Tuesday, May 10, 2022

We're coming up on 20 years since the first post in this here space.

My first post on this site was 20 years ago this month, though I didn't start writing almost daily until the following year. But it's a bit odd to realize I have an unbroken record of my life in one spot over the last 20 years. And if you were to tack on the Tankboy email newsletter, you'd have a pretty solid view—from one perspective—of my life since the mid-'90s! 

More on this later this month as the actual anniversary approaches, but I've been looking around for other uninterrupted, long-running independent, personal sites that have never been ad-based in any way, and you know what? There ain't a lot of them. So I'm thankful my own little project that began as an intended repository for my email newsletters turned into something completely different that has gone on for almost two decades now.* It seems a little unreal—20 years ago often feels like 20 months ago to me—but I'm glad this site exists. And will continue to exist as long as I want it to, which, right now, remains open ended.

*I also take a little pride in never posting an "I'm gonna quit blogging!" announcement, or having to write the requisite "I've decided to start blogging again after shutting this blog down" post.

Friday, May 06, 2022

'start at the end' with Tamar Berk this Bandcamp Friday!

I met Tamar Berk in the very late '90s when she was still fronting the fuzzy, power-pop Chicago power-trio, Starball. I really dug Starball, and even booked a few shows with them eons ago, but the band never quite got the acclaim I thought they deserved. Berk took off for sunnier weather out West a few years ago and I didn't hear much from her musically during that time, aside from a stint in a prog rock combo I found really enjoyable. But in the last couple of years, Berk picked up her guitar and decided to focus on her own songs (and has a healthy stable of amazing musicians to back her up, as needed).

Berk just released her second solo album in two years, start at the end, and it takes the youthful buzzy blast of her solo debut the restless dreams of youth and focuses it on more serious concerns without losing an ounce of excitement or energy. 

I just got my vinyl copy of the album in the mail, so I'm putting my money where my mouth is and not just blowing hot air here; this is music you will really dig. Check it out!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Wherein Post Animal crosses into personally sentimental sonic territory previously carved out by The Pursuit Of Happiness.

Photo by Courtney Sofiah Yates
I'm working up a full album review of Post Animal's latest release Love Gibberish that will run closer to its May release date for Third Coast Review, but had to share this track because it's stuck in my head for an entirely personal reason I just had to share.

In the late '80s I was big fan of The Pursuit Of Happiness. Moe Berg and his crew hit on the perfect blend of noise and pop and angst on that group's debut that ensnared my teenage brain right away. And the new Post Animal album bounces around approaches to its songs quite a bit, and one of their new tunes is very reminiscent of early TPOH to these ears.* That riffage and that speak-sing delivery—in this particular ratio those elements jettison me right back to junior year in high school. Yipes, but also fun!

So, I present to you, "No More Sports!"

*There is actually quite a bit of '80s-influenced sonic territory covered on Love Gibberish that I think many will find both surprising and refreshing. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Particle Kid's 'Time Capsule' gleefully rips free of time's bonds.

Photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
The less you know about Particle Kid, perhaps the better. That way Time Capsule can unravel and reveal itself on its own terms.* I will note that the "Kid" is J. Micah Nelson—son of Willie Nelson—and I share that ahead of time so you don't listen and find that out afterward and feel like you've been had. While his last name certainly seems strong enough to pull in some heavy duty guest appearances, the album is weird and wooly in ways that can't just be attributed to a close proximity to fame. In fact, I still believe my initial response after my first listen is all you really need to know.

I will admit that late in the album, there is one track I would have probably removed—I won't tell you which one but it's got a real Funstyle flair to it—but even that song makes sense as far as the natural trajectory of the album is concerned. So I guess that's a long way of saying I probably would not remove it after all, eh?

Strap on some headphones and get ready for a ride, ya'll.

*As a 26-track double album, letting it reveal itself on its own terms is kinda key. Y'know?

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

On the edge of a new world.

I can feel it in the air. FINALLY. A change is coming. Spring is actually near. I'm cautiously optimistic major waves of the COVID epidemic may have finally subsided (even if there is absolutely no way to predict the future on that front, yet). I'm on a 300+ day step streak and am looking forwards to the majority of that walking moving outdoors instead of pacing in my apartment. Despite my inability to actually get out of the house and attend a show so far this year, I have not given up hope and want to remedy that within weeks if not days. 

Even if I'm not entirely sure how, I am 100% devoted to exiting my hermitage of the last couple of years. I've accepted that whatever insane human drive I had, that just allowed me to pile on activities far beyond what should have been a reasonable breaking point, was interrupted by my social isolation and is never going to return at that volume. (This is actually a relief. I don't think I knew how exhausting that was until all that nervous energy had nowhere to go when I stopped. It's taken a few years, but I've finally settled into a more realistic, human, mortal approach to what it means to be "active.") 

