Tuesday, December 31, 2019

So long, 2019.

Yesterday I realized I had no New Year's Eve plans, and it took K asking me if we were doing anything for it to register that I'd made zero plans. No shows. No parties. Not even a dinner reservation. So I only reached out to my two closest friends, but even they don't seem to be doing anything tonight. New Year's Eve used to be fun for me. It was seeing out the old and celebrating the new. It was an excuse for a party. It was a happy event best shared surrounded by the ones you love.

Now it's just another day.

I don't have any resolutions. I learned a while ago that when you need to make change in your life, January 1st isn't gonna do it for you.

Change can start any day that you're ready to embrace it.

Change should start as soon as you're ready to embrace it.

So I have no plans for tonight, but I've already implemented plans for my life. There were stretches of time in 2019 I honestly didn't see how I would make it to 2020. But I'm glad I did make it here, even if in the grand scheme of things it's just another day.

Then again, isn't every day a triumph of some sort?

Monday, December 30, 2019

Letting go to actually move forward.

I mean, I think I do still have some personal lessons that are worth sharing. Things that can help others know they're not alone, or get over similar obstacles. But in 2019, I had to rebuild an entire life almost from the ground up after a truly disastrous 2018. And while with others that would probably feed into a litany of inspirational stories or quotes, I don't think I'm there yet.

I can tell you where I am at right now though. And that is a place that is so much better than where I was a year ago. Once I stopped trying to get my life back to where it was going a few years ago, and accepted the fact that was all gone and I needed to focus on accepting where my life is going now, things calmed down a lot for me. I also made a big decision in 2019 that set me up to navigate that new path with clarity, generosity, and gratitude.

Maybe I do have a little bit of the beginning of an inspirational story, huh? Let's see where this path takes me.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The city's our song and the future is wide open for Harmony Woods.

Sofia Verbilla is barely out of her teens, but the music she’s creating under the Harmony Woods moniker shows the promise of an emerging talent yet to be fully explored. Make Yourself At Home is her second LP, and displays an ear for hooks that propel her narratives and complement her lyrical dexterity. All in all, an excellent starting point to get acquainted with Harmony Woods' music.

As a complete piece of work, it is flawed, and its cracks primarily curl outward from arrangements that tend towards the safe and the familiar. There's nothing wrong with the familiar, but when the framework of the songs is as solid as they are from a storytelling perspective, your brain kind of yearns for a little more musical tension. In other words, it feels like the band she's brought together to capture her vision does their job with precision, but don't fully do her songs justice. All that said, we are talking about a young, ambitious talent, so I'm deeply curious to see where Verbilla goes from here.

"The City's Our Song" is my favorite track from Make Yourself At Home, and hints at the grandeur Verbilla is capable of. At its core it's a brief reflection on youth and endless possibility, and how the threat of mortality should propel us to explore new and exciting endeavors instead of paralyzing us in an existential rictus. Its power is in it brevity, and its precision, and it makes me eager to hear more vignettes from Verbilla.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

That quiet time of year.

Lots of people are on vacation right now. The time between December 24 and January 1 is always a weird time of year. Some agencies I've worked at shut down during that time period, and some have stayed open. Either way, I always love the opportunity this week or so offers to catch up on projects that are usually lower priority timeline-wise but still essential in the grand scheme of things.

So whether you're working or vacationing, I hope this time of year offers you the same opportunities to catch your breath, catch up, and get stuff done.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Breaking up for Christmas!

I don't dislike holiday music.* I'm not someone who lunges for the radio to shut it off or declare its entry as always being too early in the year "for that sort of thing."

However I don't find myself playing much holiday music of my own accord, and even less holiday music that crosses the threshold into more modern sounds.

Every once in a while I do stumble across something of recent vintage that tickles me in a holly, jolly fashion, and thanks to a recent mix CD featuring various artists I was introduced to last week, I have a new holiday song to add to the rotation next year. It may be about severing a relationship, but it's still a rollicking good time to listen to, sitting next to the tree, and sipping a cup of low-fat egg nog (because, y'know, healthier—marginally).

*I do admit I'm not a huge fan of sleigh-bells in music though. Just a personal preference. Even in non-holiday tunes.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Laying low for the holidays.

This day last year I was on a last-minute flight to the Dominican Republic to join a friend instead of spending the holidays alone. Parts of my family were out of town so we had pushed back our family celebration until closer to the new year, and I'd spent one other Christmas Eve/Christmas alone in the the preceding decade and that truly sucked, so there I was, on my way to the Caribbean.

This day this year? I'm staying put, spending time with K, and celebrating the holidays with my family tomorrow. And I couldn't be happier about it.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The one time I'd make the argument that the passenger, not the driver, should control the music.

It's the end of the year and I admit I've been feeling rather emotional—in that whole "let's review the past year and what I'm gonna do ton continue to improve myself in 2020" kinda way—but don't really feel like exploring much of that here, even though in the past I would've done so reflexively. So let's hear it for personal progress!

Each time I've been feeling particularly low, I remember that this exists and it makes me smile.

Friday, December 20, 2019

White Reaper believes you deserve love. And lotsa rock and/or roll.

Photo by Grace Lillash
Sooooooo, the show not to miss in Chicago this weekend is White Reaper at The Metro. Here's why you should go see them. And buy all their music.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Get to know DUMP HIM already!

Outta Northampton, Massachusetts comes the sensation you should all know and love, if you don't already ... DUMP HIM!

O.K., until recently I didn't know or love DUMP HIM but that all changed when one of the jillion podcasts I consume like an endless sleeve of Double Stuf Oreo cookies recommended the quartet's recent release, Dykes To Watch Out For. It ended up being an excellent recommendation.

If you are in the mood for a good time punk rock party music sound cut with clear-eyed messages both acidic and optimistic that celebrate and challenge and question and take chances and dare you to do the same, then this is the album for you!

I will say no more, and let DUMP HIM's songs sing for themselves.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A laser cutting through the fog and fuzz.

Dead Feathers is one of those bands whose names have floated around the Chicago scene for quite a while. I had an idea of what their music sounded like—their logo, album art, and promo shots scream ‘70s loud guitars with a hint of mysticism—but I hadn’t really listened intently to anything from the group until this year’s All Is Lost. They’re not new to the scene, but they are one of those bands that seems to care very little about promoting themselves and getting their music out there. The link to their Facebook page via their Bandcamp profile is broken, their website address just loops back to that Bandcamp profile, and you can’t even find All Is Lost without a decent search through various links, finally ending up on their label’s website and Bandcamp page. Or at least I assume it’s their label.

So it wasn’t initally easy for me to track All Is Lost down and listen to it. In fact, I can’t even remember why I tracked this down, since a dig through my email shows the band has never sent me anything to promote their music or live appearances. All I can figure at this point is that someone recommended them to me this year and I finally decided to give their music a listen. The power of word-of-mouth!

