Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Movin' right along!

Some days ya just need to check in, say hi, and let everyone know everything is O.K. Well, as O.K. as things can be, these days.

So, hi!

Lessee, where do we go from there? New year's resolutions? Nah, never really been my thing. Although I do think this year if I resolve to do anything, it's to do more of the positive stuff that's gotten me through the last couple of years. So some reading, quite a bit of writing, a LOT of walking, and generally trying to be a decent, kind human being. 

You can pretend I'm reading along with you!
While I'm not particularly happy to have been living such a solitary existence, I can at least appreciate that it's given me plenty of time to work on all the fun* little things inside me that broke over the years. So I guess this year will be more of that, and hopefully some kind of return to "normalcy" that includes seeing friends I haven't seen in literally years now and hopefully getting reacquainted with the notion of live music.

Do you have the slightest idea what it's been like for someone who saw hundreds of shows a year to become someone who can count the concerts he's seen in the last two years on one hand? It's weird. It also makes me wonder if there's a place for me in that world any more, or if it's time to resign myself to being an outdated old.

O.K., I think we all know the answer to that last one. There are some things I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully leave behind, and while a pandemic curtailed my live music experiences, I'm not gonna allow it to eradicate concerts from my life.

It sounds strange but I've hit the point where I have so much I want to write about, I'm having a hard time prioritizing and winnowing down and finding a way in to a lot of stuff so it doesn't just tumble out in a jumble.

So what's 2022 hold for this here little website, as it enters its TWENTIETH** year of existence?

We'll find out! But if you guessed "more writing about music and bands mixed with a few personal posts and whatever else catches Jim's fancy" that's probably a decent thing to lay money on, if you're the wagering type.


*Mostly not fun, but I'm trying to not get too heavy. And it's all been worth it.
**I know! WHUT? Even weirder when you consider this site sprouted from the Tankboy email newsletter that started in 1995 or 1996? Every once in a while I hit landmarks that show how incongruous my own experiences in the digital realm are compared to most others my age. It's weird.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Prepare to be entranced by the magic of windfyre steel with Power Paladin.

Photo by Eva Alexandra 

In the past year or so, as most other music hit the pause button, I noticed that the output of metal albums did not decrease and I found they started to be one of the music genres that seemed less impacted by the general state of the world.* My working theory is that since metal tends to hew to a time-honored approach to music that operates outside most external trends, as the world turned into a dumpster fire, the genre nonetheless thrived.

Like I said, a working theory. I'm not saying metal doesn't still pull inspiration for all over the place, simply that the execution tends to hew to long-standing formulas, even within each subgenre. But I've also tended to be more a generalist in the last decade or so, so I'm in no way trying to pretend like I'm the expert here—just thinking out loud.

Which brings us to Power Paladin and their debut With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel. First—that name! That title! You know exactly what you are in for, and Power Paladin delivers. I mean, this is jubilant power metal, man. Old school stuff. Operatic and over the top ... yet, oddly refreshing! They may be from Iceland—Reykjavic—and Paladin is all about mining those early-Iron Maiden / latter-NWOBHM vibez, only adding even catchier hooks.

It all just freaking rocks. Sample "Creatures Of The Night"** below—it hits all the buttons described above—and then move on to the rest of the album if that tickles your interest. And it will.



*FYI, yes I am absolutely looking forward to the day when that intro line or a version of it doesn't seem necessary in so many reviews.
**I was tempted to share album opener "Kraven The Hunter" since it is full of Marvel comic books references and fucking rawks, but I know not all y'all are comic nerds. 

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

An optimistic note to start the year.

This was the first time in far too long that I felt I ended the year in a better place than I was when it began. While 2021 was pretty terrible overall on a global scale, my own life started an upward trend after too many years of feeling stuck in neutral. So based on that, 2022 is already off to a promising start! 

I hope you felt that way too.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Warm some cider, throw a log on the fire, and settle in for the epic tale of 'The Christmas Socks.'


Last weekend's Saturday Night Live had a real high school "let's put on a show!" vibe to it in the face of the rise of the Omicron variant. Since they had to lean on pre-taped sketches we lost the planned musical performances from Charli XCX, but we were gifted a lot of weird in the show when it came to new material. Given that I tend to really enjoy the oddball sketches that tend to sit near the tail-end end of the show's runtime,  I was fully welcoming of the weird.

And an unexpected bonus? While we didn't get a live Charli XCX performance, we did get a new, timeless holiday classic, featuring some unforgettable fly-by support from Ms. XCX.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Kady Rain is definitely someone to look forward to hearing more of in 2022!

