Thursday, November 30, 2017

Pretty light month for me, music-wise.

We still have another day to go, but my list of albums listened to in the month of November is looking pretty slim.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Kickback melts an outdoor patio with 'Rube.'

The Kickback
I keep meaning to write a proper review of The Kickback’s Weddings & Funerals, but each time I was going to try and tie it to one of their shows, said show would get canceled. As I’m sure singer Billy Yost would say, “What did you expect?” Since it’s definitely one of my favorite albums of the year I guess I’ll finally get to write a capsule review of it when it inevitably ends up on my “best of” 2017 list in the next week or so.

I mean the furthest I got was a blurb back in May reading:
The new music finds frontman Billy Yost processing his recent divorce, and the result is an album of sometimes harrowing but always excellent work. It also sees the band as a whole pushing their sound in new directions without abandoning the left-of-center hooks and melodic sensibility that made us fall in love with them. Misery rarely sounds this entertaining, and we like it.
Here’s a live rendition of the band preforming “Rube” on the patio of Parson’s Chicken and Fish. Which, of all the things I’ve seen the band do over the years, might be is definitely one of the weirdest settings I’ve ever seen them play.

It could have been painfully awkward, but Yost and the band manage to mentally transport themselves to another space entirely and rip out a searing version of a song that already started of as scalding. I've been playing the album an awful lot lately for personal reasons, and it still stands up just as powerfully as it did the first time I heard it, so you should probably pick up your own copy if you haven't already.

[h/t CoS]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Wisconsin's Telethon goes all in with a brand new, full-length, punk rock opera that might blow your mind.

I don’t think it will surprise anyone that I’m only slowly starting to get back into the groove of listening to new music. After the events of November 2, it’s taken me a while to even want to write at all again, much less listen to new stuff. But I am who I am, and of course it was only going to be a matter of time before I started digging through the inbox with anything resembling life again.

So what timing! The subject line in an email I got yesterday read “The 90-minute, 30-track punk rock opera that just might be your new favorite record….” And hot damn if that doesn’t sound like something I would love, right? Of course the danger is that often a promise like that falls really flat—but I couldn’t resist giving it a listen.

Luckily for my fragile and recovering soul, Milwaukee’s Telethon delivers on that subject line’s promise with their new album The Grand Spontanean: A Tale Told In Five Acts.

See? They're not all serious all the time.
Much like their neighbors Tenement, Telethon are ostensibly “punk rock” but veer all over the place genre-wise on The Grand Spontanean. The album comes with a meticulously put together playbill that outlines the troy within, but I’ll admit that since I’ve only had the music since yesterday I honestly have no idea what the grand storyline is. The grand, sweeping collection of music is probably bolstered by the album’s concept, but it stands completely on its own (so don’t let the term “punk rock opera” turn you off if you’re afraid it’s wither too high concept or prog to digest).

And I'm reading some press calling these folks "emo." Don't believe that either. It's just really good fucking rock and roll that isn't afraid of bursting expectations and boundaries in service of each song's specific wants and needs.

Throughout the album there are "fake" punk rock bands within the band (The New Improbables); guest stars galore including Laura Stevenson, Franz Nicolay, Roger Lima, Chris Farren, and Peter Hess. And the whole thing was prodcued by Jack Shirley, who has also been behind the boards for other recent faves of mine from Jeff Rosenstock and Joyce Manor (and I guess he’s also worked with Deafheaven, but I confess I’ve never really been able to get into them, so I’m less familiar).

The most amazing thing about this musical feat is that the band is currently offering the album for free or pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp right now. So you would be an absolute fool to not even just check it out.

Sadly, they don’t appear to have any shows currently scheduled, but after seeing where they’ve been playing in Chicago it appears MPShows is still way ahead of the curve and have already done a handful of events with the band, so hopefully it won’t be long before they make it back through town. Should they venture into your neighborhood though, I suspect theirs is a live act very much worth checking out.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A new soon-to-be holiday classic from Dude York!

I’m noticing more groups are releasing holiday theme albums populated by original material, giving me hope that while folks will always love the “classics” perhaps the canon has some room for a little growth and modernizing.

Dude York’s Sincerely came out near the beginning of the year and remains one of my favorite releases of 2017, but the group hasn’t rested on those laurels, oh no! They’ve kept busy touring throughout the year and yet still found time to record a new album of festive new tunes with a holiday bent.

Enjoy the video for the lead single “Break Up Holiday” above, and visit the player below to pick up the whole album and put t little grit into your Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa / Festivus / etc.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Slinky, sexy fun Swedish pop from Tove Lo, just for you.

