Monday, March 01, 2021

Big Kids wants to thank you...

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Chase away the winter blues with 'Love Sign.'

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

And you would be correct!

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

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

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

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

So consider that your explanation. 

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

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

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

Friday, February 05, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 04, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

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

Photo by Jen Squires

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

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

The writer of that press release was not way off. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 22, 2021

Oh oh, it's AWEFUL!

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

You'll see.

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

Do it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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

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

Change takes time, but change is coming.

We're gonna be O.K.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

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

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

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

But this tune is so awesome.

Am I wrong? No, I am not.

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

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

Thursday, January 07, 2021

What's next?

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

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

And now, now I just don't know.

I think I'm still in shock.

What's next?

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Analog Radio returns!

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The supergroup you didn't know existed, with the holiday song you didn't know you needed.

Charly Bliss and Pup have teamed up to create a new soon-to-be holiday standard. Watch the just-released video above, and stream or buy (it's only a buck!) the track below.

Ho ho ho! Happy holidays, y'all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Live your "Best Life" with Cheekface!

Cheekface has an album coming out next month, and I just noticed they already have one of my favorite tunes from the album available as a single, so I see no reason to keep its gloriousness to myself.

In my notes, while listening to this originally, I see I described this as "on the quirkier, goofier side of indie with lots of talk-singing and jokey lyrics that sometime hit a little too close to home for comfort but still leave me laughing." I stand by that! For example, on the tune I'm sharing today, "Best Life," it was at this spot that I almost spit my coffee all over the place:
in the future, everyone will be my friend for 15 minutes / and we'll look amazing when we're in portrait mode / we are writers! creatives! we work remotely! / i am furiously Juuling™ on the coffee shop patio!

Nailed it!

So, yeah. Enjoy!

Friday, December 11, 2020

Foxy Shazam's new album 'Burn' is absolute fire.

Foxy Shazam is back! Of course they chose the worst year ever to return, and a release date that has been completely overshadowed by Taylor Swift / Kid Cudi / [redacted] / and all the other last-minute album drops anyone and everyone seems to be trying to squeeze in before the end of December. But they're back, nonetheless, and I am incredibly happy they've returned!

The band has been silent since just kinda dumping their last album GONZO online for free in 2014, and the group has done nearly nil as far as explaining their reemergence or talking about their new album the came out today, BURN. While GONZO eschewed the more complicated theatricality of their previous releases in favor of a straightforward rawk approach, BURN splits the difference and brings back the glam while retaining the more down-and-dirty studio sound.

AN ASIDE: Has anyone else noticed that when you look back at 2020 releases there is an unusual amount of disco and glam rising to the top of the pack? I'm not complaining.

Anyhoo, if you're done flocking to all the midnight releases everyone has been talking about over the last 24 hours, I suggest you make some room in your ears for BURN, since it may stick around in your soul longer than most of those other albums. And I'm not just saying that because we were one-time kickball teammates.*

*I almost made it through the whole post without mentioning that for once—as if they have any recollection of me at all—but I just couldn't resist!

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

The Lemon Twigs 'Songs For The General Public' deserves your ears (and maybe your heart).

I was listening to the latest episode of the Dig Me Out podcast this morning, and musician Ryan Allen mentioned his love of The Lemon Twigs, which spurred me to realize that aside from their live album from earlier this year, I completely forgot to sing the praises of the actual album Songs For The General Public they released in August!

The brothers that lead The Lemon Twigs look as if the year 1973 made love to Steve Perry and these two popped out of the glitter-colored inter dimensional pod that union created. And they sound like aliens from the planet Glam took over our terrestrial radio waves to suffuse them with outlandish yet accessible tunes that run the gamut from rocking' ragers to theater kid laments.

It's fucking fantastic.