Photo via Kady Rain's Facebook page

As 2021 draws to a close, albums coming in 2022 are already occupying my mind, and Kady Rain's self-titled full-length debut is one thing you should definitely have on your radar in the new year.

Kady Rain is from Austin, and is a bit of a musical chameleon as far as being able to bend disparate sounds to both her unique will and sense of fun. So that means Kady Rain is full of hooks and big ol' sing-along pop choruses, but it's been a while since I heard someone force the genre to fit their needs so well. That is to say, there is nothing prefabricated about this sound, and I suspect Rain's tunes would sound just as impressive whether she's singing them to a backing track or was performing with a three-piece rock band. In either scenario, I think her sound would prevail.

The first single from the debut, "Got Away," was released a few months ago, but I'm guessing it will probably be as new to you as it was to me just a day ago. On "Got Away," Rain flexes a little more rock than pop, and it's an excellent example of how dizzying a ride her voice can take you on. In general, the album skews a little more pop than this, but the swagger and attitude remains, no matter the sound of the song.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this taste of Kady Rain ahead of the album's January 21, 2022 release.

Monday, December 20, 2021

My spoiler-free review of 'Spider-Man: No Way Home!'


It is impossible to talk about this movie without spoiling it! And given the current climate it's probably going to take a while for people who really want to see this movie to do so. So I'm actually keeping my trap shut on the review front for now, but if you haven't seen it, you are in for a real treat. And if you have—I'm dying to talk about it, so let me know!

I will say this, this is the first time in two years I felt I really saw a movie movie on the big screen. It felt like ... home?

The times are right for a 'Slow Xmas.'


This time of year the air is filled with holiday music. For just under one month—for those of us in the more rational camp of thinking—sleigh bells and warm fires rule the musical roost. It's also the time of year for about a zillion holiday music compilations, and while I am definitely the sort to play Vince Guaraldi on Christmas morning, I'm always looking for ways to freshen up the mix. We can't all be Andy Cirzan, y'know.

Yesterday, as I was listening to my usual Sunday morning podcast, I learned of Slow Xmas, a compilation of holiday tunes by current artists that follows a definite theme but is throwing their heart into it. When a cacophonous group that is often barely able to contain the musical maelstrom they are capable of creating  like Gymshorts turns in a version of "The Chipmunk Song" that feels more like a hymn than a joke, you know you're onto something a little different when it comes to conjuring the holiday spirit.

So here you go, a greatest holiday hits compilation from an alternate universe, Slow Xmas. Better yet? It's totally free to download!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

When bands collide—the exquisite beauty of Polyvinyl's 'Exquisite Corpse.'

Last fall, Polyvinyl released a truly interesting collaborative compilation featuring many of their past and present recording artists.

The liner notes describe the process used to create this album:
Eleven teams of four or five musicians were assembled more or less at random, bringing together artists that had in many cases never met, much less worked on music together. Remotely, each team worked from scratch to create an original song, a reworked sonic adaptation of the game where each player adds to a collaborative drawing. 
The results are ... really, really good. So good, in fact, I'm here writing about the album well over a year after its initial release! So if you missed this back when it came out—totally understandable—now's your chance to catch up with something exciting!



*Seriously. When else are you going to come across an album with various members of Pedro The Lion, American Football, Nick Wilkerson, Dragon Inn 3, Yumi Zouma, Pet Symmetry, Gus Lobban, Shugo Tokumaru, Diane Coffee, Will Knauer, Aloha, Volcano, I'm Still Excited!!, Jeff Rosenstock, Palehound, Rainer Maria, SNST, Vice Cooler, Wampire, Anamanaguchi, Xiu Xiu, Squirrel Flower, Fred Thomas, The Get Up Kids, Katy Goodman, Owen, Matt Pond PA, Keil Corcoran, Bob Nanna, Psychic Twin, Islands, Ladyhawke, Radiation City, Chris Farren, Post Animal, and Dusted randomly collaborating?

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Pom Pom Squad throws in their bid to be "Popular."


I know many may find this tidbit shocking, but once upon a time the band Nada Surf was considered a one-hit wonder. Decades later it's clear that was a clear underestimation of the band's depth of talent and longevity, but that never changed the fact that once upon a time they wrote a song that was ridiculously popular.

Um, I swear there was no pun intended there.

