Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Getting out and about really is good for the soul.

Photo by Nora.
Y’know, after three years of not getting more than a few miles away from my house—the longest I have been that stuck in one spot in … my entire life?—this year really has thrust me back into the world in all the best ways. I’ve been to Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin, New York, Colorado, London, Paris...and I even made it all the way out to Elgin, IL! And my travel for the year isn’t done yet.

I have occasionally felt drained and exhausted since it really does take a pretty seismic internal reorientation to suddenly reengage with the world in so many different locations and on so many different levels. But it has been so worth it, and I find my soul feeling fuller and more refreshed than it has in years.

Another unexpected experience this year? Finally getting to see so many people I hadn’t interacted with since 2019 (or well before) and realizing how genuinely happy and excited I am to see every single one of those faces! Even more unexpected? So far, they’ve all seemed genuinely happy and excited to see me too! And I confess, that is not something I expected, and the fear people would react to my reappearance otherwise probably kept me secluded longer than it should have.

Get out of your comfort zone and you really do reap benefits far beyond your expectations. I know, I know, such a cliché. Roll your eyes and I won’t judge you. But also, so true. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

One of my favorite bands makes their long-awaited return to the stage tonight!

In 2005, I put together one of my favorite bills ever at Double Door, but it was also a bill I didn't want to create, since it was constructed to serve as Woolworthy's last show ever.

Welp, while I usually view reunions with a skeptical eye, I can tell you in full truth that the surprise album and unexpected return—they managed to keep it a secret even from me, until the 11th hour!—from Woolworthy means I finally get to see them again. TONIGHT!

There's tons of good stuff on this bill, and I expect it's gonna be an amazing and emotional night all around.

The best part? Woolworthy is making their return with ther best album yet! It's a win-win-win-win situation all around.

See you tonight?

Monday, November 13, 2023

'Stop Making Sense' blew my senses.

Despite Stop Making Sense being the first Talking Heads tape I bought in the '80s—primarily due to its collection of song titles I recognized at the time functioning as a sort of "greatest hits" to adolescent me, concerned as I was by stretching every dollar spent on music as far as possible—I never actually saw the movie until a few weeks ago.

And I hadn't even realized that was the case until I dug through my memories and realized I had constructed a version of Stop Making Sense (the film) in my head by reading about it over the years, and seeing a fair amount of the footage from the film as snippets over the years. But I had never sat down to watch the whole thing as a complete piece!

I am fascinated by what a powerful documentary it is, and how incredibly fresh and exciting it feels despite me being old enough to recognize how even the wilder moves Demme and the band undertook at the time have become some of the most basic components of the modern concert film.

I will also be eternally thankful that my first full experience with the film was on a big screen with a great sound system, instead of the grainy VHS I would have otherwise imbibed after its release. (Despite my love of music, as a teenager the idea of spending money on a full price movie ticket to watch "a long music video" would have never even entered my consideration set. I similarly skipped Rattle & Hum at the theater just 4 years later for similar reasons. Too expensive for little me, at the time!)

It also served as an important lesson: I really need to go back and reinvestigate what "classics" I've missed that I thought I saw!

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

ROCKET-ing into your world, 'Versions Of You' is a can't miss EP.

Photo by Sarah Hesky.
No sooner do I question my listening habits than an EP explodes into my ears and makes me remember exactly why I keep looking for new music, decades after I should've exhausted that curiosity.

The huge, rilly rilly big, buzzy guitars and thunderous rhythm section deployed by Rocket on their debut EP Versions Of You melt around Alithea Tuttle's vocals to create a stew you won;t be able to resist. Huge melodies carry the proceedings along, and while they seem to be incredibly young this is definitely the sound of a group that has grown up together as every instrument locks together flawlessly,  incorporating slabs of power pop and smashing them into waves of shoegaze, all the while keeping things moving along in a sprightly manner. It's one of those albums that upon hearing the opener I was like, well, at least I know they've got one great tune in them. And then another great tune followed that one, and another, and another ... until by the end my only quibble with this EP is that I wish it'd been an LP instead!