And here I sit, on the precipice again, waiting for the sign it's time to drop my metaphorical skateboard into the bowl and start to LIVE again. I've spent a lot of time in my head over the last 3 years, and while it's still not an entirely fun place to be all of the time, I've grown more comfortable being an unadulterated version of  me all of the time. I can be intense and earnest and sometimes throw people off with my weird energy, but I think the core ME—the one who has always been there since the earliest days of wandering South Texas farmlands and orange groves solo looking for adventure and living in a world of imagination—that me is one I like being around. Can't wait for you to meet him again too!

Friday, April 15, 2022

Primer's brainy but fun 'Incubator' is a perfect fit for these (and all) times.

Photo by Rik Horoky
Alyssa Midcalf performs under the Primer moniker and her debut album Incubator is just the laser beam of synth-driven sunshine we all need right now. Especially if you're in a region where spring appears to completely resists springing, for now.*

There have been a few pop albums that sprung up throughout the pandemic that delivered solid, positive, uplifting (but not vapid) touchpoints to hold onto amidst a sea of desperation and depression. Incubator is the latest entry in this more personalized musical genre of mine, but I believe its appeal to be universal!

Tl;dr—this is a ton of super-duper solid electro-pop, bursting with burbling and bubbly rhythms bouncing underneath Midcalf's sweet and assured but unshowy vocals.

Highly recommended!

*Ahem, Chicago.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

That's a mighty fine set of steak knives, Man's Body!

Man's Body has a show coming up in Chicago playing with Hushdrops. I had planned on seeing Hushdrops the next time they played, so I took a swing through the Man's Body 2021 release A Set Of Steak Knives to see if I should plan on sticking around late enough to catch their headlining set.

The answer? A resounding YES!

Man's Body packs A Set Of Steak Knives with music that's catchy and buzzy in the earlier indie rock vein, and was honestly a surprise to me. Based on the band bio I thought this would be more of a "middle-aged dude" album* but this is almost power-pop in a scuzzier form. Lotsa those riffs that chunk-a-chunk-a-buzzsaaaaaaaaaaw all over the place, and that's the kinda thing that hits me squarely in the solar plexus of vibez.

So I'll definitely be sticking around to catch their later set when they play The Burlington on April 22!

*NO offense meant to middle-aged dude albums, though!

Thursday, April 07, 2022

2022 is shaping up to be a mighty fine year for new music.

I think the logjam created by the pandemic slowing down releases has finally broken. After two years of weeks and weeks where there was really only one or two really interesting releases amidst a sea of reissues and compilation albums and live albums and whatever anyone could create to keep the music moving even when there was little motivation to create new music. And even less motivation to promote it in a world where touring was impossible for the longest stretch of time in my own lifetime (if not ever).

I look through my spreadsheets from the last couple of years, and very, very, very few albums rose above a 5, while this year there are already an unusual number of 6s, 7s, and 8s. (FYC: A handy reminder of how I personally rate music as I track albums each year.) So that's great news!

I still haven't seen a live concert in 2022 though, so that's not-so-great news. But I like to balance that with the fact that whatever old sense of FOMO I ever had is still completely absent in my life, and I don't think it will ever return. So that ain't so great as far as creating blast-off levels of anxiety over missing something to get me out of the house, but it's awesome as far as avoiding those heightened levels of anxiety over, basically, nothing. So it balances out in the end.

I will tell you this though: I am determined to see a show in the month of April!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Kate Bollinger delivers intimate sounds with technicolor brilliance.

Photo by Jonathan Roensch
It was softly snowing this morning, and as the sun's light illuminated the clouds above it created one of those magical moments where two things that shouldn't collide do and open up a new view of the world in that moment.

I had a similar sensation listening to Kate Bollinger's forthcoming Look at it in the Light, an EP that manages to present her songs using really intimate production techniques while sacrificing none of the audio fidelity.* And the songs flow so naturally from Bollinger and her band that they simltaneously seem surprisingly refreshing and inevitably excellent to my ears.

The full EP isn't out until next month, but the songs streaming as a preview now do an excellent job of making my case for why you should be excited for its release.

*I caught myself writing "it sounds like it was recorded in a closet with a full band with excellent gear" and realized the "closet" description was directly inspired by my memory of first encountering Lou Reed's "closet mix" of The Velvet Underground. And there's your peek behind the curtain for today!

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Nerdy One.

After many, many years, the Chicago 2-piece Tuff Tamale has debuted their very first video ever for the first single from their upcoming full-length LP, Kitten Trapper Keeper! 

More later.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Marveling at Märvel!

