposite
  • I went to the beach! Maybe I'll eventually learn how to dress for the beach
  • Spent more time regularly talking to my mom than I have in years. Spent time with my entire immediate family on my actual birthday. Hung out with my mom even more after that, and I am really enjoying being able to see my family more often (though I still self-test for COVID before seeing my mom, because mom must be protected at all costs!)*
  • Bought a new phone and absolutely abused the wide-angle lens (because it is totally normal to do that for the first week of having a new lens, right?)**
  • Bought tickets to a few concerts I wanted to attend and skipped all of them due to my personal discomfort with the current COVID variant spike, but I felt good about at least trying to go and still being able to financially support those acts, even from a distance
  • Spent a lot of time in neighborhoods both familiar and new as I wandered the city on certain days with no defined path or end point and it was so refreshing and freeing to move about unconstrained by time or expectations
I think it's that last point that sums up the true highlight of my staycation. After years where time has felt both meaningless and oppressive at the same time, approaching it from an unstructured direction devoid of real-world pressures helped redefine my mental relationship with time in a healthier and more sustainable direction. So, despite not getting more than a couple dozen miles outside Chicago at any given time, I feel this vacation was a total success!

*An aside: I did notice that when I was masked in an enclosed space I was often the only one, but that was fine by me. Though in those situations I've been increasingly harassed by non-mask wearers for wearing one ... which I absolutely can not understand.
**Was secretly happy I didn't have the new phone until after my Botanic Garden visit, otherwise I might still be there shooting pictures of all the amazing tableaux.

Emergency Sloan post!

Stop the presses!* There have been rumblings for a while now that Sloan might be nearing completion of their 13th album, and this morning it was confirmed finished and we got our first taste of what to expect when its released later this year! The album is titled Steady and the first single RAWKS.

You can pre-order Steady (out Oct. 21) right now. Me? I already reserved my purple vinyl version of the album. Can't wait!

*Check back tonight after 5:30 and the post that was originally scheduled for today will be up. This has been a true emergency rock and/or roll broadcast.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Mid-staycation check in!

It's just a 15 minute walk from the front door of my apartment to here!
Hey there! Been quiet around here, huh? There is a reason for that—I am on vacation! Well, technically it's a staycation, but...

One plan for my vacation was to map out a rough list of goals but leave lots of room for spontaneity, since that's something that has been in very short supply for me since the spring of 2019. If it makes sense, I'm trying to blow up my regular routine so I can rebuild a new routine that fits better into this new reality that includes the potential for actually seeing people again (and takes into account my personal feelings of safety*). And while daily posts here were in the running of those initial goals, I eventually jettisoned the idea since it felt little too regimented for what I'm trying to accomplish during my time off.

But hey, clearly I had to check in! And now you know why I've been so silent for an extended spell. The funny thing is, it's so ingrained in me to not discuss an upcoming vacation since it could alert stranger danger of an unattended house but obvs such a tactic is not really needed if your vacation has you staying at home. So next time I'm gonna go silent during a staycation I'll be sure to mention it ahead of time!

*As of today at least, I've still not caught COVID and while I'm sure I eventually will, I am really trying to keep that at bay for as long as I possibly can. Hopefully I didn't just jinx myself for publicly admitting I've not caught COVID yet!

Monday, June 20, 2022

Halle Berry ruled the RAZZIE awards almost 20 years ago and she deserves some credit for that!

First off all, I definitely remember hearing about Halle Berry winning a RAZZIE for Catwoman, but I had never actually heard her 2005 acceptance speech until this morning. If this speech had been readily available and easily shared when it happened, I think people would have spent far fewer years teasing Berry for playing the role.* She was clearly in on the joke, incredibly game, absolutely hilarious, and it seems she still feels that way.

The RAZZIE awards are basically the trolls of the movie world, and I hold no love for them, but I applaud Berry for taking them on in person like this. So while I still think Catwoman is an awful, awful, awful, unwatchable film, I have tons of respect for Berry—I just wish I'd seen this speech years ago! 

The real fun starts at about the 2:20 minute mark, but the whole thing is worth your time.

[credz to a rerun of HDTGM for cuing me into this speech!]

*YouTube was just being introduced, so maybe this speech just missed the cutoff before people started regularly using that platform? Either that, or it was widely shared and I somehow completely missed it? Either way—the speech rules. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Bright, summery sounds from Los Saints lighten up a sweltering day.

Photo by Stu Alfano
It's hot in Chicago right now, as we jumped straight from a long dreary stretch of cold weather into a cauldron of a heat wave. But hey, that's Chicago! We could always move somewhere nicer, but we never will.