I am incredibly bummed I didn't listen to this EP until this week, which means I just missed the Chicago stop of their tour. However it looks like they still have some Canada and West Coast dates coming up, so if they're coming to your town don't make the same mistake I did and get out to see 'em live!

Monday, October 30, 2023

Revisiting my music-listening habits and asking some questions.

I've been revisiting my music listening habits, trying to figure out if they are even healthy. After over 30 years of music criticism, I still listen to just about every album sent my way for consideration, on top of listening to major releases I'm not sent to keep abreast of the mainstream tastes, and picking up anything and everything from bands I'm already a fan of—which is a large number of musical groups, by this point. Heck, I still save standout songs from each year in a folder for DJing ... despite my largely "retiring" from DJing well over a decade ago.

Which is to say I spend the vast majority of my time listening to new music, and feel I have to crunch revisits to past faves into the brief periods where I've caught up with the recent stuff. And I feel slightly guilty if I'm listening to an older album just because I love it.

On the plus side, I'm still completely plugged into what's going on ... but on the downside I've found myself finally questioning "why." I haven't had a daily beat to worry about since 2017, and these days I am lucky enough to have the freedom to only write about the music I want to, with no deadlines at all.

I've also been reading a number of fellow critics who are revisiting their own habits as they enter their early 30s, noting the difficulties of staying on top of everything as they begin to feel both physically and mentally older. And while it's taken me roughly twenty years longer than them to ask myself the same questions, there they are.

But I often feel I can't in good conscience just "quit" music criticism and giving lesser-known bands a broader platform. I personally feel there are far too few writers out there covering bands that could actually use championing. Instead, writers are being forced to cover music that will deliver dependable clicks. And as outlets continue to focus on only stuff that draws the most traffic, there are fewer and fewer writers with my combination of experience and true openness. And I do feel a responsibility to keep sharing that experience ... but should I? Does it even matter any more? And if not, can I even listen to music in a "normal" manner by this point?!

And hey, if you got this far—thanks so much for reading! Even if you have no reaction, or think I'm just being a weirdo, it feels good to say this "out loud."

Talkin' Blur's 'Blur' (and a whole lot more) on the 'Dig Me Out' podcast!

Recently I made my tenth (?!) appearance on the Dig Me Out podcast, and my first where I got to choose the topic of discussion! Since Blur is obviously on my mind this year, I decided to cover the band's self-titled 1997 album with the hosts Tim and Jason

I was tempted to go with 13, since I had actually been shortlisted for a book on that topic years ago, but in the end Blur seemed to open up more topics that led forward and backward into the band's career. So, in a sense, we ended up touching on the band's entire catalog, even as we focused on Blur. 

Don't worry, even if you're not a fan of Blur there are plenty of tangents to enjoy, but I think the conversation ended up being one both hardcore fans and complete neophytes would enjoy.

Stream the episode below, search for it in your preferred podcast player, or listen to it on Apple Podcasts.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Psymon Spine is coming to Chicago TONIGHT!

Photo by Nicole “Neptune” Miller.

Due to an extremely packed schedule over the last few weeks leading to a dearth of writing that I really wanted to get done, I actually have a pretty regular stream of "content" to share with you thoroughout this week! But that will have to wait one more day since this particular news is a little more time-sensitive a.k.a. is a show having TONIGHT.

I did a proper preview of Psymon Spine's gig at Color Club in Chicago tonight over on Third Coast Review, so check that out. I will say here that I've never been to Color Club, and haven't a clue how many people in Chicago even know who Psymon Spine is, so I also have no ideas what to expect tonight. But I know whatever happens, it will be fun!

Friday, October 06, 2023

Woolworthy is back!