Tove Lo
Let's brighten things up a bit today.

I'm really enjoying Tove  Lo's new album, BLUE LIPS (lady wood phase II). It's smart and edgy pop,

Her music is dirty, sexy stuff, mining that “I am the rebel of mainstream pop and dangerous!” thing. And I definitely appreciate she has so much songwriting credit through the whole album. She's not someone else's mouthpiece, or only talented because of her appearance or voice. I’ve caught her live as well, so can vouch that she’s the real deal and super entertaining even outside a studio.

You've probably already listened to or seen the video for the first single "Disco Tits," so here's one of the more mellow, slinky cuts off the album.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

It's getting really hard to be thankful, these days.

I am thankful for these goofballs.
The year of 2017, in particular the month of November, has been pretty much awful. So as I read feeds full of posts about how thankful everyone is for everything, I'm having a hard time identifying.

I've spent most of today going over what I am thankful for, though, and did manage to come up with a few things:
  • The support and love of family and friends during trying times.
  • Pickle the Kitten and Sasha the Cat, who always seem to know when I need them.
  • I finally got to see Tom Petty. 
  • My house.
It's not much, but it's all I could muster. Here's hoping this is just the lowest point and things start looking up after this. Here's hoping for a strong finish to the year with December!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Take this song and run with it.

Charlotte Gainsbourg's Rest is really helping be get through today. May favorite track is probably "Sylvia Says," but that doesn't seem to be a single (yet?), so here's another upbeat favorite.

The whole album is really great. I recommend it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

It's going to be a long winter pt. 2.

Does it just seem like nothing is getting any better, anywhere? It's really starting to get to me. I was hoping after a year of this I'd finally be in a place where it felt like progress was being made, but instead I feel like I'm right back at square one. I know I have no choice but to keep moving forward but it's hard.

The world feels like a very dark place right now. I'm hoping there's sunlight right around the corner.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

It's a Chance dance party!

When I saw this promo last night on TV I had just finished writing yesterday's piece on Elton John and I immediately burst out laughing. Were Chicagoist still around, this would be appearing there along with probably 300 words about how awesome Chance the Rapper is, but for now it will just have to live here and brighten the world from this perch.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I’ve been listening to Elton John all day.

Elton John, photo by Terry O'Neill
So the new mega-collection of Elton John music popped into my inbox, and I just sort of absent-mindedly put it on. Almost 4 hours later I ended up starting again fro track 1. I guess I had forgotten what a huge fan of his I was when I was a kid, and how often I played my parent’s copy of Elton John's Greatest Hits on our huge “compact” home stereo.

Years later I would get Elton John's Greatest Hits Vol. 3—probably courtesy my billionth Columbia House Music membership—and while it’s got a few upbeat jams I think it’s the sad songs I connected with. I was probably just on the cusp of discovering all the other music with melancholic tinge that would carry me into my “cooler” late teens. But it did the trick.

Of course I also went through a period, probably about 13 or 14 years ago, where I dove deep into his older albums like Honky Ch√Ęteau and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, mainly because they were being re-released and I just wanted to constantly pick up new music at Tower Records. Of course the re-releases also meant there were think-pieces reminding people like me that while John had lots of pop hits he had also done plenty of “serious” work, especially in the ‘70s.

This is all a long winded way for me to set the stage wherein I discovered that I think Elton John is musical comfort food for me! He keeps popping up in times where I am feeling particularly low, often without me even realizing it.

I watched the new documentary David Bowie: The Last Five Years on Sunday, and while David Bowie is probably my core musical comfort food, it had me sobbing by the end. So given the fact that I’m feeling a little emotionally raw right now I haven’t really been able to turn to Bowie’s music. So I’m glad Reg Dwight popped up with this marvelous new compilation at just the right time.

Monday, November 13, 2017

How much new music did I listen to in October 2017? Let's find out!

Sitting in judgement.
Well, this was a tad delayed, huh.

I was on a real listening tear in October, trying to get ahead of the 4th quarter flood of releases while also realizing that this year I would probably have to get a Best of 2017” list up in November instead of near the end of December. But hey, looks like the pressure is no longer me to do that any more!


As always, here’s a guide to my rating system.

Total number of new/upcoming releases listened to in October 2017: 76

Number of those releases that rated 7-10: 3

Number of those releases that rated 4-6: 50

Number of those releases that rated 1-3: 23

Highest rated album: The self-titled debut from Warbly Jets is really great. Straight from my notes is “Blur + Super Furry Animals + The Verve + Primal Scream = Warbly Jets. I REALLY LIKE THIS.” So, there you have it.