But if I was gonna move, San Diego is a really nice spot to live, with its beaches and mild but sunny weather. At least it was like that the one time I visited. But if I lived in San Diego, it would also mean I'd've already heard of Los Saints before a few weeks ago! So their latest release Welcome To Confusion is my belated first exposure to the band.

Welcome To Confusion's a sharp and concise EP driven by clean guitars with a fleeting kiss of distortion, and dreamy vox. I'm finding it incredibly perky and peppy stuff; but more like a summer strut and less a full-fledged party. And it's definitely a good time.

Give Welcome To Confusion a spin below, and if you dig it you can pick up the album from your preferred retailer!

Friday, June 10, 2022

It's O.K. if you're finding reentry a little bumpy!

Hi there! Just a quick non-music check in! How're you holding up? We're in a weird stretch where everyone wants to behave as if the pandemic is behind us which a) ignores the fact we're still in a pandemic (even though I realize risks are far lower today than two years ago) and b) as people rush to return to "normal," those of us that have been largely isolated for the last two years may be feeling a little anxiety about reentry.

O.K., maybe a lot of anxiety. Much of it based in a simple conundrum: if you don't live with anyone, the last two years have been incredibly isolating, and even someone like me that had a really robust social existence in the beforetime has absolutely no idea how to reintegrate into the world as it exists now. And people who have been living "normally" for much of that time seem unable too understand why some of us feel completely out of step with the world outside work. (I've mentioned it numerous times before, but thank God I had a job I loved when the pandemic started, since that focus and those people were essential to me keeping busy with purpose and staying sane.)

So it's perfectly fine if you're feeling the same. 

I'll share that I have been more socially active this week than I have been in a very long time—seeing friends for a birthday on Sunday and heading into the office to hang out with colleagues IRL on Wednesday—so the tide is changing! And yeah, it's a little awkward at times since the ol' brain is used to running faster and not having to slow things down to, you know, carry on a discussion outside of my head. But I'm noticing that the time it takes to acclimate to other people shortens a teensy bit the more every time I push myself outside the house to attend a social gathering of some kind. So if you're worried about constantly sticking your foot in your mouth because you're out of practice—you won't. You'll be fine. Just keep it up!

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Post Animal's inspired 'Love Gibberish' is familiar, magnetic, and magical.

Photo by Kevin Allen
Post Animal's last album Forward Motion Godyssey was released in 2020, meaning the band was another in a long line of musical acts on the cusp of a tour that never happened for an album that could have vaulted them to the next level. But instead of just wallowing and feeling sorry for themselves, they started recording various home demos and finally came together at the family farm of one of the band members to capture the album, reportedly over ten days. I don't know about you, but that sounds like one of the better ways to spend some downtime.

And spend that time well, they did! Their new album Love Gibberish, released last month, sounds like a band reaffirming their sound while plumbing the depths of influences from previous decades to help provide structure. Unexpectedly, these influences were more along the wavelength of Supertramp or Toto or any number of mid-'80s rockers slightly past their prime.* And yes, I know that many of the acts I name here eventually suffered from the plodding tempos and over-worked studio tricks of that era.


Luckily for us, Post Animal works from the ethos of keeping what works, tossing the fluff, and adding their own magical touches, so Love Gibberish tends to sound like an album from another time, but it's a time that never existed. There isn't a beat of self-indulgence to be found in any of the tracks, even though the music is lush and washes over you with such force that if the initial beats don't get you, the insistent undertow of thew band's sound will draw you in, no matter how much you resist. And in this case, I think you should be glad that resistance will hopefully prove futile.

Post Animal is coming back to their hometown of Chicago to play The Metro this Friday, June 10. You can snag tickets here OR try your luck and enter the giveaway Third Coast Review is running for the show(after you read Julian's excellent review of the album, of course.)

Friday, June 03, 2022

Time to snag two high-energy releases out today—Extra Arms and Supercrush!

It's Friday, it's sunny, and summer is still settling into Chicago. And I've got two killer new releases to recommend today! I'm keeping this quick because I have a hard time believing you won't be interested both albums if you simply listen to one song a piece. You'll have to hear the rest, So today, instead of going into detail about what makes these releases terrific, I'll just let the music speak for itself.

First up is the new album from Extra Arms. While Ryan Allen has tirelessly been releasing a number of albums and EPs since the beginning of the pandemic, What Is Even Happening Right Now? is the first proper Extra Arms release since 2019. And it slays—buzzy guitars, crunchy drums, and what appears to be a bag filled with roughly a zillion hooks, Allen and company are back in full and marvelous face-blasting form.