Almost 20 years since their last show, and over 21 years since their last recorded release, Woolworthy reunited over the summer and recorded and entire new album in secret!

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

What the Fuckleberry Hinn?!

Photo by Elin Stømner. 
I do love how this crew of Norwegians would be cheeky enough to name their truly pleasant-sounding and friendly indie rock band Fuckleberry Hinn. So much for SFW SEO! However, there is literally a little something for everyone on Neither/Nor, the debut from this group with extensively sprawling sensibilities. Fuckleberry Hinn firmly farms the familiar soil of '90s guitar-driven indie unafraid of a pop hook, but they truly dig through all the layers of sound that might entail. So one tune might sound like a rough atmospheric demo, another might dip into dreamier terrain, while yet another might suddenly take on the form of a hard-charging rocker.

Over 22 songs and almost an hour and twenty minutes, these fellows truly let it ALL hang out. I don't know if this is an album I'll listen to over and over again, but I am certain there are a few gems in here that'll stick with me. And given the wide-ranging variety of the material, I think you'll feel much the same way—all that remains to be discovered is just how many of these tunes ring your particular bell.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

The return of spontaneity.

A year into the pandemic, I was asked what I missed most about the before-times, and I answered, "spontaneity!"

I think I initially embraced my long walks because they provided me with new things to see every single time, no matter how many times I trod the same routes, and that helped balance out the lack of social spontaneity I was feeling in my world. And as the broader world has re-opened, many of the familiar activities I used as springboards to spontaneous adventures were no longer really available to me, so I've been redefining what "spontaneity" even means to me.

Yesterday we were running errands in a nearby suburb when what looked to be the Leaning Tower of Pisa appeared over the trees in the horizon of the parking lot we entered. It ended up being the Leaning Tower of Niles, a local "landmark" I didn't even know existed. And wasn't in our plans. And was absolutely, totally, and completely unexpected. And when I tell you I was giddy at the sight—so much so I literally* sprinted out of the car to get a closer look—the pleasurable rush that ran through my body was akin to how I'd feel on prior spontaneous adventures.

So I'm finding spontaneity again, and it might look a little different, but it feels even better than it did before!

*And I do mean "literally," as my girlfriend's eye-rolls and chuckles at the time can attest.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Sad Park brings a big ol' smile to my face (and ears)!

Photo by Alice Baxley
Hot diggity-dawg, every once in a while I throw on an album sent to me and fall immediately into love with it. 

Sad Park's No More Sound has everything that drives me wild: loose arrangements that sound sloppy while nailing every beat, groove, and accent; vocals that feel like they're authentically searching for the next "right" note but you discover that's actually an illusion and the singer is intending every syllable whether it's behind, ahead of, or directly in the pocket; and songs stuffed with so many hooks you lose count and just ride along the rising rush of excitement that powers this album from start to finish.

It’s a loud and rowdy smear of sound guaranteed to bring a smile to yr face every time you give it a spin.

Basically, it freaking slays.

It looks like Sad Park is currently on tour (though, sadly, it appears I already missed their Chicago stop) and, based on this album, they sound like they'd be an amazing live act. If you happen to catch them, let me know if I'm right!

Monday, August 07, 2023

The pleasure of the unexpected should be embraced, not guarded against.

A photo of me taking a photo, by Nora
I’ve been back from my European trip for almost a month, and have still found myself unable to get into all the photos I took and start organizing them. I’ll open the folder they’re all in, take a look, get overwhelmed by all the already amazing memories, and I put it off for a little while longer. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll eventually get to see highlights, and I hope they don’t come so late that people are annoyed instead of inspired by all the sights. Aw, who’m I kidding—it’ll be the the latter.

I was thinking this morning about the big list of things we made that we wanted to do, mentally comparing it to the list of things we actually did do. And you know what? I don’t regret a single thing we didn’t do, and am ecstatic that our schedule was packed with so many planned and unplanned discoveries! This is of course something I knew, but hadn’t really encountered in a really long time, so it was incredible fun to re-learn how rewarding spontaneity can be!