New band I’d never heard of that caught me off guard: WATERS’ I Don’t Wanna Grow Up was a total unexpected pleasure, even though I’ve been told I should have been aware of them quite a long time ago. Whoops!

Most surprising discovery: That Cut Copy could actually release a pretty mediocre album, which made me very, very sad.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Sneak peek into TSwift.

It should be up soon, but here's a peek into my review of the new Taylor Swift album.
To me this is Swift’s power—she is super famous but she is also just like us. To a point that is almost embarrassing. Like, is there a more perfect encapsulation of late night party longing than “You should take it as a compliment / That I got drunk and made fun of the way you talk / You should think about the consequence / Of your magnetic field being a little too strong.”? No. There isn’t. You feel the pain and frustration and longing because you have been there.
UPDATE: It's up! Read it now.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

I'm spent.

It's been quite a week and I just have zero juice in me, so instead this debut album from Warbly Jets.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

My thoughts on Chicagoist: part three.

Blame the guy on the left for "Tankboy" remaining my byline. Photo by Rachelle Bowden.
It's been quite a week of personal loss for me. At the same time, there is only so much mourning you can do before you simply have to move on. More importantly, there's only so much mourning you can do before people who were sympathetic just start to roll their eyes and get bored. So let's wind this down for now. Tomorrow I'll post about what the future holds, but consider this the end (for now) of the "My thoughts on Chicagoist" series.

Chicagoist got me on TV, on the radio, into magazines, onto panels, and into more amazing events than a human being should probably encounter in a single life. But none of that was what made my experience at the website so great.

I had the great fortune of bringing many great writers into the Chicagoist fold, helping them find their voice before they moved onto bigger and better things. The truth is every writer I added to the A&E beat made my life better, and the city's life better, by graciously sharing their talents.

And my co-editors through the years were tremendous partners as well. They pushed me to make my beat better, and pushed and prodded me into being a better, sharper writer.

There is no way I can personally thank every person I worked with here, but a single look at the Chicagoist staff page and the "thanks" section at the bottom, is proof of what an immense amount of talent I've had the honor of working with over the past 12 years at Chicagoist. And I'll get this out of the way at the top—thanks to Jen Chung and Jen Carlson for all their help through the years, and to Jake Dobkin for his unerring Dobkin-ness. Without that trio there wouldn't be a Chicagoist in the first place.

Chicagoist Prime and Jen Chung.
On the editorial side the early years have to include shoutouts to Rachelle Bowden (Chicagoist Prime!) and Scott Smith (who you can also blame for me continuing to use the name Tankboy since even back then he recognized the value of "brand recognition" in online media). And the return of Margaret Lyons to the fold brought a new era of focus to the site, along with an even sharper with to the tone. After her little Marcus Gilmer, who started as a music writer, ushered Chicagoist into an even bigger and better era of both content and recognition. Once he exited, Chuck Sudo left his longtime role as food editor to steer the ship, and though we constantly argued over Chicago Manual vs. AP style (he won, and AP became the standard) we, with the help of Sam Abernethy, started Chicagoist on its journey to add more original reporting to our already original food and arts coverage. We were a pretty tight knit crew and the site continued to flourish.

Here I'll take a slight detour and tip my hat to food editors Melissa McEwen and Anthony Todd. Melissa's crazy insane ability to take raw data and turn it into an entertaining post always amazed me, and Anthony ended up being a confidant when times got weird—that happens over a decade—even if he never could convince me to widen my palate much beyond my love of hamburgers.

Jesus, this is going to go on for a while.

One of Chicago's best blogs. Period. The Trib got that right, for sure!
Lisa White came in as an associate editor, and I was happy about her joining the team since we had already been friends for years, and when she took over when Chuck left the site got even better because she loved arts and food coverage equally, and had a deep understanding of both. At the time we were also starting to cover more and more "serious" news so she eventually brought Rachel Cromidas on, and her skills and experience at harder reporting added a new dimension to Chicagoist. When Lisa decided it was time for her to move on to new things, Rachel stepped in and helmed the site until its end. And over the last year I had the distinct pleasure to work with Stephen Gossett, who could somehow write thousands of words a day on a wide variety of subjects, and make each post insightful and smart (often with a knowing wink and sly smile) that I found, frankly, superhuman at times.