Supercrush did release a full LP in October 2020—it also slays—but have been largely silent since then. (Who could blame 'em? October 2020 sucked. But that album was great and wasn't heard by enough people!) But I woke up this morning to see they released a new EP, and man-oh-man is Melody Maker pretty dang good too! 

Is there a genre called turbo-charged slacker power-pop? If not, this should help define that movement. 

Thursday, June 02, 2022

A collaborative benefit album that actually works as an album!

Photo by Midnight Piper Forman
I know a lot of musical acts found different ways to weather the first phase of the pandemic, but this project from Erica Dawn Lyle and Vice Cooler took a few chances and really stands out as one of the better experimental uses of some unexpected downtime. Lyle was all set to play guitar, and Vice Cooler was to be the drum tech, for the much-anticipated Bikini Kill 2020 tour. Clearly that didn't happen.

So instead the duo set about making what would become the Land Trust: Benefit For NEFOC compilation—and I'm honestly fascinated to learn more about the intricate details of the process—but it appears Cooler would lay down a drum track, send it to Lyle to add guitar lines, and then hone that into a song. When they had a few songs in good shape, they started to reach out to an astounding array of guest vocalists to help complete the songs with the duo. And I do mean an astounding array of vocalists, including Three Ks of indie rock royalty on different songs: Kathleen Hanna, Kelley Deal, and Kim Gordon. And for the youth, we have a huge number of up-and-coming musicians, including the absolutely-worth-all-the-buzz combo The Linda Lindas. But seriously, every guest vocalist slays on this collection; not a weak link in the bunch.

The strangest thing about this compilation is ... it doesn't sound like a grab-bag of ideas at all, but instead functions as a pretty solid album. Despite the large canvas of collaborators, the entire project maintains a consistent musical viewpoint, even as each songs bends around the strengths of a different singer. 

I can't tell whether this began as a benefit album or developed into one as the project evolved, but however it happened, this is the rare benefit album that actually works as a whole while generating funds for a good cause, the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust (NEFOC). Are you as unfamiliar with NEFOC as I was? Probably! According to the press release:
NEFOC is an Indigenous and POC-led grassroots organization that seeks to connect POC farmers to land to grow healthy foods and medicines for our communities. We plan to accomplish this by acquiring and returning land to Indigenous nations and respectfully connecting Black, Asian, and Latinx and other POC farmers and land stewards to land while centering and respecting Indigenous sovereignty.
The full collection is out tomorrow, so you can sample a few songs today and pre-order it, or just snag the whole thing tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

REVEALED: How to get Radiohead to record a new Radiohead album

Photo by Alex Lake
So this is partially tongue in cheek* but it does appear that the best way to get Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood to team up and record a new Radiohead album is to record under a different name.

I mean, come on! The Smile sounds more like latter-era Radiohead than some actual latter-era Radiohead songs do!

This is perhaps not exactly breaking news. And it did take me a while to actually listen to the album since I worried it was just gonna be another noodly affair with ethereal vocals avoiding any semblance of a hummable melody. But nay! This stuff is (relatively) catchy! And—yes—sounds like Radiohead!

I bought the album on Bandcamp** after hearing it, so have no clue how many songs are streaming to those who haven't, but whatever is showing up for you in the player above should help make my point.

So smile, it's like we've got a new Radiohead LP in 2022!

*Or should that be "tng in chk?"
**I'm pleased to see more and more huge acts releasing their stuff on Bandcamp as well as all the other usual streaming outlets. Smart move!

Friday, May 27, 2022

A break in previously scheduled programming.

I had planned on a series of posts about writing, my own history with writing, and the changing landscape I've observed over the last 32 or 33 years since my first critical piece about popular music was published. You know, drawing comparisons between then and this little blog, as well as some of the shifts I've seen and how I personally approached them.

But the day this site turned 20 another unspeakable tragedy struck in the U.S, yet another in a long line of horrors we are all just supposed to deal with these days, with little or no relief from anyone "in control" in sight. That was followed by an attack on a Chicago man that left me truly doubting if my hopes for my fellow man have truly been long overblown. And the rising refrain I'm hearing from more and more people (like me) that have always endeavored to improve the world and do right ... is that we are all losing hope.

So it didn't seem appropriate throughout the week to dwell on something as relatively dumb as my own thoughts about writing. Maybe later; but right now I'm just trying to find some way to move forward without being cloaked in utter despair about our world's future.