So if you’ve got a big trip coming up—and judging by most folks, it does appear that the travel bug has bitten just about everyone again now that we seem to feel more comfortable managing COVID risks—you should definitely go into it with a solid plan. But leave room for that plan to change, and I think you’ll have a much better time than holding yourself to a rigid itinerary.

Again, you probably already know that, but (like, me) you may have forgotten you know it.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Bandcamp Friday is here! Need a few recommendations? Check out Skating Polly, FOOTBALLHEAD, The Criticals, and Tamar Berk!

Skating Polly
Chaos County Line 

Skating Polly is a power trio grounded in Oklahoma comprised of Kelli Mayo, Peyton Bighorse, and Kurtis Mayo. Their first album in five years, Chaos County Line, is a spawling and unexpected double album that hops genres and production but feels so adventurous it never feels bloated and I never got bored. Keeping in mind I already dropped that loaded term of "double album" I think the constant engagement it offers is key to the unstoppable rush of pleasure I felt as the record skipped and adventured through every interesting sonic left turn they felt like taking. All the while, this trio is giving it their all, and it sounds / feels like it!

Overthinking Everything

While FOOTBALLHEAD began as a solo project, Ryan Nolen has since teamed up with Adam Siska and the Chicago duo's first full-length Overthinking Everything sounds like the product of a full band, allowing a much fuller sonic palette in which to play. There album leans primarily towardstraightforward, hook-filled, chugging rockers, but a few tunes take a turn toward the delicate ... and, yes, occasionally dips into full-on emo territory (which is not all that surprising given the make-up of the group). In the end Overthinking Everything is a quick sharp blast that's over too soon, and leaves a lot of room for future explorations from the group.

The Criticals
Front Door Confrontations

Hailing from Nashville, The Criticals specialize in that gusty brand of rock that plays equally well in sweaty, small bars or hipster-filled small clubs. Its roots rock with a power-pop vibe, rolled through just enough grit and grain to roughen up the edges and make the tunes stick in your head. One note I also took while listening was that The Criticals sound "like looooong-distant cousins of The Features," so if you're familiar with that group (or saw my recent piece about them) it might hep you connect the pieces even faster. 

Of course, the fastest way to connect the pieces would be to give it a listen and pick up a copy for yourself.

Tamar Berk
tiny injuries

O.K., so this album isn't actually out for another two weeks, but I've heard it and can heartily endorse it as a Bandcamp Friday pre-purchase. (The vinyl in particular is quite lovely!) I plan on doing a more full review closer to the release date on Third Coast Review, but tiny injuries continues Tamar Berk's return to her "sonic roots" of super-hooky guitar rock after years exploring other avenues with different projects. That's led to her last three albums uniform excellence, and tiny injuries is perhaps the best, and most fully realized, effort from her yet. 

I've always known Berk had "it," but I'm super excited to see she also finally seems to to believe that as well, understanding and embracing the personal power of her talent while being unafraid to explore it. (In my humble opinion) I think Berk finally trusts herself enough to embrace that bright spark of individuality I saw in her eons ago in her original band Starball.) Pre-order tiny injuries now!

Tuesday, July 25, 2023


Well, it actually went up Saturday morning, but it's been a bit hectic 'round these parts, so it took me a few days to remember to announce it here. Sorry!

Also, now that that's finally written, we'll return to more regular programming ... for anyone concerned this was turning into a Blur fan site. But c'mon, it was a HUGE event for me!

Monday, July 17, 2023

Why so quiet around here?

For once, there is a simple explanation for the lull around these parts: I was in Europe for the last two weeks! I bought tickets to see Blur at Wembley way back when they went on sale, and made a whole, astounding, life-changing trip around that event. Bopping between London and Paris, my memories are currently in that pleasant slurry state of all blending together and filling me with new ideas, and quite frankly, a reenergized view of the world around me.