My biggest regret about this, aside from Songs For The General Public being released in the midst of the musical black hole the pandemic has created in 2020, is that the band wasn't able to tour behind the album. The Lemon Twigs live is truly a unique experience, propelled by the weird tension and energy between the two brothers. In a flip of expectations, in this case it's the younger brother that is the wildest wild man, though don't take that as any intimation that the elder Twig is less "weird." They're both bonkers, but the kind of bonkers that only genuine earth-shattering talent can support without becoming absolutely annoying. And there is zero annoying about Songs For The General Public.

Sample a few tunes below and then follow my example and buy the dang thing!

Monday, December 07, 2020

Sonny Falls' latest release has been a slow rollout, but it's finally almost done!

This was gonna be a "checking in on how we're all doing" post but with the temperatures dropping and the nights growing ever longer and the COVID infection rates are rising ever higher, I have a pretty good notion of how we're all doing—not awesome.

So I'll keep it simple today and just offer you something to look forward to next week when Sonny Falls finally releases the rest of their double album All That Has Come Apart​/​Once Did Not Exist. The band has been dispensing the album's 16 tracks to public ears in batches over the last year, and on December 15 the final couple of songs will find their way into the world and we can all luxuriate in listening to the whole thing. I actually held off downloading it after buying it because I wanted to experience the entire album at once, but I grew weak and snagged what was already out for a preliminary listen and did not regret it one whit. So consider this your advance notice of good music that will whet your appetite and give you something to look forward to as the work completes next week.

I am also amused and a little delighted that the band is sticking with a Tuesday release date, since I admit in my own brain Tuesdays were "new music" days for 40+ years.

Friday, December 04, 2020

When the b-side wins we all win.

Gentlemen Rogues just released a new single with their new song "Do The Resurrection!" on the a-side, and it's a lovely high-charged little rock and roller. But the gold is in the band's mash-up on side b, merging Superdrag with The Lemonheads and My Bloody Valentine so seamlessly the average listener would never know the true roots of the track. Not that that would matter. It's a kick ass song no matter what your background.

So, enjoy "Bloody Rudderless (in Ursa Major)" and I hope you ave an amazing weekend!

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Carly promises everyone some Christmas tears, and I am so happy about it.

When news of a new Carly Rae Jepsen holiday tune broke last month, a friend texted me, expecting an excited reply. I admitted I was not hopeful, given how hollow most contemporary holiday music feels to me, and that I'd be happier if new Christmas music had to include sleigh bells, it was in a form of a remix by the band Sleigh Bells.

I still think that remix idea is golden, but I also admit that once I heard "It's Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries" I realized I might have another "new" song to place into my personal holiday rotation of "classics." And now that Jepsen has released a video for the tune, maybe I'll slot in a few viewings of this between stretches of burning Yule logs displayed on my television screen.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Drakulas trade in their punk rock roots for new wave sheen.

Photo by Jon Weiner from the band's Facebook page

Drakulas list Austin as their hometown, but I’d argue the beating heart of the band got its start in Denton. I spent some time in Denton as a kid—one of my uncles lived there for a spell—but at the time my pre-teen brain had no clue the town would become a musical hotbed. Then again, Texas may not quite be the alien landscape I knew as a kid, but it is still certainly conducive to creating pockets of musical resistance to the mainstream. 

I say this because the voice of Drakulas is Mike Wiebe of Riverboat Gamblers, born and bred in Denton, TX. The Gamblers' run of albums from 2001 through 2006 was both solid in approach and stunning as far as showing growth, before starting to bend more towards commercial wills than the frantic weirdness that sparked their earlier output. But their live shows we're always absolute fire. Just *chef's kiss* so much fun.

When I heard of Wiebe's involvement in Drakulas I was cautiously excited—I missed his voice but wasn't sure if a project steeped in new wave roots would be the right fit. But really, all Darkulas does is take its members' punk rock pasts—the band also features another Gambler and a member of Rise Against—find the melodic mindset that connects them all, and then send it through the New-Wave-O-Matic to churn out sharp little glistening cubes of pop stippled with bootprints and mud. You can add gloss to the rock, but you can't remove the grit at the core that helps everything stick together. And what you're left with is Terminal Amusements. Thank god!