So it doesn't surprise me that Pom Pom Squad would cover the tune, years later, and keep its punch intact. Hell, the song is practically a part of the band's sonic DNA. Oh, and did I mention the cover includes Nada Surf's Matthew Caws as well? It's a nice little unexpected fun left turn from the band and a nice parting gift as we exit 2021.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Oh, how I miss travel.


Stunningly accurate, yet I still miss hotels like this after almost two years of being stuck within a few miles of Chicago. Also, I too would have a very difficult time keeping a straight face with Kate McKinnon in the same room, much less right next to me.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Get into something new with Old Joy's 'Trash Your Life.'


From what I can gather, Old Joy is Alex Reindl, aided by a troupe of likeminded musicians, and while Trash Your Life was recorded over a long-ish span of time, the result is a pretty tight album Reindl self-describes as "scum-pop." And I guess that's as fitting a descriptor as any. 

Reindl is clearly a fan of the scrappier yet melodic sides of guitar indie rock, but likes too keep you on your toes. For example, the opening of "Watcha Doin?" is basically a lift of Nirvana's "Sliver" before taking an abrupt left-turn into a more organic jam that feels like the band building on ideas in a practice space. And I think that vibe is very intentional as Old Joy seems happy to nod to influences without simply parroting them.

I've never met Reindl, but based on his lyrics and snippets of what I've learned of him over the past year, the most impressive thing about this album is how much it sounds like a joyful yawp when it could have been mired in much darker sounds. But the friction between the melody and the intent is what sets this apart from any other scum-pop album out there right now.

On top of all that, this album is basically a sonic love letter to what I would recognize as '80s to '90s underground alternative and indie. So duh, I like it. But there's a deepness to the sentiment that raises it above tribute into something all its own. Get into it!

Friday, December 03, 2021

It's Bandcamp Friday! Need a few suggestions? I've got 'em!

It's another Bandcamp Friday, which means the dough you spend on music today from that platform goes right to the artists. So here are a few more recent releases for you to consider picking up! This took a little longer than expected since a few albums dropping today I had planned to feature haven't shown up on Bandcamp yet. But there's tons of good stuff to consider below.

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Touched By Ghoul is back! The Chicago band has been relatively quiet since 2016's Murder Circus, and they return with the blistering new collection Cancel The World. In the years since their last album it appears they've continued to tighten their focus while turning up the volume of the material, to create my favorite album from them thus far. Do not sleep on this! It's out today.


This is one album that's been out for a few months and I am ecstatic it finally made it onto Bandcamp! When Naked Raygun's first new album in decades, Over The Overlords, was released earlier this year, it was with little fanfare and was primarily available only through the Wax Trax! site.But now it's just a click away for immediate download (or ordering). GET IT NOW. I can't emphasize how amazing this album is, and am somewhat perplexed it hasn't made a bigger splash this year. Hopefully its wider availability will help.


Some bands say they embrace all genres of music, while few actually do. With Pepe Deluxé's Phantom Cabinet Vol. 1, the band proves their dedication to the whole no musical boundaries thing to deliver a genre-agnsotic shapeshifter of an album. Soul, carnival music, rock, theater, funk, dub, electronic dance, and just about everything else you can imagine makes an appearance. They may have had electronic roots at some point, but now  Pepe Deluxé have become archival constructionists of mismatched sounds that blend when they shouldn't. Super fun.


I don't want to really describe Black Light Animals' Playboys Of The Western World to you, since that would rob you of the unexpected nature of the music within. But I will tell you this band creates beautiful, multi-layered, transporting soundscapes while still hitting all the melodic needs of the soul. Really nice stuff.


I saw You, Me, And Everyone We Know play a few months ago and never reviewed the show because I simply didn't have anything positive to say about the band's live performance. Which has bugged me since I think their "comeback" album Something Heavy is so freaking tight! The album comes across as a theater kid who can absolutely slay a power-pop tune, and was the complete opposite of their concert vibe. So I guess I'm suggesting you give this a spin but don't pin your hopes in seeing these songs come satisfyingly to life in a live set any time soon.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Eschewing modesty for exuberant pop, The Modesty Blaise returned in 2021!


As we head into December and I am finally fully caught up on listening to all the 2021 releases that have come my way, I'm revisiting music I listened to waaaaaaay back at the beginning of the year to see how it holds up without any recency bias. Which brings us to Modesty Blaise's fist album in over 20 years, The Modesty Blaise, released last March. 