The fact the band seems largely uninterested in self-promotion parallels their lackadaisical psych-stoner rock sound pretty perfectly. Dead Feathers is a band who likes what they likes, and don’t care if you like it to. I’m a sucker for heavy psych stuff though, and while Dead Feathers’ musical bed is a solid quilt of the scene’s sound, and it’s executed with great confidence, this whole genre admittedly sticks pretty close to a single formula—heavy HEAVY riffs BABY.

But Dead Feathers has a secret weapon.

Vocalist Marissa Allen is a powerhouse. She’s got a circa ’69 Grace Slick delivery, with volume that cuts through the walls of guitar and act as an incantatory element that brings you under a powerful spell. The lyrics don’t matter to me; it’s all in the delivery. And Allen’s voice is a force that helps raise the band to a different level. And that's why you should give this album a spin, even if psych-stoner-metal (though this isn't really metal at all) stuff is not usually your bag.

I’d let you know when the band is playing next—I know I’m curious to know if the powerful effects of the band on record manage to get even better in a live setting—but their Facebook page (the one that works!) has no info in that arena.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

It was 30 years ago today...

30 years ago today I was at my friend Mike's house and we were watching an episode of Married With Children featuring Sam Kinison as an angel. That sounds messed up, but it wasn't nearly as messed up as the TV show we were eagerly waiting to air afterward—the first full-length episode of The Simpsons!

Mike and I were into all things "underground" and subversive, and the notion of something created by Matt Groening—who we knew largely through his Life Is Hell comics and the original Simpsons shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show—was about to take a major television network(-ish at the time) prime time slot was outrageously, otherworldly, and super exciting.

I loved that first episode, and for years no matter where I lived, Sundays were a gathering time to take in every new episode of The Simpsons. This lasted well over a decade.

It's been a while since I was BFFs with Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Maggie; but I still check in with them every once in a while. I'm glad they're still around, and barring any more run-ins between the show's voice talent and the network, it appears they'll still be around for quite a while longer.

So happy 30th birthday to The Simpsons! You changed my life and you changed the culture around us, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Please don't waste a dream.

"Don't look into my eyes. Open your ears to my music and look into my heart."
DEYO—known to friends and family and potential lovers as Christopher Deyo Braun)—released his self-titled debut in October. It's a lovely little collection of gently pulsing songs leveraging synth propulsion without being "synth pop." I'd probably slot it more in the stacks of indie R&B or DIY soul if I really felt the need to label this sort of thing. (I'm getting more comfortable with people's needs when it comes to "genres," just as long as you're not calling Green Day "emo," or Arcade Fire* "indie rock," or twenty one pilots "alternative rock.")

I was just about to file DEYO in my "pleasure to listen to, maybe give it another spin later" folder when the penultimate track "Overlapping" came on and I was newly in love. And found myself playing it over and over as its psychic effect cast sunlight upon my soul.

Y'see, I'm a sucker for insanely simple yet hooky synth lines—Gorillaz's "On Melancholy Hill" can move me close to tears with its deceptively simple synth plinks—and "Overlapping" maps its intentions firmly over that territory. And when Braun sings "Please don't waste a dream / I put my faith in you, you put your faith in me" it in fact refreshes my faith in hopeful outcomes.

Seems like an excellent way to kick off a new week, huh?

*Fun fact! One of the engineers on this album has also worked with Arcade Fire! I'm not sure why that's newsworthy! But now you know!

Friday, December 13, 2019

Get wild with Wyldlife!

Photo by Greg Gutbezahl courtesy Wyldlife’s Facebook page
I believe DeRo turned me onto this band a few years ago, and I am super excited that Wyldlife is making their way to Chicago to play Liar's Club tomorrow night!

Read me preview. Then go to the show!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A to Z but only as far as D.

I promise it won't take me a year to get my list of fave music of the year 2019 because that would be ridiculous. But I am still working through albums from this year, so it ain't coming quite yet. I have an alphabetical playlist of the tankPHONE where I file all new music, and I'm still working through that.*

I'm kinda parking a half-thought here since it popped into my head while perusing other year-end lists: I think one reason people of a certain age (ahem) still value year-end lists is that when we, um I mean they, were younger year-end lists meant something different. They were attached to publications you trusted and those publications came from different musical directions, so lists varied wildly, and you could discover tons of new music. Aside from more super niche publications that ain't so much the case any longer. C'est la via, right? Like I said, a half-thought.

Anyway, back to that queue.

*I'm currently in the "Ds" and while that sounds insane I do listen to some stuff out of order and I'm always adding to it. What I really need to do is latch down on a cutoff point for additions for consideration. Oh yeah, that'd be December 2019, wouldn't it?!)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The little things you notice.

I got an earlier start than usual yesterday, since I had a 9 a.m. meeting in the office. I'm usually in by 9 every day, but if I have a meeting I try and get in a little early to be prepared. So I went to the gym earlier than usual, and then got to the train platform earlier than usual ... to discover the CTA was experiencing major delays due to equipment issues.

By the time I finally got on a train an hour later (my entire commute rarely takes longer than 30 minutes rom my walk to the train to my walk into my office building) I had already missed my meeting and the platform was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people unable to even get down the stairs and onto the platform. A woman next to me asked, "It this usual for the CTA? I usually take Metro but today I was in a hurry so thought this would be faster!" I assured her that delays of this sort were very unusual. And then went back to listening to a podcast and playing Two Dots.

And then I realized something else. I wasn't upset. Or agitated. Or even bent out of shape about the delay! I had sent out a cheeky tweet—more to inform people about what was going on—but beyond that I was super chill about the whole thing.

Previously I would have been worked up and upset and agitated and freaking out I was late for and then missing a meeting and angry at the CTA and wondering what the fuck was the problem and why did the entire transit authority have it in for me and internally screaming why wasn't I already at work already and so on and so on.

But I felt none of that.

I just stood, and patiently waited, and hung back even when trains did come through so the people that did seem to be feeling all this feelings I would have once felt had a chance to board first. It was all O.K.

And then I realized it.

I think I am really going to be O.K.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Rockin' My Turntable in 2018.

Photo by Travis Wiens
No, that headline is not a typo. I am aware that even though I have long been a proponent of holding yearly "best of" lists until after the year is over, waiting 12 months to do one is pretty ridiculous. It's no secret 2018 was a difficult year for me, and a side effect of that was a change in my relationship to music. I've touched on why that was before, but suffice to say I can admit 2018 wasn't a year of broad discovery for me. Instead I often retreated to the familiar, meaning old favorites were in high rotation while new releases only nudged in here and there, relative to my previous music consumption habits. It's not like I didn't listen to a lot of new albums in 2018; I just had a difficult time evaluating them in the manner I did before.

