Thursday, February 15, 2024

Jon Brion² in Chicago!!!



Sixteen years after I saw him play Hideout, I finally got a chance to see Jon Brion perform Tuesday night at Empty Bottle. I considered myself lucky, since Brion never comes to the Midwest, and I felt like I was going into last night as a seasoned pro…until Nora pointed out she’s seen him over THREE DOZEN TIMES! I have rarely been so jealous of my own girlfriend, but if I could see him play weekly at Largo, I would’ve made it a regular occurrence too!

The Bottle show was 2+ hours of musical joy, and one of the very few times I not only stood in line ahead of doors opening, but stood right in front of the stage like a fanboy. In retrospect, it was a little distracting to be standing inches away from Brion at almost eye level.

Since I’m no longer out covering music 5–7 days a week, seeing two weekday shows is a rarity for me these days, and two consecutive shows by the same artist is nigh unheard of, but when Jon Brion makes a rare trip to Chicago, you DO NOT MISS IT. So last night we trekked to The Salt Shed for a showing of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind preceded by a shorter performance from the trio, and followed by a Q&A with Brion. I feel incredibly lucky—and slightly indulgent—to have enjoyed not only hours of live music from Brion—backed by / collaborating with Jay Bellerose and Jennifer Condos—AND a relatively wide-ranging Q&A I found largely illuminating.*

During the Q&A last night I did get to ask him to clarify when he was coming back to town, since at The Bottle he had hinted it would be soon. Sounds like while nothing is set at this time, he does seem interested in doing more shows outside L.A. in the near future. So, as with everything Brion, we’ll just have to wait and see if the stars align.


Want a few more shots? You're in luck!

and


UPDATED 2/15: Whoa! It appears someone recorded Tuesday night's full set! Listen to the whole thing below.



*After their set last night, I saw Bellerose as he was leaving and ran up to him excitedly jabbering about how much I loved his drumming, and then I saw Condos and could only seem to form enough words to say “your bass work is amazing,” probably sounding like a fool to both. Then again, shoving my foot in my mouth around people I respect is pretty par for the course, so...

Friday, February 09, 2024

Jesus jones live at the height of their early powers? Yes, please!

My history with Jesus Jones extends all the way back to the late '80s when the cover of the Liquidizer cassette caught my eye at a Sound Warehouse. A minute or two at the listening station convinced me I'd finally found something I'd longed for—a heavy rock band that was just as equally heavy a dance band, while retaining melody instead of turning down the more Industrial routes growing more and more popular at the time. 

I first saw the band in 1991 when I was reviewing their openers Ned's Atomic Dustbin both as a fan of that band and as an excuse to see the band I really loved headline. That era of the band's sound is probably my personal favorite, and last year I eagerly picked up a limited-edition LP of a 1990 show at The Metro—I literally waited for this full show to be released for years, always hoping that the smattering of live b-sides tracks recorded then might be released as a complete concert.*

Earlier this week Jesus Jones dropped a live recording from the tour that followed, from a show the band seems to unanimously agree (art least as far as I can see) that the show from the Trocadero in San Francisco stands as one of the group's favorite live experiences ever. After buying it and giving it a listen, I cans why they would. Give it a spin blow and consider adding it to your permanent collection if you dig it too. It is an older recording, and while I believe the Metro show benefitted from a proper recording rig—I thought this was recorded by WXRT's mobile unit, but can't find confirmation of that, so maybe my brain is faulty—this recording exhibits some of the hiss and slight muddiness of the time. But it sounds like "home" to my ears.

I was supposed to see Jesus Jones play last year just before my trip to see Blur at Wembley, but the show had to be postponed for logistical reasons. Luckily the band has sorted those issues out, are heading out back on the road, and will be playing on March 27 at Space, in Evanston.


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Rockin' My Turntable in 2022.


No, it's not a typo: this is my 2022 list. I think this is the last time I’ll have to say “it’s never taken me this long to put together a year-end music list” … for real! But here you go, my best of 2022 list is finally here! 