I am certain there are longtime fans of Märvel, but the band was entirely new to me, and I confess when I fired this album up my expectation were low. A trio of Swedish musicians who perform under aliases* and originally met in Colorado (?!) as exchange students 20 years ago? If they'd been around that long and were good, how have I never heard of them?

But, one of the nice things about being a music critic for over 30 years is that I've chosen a passion that has the ability to continually surprise me.

On Graces Come With Malice, Märvel combines garage rock with touches of metal and tops it off with a healthy dollop of of groove that, to my ears at least, takes its cue from the swaggier KISS songs out there. It's a playful album that seriously rawks, and in the end the image perfectly fits the package in ways I could not have anticipated.

The full album isn't out until April 22, but you can get a taste of a few of the singles before then. Perfect to rock out of the work week and into the weekend!

*The King is on guitars and vox, The Burgher plays bass, and The Vicar holds things down on the drum kit.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Disco H?

I had no idea Kevin made this, so thanks to the latest (and rather excellent) LIFERS podcast episode for cluing me in.

Now, let's dance!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Get gritty and groovy with Gill Brothers Band.

One side effect of the last two years is sometimes forgetting an album I wanted to write about has been released. But in the case of Gill Brothers Band I was so smitten by the promo I immediately pre-ordered their debut album—to me it's worth it to at least have access to WAV files of the music I love, and in this case they added some live bonus tracks not on their promo. So when it popped up in my email that I could finally download the album I knew it was time to tell you abut it!

Gill Brothers Band is stacked with great songs, many of them carrying a down-n-dirty, slight twangy vibe grafted onto a full-on rock and/or roll attack. I know in some circles "classic rock" may be something one sneers at, but this is capital "C" capital "R" Classic Rock in the best sense of the phrase. I mean, it sounds like these folks have spent plenty of time in sweaty practice spaces perfecting their organic chemistry, and Gill Brothers Band is a shining result of those efforts.

Bonus points for their ability to confound expectations too! The first time I listened, I thought the album had ended and my tankPHONE had moved onto shuffle, bringing in tunes by Meat Puppets and Hiawata! ... and then I realized, nope! Gill Brothers Band was still going strong and showing their range.

Give it a spin and pick up your one copy today!

Friday, March 11, 2022

Raise yourself "High Above The Sun" with Magic City Hippies.

Photo by Fro Rojas
Every once in a while someone will yell out "DJ Tankboy!" when they see me and I forget that for a good 15 year stretch I would do 5-7 hours sets multiple nights a week on top of all the other jobs I was doing in other sectors of  my life. And that doesn't even count my early days of house parties and residences I had at The Gallery in Normal, IL in the early '90! Old habits die hard though, and when I listen to music I still pick out songs I'd use in a set today, even though I have no active interest in actually DJing again.

If I was still DJing long sets though, "High Above The Sun" from Magic City Hippies* off Water Your Garden would be a great hour-two tune, as it amps up the funky vibes while simultaneously burying them in a shiny indie-influenced-basement-party package of sound. It'd a good bridge between songs as the evening ramps up, and one of those numbers I'd deploy to get the people still sitting to start swaying or tapping their toes, and get the folks who might be standing to start bouncing a little.

Which means it is also an excellent song to ease us into the weekend!

*A true sign of my growth over the years? I didn't immediately delete an album sent to me by a band with "hippies" in the name.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Tune into Yot Club's "Cannel 4" for the vibez.

Photo by Paige Margulies
Keeping this brief since ... you know what? It doesn't matter why. Let's just get to the song!

Yot Club’s Santolina EP mixes genres and sounds, but I like them best when their tunes sound like a lo-fi basement disco party.* "Channel 4" is built with minimal parts for maximum impact and my favorite part of the tune are the stabbing synth strings.

The song isn't so much a pick-me-up as it is a bridge between moods, but it's perfect for me as I type this in the pre-dawn light.

*This is the part where I should note that Yot Club had a popular tune on TikTok, and it seems to have helped raise their profile. So if you're not an old, Yot Club might already be old news to you. But you should dig this track either way!

Monday, March 07, 2022

This is not a review of 'The Batman.'

So I did not go opening night, or even opening day, but I couldn't wait until next weekend so I did end up getting a ticket to see The Batman early Sunday morning based on the number of empty seats remaining in the theater I was going to. It wasn't until later that I noticed the tickets were for the film in 4DX, but by then the other early movies were packed and I thought to myself, having never seen a movie in 4DX before, "How different can it be?" 

Um, very different.

I guess if you like being thrown around like you're on a rollercoaster whenever there is onscreen action, maybe you would dig it? Me? I prefer to actually see the movie instead of trying to keep from getting whiplash. I honestly couldn't describe 70% of the action scenes to you because it was impossible to focus on the screen as you're thrown all over the place.