That has changed in 2019—as many issues have been resolved, my ability to emotionally connect in the way I find necessary for my own critical writing has returned—but it still left a gap in how to handle 2018. In the end I returned to the same criteria I've always used and chose the albums I liked the best, while also understanding that my list may not be as varied or as deep as previous years.

I'm not going to make some grand statement about the state of music in 2018 since I still think we're in a transitional period as the entire landscape grapples with how people discover and consume music, and the effect that has on bands as creators. But I will always believe that people will like what they like, and this is what I liked in 2018. In some ways these were the bands I needed most during that time period, so let's see where I landed.

As always, these are not in any particular order. I still just can't get behind the notion of ranking favorites. That feels more like an exercise for writers still stuck on some notion of artistic hierarchies.

Superchunk - What A Time To Be Alive

I'm lucky that my generation has had a number of our "classic" bands prove they can still crank out music as good or better than their "iconic" periods of work. In other words, a bunch of the indie rock bands I loved growing up are somehow managing to not only remain relevant, but they're kicking out stuff just as crackling as they did in their heyday. Superchunk is near the front of that resurgence and What A Time To Be Alive is both one of their angriest and life-affirming works to date. I listened to this a lot last year.

Sloan - 12

Sloan remains near the top of my list of favorite bands of all time, and like Sperchunk they are managing to release amazing work decades into their career. However Sloan is one of the very few bands who can retain the twin distinctions of never having released a "weak" album while steadily releasing new music and never "breaking up" or "going on hiatus." O.K., they almost broke up, but that didn't last long enough to actually slow down their release schedule. This was another that  racked up hundreds of spins over the last year.

Unlikely Friends - Crooked Numbers

I'm just gonna snag what I wrote about this album for The Reader early in 2018: Crooked Numbers takes midwestern power-pop and laces it with northwestern slacker sensibilities. The result is a collection of songs that feels immediately familiar—your dorm-room record player would explode with nostalgia if you threw this vinyl on top of it. Pull on your Sub Pop "Loser" T-shirt and then drop this album into the mix.

Extra Arms - Headacher

My history with Extra Arms runs way back to when bandleader Ryan Allen was in another one of my favorite bands, Friendly Foes. On Headacher he continued to write speed raw kin' power pop anthems at a blistering pace. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was also going through a divorce, cataloged on his band's latest release, so we probably could've had a lot more to talk about when I ran into him touring this record than we realized.

Franz Ferdinand - Always Ascending

I feel like Franz Ferdinand has never really gone away, but for some reason Always Ascending felt like a return to form to me. It also boasts such a solid collection of tunes that are equally at home in the car or on the dancefloor (or, in my case, on the train or my old back porch) that demand constant play.

Sonny Falls - Some Kind Of Spectre

Sonny falls recently broke up and  their bandleader is continuing on under the Old Joy moniker, so Some Kind Of Spectre will end up serving as the band's noisy, glorious swan song.

Gorillaz - The Now Now

I loved Humans, but I was super happy to hear Gorillaz get closer to the dancefloor again with The Now Now. But c'mon, if you know me, you know I'm a sucker for anything Damon Albarn does.
Also, seeing this tour with my friend Adam was a blast.

Telethon - Modern Abrasive

Telethon are "punk rock" but never seemed all that "angry" to me, but I assume they would find my use of "quotation" marks to be slightly silly as I attempt to describe them. Just listen and you'll discover how insanely "catchy" this band can be.

Ruler - Winning Star Champion

Ruler is Matt Batey and I know that when I wanted to see them play in Chicago they had to cancel so I have no idea if he pulls any of this off live, but the album is pure sugar laced with acid. And catchy as fuck.

Peter Bjorn and John - Darker Days

I don't have much to say about this one because in retrospect anything I do utter would probably be too personal. Too bad you didn't get me writing this last year, eh?

Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer

One of my favorite concert moments of 2018 was seeing Janelle with my friend Jill, Jill convincing me to trade our seats with some folks who wanted to sit with their friends, discovering these folks were friends (family?) with Janelle, leading us to meet Janelle after the show. Also, the album is magnificent and finally delivers on everything that makes Monáe a genius, all at the same time. She's come a long way since I first saw her play tiny Schubas...

The Dirty Nil - Master Volume

The Dirty Nil is a band you have to see live. Their records are big dumb smart raw all the way, and their stage show reinforces the joy that goes into crafting stuff like that.

Direct Hit! - Crown Of Nothing

They've been together over a decade, and live just across the border from me in Milwaukee, but I never heard of Direct Hit! until 2016's Wasted Mind—an album that blew the flesh off my bones. Crown Of Nothing continues you somehow graft inchoate rage at one second with a party-til-you-die chorus that shouldn't work by any stretch of the imagination, but totally does.

Jeff Whalen - 10 More Rock Super Hits

Jeff Whalen was the singer for Tsar, and I wrote about him here, so go read that. But holy shit, this is the real deal when it comes to power-pop and glam, or as Whalen calls it, bubbleglam.

Snail Mail - Lush

The spirit of Matador Records 1994 is alive and well and living in an enormously talented 20-year-old. Wait, what did I just type math-wise?!

Con Brio - Explorer

We saw Con Brio at Lollapalooza a few years ago, primarily because my companion at the time either read or wrote something about the band ahead of the show. I was less enthused since they were billed as a funk band, and in a festival setting that usually  means jam band over actual funk. Not in Con Brio's case! High octane tunes, horns, dancing, and a singer who could do multiple backflips ended up being an unexpected highlight of my fest-going that year. Explorer is a little more mature in it's speed and volume, but the energy is still there, and powered up my summer of '18. Oddly "Too Lit 2 Quit" is one of the album's weaker tunes, but the only upbeat number I could find with a video, since the newer stuff ain't on Bandcamp.

Danny Goffey - Schtick

Danny Goffey was (well, I guess now "is" again?) the drummer for Supergrass, but he's also a fucking great songwriter all on his own. Unsurprisingly, his solo stuff sounds an awful lot like Supergrass. The world needs more of that.

Hockey Dad - Blend Inn

I wrote about Hockey Dad when this album came out, and my opinion hasn't changed. Well, it changed a little. I like the album even more now than I did then.

Little Junior - Hi

I wrote about these cats a few times, most recently here. Again, this album has only grown better in my estimation.

Andrew WK - You're Not Alone

Wherein Andrew continues to party as if his life depends upon it. And it does. I know mine did.

Monday, December 09, 2019

There will be feasting and dancing...

I was never a huge Mountain Goats fan, early on. This isn't because I don't like their music. Not at all! This was more because I was just dumb and never paid the group all that much attention, and stupidly cordoned them off, leaving them—in my head—the nerdier corners of indie fandom.

Luckily I've grown wiser over the years. This gem from their back catalog has been popping up in a number of places over the last year, and that's probably because its sentiment, the feels it triggers, is something that feels even more universal than it did when it first surfaced in 2005.