There are a ton of stories between the lines typed above. There were fights. There were laughs. There were meetings resembling stare-downs in Wild West saloons, and there was hugging (I hate hugging, but it was O.K. with these people) and deep friendships that all still remain in place. I've worked many jobs in my life, and usually when someone leaves they drop out of your thoughts, but the people above and I have kept in touch over the years and I could count any of them to bail me out of jail. Still.

And the A&E writers. There were so many over the years. I'm afraid if I start thanking each individually this post will rival the New Testament in length so I'm going to cheat and just mention Aaron Cynic (who primarily covered politics and the tin-foil cap beat (I kid, I kid, Aaron!) over the last 8 years, but also brought his talents to plenty of music posts, and Michelle Meywes (oh, wait, now her last name is Kopeny!) who I poached from Gapers Block (sorry, not sorry Andrew!) and remains one of my absolute favorite writers.

So, another detour. With Michelle, we started dating when I was at the -ist and she was at GB. And to be honest I wanted to steal her talents much earlier than I did, but we both agreed it was better for her to establish herself as a writer on her own, and not a writer whose editor was her boyfriend. She hasn't decided what her next steps will be, but whatever periodical or website snags her is going to be incredibly lucky. And I'm not saying that as her husband; I'm saying that as someone who views her as serious competition.

Early group photo. I think I was outside smoking? I was good at avoiding group photos.
Last night we were bowling at the kick-off of the Chicago Media Bowling League season, and she was talking with a teammate, and I overheard them discussing what they viewed as the best advice I gave them as a writer. I'll get it wrong, but consider the below my attempt to paraphrase the gist of their conversation. Also, young 'un, just starting journalists of all beats, you might find this helpful.

Bands are not your friends. Publicists are not your friends. If you're covering a story, the people you interview, and the subjects you are writing about are not your friends. I'm not saying you can't like these people, or that outside the piece they are your best friends in real life. But when writing, your only friend is the truth. And you should never let a personal relationship get in the way of that.

That seems like a good place to end. For now. Thanks for reading, friend.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

My thoughts on Chicagoist: part two.

The Wrens in 2009, photo by me
From our earliest years other periodicals constantly wrote Chicagoist off as a "news aggregation" site.* And then couldn't figure out how we kept slowly and steadily growing. But we were never a news aggregator at our core. Sure, we commented on the news of the day, but that was more a series of op ed pieces with sharp and intelligent voices.

But competitors missed the secret sauce our fans were already devouring.

Chicagoist dished out arts and food news in a way that broadened horizons while remaining palatable to the uninitiated. I don't think think it's a fluke at all that the majority of our editors-in-chief came from the background of writing about food or the arts for the site. People don't become a fan of a site for covering recent shootings or a sensational city council fracas or a sports star's alleged indiscretions; they do it because the writers and what they have to say can have an influence on the things that drive them day to day; the things they love; the things that make them feel.

And Chicagoist was the best at doing that in the city. We didn't make you feel dumb about what you didn't know, we made you feel like you had all kinds of new discoveries ahead of you and we were your guide as you traversed new territories. In Chicagoist's golden ages, we were the voice of the city to so, so many people. Many sites attempted this trick but none replicated it.

Sure, we were snarky, and could sound jaded, at times, but we were always on your side. We taught but we didn't lecture. We guided without preaching. We were one of the only places—anywhere—that would tell you about bands you would actually see without already being a fan, and convince you to try out food without the imprimatur of the bougie bent of most foodie sites.

We told you the truth. So you trusted us. And you were rewarded. And we were triply rewarded because there is nothing better than helping someone make a discovery that truly affects** them.

And we rewarded close reads. I won't repeat all the inside jokes, but there were days hundreds of readers got them and teased us for them. Because we were a community.

One Great Sandwich: PB&J from 2009
Maybe that's the thing. For much of our run we were a community. You came to us because we were family, albeit family in the way your older sibling is like, "dude, you need to know this." And sometimes you fought with us, and we swiped back; but we were all in it together.

Yes, that changed. As "new media" shifted we started to as well. We started to lose that community, but we never completely lost it (and I would argue since last July we had come a long way to bringing the "old" Chicagoist spirit back to the site after a year of turbulence that even the readers noticed, but readers not driven by Facebook algorithms were returning in greater and greater numbers—quality readership was back).