It. Was. A. Terrible. Experience. So if you ever are tempted to see something in 4DX ... DON'T.*

Oh, what did I think of the actual movie? The story? The visuals? The content of the film?

O.K., I know the headline says "this is not a review" and it most certainly is not, but I thought the movie was pretty, pretty good! Now to see if I can wait the 45 days for it to come to HBO Max or if I'll be too tempted to plunk down dough for another ticket for a regular screening so I can finally watch those action scenes...

*This does not pertain to a movie developed to leverage 4DX—as in a short film to replicate a particular and well-mapped experience. At least I assume there is material like that out there. Because if the thought of "we'll get people into the theater with premium experiences!" means this is a premium experience ... well, then give me my home viewing experience over 4DX any day.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

An unusual feeling has settled in ahead of 'The Batman' for me.

I am very excited about the new The Batman movie but realized I didn’t feel the usual urge to buy a ticket to see a movie like that on the first day. Heck, I remember suffering through a loooooong P4K-music-fest Friday after seeing the midnight showing of ‘The Dark Knight’ the night before, and I was first in line to see ‘Batman’ in 1989, forcing my family to buy tickets and go even while we were on vacation. But this time around with The Batman … not so much.

In trying to figure out why I think I landed on two reasons:
  1. As a standalone Batman movie, spoilers are less of a cause of anxiety for me with The Batman. I’m expecting a good story but since it’s not a part of a larger “universe” for now I guess I’m not so worried the story could be “ruined” for me.
  2. The fact it appears many, many people in Chicago are treating the reversal of mask and vaccine mandates as “the pandemic is over!” So I’m not super pumped to be in an enclosed, packed theater. 
I think I still hope top see it this weekend—I’m more comfortable with super early morning showings of movies these days—but it’s still weird to me that I don’t FEEL like I HAVE to see it right away.

How 'bout you? You gonna see the film?

Thursday, February 24, 2022

An illegal war that must end immediately.

I am heartbroken over the events surrounding Ukraine. I spent some time there when Photogal's sister worked in the capitol, and my visit happened to coincide with Putin's first election. At the time the only person who raised a concern was a supposed ex-C.I.A. guy* who reasoned that since Putin came from the KGB, it raised worries despite Russia's then-waning influence over the region. It had been just over a decade since the fall of the Berlin Wall and I admit I was like most Americans who felt the days of constantly fearing a Cold War developing into a nuclear war were permanently behind us.

Putin's war against Ukraine is complete bullshit—if you watched the negotiations over the last couple weeks and the constantly moving goal line, you knew Putin had made up his mind and this wasn't a going to be a rational act on his part. Of course I have my own theories as to what is behind his aggression against a sovereign nation, but theories are meaningless once the death toll starts. 

There is no justifiable reason for this and I hope the world responds quickly and in unity to counter this criminal act.

*The number of ex-pats claiming to be (or more precisely, allowing whispers to remain without refute that they are) "ex-C.I.A." over the years has always seemed unusually high to me. So take this with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

"Levels" up with Howless.

It's a dreary morning in Chicago, and while the sun is slow to share its light from behind the grey blanket wetly hanging above, I find myself turning inward for warmth. 

Today's interior journey takes us to Mexico City, home to the band Howless. Their debut To Repel Ghosts is a tidy collection of shoegaze pop that deserves a full listen from you, but you can get started with "Levels." I'd be surprised if this didn't pique your interest hear more from Howless, but I'm confident that even if it doesn't, this particular tune will find a home in your head, and refuse to be shaken free. As if you'd want to.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

It's no snow and all summer with Hembree.

Photo by Jonny Marlow
Chicago went to bed with dreams expecting sheets of ice and piles of snow this morning. A look out my window tells me that prediction didn't come to pass and all the weather alerts pelting my phone and email inbox changed their tone into much gentler prognostications of inclement weather while we were all sleeping.

So as I dug around for some recent music to share I've settled on Hembree's It's A Dream!, out earlier this month. Initially I selected this album because it's filled with dance rock that just won't stop, stuffed with sunny vibes and warm beats that made this an early winner of the year for me. Then again, two years into a pandemic, maybe I'm just not used to music that sounds like the people making it are having actual fun. Either way it's great.

And then, as I went to pull a press photo for the album—I will often wait to fully read press releases until after I've had a chance to listen and form my own first impressions—I realized a number of my friends are in Hembree! And I was completely clueless! So if you ever worried I showed favoritism in my writing, I think you can probably relax your fears on that front.

So dig these summery sounds and celebrate a day of less wintery bluster than expected. And you know what? Maybe reach out to a friend you haven't heard from for a while ... you might discover they've been up to some pretty cool things!