One interesting aspect of putting this particular list together was that my memory had 2022 as a slighter year for music, but once I rounded up the finalists, there were so many it took me several hours to cut this list down to the usual 20 slots. 

It’s also interesting to evaluate 2022 listening at the dawn of 2024, since I have a much better handle on what actually made a lasting impression, effectively balancing out the recency bias and communal peer pressure most lists released before the end of the year they’re tracking routinely display. 

There’re a few acts I was sure would be on here in 2022 that didn’t make the cut (sorry, Wet Leg) and some of those truly surprised me (I mean, The Smile released the Radiohead album many of us had been waiting for, and they're not on the list either). I also noticed there’s a lot of guitar-based stuff on here. Historically my lists are a bit more varied in that respect. Obviously, the endlessly recurring reports of rock’s demise continue to be more histrionic than historic. But I also think that the poppier spheres of the musical world never quite regained the forward momentum of the pre-pandemic years, so less from that realm made a lasting impression. But music is cyclical, and last year saw some more interesting pop releases, so let's hope that continues; but in 2022, it looks like it was rock and/or roll (mostly) saving my soul, y’know?

As always, this list is in no real particular oder (save one album) and since so much time has passed, I'm keeping the write-ups brief. But if any of this looks intriguing, please give the acts a listen ... I think any one of these albums would be a terrific addition to just about any collection.

Ne'er-do-well
Fun Days

This was the biggest surprise of 2022 for me, and remains a release I listen to frequently. As I mentioned in another recent review, I usually have one album at the top of my mental rolodex to answer the endless queries of "what's good? / what should I listen to?" and Ne'er-do-well's Fun Days was my go-to answer in 2022. These days? I'm eagerly awaiting their sophomore album and hoping that eventually they break out of the Austin scene to play a show closer to Chicago.




Tamar Berk
start at the end

The Inflorescence
Remember What I Look Like

My year-end lists historically top out at 20 releases, so to "technically" stay within those self-imposed boundaries, I've grouped a few acts together. If you somehow haven't read anything I've written about Tamar Berk, her album start at the end is an excellent place begin sampling her perfectly crafted pieces of guitar-driven pop. The Inflorescence also traffic in catchy guitar tunes, with the clear stamp of catchy '90s indie rock. Some say it's the sound that's (thankfully) sweeping the nation! And anyone who gravitated towards Matador releases in the early '90s hears a whole lotta that label's DNA in a striking swathe of similarly-minded contemporary groups. Why am I grouping these two acts together? They also share DNA—Berk is mom to The Inflorescence's singer and guitarist, Tuesday Denekas.




Keep For Cheap
Bundle

I loved this album so much I bought the vinyl right after I received the promo for it. And I've continued to regularly spin this album both on my hard disc and on my turntable. Crisp, melodic songwriting causes this one to whoosh forward to the front of the line any time I need a little upbeat reflective time.



Extra Arms
What Is Even Happening Right Now?

Ryan Allen put out an unbelievable number of solo and side projects during the pandemic, but he made enough room to also release a stunning blast of nigh-perfect hard-guitar pop by his band Extra Arms.



MUNA
MUNA

MUNA's playful pop is better-known today than when this album was initially released, so it may be less an undiscovered gem to many. But if you haven't listened to this in a while (or at all!) give it a spin today and familiarize yourself with its positive ebullient charms.



Deaf Lingo
Lingonberry

This Italian quartet turns their guitars way, way, way up while keeping the energy at a similar level. They've got big Superchunk / Bob Mould feels filtered through a new millennial lens, and its just too much fun.



The Handcuffs
Burn The Rails

Farewell Captain
Amends

Pink Frost
Until the Summer Comes

These were three excellent releases from three long-running Chicago acts, all of whom I've enjoyed following along with since each group's genesis. The Handcuffs have got your power-pop crossed with Nuggets-rawk and glammy swagger needs covered. Farewell Captain took years to finalize Amends, and that care shows in the quantum leap forward that band made (and they were already pretty great). And Pink Frost create howling vortexes of guitar squall pinned to driving rhythms creating a focused attack few will want to escape from.