When they played this on Late Show With Stephen Colbert earlier this year I burst into tears. It came out of nowhere. And now, every time I watch it, you can count on me to start ugly crying all over again. If I make it through the opening, I always crumble when Colbert comes out and you can just see the release the song sparks in him as he jumps around singing along with the chorus.
I am going to make it / through this year / if it kills me
I am going to make it / through this year / if it kills me!
And now I'm crying all over again.

Friday, December 06, 2019


There has been a lot of darkness in 2019, but I think we can all agree that the introduction of Baby Yoda may be one of the most genuine moments of pop cultural joy the year had to offer all of us.

That's all. I just wanted to celebrate something that was, for once, simply...happy.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Le sigh—impeachment.

It doesn’t change anything, but there are three things that keep swirling around my head during this impeachment process, and while I think they're obvious it seems few are addressing a few simple facts.

Trump honestly doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong. The greatest motivating factor for Donald Trump is the promotion and preservation of Donald Trump. Because of this he doesn’t believe he’s capable of wrongdoing, and his constant stream of lies manifests itself as truth n his brain. I know, it’s dangerous and scary, but that’s the truth.

Republicans would better off by impeaching and removing Trump from office. If you get rid of Trump, Mike Pence becomes president. This would be a tremendous boon to the Republican Party and solve the majority of their problems! Pence would also probably fly through the next election and stay in office, giving Republicans another 8 years in the White House. This seems painfully obvious, and the only reason I can fathom to explain why this hasn’t caught on is that the party as a whole is suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

The people that matter aren’t paying attention. The saddest fact that’s risen through all this mess is that the majority of the U.S. public isn’t paying attention nor do they really care. I haven’t the faintest clue what to do about this. To add to the issue, the people that do care are operating with blinders on. In an era where differing points of view are so easily accessible in order to create a well-rounded and informed opinion considering various sides of an issue, most people seem content in either continuing on in ignorance, or only reading material that reinforces their worldview. (I’m looking at my liberal friends on this point as well.) Again, I haven’t the faintest clue what to do about this.

So, le sigh.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Soft pop?

This topic has crossed my mind a lot recently, so Steven Hyden's piece "Why Was Pop Music So Mild And Inoffensive In The 2010s?" was a welcome read. I recommend reading the whole piece—it won't take you long—but his final notes really resonated with me (which is unsurprising since Hyden is only a wee bit younger than me, and we are both definitely NOT Boomers, so):
There’s an obvious irony in adults tsk-tsking the youth for not rocking hard enough. Trust me, I can see it. (Please don’t “ok boomer” me just yet.) I get that this is the opioid era. (Our music usually sounds like our drugs.) Not to mention the bottomless debt era and, of course, the Trump era. The rest of the world is already screaming at us. Who wants to music to do it, too? 
Nevertheless, I find it strange that I might be the one telling my kids to actually turn their music up.
Anyway, like I said, read the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Eiliding scattered thoughts into attempted cohesion to describe Byre with various levels of success (which said, true success would be measured by your listening to band, so go on right ahead and do so!).

Byre is dressed for success!
Last night I was watching a documentary on XTC, and today I’m listening to this EP from Byre and can’t shake the notion that they kind of sound like a more ruminative version of XTC. Which, of course, they don’t really—my recency bias is clearly clouding my ears. But one thing they do have in common with those English indie and psych stalwarts is both bands are capable of unexpectedly tender vocal melodicism (which in Byre's case I presume are primarily delivered by Aaron Tanner). But the sound is entirely Byre's own. But hey, I needed a starting point to write this from, and this particular starting point works for me.

Byre's music is supported by tastefully busy drums, propping up solid bass platforms and guitars that interlock to create walls encapsulating you in the group's sound. Raindrops of spiky notes drop on top of you as guitar and bass accents throughout the Byre's songs. The feeling is of a solid building growing around you with the structure's roof leaping into the sky here and there as the music takes unexpected turns.

That last bit was typed in bits and pieces as I was listening to Byre's Head In Dead Lights EP, but I think the majority of it popped into my head during "Melindiana," so if you're looking for a musical CliffsNotes (ClefsNotes? Har-de-har!) audio version of what I just said, go there first.

Wait! No! Don't miss all the other good stuff! Listen to the whole thing from start top finish and then hop around all you like. But c'mon, the thing's only 5 songs long, so you can take a break and pay attention for that long.

Monday, December 02, 2019

The hills are alive. ALIVE I tell you!

I saw The Sound Of Music for the first time in my life last night. Yes, you read that right. I somehow managed to dodge this film for decades and decades, but last evening it finally caught me.

I saw it at The Music Box Theatre, a real classic-stylee movie house in Chicago, and it was with a "sing-along" crowd complete with props. You'd forgive me for at times feeling like I was at a G-rated version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at times, given the crowd interaction. Overall I think it was a great way to first experience the movie though: on a big screen and with an appreciative crowd. Though one has to admit it is a little strange this became such a classic family musical experience throughout the years, given the whole harrowing "escape from the Nazis" ending to the story.

FUN FACT: This was the second movie featuring Christopher Plummer I saw in a theater within a week! And I do highly recommend that you see Knives Out as well.

Friday, November 29, 2019

A recent SNL sketch that made me misty-eyed.

This song got me teary-eyed a few weeks ago when it originally aired, and for some reason it's stuck with me since then. I know it's ultimately silly, and you could view it as a little dark, but to me it seems sweet and innocent and captures a small truth that hits hard if you let it.

Thursday, November 28, 2019


You know what? I am thankful.

Let's just keep it at that.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Holy mackerel, 20 years of Light FM?!

Photo by Jim Newberry
It's really weird to think a friend's band has been around in one form or another for 20 years. Well, I guess it's not that weird. I have friends whose bands are nearing the 30 year mark, now that I think of it, but it's still the sort of thing you only really consider in the context of "classic" bands. I guess I have friends in "classic" bands? That must make Light FM a classic band!

I've meaning to write about Josiah's new Light FM Tourist EP, and I kept forgetting to do so. It's not because it 's not good—it is—but I kept waiting for the "right time." Like, a tour, or round-up of local releases (even though Josiah's been in L.A. for years and years I still keep thinking of him as a Chicago musician—guess I just can't let go).

So, Light FM has a new EP and it sounds exactly like Light FM, which is to say crisply produced and written, with layers of sound that betray Josiah's love of the studio while also supporting his never-ending quest for something that sounds buzzy and futuristic yet soulful and of-the-moment. And, like almost everything the man has written, there is a tug--f-war between sunshine and storm clouds, and that struggle has always endeared his music to me.

The track he's pushing from the album is "Dreamerz" and it features Brett Anderson of The Donnas entwining her vox with Josiah's. They mix well, to be honest. Honestly I'm just pleased Light FM is still making music, and you should be pleased too.