Fist of all, this is all very 1998 Britpop-sounding, which is oddly comforting but hardly surprising given the two decades of down time between LPs.* 

And the songs on The Modesty Blaise are exquisite, whether featuring whirring mixes of bass, horns, and whizzing synths on something like "Catwalk Queens," or getting downright glittery retro on something like "Rollerdisco." But overall this is a work of pristinely produced pop, much of it the jangly variety but with plenty of fuzz thrown in to keep things rockin'.

So does it still hold up? Hell yeah!



*And, you know, they are British.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Chase away any winter blahs with Pip Blom.

Photo by Erik Smits
When I first listened to the new Pip Blom album Welcome Break, I was like, "Oh cool, another band that seems to have grown up on Matador '90s records!"

Seriously, I don't think that label gets enough credit for the current sound sweeping the digital airwaves these days. But as a dude who lived through that time and loves all that music, I can think of far worse role models to musically emulate.

As I've dug into Welcome Break more and more over the last few weeks, the album only grows stronger, in my estimation. I'm sure Pip Blom being based in the Netherlands helps, allowing them to approach their music from a slightly different cultural lens, injecting a new vibrancy into this sound so familiar to me.

Plus, if you live in the U.S., I wanted to send you into your holiday with an album you can listen to over and over (and over, if needed) again on the train / plane / automobile ride to your chosen family gathering.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Crossing that fine line to discover unexpected release, happiness, and humanity.

One of my happy places during the pandemic.
I probably don't listen to music like you do. I mean, I do, but I don't.* Anyway, one of the benefits of digging through and listening to hundreds upon hundreds of new albums each year is coming across something like Nation Of Language's "Across That Fine Line." When you listen to that much music, most of it starts to fade into a singular tone, well executed and worthy of respect, if not always transformative or mind-blowing. And then, every once in a while, a simple song cuts through it all with an electrical charge that knocks you backward and fills you with hope, and life.

The honest yearning every time the guitars kick in and the vocals struggle upward in their minor key—that combination just sounds so ... alive. Like the kind of alive you remember and relate to and exudes a steady current. The crisp moment that sticks with you. It's a slice through the fabric of normalcy to reveal the magic that lies underneath our world. It's always there, but sometimes we need help to see it.



*I've never quite figured out if it's my ability to forget that fact, or my ability to live inside it that's helped define my voice over the years. Sorry, I didn't expect to think that right here, but I also didn't plan on writing the line that triggered this avalanche of thoughts either. Though, really, this footnote is less an avalanche and more a solo tumble down the hillside, so you probably don't care either way.

Monday, November 22, 2021

What's next? How about an early morning thought-ramble.

Some days you are filled with concrete and discrete thoughts about single artists, and other days are ... well, a Monday. So let's just take a poke around and see what's in the ol' noggin' this morning.

Photo of Sting (possibly) judging me  
by Eric Ryan Anderson
Over the weekend I listened to the new Sting album The Bridge and was surprised by just how easy the whole thing went down.* And I realized that Sting’s superpower these days is writing songs that go down easy but that also feature complicated constructions at their core. But in the hands of someone like Sting, those flourishes feel so natural and normal I no longer feel his solo music is nearly as self-absorbed as it used to be. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

Speaking of getting old, I also can’t shake the feeling that there is something big just around the corner in the music world that will shake things up again. We haven’t reached this level of complacency with the mainstream output in the music world since the late ‘80s (IMHO) and there’s a certain restlessness that is beginning to grow. And I think the pandemic’s removal of most of the magic and glitz surrounding “big” releases is owed partial credit for this.

So what’ll happen? I dunno. But I think you’re gonna see the current status quo attained by many mainstream musicians (both in the pop and so-called indie realms) erode in the next two years as more immediate and vibrant acts grow to take over the conversation. 

Our world is being rebuilt around us. Some want to hold onto and return to the status quo, but that expired status quo is no longer rooted in anything other than previous corporate gatekeepers’ best interests, so I don’t know about you, but I am excited and hopeful to see what comes next.


*I really do listen to anything sent my way at least once. In the case of albums like Sting's, I have fund late evening listening works best. Music life that use dissolves in my head when it's pumped out in the daylight. Great, it looks like my thought-rambles extend to footnotes now? Aren't these things supposed to further clarify?!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

I've got zero "Problems" with Neal Francis, aside from not discovering his talents earlier.


