Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Another year older.

I survived another year! My last few birthdays have been quiet affairs, each one marked by a small amount of disbelief that I actually made it through another year, and a large amount of hope that things couldn't possibly get any worse, so sunshine times just had to be around the corner!


So this year I'm level. Routine. Boring. Living is a mental state where disbelief is suspended by actual reality and the resulting world we all inhabit is, right now, a very scary place. This year my only real hope is that it will be less scary this time next year. But I've given up saying "it can't get any worse" because I'm tired of proving myself wrong over and over again.

So let's see where we're all at next year. Maybe I'll even be feeling festive enough by then to actually regain the celebratory joy that used to mark my birthdays. This year I'll just be content with working part of the day and then spending the rest of the day walking and trying to find a quiet place to do some reading.

That seems pretty cool to me right now.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Feeling alright?

Here's a quick one to get your weekend started. I've written about Ryan Allen multiple times here and elsewhere, mostly in relation to various bands he's been in, but during the pandemic he's been cranking out some excellent new music so I wanted to share his recent effort with you.

I'll just let the music speak for itself, but I did plunk down some of my own hard-earned cash for my own download of it. And if the music ain't enough top open your pocketbook, maybe the knowledge that Allen says, "100% of my proceeds for downloading these songs will go to the Black Lives Matter movement." Win-win, people. Win-win!

Psssst. Pssssst! Also, between you and me, I am endlessly amused with Allen's "record label" for this release. Now if only he were wearing a "Loser" t-shirt in the shot...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Some movie and TV and recommendations I meant to share last month and, well, better late than never!

Over the last few months the file of ideas to write about has grown overstuffed, so who knows what from that pile will ever make it's way through to live on at some point or another. But I did come across a text file on my desktop created in early May that I clearly meant to post, and just never did!

So with that in mind, here's a list of stuff I was going to recommend back then to anyone looking to fill their free time. Come to think of it, we're still not getting out much, so this is still relatively useful to most!

The Lighthouse
I've been putting this off since I expected it to be a brainier watch and wanted to make sure I was in the right mood. I shouldn't have waited! Visually brilliant. And so entertaining! Yes, it's dark, but I actually had a rollicking good time viewing this one. And I'll definitely be rewatching it a few times in the near future. So much better (IMHO) than Robert Eggers' debut The VVitch.

Normal People
Read the book first and then watch this adaptation of the material. It's rare when a book comes to life onscreen the way I envisioned it, but in this case that's what happened! And that is probably due in no small fact to author Sally Rooney's involvement with the series. They actually listened to the writer!

After seeing Devs, this feels a little sim pie and flat at times since it goes over similar ground. But it's enjoyable and the characters are deep enough that when they take unexpected turns it actually fits with their development instead of just being stunts to carry the story along. In other words the characters feel more lived-in and "real" than I would've excepted from a comedy about a digital afterlife. I guess given that it was created by The Office's Greg Daniels I guess that shouldn't have come as a surprise though.

The season's conclusion feels a little out of place, primarily because the series resorts to cliffhanger in obvious hopes for a second season, but the twist feels earned so I'll keep riding along if there is another season.

The Leftovers
I'm going through a re-watch of this. I know, I know, how could I find a show where a percentage of the world's population just up and disappears during this pandemic? But there is so much feeling in the show itself that I find great human comfort in it. And this rewatch surprised me with the discovery that this is possibly one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Who woulda thunk?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Never stops?

I finally had a second to think to myself today after sprinting non-stop since the early morning hours, and then I got the most disturbing snippet of news about a loved one so now I'm sitting here with a thousand questions and no answers. I don't wanna get into any of it right now. And I want to know everything about it right now.

Sorry to be all vague and such, but some days you just don't want to feel alone, even if you don't want to talk about it.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Who taught you how to shave?

I had never been able to grow a full beard, and the less said about the goatee and soul patch I wore for a portion of the '90s, the better. But a few years ago I discovered that hair had suddenly decided to grow on my face in all the places a beard would usually go! Luckily for everyone I always shaved before things got out of hand.