2nd Grade
Easy Listening

So, yeah. This was on a ton of lists, and while it is easily identified as somewhat sentimental indie rock, their influences are aces, and the end result s familiar while being completely new. 



Momma
Household Name

Super-duper catchy, Momma takes a few musical cues from Weezer while side-stepping anything too silly. They then turn up the guitars around the sweet yet powerful vocals cutting through the curtains oof the song's arrangements, and they've got me in their grasp. Did I mention super-duper catchy?



The Brontosaur
Reaver

Birth
Born

Both of these albums are awesome, and both of these albums is HEAVY. Also worth noting, both albums are heavy slabs of vinyl (and both bands clearly embrace the ethos of a time when everything was analog, album covers and LP sleeves ruled the world, and heavy prog-rockers wandered the Earth. Dig into 'em and dig 'em both!



Beyoncé
Renaissance

Oddly enough, this album took the longest to get its hooks into me. But once I unlocked it for myself its genius continues to floor me.



Assassins
The Year That Never Came

I don't think this was widely released until 2023, but I picked up this final, long-gestating Assassins album the second I uncovered it online. In my case, Amazon had the MP3s for sale, so I'm counting it as a 2022 release. I am also clearly writing anything I can to not address why this album means so much to me. Instead I'll offer a fun fact: Assassins were the first band I wrote about when I was auditioning for Chicagoist! Who knew what amazing new worlds would unlock for me over the next 12 years that followed me writing that piece...



Neal Francis
Sentimental Garbage

A Chicago musician that stayed under my radar until this album, but if you're anything like me, the notion of Dave Fridmann producing a funk-pop album was too good to not listen to, and far far better than I expected it would be. Nowadays I pick up everything Francis is putting down the second he releases it.



Ghost Funk Orchestra
A New Kind Of Love

My absolute go-to for months and months and months for those days I needed to escape to a mental meadow-space and just vibe.



Gladie
Don't Know What You're in Until You're Out

I play this album a lot and it never gets old. Is there higher praise to be given that that? Augusta Koch and her crew of merry musicians kick out jam after jam and I eagerly jump right into the center of the web they're spinning every single time.



Asylums
Signs of Life

Buzzy catchy Britty brash guitars slinging against cabinets and crashing into each other while shower-hummable melodies wend their way to and fro? Yes, please.



The Backseat Lovers
Waiting To Spill

What do we get when you combine Radiohead Vox with a nod to early Bright Eyes and no fear of cranking up the volume? This is what you get. I happened to see them live on this tour and think they could be mega mega one day. 



Gill Brothers Band
Gill Brothers Band

Daniel Romano's Outfit
La Luna

Gill Brothers Band might look like a bunch of roots rockers, but this is vibrant, lively stuff that effortlessly swings while rocking hard. Danial Romano traffics similar terrain on La Luna, but eschews discrete tunes for a largely seamless song cycle. Both album are just terrific.



Wild Pink
ILYSM

This is one of those I throw on to get lost in. It starts off slyly quiet and slowly draws you in so that by the time to hit the insistent repetition of title track a third of the way in, it acts as a winch drawing you tightly in line with the rest of the album's ebbs and flows.



Carly Rae Jepsen
The Loneliest Time

It's Carly Rae Jepsen in full-on soft-disco sad-girl-with-a-smile mode. Of course I love it.



Whoa! You read everything until the end?! Thank you! And I promise that my best of 2023 list isn't far behind—I swear!

Monday, January 29, 2024

Those January blahs.


The sun is shining this afternoon and it's a welcome change from the weeks of gray skies and freezing temps, driving even the hardiest of Midwesterners indoors for far longer than is probably healthy. It wasn't until a few weeks into January that I even accepted just how negative an impact the weather was having on me, until I shared my private concerns with my partner. I mean, it's winter in Chicago—who am I to complain about a known quantity? But the truth is that it's been a really hard month, and I've felt more penned in than usual. While I still hit my 10,000 steps goal every single day, there are spans of days where I never leave the house, and pace the miles in solitude, following a closed loop around the interior of my abode. I have never been so thankful to have a long hallway smack dab in the middle of my first-floor apartment. It is a lifesaver (and thank goodness there is no one below me to annoy)!