A brief tale: I got a couple press releases for this album, but never asked for a download so I never gave it a listen and it kind of flew past me. Until I read a friend's Facebook post lavishing praise on this album, which isn't something that would often sway me, but in this instance said friend has a historically sharp taste in music so when something really flips their lid, I'm all ears. So imagine my shock and surprise to discover not only is this album a-MAZE-ing, but the cat who created it is from Chicago!* Though it appears he was in funk bands during a time period I was largely unaware of any developments in that particular scene, so I guess I can be forgiven for being unfamiliar with Neal Francis' work before now.**

I've listened to the album enough to fall in love with it, but not enough to tell you exactly why I love it, so for now I gift you this video released earlier today to give you an idea of Francis' look and sound. And below you will find a link to his new album In Plain Sight for your listening enjoyment while I work out my feelings for you to peruse at a later date. Perhaps before his January 14, 2022 show at Thalia Hall? Until then, enjoy! 

And yes, I did order this LP on snazzy red vinyl earlier this week .. which actually gives me a closer to my brief tale! Because the day after I bought it, a download of the album was sent to me by his team—without me asking for it. So I take that as a sign I was destined to hear it!



*Wait! you are asking, who is this "cat?" Read the next sentence and not this footnote and you'll find out!
**In full transparency, Neal looks really really familiar to me, and I'm half expecting to get a message from a friend after posting this saying, "Dude, you've seen a dozen bands he's been in over the years," so if that happens ... um, sorry?

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Gal Gun delivers a 'Critical Hit!'

Oh, hey there! I did a little write-up about Chicago band Gal Gun's latest album Critical Hit over at Third Coast Review ahead of their show at Liar's Club tonight (a show you you should totally catch if you live in Chicago) so I hope you read my piece, but I hope even more you give the album a spin! But you have to click the link above to do either. Motivation!

The photo in this post is the promo shot for the vinyl version of Critical Hit, because whoever photographed that did a much better job of staging the LP and all its goodies than I could with my own copy. 

But I can definitely confirm it's worth it if you can afford to lay down a few extra bucks to own a physical versus digital version of the album!

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

It's a new release ... Tuesday?! The Kickback and Glimmer have both just released pretty spectacular songs.


Wait, what?! New music on a Tuesday? What year is this anyway? I kid, of course, and to an old like me, Tuesday was long the day for new music.* While the headline is cheeky, I am actually quite excited about the two new songs debuting today that I'm sharing with you.

First up, we have locals The Kickback, whose recent return from a long hiatus that I recently celebrated continues with their latest song, "Kare." As I hinted a few weeks ago, the fact the band is intentionally releasing new music a single song at a time is directly tied (in my mind) to the dense construction of each song. "Kare" sounds 100% like The Kickback, though I can see why longtime fans might be a little more confused by the band's shift in direction from straightforward rocking and/or rolling. But this not only makes total sense to me, this is a completely natural progression for the group. 


Next up, Jeff Arthur is better known to longtime readers and the front person for Dead Stars, one of my favorite groups to come out of NYC in the past couple years. Like just about every other band on the planet, Dead Stars hit a bit of a roadblock during the pandemic, so Arthur decided to make some of his own truly solo tunes under the Glimmer moniker after a yearlong break from music. On "Breathe" he plays all the instruments and recorded the tune in his home studio, and it doesn't sound terribly different than the work in Dead Stars. Which is to say, melodic yet heavy guitars and killer melodies, so it's pretty great.



*Also, I would not complain if the industry ever decided to move new releases back to Tuesdays. Maybe this is the start of a small but stubborn movement? O.K., "movement" may be wishful thinking, but you get it. And wouldn't you rather have time to sit and live with new albums throughout the week instead of shoving them into your earholes every Friday to get them in before the weekend?


Thursday, November 04, 2021

Don't bother asking which person in Penelope Isles is Penelope because the answer is none of them, but do bother with their excellent new album!


The first thing I noticed about Penelope Isles' new LP Which Way To Happy was how lovely the singers' voices complemented each other. Then I actually read the press release and OF COURSE this UK band's core is the sibling team of Lily and Jack Wolter.* Blood always blends best when it comes to vocals. You can't beat it.

But wait, there's more!

This whole album is chock full of light and bright guitar stuff—there's a shiny and clear vibe to their sound that often feels like the music is expanding upward to embrace the sun and clouds. But it's also grounded—the tunes aspire to reach the heavens, but there's enough heft and grit to keep your footing as you traverse their dizzying heights. If you're looking for something buzzy and effervescent with a bit of weight, this is it.

The album will be released tomorrow, November 5, so don't miss out!



*I'll scan press releases for a little context before listening to albums, but if the band is truly new to me I prefer to go in blind, and then read up after they've made their first impression. I don't want you thinking I wouldn't research something I'll eventually write about at all!