I'm still coming down from the amazing natural highs—this was my first intercontinental vacation as an adult that was completely booze-free, and the difference in my experience compared to past travels was AMAZING in so many positive ways I couldn't have dreamed of. 

I feel alive again—things are happening and I couldn't be more excited about the future. Do you know how odd that sentiment is to even share after years of uncertainty?

In the next couple days I'll be gathering my thoughts around the Blur concert for Third Coast Review (I'm trying to time the review to fall just before the band's new album is release at the end of this week) and then I'll start to try and capture and share all the inspirational experiences that have reopened long-thought shuttered centers of my brain over the last two weeks.

Exciting things are ahead, y'all!

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Blur gets all 'Scary Monsters' on y'all.

I have been eagerly hoping this track would drop as a single, since it is one of my favorites from the new album. That's all I'll say about that for now, and I will totally understand if you find yourself playing this one again, and again, and again, and...

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Chicago's Lurk creates an infectious collection of 'Natural Causes.'

Photo by Andy Eclov
Before putting on their latest EP, Natural Causes, I knew absolutely zero about the band Lurk, other than they were based in Chicago. After listening to the album, I still know nothing about the members personally, but I can tell you that this is a potent mixture of powerful rawk that often stunned me with its locked-in approach that manages to also feel totally organic and natural. But I did find myself looking up the dummer's name in particular (it's Pedro Unzueta) because HOLY HELL the choices he makes while perched on that drum throne makes my ears positively cry in awe (and awe often resolves itself into joy, at least in my case).

But truly, the entire band is a marvel. Give Natural Causes a listen once and you'll be like, well this sounds pretty neat. Listen a second time and you may find yourself going, well wowWOWwow, how did they do that? It's a good feeling: try it out!

Monday, June 19, 2023

Sunday funday!

I went to a lovely gathering yesterday, filled with people (writers, artists, academics) I'd never met before, and usually wouldn't cross paths with these days. I kept quiet early on—I still need a little time to acclimate to groups before I feel comfortable jumping into the conversation—but was quickly drawn into a series of discussions with people who had already led remarkable lives in the arts, treating their accomplishments as commonplace when they would stun the average listener (including me!). You know, the kind of brains that just floor you. It was glorious!

I need more of that in my life. In fact, I think we all do!

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Heavy riffage on a sunny summer's day.

Photo by Steph Montani
It's been a rainy couple of days in the Midwest but the sun is finally riding high in the sky, but wherever you may be, today is an excellent day to let the technicolor riffs of The Dirty Nil carry you off to a world where rock and/or roll is simple, crushing and catchy, and dead-set on having a dang good time. 

As these folks have toured across the U.S. recently, I see each of their stops reflected in posts from friends who are having a blast / having their faces melted / dancing their derrières off at each tour stop, so it seemed like a good time to make sure you were clued into their latest album Free Reign To Passions, out last month.

Consider yourself clued!

Friday, June 02, 2023

A new Sloan video...17 years in the making!

I guess I'd never realized Sloan never made a proper promo video for the ultra-catchy "Who Taught You To Live Like That?" off 2006's sprawling double album Never Hear The End Of It. Since 2005's A Sides Win singles compilation originally also included a DVD of the band's videos to date, I guess maybe the band was "video-ed out" by then? Or maybe they were struggling with the realization that videos seemed to have less purpose without something like a dedicated destination like MTV / Fuse / MuchMusic. And YouTube was only a year or so old at that time, so the easy dissemination of online video wasn't really a mainstream idea yet.

Luckily for all of us, in advance of the vinyl reissue of Never Hear The End Of It (and a double 7-inch of demos and unreleased tracks) the band handed over a ton of photos and material from that era, allowing for an "official" promo video of "Who Taught You To Live Like That?" to finally debut. Enjoy!