Watcha Wearin' fashion entry, 2009
Even when we were acquired, it was made plain our strengths were in arts and entertainment and food writing, because no one else was doing it as engagingly as we were on a regular basis. And, this is a story for a later installment, but I did try to leave the site at a point where I thought that kind of coverage was no longer being appreciated. But I was convinced to stay because the powers that be, despite what opponents to that thinking at the time might have believed, were certain that the arts and entertainment and food coverage were the soul of the site.

The reason you are hurting, and I am most certainly hurting, now, is because no one else in Chicago  fed your heart and your belly like we did. And both will feel empty now.

Tomorrow, "bands are not your friends", AP vs. Chicago Manual of Style, and the beginning but certainly not the end of my gushing about the people I worked with.

*Worth noting, we never, as a whole, ever indulged in that competitiveness that breeds discord among many local writing tribes. Did we have spats? Sure. But aside from a playful rivalry with someone like Gapers Block in our earliest days—which, by the way, had anyone noticed, also included us doing shows together, and DJing together, and supporting each other's events which should really tell you al you need to know about how serious even that "rivalry" was—nope.

**I've written professionally for close to 3 decades and I am still always unsure whether I'm using the correct affect vs. effect thing. But hey, that fallibility can be endearing, right? RIGHT?

Monday, November 06, 2017

My thoughts on Chicagoist: part one.

10th anniversary koozies. And yes we still have some in our house. Want one?
A key takeaway in this New York Times piece, that almost every other piece has missed while focusing on the DNAinfo portion of the story of the sudden shuttering of so many new outlets:
Gothamist, on the other hand, was profitable, and a fairly recent addition to the company.
In a perfect world, Mr. Ricketts would release sites like Chicagoist to run themselves again. Heck, I’d be happy to help run Chicagoist as a largely volunteer driven collective of smart writers covering arts and food and new with a biting edge again.

There is a place for it.

And if I can’t do it at Chicagoist I’ll do it elsewhere, and help bring another site to the heights Chicagoist earned.

But, maybe?

TO BE CLEAR I always respected the work of DNAinfo Chicago writers—I was long a fan of much of their much-needed writing covering the city's neighborhoods at a granular level—and also respected that Ricketts supported hyper-local news in the form that was almost a patron of the media (and anyone that thought any writer for DNA would ever self-edit to match Ricketts politics is sorely wrong).

But the -ists? As a collective, over the years, we did make money (you think we survived 15+ years without making a cent?) and as a whole we were self-supporting. And I know we never bent to anyone for ad dollars. (Hell I can think of more than one front page takeover that was unintentionally met with a review or news story that directly opposed the ad buyer's intentions.)

We built our reputation on writing that championed arts, culture, and food;  and offered a pointed take on the news of the day. To me the core of Chicagoist through most of its tenure—and I think many longtime readers would agree with me—was our original content. I brought on dozens of writers during my tenure and they all wrote smart, interesting takes on music, dance, theater, books, museums and more. And my compatriots brought on writers who tackled the city's food scene intelligently even before our corners were filled with Michelin recognized restaurants.

Our reputation, the one that made readers follow and grow the site, was built on turning people onto new stuff. But, I'll delve more into the highs and lows of that in a separate post. My point is, we were always, proudly, defiantly, an -ist.

And even post acquisition, we were never really all that integrated or subsumed into the Ricketts culture. Heck, last Friday was the first time the firewall came down and most of us in Chicago even spoke to our our DNA friends. Which is to say, until the end, we remained fierce outliers.

The woman that started Chicagoist, and the woman I married that I met through Chicagoist.
So while I wish we could just regain control of Chicagoist (which I’m sure is a legal warren of tunnels we could never navigate) I’d ask this:

Separate your eulogies between DNA and the -ists. We were always two different entities, each with individual strengths (and, probably, weaknesses) but we weren’t the same. The only way we’re the same is we are all victims of the journalistic slaughter of late Thursday.

But hey. Phoenixes rise, right?

Tomorrow I'll get mushy, and talk about the history of Chicagoist, and the writers that made it great (and some of the obstacles the site encountered through over a decade in the digital landscape) but for today I had to share these initial thoughts. I hope that was OK with you.

UPDATE: Read part two and part three of my thoughts as well.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Speechless about Chicagoist.

I need some time to gather my own thoughts about the sudden and unexpected shuttering of the website I dedicated the last 12+ years of my life writing for, but for now I recommend reading this wonderful and moving piece about the end of Chicagoist that Mich composed this morning.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Struts are truly rock stars.

The Struts, photo by me.
Monday night's The Struts concert was really, really great. And a reminder you can be arena-worthy and still remain gracious entertainers and good people. Check out my review and photos of the show on Chicagoist!