Light FM also just released a career-spanning retrospective called Turn On The Light FM, which serves as a nice primer for the band's music. So if you like the future pop of the song below, you will probably also enjoy taking a dip and swimming through their older tunes as well (even if the collection criminally omits my favorite song of the band's, "Eli Miller," but I'm sure that's just my nostalgia speaking and Light FM has a reason for not including it).

Hey, between the 20 year thing and the album retrospective and the new EP I guess I did have a timely reason to write about the band! And now you will also discover that sometimes I don't title these posts until after I'm done writing and figure out what point I might be trying to make more fully...

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"This Feeling" isn't new, but it still slays.

Wait! Did Jeff (far left) get a haircut?!
Dead Stars have waited far too long to release a new album since 2017's Perfect Patterns. The fuzz-pop indie trio from Brooklyn have reliably released music that makes life better for everyone that listens to it, so I was beginning to worry they'd been silent for so long. I've only seen the band live once—I managed to time my birthday celebration with a show they had in Chicago a few years ago—but I keep enough tabs on them to know they still play out and about, even if they haven't been releasing much in the way of new music.

While "This Feeling" doesn't truly qualify as "new" since it was originally meant as a 2017 b-side, the band did recently release it as a bonus track on Perfect Patterns. And, as expected, it's terrific. So it looks like I'm gonna shell out a buck to download the track, and you should too! But if you can't afford a buck, stream it to your little heart's content.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Hey, how's the new job going?

Great! Thanks for asking!

Oh yeah, I just realized I don't think I ever mentioned I got a new gig in this here space, and that was because I did mention it on my "how to survive being unemployed" post that is still a draft since I've been too busy to properly tackle it and get it in good enough shape that I'm comfortable publishing it.

There is one key observations about my first couple of weeks at the new gig that I think tell you all you need to know, though:  I find myself in the office earlier than I need to be just about every day, because I actually like going in to work.

And that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

Friday, November 22, 2019

New Who!

I had something else in mind to write when I first sat down in front of the clutter this morning, but as I took a quick scroll through my inbox I discovered it contained the new single from The Who! So this takes precedence.

Unlike many of their contemporaries, The Who has resisted the urge to release new music to support the existence of their touring incarnation. I've found that refreshing, and it's helped to keep the nexus of the band's legacy intact, at least in my eyes.* 2006's Endless Wire was the band's first album since 1982, and it was a solid collection that didn't cause any huge shockwaves throughout the music world, but it still managed to feel like a suitable addition to the band's oeuvre.

The band's releasing their latest studio album, WHO, next month, and they just released another track from it, "I Don't Wanna Get Wise." In the accompanying press release, singer Roger Daltry says, “I think we’ve made our best album since Quadrophenia in 1973, Pete [Townsend] hasn’t lost it, he’s still a fabulous songwriter, and he’s still got that cutting edge”.

It's not unusual for a band to reference a previous high-water mark—I'm a huge Bowie fan but even I got tired of every new album of his being heralded as his "best since Scary Monsters"—and it usually elicits an eyebrow raise from me.** And, I'll be honest, my eyebrow is raised yet again by Daltry's claim. However listening to the music, I think what he might mean is that the band is leaning into that period's sound as the inspiration for the new work, and if that's the case then I agree. Either way, I'm looking forward to hearing the whole album!

Anyway, without further ado, "I Don't Wanna Get Wise."

*Their propensity for reissues and repackaging previously released material does a fine job of snagging disposable income from their fans. However you feel about that sort of behavior, it at least doesn't mean they're releasing dreck that taaints their back catalog, right?

**I would argue that The Who By Numbers was the last "great" Who album, but I wonder if Daltry perhaps views that as more a "Pete" album than a "Who" album since its subject matter is so personal? But if that's true, isn't the subject matter of most of The Who's greatest work intensely personal to Pete's worldview?***

***I wrote that before delving back into the press release and saw that Townsend is quoted as saying, "I wrote this in a mid-‘70s style, like a song from an album like 'WHO BY NUMBERS'" so I think I'm onto something there, even if Rog's own timeline's recollection seems a bit. off.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tripping over your own words to prove a point you didn't mean to make.

I haven't looked at the full list of nominations for the 2020 Grammy Awards yet. I miss a lot about Chicgoist, since it's still in hibernation, but the one thing I don't miss is the constant rush to get up content about topics I have no personal interest in, and the vast majority of award shows and their nominations fall firmly under that category.

Of course a few things have crept through to my attention on the Grammy front regardless of my interest—while the non-stop writing sprints ended once my regular outlet went dark, my non-stop consumption of hundreds of news stories across just about every topic every single day never slowed down. I just have the luxury of not having to dig deeply into the more meaningless stuff in order to extract somewhat meaningful content. In the case of awards shows, there are now so many (across every artistic discipline) that thaw are completely meaningless. In recent years I haven't even seen conclusive proof they help artist album sales in any sustainable way, or introduce underdogs to a new fanbase that sticks around.

To me, the only thing the Grammys were good for in the last couple of years was the chance they provided me and a select group of friends to gather around the television and mercilessly mock the proceedings in real time—both IRL and on Twitter. (Truth be told, we did celebrate the brief highlights of this or that super famous talented person doing something worthy of praise instead of ridicule too. We weren't monsters. Much.) There is something hilarious and writer's room-like about a room of cultural critics tossing around barbs and working off each other as they compose their tweets. Who ever said Twitter had to be a solo activity?! Sadly, in recent years, my path split off from that crew, so I don't even watch the broadcast for humorous purposes any more.

One thing that about the headlines that accompanied this year's noms did bring a smile to my face, though. Numerous media types were trumpeting that Lil Nas X, Lizzo, and Billie Ellish "dominate 2020 Grammy nominations." The quotes are there because multiple outlets used that exact descriptor in their headlines in reference to some combination of those three artists, accenting the performers who probably resonate most with their target reader demo and would result in clicks.

I know that last bit sounds snarky, and it is. But I'm all for Lil Nas X, Lizzo, and Billie Ellish dominating the nominations, even if that doesn't really result in anything concrete outside the Grammys acknowledging that what would have previously been viewed as industry-unfriendly artists are simply the ones running the show nowadays, and that the rams needs artists like that to make them at least appear relevant.

Annnnnnnd I just realized that what started as an early morning writing exercise turned into me producing "content about topics I have no personal interest in."


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

If It Feels Good, Sloan It!

Sloan is coming through Chicago to play Bottom Lounge tonight. I've put together this point-by-point presentation to pique your interest and then convince you to attend this evening's concert.
  • Sloan has had the same four members since its inception in 1991.
  • The band features four songwriters, who more or less share songwriting duties equally, and have distinct melodic personalities that still blend seamlessly into their signature "single band sound."
    • The four songwriters' personalities could be boiled down to simple descriptors like:*
      • Jay Ferguson - the sensitive one
      • Chris Murphy - the poppy one who wants everyone to have A REAL GOOD TIME
      • Patrick Pentland - the punky one who can't resist a hook
      • Andrew Scott - the artsy one
  • They are all "the cute one," by the way.
  • The band's sound has slightly varied over the years—beginning as an indie almost shoegaze noisy smear with a strong melodic center, then eventually steering more towards the vibe of '60s clubs and '70s arenas with a power-pop focus, but without every really being a power-pop band. It's just goddamned catchy rock and/or roll. It's the beat of life. It's essential. I am not exaggerating this point.