But I digress.

It's been a psychologically rough and dreary month, and I suspect I am not in the minority when it comes to feeling like that. So this is a gentle reminder you are not alone in feeling like that. And on a sunshine-y day like this one, take the opportunity to soak in the sun and store up that energy! We're all gonna get through it together, y'know? 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Not a great day in music media.

In the aughts—between Pitchfork and the AV Club—Chicago was ground zero for music criticism and everyone writing or booking venues or playing in bands in this city at the time benefited in that collaborative community. And I'd argue that everyone in the music writing scene in Chicago at that time influenced the direction of the scene and ultimately the mainstream tastes that remain near the tops of the charts today.

I've felt no need to comment on the recent state of either of those once-mighty sites—it's not fair to constantly hold he Imperial Period of stuff like that as a reasonable measure against how they do decades later, especially when under the leadership of coldly corporate raiders.

Regardless, the news of Pitchfork being merged into GQ is incredibly alarming news, effectively killing one of the last major centers of music criticism (regardless of your opinion of said criticism, every outlet's survival benefits us all). And in full transparency,  I do still have friends that work there, so I know the staff has been fighting the good fight, but I fear for all their livelihoods in the wake of this crushing announcement. Especially in a sector of the job market that is already overburdened by the overly-talented unemployed.

Thank gawd Stereogum went indie again, and there are a few smaller sites that might benefit from running more original pieces and fewer cut-and-pastes of press releases to help fill the inevitably massive void left by P4K. And of course I still believe in the power of independent blogs, and hope other individual voices and smaller arts sites find new readers hungry for their guidance. So there are still a good number of us out there fighting the good fight.

But it's still a very, very dark day for people who love music and music writing.

Friday, January 05, 2024

Don't call 'em resolutions, call it a check-in.

Heya, hi there, how're ya doin' today? 

Welcome to an extremely brief check-in, wherein I decide that I will endeavor to get both my personal best music of 2022 and 2023 lists upon this space before the end of January 2024. 

Speaking of 2024, additionally, I plan to write for Third Coast Review on a more frequent basis (I'm shooting to share at least one music-related post there a week, but we'll see how that goes). 

And finally—and this will make longtime readers hold their sides as they fall over in stitch-making guffaws aplenty—I resolve to become a regular visitor to the gym this year. After this Saturday I'll be all vaxxed up and boosted to protect against the most common ailments we have to worry about these days, and I think it's time to put aside my anxiety of working out in an enclosed space with other people and embrace the return to an even healthier, stronger (and I think, happier) me!

Also, do not be surprised if you start to see more short, personal posts begin to appear as I re-embrace the kind of writing that started this site in the first place, over two decades ago.

2023 was one of the best years I've had in a very, very long time—2024 is looking to be even more amazing!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The UPROXX critic's poll is live! Here's who made it onto my ballot.

Despite not having created my "best of 2022" list yet, I was excited to participate in this year's 2023 UPROXX Music critics' poll. I created my list based on a quick survey of albums that I rated highly throughout the year, so consider this a snapshot of what I remembered really enjoying at the time of the ballet deadline. 

Don't be surprised when my personal, full "best of 2023" list eventually gets finished and albums have shifted—that's one of the main reasons I prefer to wait until well after year's end to consider that stuff. But this was a really fun exercise and I'm really happy they let me join in the fun!

You can view the full critics list here, and my personal ballot is here. But for those who don't feel like clicking, here're the ten artists I included on my ballot this year. Again, this isn't my full "best of 2023" list—that'll come after I finally post my "best of 2022" list, but I hope this short, early version helps introduce you to some excellent music you might've missed this year.

Blur



Jake Shears



Danko Jones



Devon Church



Tamar Berk



Gatuplan



Ratboys



Fuckleberry Hinn



Thank You, I’m Sorry



Rocket

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!



FOOTBALLHEAD
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!