  • They are currently touring behind the deluxe reissue of 1998's Navy Blues—arguably the band's best album in a catalog of amazing albums. And yes, the deluxe reissue of a 1998 album from a Canadian band that most current music fans are woefully unfamiliar with was absolutely warranted. I preordered not the second it was available and don't regret one cent I spent for it.
  • Sloan shows are more fun than should be allowed, and the band is just as energetic and boisterous as they were when I first saw them on their One Chord To Another tour. This was the tour that caused me to fall in love with the band, even though I admit I didn't expect them to still be putting out albums 20 years later. Or that I'd still be trying to drag every living soul I know to see their shows and listen to their records.

  • I've kept track and not one single person I have introduced to Sloan's music has been able to resist the band.
If you are not already, and you go to the show, you too will become a Sloan fan. And you too will join me in my mission to expose others to one of the genuinely great things in life. Sloan.

Thank you for attending my tankTALK.

*These descriptions are overly simplistic, and meant to align more with the fanzine depiction of the group through the eyes of a teenage fan. It should be noted that this is a band you can still view through the eyes of your inner teenage fan, even if you are, in reality, an old fart.

**I maybe listened to Superchunk's What A Time To Be Alive more, but I can't be sure. It was neck-to-neck.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

'Cuz I know when you're in my heart you're in my mind.

I woke up this morning ultra early yet still managed to utter around my apartment long enough that I didn't have time to write in this here place before heading to the gym. Luckily I did have enough time to whip up a quick preview of Jonny Polonsky's Chicago show tonight for Third Coast Review

So head on over and read it to discover what makes tonight's show a little bit more special than usual.

I haven't seen Jonny in years, so I'm looking forward to a late afternoon cup of coffee so I can stay awake long enough to head on out and see him play!

Monday, November 18, 2019

The power in letting go.

Rowe, photo by Simon Filip
Rowe (a.k.a. Becky Filip) released her debut single "Tired Love" last week, and it's the kind of slinky and slow groove that finds its home deep within you. I know it's stuck with me and bubbled to the top of my consciousness a number of times over the weekend since I first listened to it.

Filip's song is borne out of the newfound freedom driven by the realization that "being alone was not the same thing as being lonely." That feels powerful to me. But also incredibly vulnerable. And those two things come together the song's bridge when Filip sings "So you can write me letters / And you can write me songs / But it won’t make it better / You can’t keep a heart you broke."

It's such a simple statement, but it's also the kind of truth that takes people just so long to truly embrace and understand. On the surface, "Tired Love" appears to be a lament, but I think that at its core it's a statement of strength through self-acceptance.

I'm curious to hear what Filip has planned next under the Rowe moniker.

Friday, November 15, 2019

You'll believe a cat can fly!

Viktor the cat, photo via Mikhail Galin's Facebook page
In a week (month? year? years? has it always been this bad?!) of garbage news, one story rose up to save us all.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Sometimes, first thing in the morning, you can literally only talk about the weather.

Sheez, it is cold in Chicago.

I'm not really complaining, since the freeze is something you just grow used to around these parts. However we usually have a little more time to ease into it, and it really does feel like we've hit the deep freeze range of temps we are usually more acclimated to in February.

For example, most of the radiators in my apartment don't work. Or they do, but only for something like 15 minutes a day, at 5 a.m. And the two or three that stay heated longer than that do so intermittently, ad are in areas of the apartment I don't reguarly occupy (like my library or the room where my drum kit is set up). So it can get unusually cold in my place, but I tend to just wear extra layers and crawl under blankets. But last year "unusually cold in my place" didn't really manifest until, you guessed it, February. This year it started creeping toward that territory in October and is now firmly ensconced in the land of not-comfy chill already in November.

I planned on just dealing with it but my upstairs neighbor just told me that everyone in the building is having heating issues already, so maybe this year they'll get taken care of! My landlord is actually very cool, I'm just the sort of person that always just deals with these things quietly rather than bothering someone else to actually fix them. Lame, I know. But I hate feeling like I'm putting people out! I don't wanna do that.

So there you go. Another fascinating update from the Midwest on, you guessed it, the weather. Hey, I promised I'd return to writing something every day, I just never promised it'd all be genius.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Lou Barlow stars in The Get Up Kids' "Lou Barlow" and we continue to reach new heights of self-referential indie awesomeness in today's media landscape.

Continuing the trend of current bands paying tribute to their '80s indie rock idols, and then recruiting their '80s indie rock idols to participate in some manner in that tribute, The Get Up Kids have released the video for their song "Lou Barlow," and it stars Lou Barlow.

In the accompanying press release, Barlow confirmed in an official statement that “I acted the shit out of that.”

I concur.

Also, worth noting, the album "Lou Barlow" is pulled from, Problems, is an excellent album and you should listen to it and buy it and go see The Get Up Kids live and buy all their merch and all of that, while you're at it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fantasy Island was a lot scarier during its original run than you probably think it was.

"Welcome to my island—I hope you survive!"
When I was a kid my family would watch The Love Boat, and to my little brain the biggest draw there was the celebrity quests and the fact all there adults seemed to be having a pretty good time on that boat. After that show, Fantasy Island aired, and I remember preferring it over The Love Boat, while also being super scared of it. In retrospect the series was pretty creepy at times, even if all that spooky stuff was often in support of teaching the guests a lesson that would imp[rove their lives. But the tales themselves would unsettle my little brain and cause me sleepless nights.*

I had no clue Blumhouse was launching a film reboot of Fantasy Island until seeing the trailer for it before Doctor Sleep this weekend.** And while I suspect quite a few people who came up on the series through reruns (if at all) may be surprised to see the latest incarnation firmly rooted in the supernatural realm of Blumhouse terrors, it makes total sense to me!

Mr. Roarke never was a mortal human, and while the TV series did accent Roarke's more merciful tendencies and opportunities for mentorship, there was always a real danger lurking below his island's surface. While I don't know if Roarke will ultimately end up being a hero or a villain in the reboot, I have no issues with his presentation as a dangerous entity introducing peril into visitors' lives.

*This is probably why my parents tried to keep me away from horror films at the same time they would allow my youngest brother to take them in. I think he was always more practical about being able to separate fantasy from reality. This may also explain why he's now a very successful lawyer and I'm a creative in advertising.

**Yes, I gave in and decided to see this sequel to The Shining. It was fine, but unless you're a Stephen King superfan I think you can wait for it to hit cable or the streaming service of your choice. Trust me.

Monday, November 11, 2019

You don't have to read this stuff in order to enjoy 'Watchmen' but I think you really should.

I've really been enjoying the Watchmen television series, and think it's done a fabulous job of treating the source material with respect while building exciting new tales from the original DNA. Heh, that sentence could be viewed as darkly humorous given a few of the plot development s in last night's episode. But I digress.

In the original comic book, there was always supplementary material at the back of the book in the form of book excerpts, articles, and the like. For the TV series, the creators originally wanted to do something is similar, and build post-credit sequences that would serve a similar purpose. However they couldn't find a way to make it quite work within the show. So I believe that's what spurred the creation of the Peteypedia files, a collection similar in purpose to the additional material in the comics. It's the sort of thing that can expand your understanding of what's happening in there main story, but isn't essential.

Here is where you make the argument that the show must stand on its own, without additional required reading, and this is certainly true. When 14-year-old me read the original series as it was being released—I worked in a comic book store in the mid-'80s, marking me a super uber nerd*—I admit I often skipped the "boring stuff" at the back of the book. It wasn't until re-reading Watchmen a few years later, probably bored in my college dorm room and avoiding homework, that I pored over the extra stuff and realized just how much color it added to the story!

The Peteypedia files do the exact same thing.

They release "new" files each week, and while they aren't essential to the central story, they do add to it, and it continues to show what a fully considered world Damon Lindelof and his collaborators have created. Everything here means something, and the attention to detail (and ability to not take everything so seriously**) really does make for fuller immersion into a world so foreign and familiar.

In other words, like the original, HBO's Watchmen stands on its own, but why not take advantage of the expanded world both versions offer in order to create an even richer experience?

*Not as much of a nerd as my coworker at the time who pegged who the villain was in Watchmen before anyone else.

**Also, how else would you learn that Ezra Klein is the White House press secretary for Robert Redford? Tell me that isn't pretty funny stuff.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Winter living.

In Chicago we had the season of "fall" last for, oh, a few days before we got buried in snow all day Halloween. Yesterday was downright frigid and right now the temperature is in the teens, with only a smidge of hope that'll it'll move upward much over the course of the day. This weekend we should poke into the 40s (Fahrenheit, for anyone not lodged in that temperature system) and I guarantee I'll see people walking down my block in shorts and hoodies. It's just how Midwesterners roll.

During my job hunt this year, due to the state of the Chicago market at the time, I had finally opened myself up to relocation to Warner climates after years of resisting such a move. Maybe I should have focused more on that!

Aw, who am I kidding? By this point I'm probably a Chicagoan until my death. I mean, I'm way too old to take up surfing or something like that. And I grew up in South Texas so I know what it's like to have 360 days of summer—and 5 of "winter" where people wore heavy coats as the temperature dropped to a freezing 60° F (ha!). So it's not like I've had to suffer in the freezing cold all of my life.

Plus, a move would so confuse Pickle the Kitten. Right now she's got her seasons down, as far as where she hangs out during the day: spring is when she sleeps on the couch, summer is when she sleeps on the footstool or windowsill (wherever the sunbeam is at the time), and winter is when she actually puts forth the effort to make the leap upward and sleep in my bed. I've finally got her fit enough to make that jump, so I don't want to risk it by relocating her somewhere she'll inhabit a windowsill year-round!

So, Chicago it is.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The best Replacements cover band in all of the land.

When I saw Beach Slang play a last-minute show at Liar's Club in late 2016, James Alex busted out "Bastards Of Young" (among a bevy of other covers) and admitted that his outfit could easily be viewed as a Replacememnts cover band. And he had no issue with that. And hey, when you're ripping off such terrific source material with such earnest love, I ain't gonna judge. It doesn't change the fact that Alex writes terrific songs and has a live presence that makes you fall in love with rock and/or roll over and over again.

Beach Slang has a new album coming out next year, and the latest taste of what to expect is ... "Tommy In The '80s." Featuring Tommy Stinson. Sounding like late-'80s Replacememnts complete with a dated synth horn blast. It should be a disaster but it's not.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Rocking out at House On The Rock.

How has no one else (that I've seen, yet) not used that headline for their news pieces on the latest video from The Raconteurs? Seems like a miss to me. The video was filmed at the Wisconsin tourist trap / state treasure / living fever dream that is House On The Rock, a location I finally visited in person earlier this year. Having lived in Illinois and vacationed in areas of Wisconsin over the last couple of decades, the name House On The Rock was familiar to me, but for some reason the mental image that accompanied it was always more Frank Lloyd Wright in nature. Wow. I was way off on that one.

Even crazier is that I saw House On The Rock featured on American Gods last year and just assumed they had CGI-ed the joint within an inch of its life. Again, way off on that one too.

In fact, House On The Rock is a sprawling series of buildings that takes at least a day to get through, and even then you feel as if you've rushed through and only caught a fraction of the weirdness it has crammed into its confines.

So, take in the video above, and realize that as strange as it appears, it's only barely scratching the surface of the location its filmed in. Dreams and / or nightmares for months!

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

What would the odd do, indeed.

Photo by Vanessa Castro
According to the band, Guerilla Toss' new EP What Would The Odd Do? was driven by singer/bandleader Kassie Carlson's recovery from opioid addiction and open heart surgery to remove a blood clot caused by said addiction. So you would think the music resulting from that experience would be either loudly harrowing and disturbing or quietly claustrophobic. I mean, right?


Instead What Would The Odd Do? Is a swirling, giddy, danceable concoction that skirts genres. I'll take the band's word for it that the album deals with a post-addiction mindset, because the lyrics are largely elliptical, creating poetic impressions that avoid specificity. Carlson comes across as more interested in creating moods through rhythmic constructions of her words, and this leaves an impression of cohesion from a distance. But if you dig into it line by line, you could get lost in the maze of phrases that double back on themselves to create a vertiginous rush.

It's one of the more weirdly enjoyable things I've heard this year. I plan on digging into their back catalog and am curious if that stuff will be just as enhancing and life-affirming as What Would The Odd Do? feels to me. Only one way to find out!

The band is on tour now (they open for Battles at Lincoln Hall in Chicago on December 8). Based on this EP, I think they're worth checking out. I know I'll be there when they hit my town.

Monday, November 04, 2019

It was 75 years ago...

My dad would have been 75-years-old today.

On this day I always revisit the thoughts my brother Sean put together for my dad's funeral 15 years ago. Wow, that seems like forever ago, but at times it also feels like yesterday. I could've really used my dad's perspective and advice over the last 2 years, since some of the things he struggled with at times probably most closely approximated some of my own struggles.

This is one of those posts that has gone through a bunch of different variations since I started writing it after waking up this morning. So here are a few snippets that survived, that didn't end up being too depressing, or self-centered.

In some ways we were very, very different people, but as time has gone by I am often struck by parallels in both history and actions that can't be denied. My dad was the first to teach me parents are human and fallible, but that only gave me perspective on life and never stopped me from looking up to him, no matter what our differences were.

Losing a parent sucks. Since my dad left I've seen plenty of other friends lose parents and I'm always tortured by the understanding that there is nothing I can do or say to lessen their pain, aside from letting them know everything they are feeling is valid, and terrible, and crushing, and that while it will never disappear, the pain will grow more manageable.

I'd still like to think that at my darkest moments over the last few years, he was the one looking down on me and offering me the tiny pushes that kept me from completely giving into the abyss. I certainly took his example of perseverance, no matter what life throws at you, to heart. He was human, but he always did whatever was needed to keep our family afloat, even in the most financially challenging times.

Sean's piece quotes something I wrote that year, and it still does a really good job of encapsulating my feelings, even 15 years later. So go read that, and help me celebrate my dad for all the positive impact he had on his family and friends. I'm no longer sure at all what kind of legacy I'll end up leaving behind—too much is still in flux for me, and I'm kind of starting over from square one—but I hope whatever I end up leaving behind would make my dad proud.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Should you super duper want the new deluxe reissue of R.E.M.'s 'Monster'? Let's discuss.

R.E.M. photo by Jim Cohen
I could've sworn it was an R.E.M. "anniversary" release years ago triggered a salty post from me years ago, but no amount of digging through my own archives or the pages of Donewaiting has uncovered it, so that means it's either a) in my own head or b) actually ran in my weekly email newsletter that predated this site. Either way, I've long been suspicious of "deluxe editions" as far as expanding the historical record while simultaneously finding myself unable to resist them.

In plain terms, in my head special editions are often good only for superfine and pointless otherwise. Mostly. There are exceptions! And that list of exceptions has grown and grown, so I do believe we're moving past the point of these reissues being simple each-ins for labels or bands trying to extend their catalog's lifespan. Hell, one of the first series of remasters I remember making a real difference were when The Who re-released their whole catalog and you could suddenly hear Keith Moon's drums so much better on everything pre-1972 in the band's work. And there bonus tracks actually expanded the story. And and and ... I could go on and on, but suffice to say that series began to soften my stance.

As years have passed the number of special editions has spiked, and most are still pathetic cash grabs but the ones that actually try and make a case for their existence can be tremendous gifts.

This brings us to R.E.M. and today's release of the 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of 1994's (in case you couldn't do the math) Monster.

Monster is often viewed as R.E.M.'s reaction to the 1994 "grunge" explosion.* That's because it was. And because of that I think lots of people didn't give it a fair shake at the time. It didn't hurt the band's popularity at all, they would mount a massive tour behind the album that did really well, but the album itself was often derided, especially in "cool" circles like the snobs I hung out with. However I liked the volume of "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?" And spent a few hard-earned bucks from flipping burgers and DJing to get my own copy of the CD. And I liked it enough. I certainly did not not like it. Little did I know would be the last great R.E.M. album recorded as an album, if not the last great R.E.M. album, per-se.**

History has been kind to the disc. The band's reintegration of distortion always felt more glam than grunge to me, and I think the intervening years have served to support that opinion. The songs are solid, and there are even a few tearjerkers in there. If you don't get at least a little misty in response to Michael Stipe's plaintive wail on "Let Me In" you need to loosen up and, um, let 'em in.

Sooooo, let's just agree Monster was a fine album. Is a fine album. But does it warrant a super duper deluxe reissue? It breaks down into fur primary components:
  1. The original album, remastered
  2. Demos from that time period
  3. The original album, remixed, presumably now to producer Scott Litt's satisfaction
  4. A live concert in CHICAGO!***
So, let's be honest and take these each separately.

The remaster is just fine, if not really necessary, since it sounds almost identical to the original release. But hey, you can't add that "super" to "deluxe" without remastering something.

The demos are interesting, though you'll probably listen to the once and never again. As always with these things, they're snippets of ideas or half-baked thoughts that offer insight into what was going on behind the scenes. But again, more of historical interest, IMHO.

The remix is where the value-add starts to be obvious, though it's the sort of thing you will wither love or find super annoying. It's basically a whole new album, akin to viewing the original from an alternate dimension, opening things up and adding in different takes and basically rebuilding from the ground up. I've listened to it a bunch of times and I still find the alternative presentation fascinating; a re-imagining of what might have been, if you will. It doesn't change the way I feel about the original album one whit, and it doesn't expose or fix any weaknesses of the original recording, but it's an interesting exercise. And I think it's a valid way to re-approach the material. It's probably only of real interest to superfine, but by this point there are plenty of R.E.M. superfine to support this release. Even if most people I know barely seem to remember R.E.M. any more.****

And the live concert. It's a live concert. I do remember watching the Road Movie concert film they released from this tour (also included in this box set) and thinking the band was in viciously fine form, and this recording does nothing to change that appraisal—though I had forgotten how delightfully loopy Stipe's between song banter has always been. Again, it's the sort of thing I'll listen to once or twice and probably never again. Maybe you're different.

It occurs to me that by this point my thoughts on this super deluxe primo box set seem less than glowing. The fact of the matter is that I think it's pretty great, but I'm trying to process it the way an average consumer would, and give the facts based on whether or not that person wants to lay down a bunch of dollars for this. Do you need it in your library?! Do you really need it?

If you are the average fan, I would lay out the dough for the two-disc version that has the 2019 remaster and the new Scott Litt remix, since I do think that's required listening and something you might play over and over again. Who knows, maybe the remix will become your favorite version of Monster! But two discs should keep you covered.

If you are the above average fan, then by all means grab the deluxe set. You are the type that will listen to the demos over and over again. And dig into the video content (which is content I have not. Covered here outside the Road Movie mention, since it was not included in my review download). And you will play the Chicago concert recording over and over again in hopes that it's transmission might draw the band back to a stage near you. It won't, but you gotta dream. But dreams or not, the reality is that you'll love this set.

*Look, I'm not gonna argue over the use of the word "grunge." If you were in college in the early '90s we all called it "grunge," revisionist history be damned. You know what I'm talking about.

**New Adventures In Hi-Fi was recorded on the road and felt more like a really great odds and sods collection more than an "album," though I think in the grand scheme of things I still rate that as the last great R.E.M. album, with Monster coming in under it, quality-wise. Anyway.

***I didn't realize until recently that until Monster the band hadn't done any touring since I saw them in 1989. For some reason I thought they were always on the road, but I guess despite the massive success of the intervening albums Monster was the one that got them back out there? Weird. In my defense, I was living in a Central Illinois college town so most of my news came from discussions at the bar or the record store, or Rolling Stone and Spin, when I could afford them.

****Which, BTW, WTF?! Seriously?!