When the lockdown began last March, I had been just about to schedule one of my twice-a-year haircuts, so I was shaggy and unshaved. Once we were all sheltering-in-place I decided to just let the hair go where it wanted to and figure out what to do about it once my stylist's salon opened back up.

So now I look like Grizzly Adams' slightly hipster cousin who's bordering on, and beginning to encroach into, dad-bod-land.

And I have no idea how to groom something like a beard!

I love my dad, but while he was on this planet he wasn't the strongest when it came to relaying manly information on doing manly things (like shaving) so I am in new territory. Once I realized that though, I began to really miss my dad and while I'm glad he's not still here to see all the stupid mistakes I've made, I wish he was here so I could ask him questions about so many things, including those stupid mistakes. And how to trim a beard.

Funny how that all started with me simply realizing he never taught me how to shave.

Friday, June 19, 2020

One songwriter, 31 interpretations.

Usually tribute albums are understandably hit and miss affairs, and at 31 tracks Saving For A Custom Van—a celebration of Adam Schlesinger's catalog—has a couple experiments that maybe don't land perfectly, but it's still 31 songs written by Schlesinger so the source material couldn't be much more solid.

Also, I betcha there are many many people who will be surprised to learn Schlesinger was involved with so much of the music they've probably taken for granted. I know even I forgot he had a hand in the sublime "Way Back Into Love," and who knew Sarah Silverman could sing?

And thank god Rachel Bloom, who collaborated with Schlesinger on so many Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songs tackles "Stacy's Mom," taking it in a wholly unexpected direction to give a song Schlesinger might have tired of over the years a new twist.

*Well, actually I knew that. And so do many other people. But admit it, Silverman ain't the first person you expect to see on a tribute album to a power-pop legend.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A new way to keep dancing on your own.

Photo by Chantal Anderson, from Robyn's Facebook page 
In the early morning the world always looks fresh and full of potential to me. As the day wears on that fades, but I try to hold onto at least a sliver of that mentality through the day. It just helps me reframe the day and balance out the suffocatingly bad with the potentially good.

This take on Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" takes the yearning power of the original and reformulates it for a more consistent strut-worthy experience that perfectly pairs with long afternoon walks better than I envision it playing out on an actual dance floor. It doesn't carry nearly the same emotional power of the original, but it keeps just enough of that original intent and spices it up with just enough new twists to make an old and familiar friend seem new and fresh, even if no longer as close an old friend.

Monday, June 15, 2020

You're gonna love The Sounds' 'Things We Do For Love,' I betcha!

It seems almost fitting that The Sounds' first album since 2013 should be launched into the world during the grey area that is new music releases during our pandemic times. I say fitting because The Sounds have always existed in an area that, to me, always felt just outside "the normal." In a "normal" world these Swedes would be a globally dominant music force, based on their outstanding output of consistently hook-filled, rock-tinged dance floor anthems. But here we are, in 2020, and for a while I had a hard time even finding links to where you can actually buy their latest album, Things We Do For Love.

That just isn't fair. But the world isn't fair and here I am, again championing a band that should need no help from a pleb like me to get the word out about them.

So instead of convincing you about why you need The Sounds in your life right now, I'm just going to appeal to your inner laziness and simply urge you to click on the player below, and don't hit stop until the album's end.*

It's at this point I predict you will be as upset by The Sounds still being a band adored on the margins when they should be conquering the mainstream. But here we are.

*The fact I'm including a Spotify embed given my personal hesitation to use that platform except when absolutely necessary should give you an idea of how much I want you to listen to this album!

Friday, June 12, 2020

I'm still here...

I avoided posting much this week. There are other and more important things to worry about, and confront, and change, and fix. But I'm still here and as O.K. as anyone else who has a conscience and is just battered and horrified by the world around all of us right now. I do take a small amount of solace in the fact that maybe, just maybe, this time we'll all keep up the pressure to institute real and systemic change when it comes to addressing racism. It certainly feels different to me, this time around. And that gives me hope—but we all need to stay vigilant. That doesn't mean we have no time, or it's some sign of laziness that we might want, to hear about good things or new bands or movies or books, or any of the other stuff that honestly seems pretty irrelevant right now. I firmly believe art is a most excellent "distraction" in these times, especially since that "distraction" often helps us make sense of the world around us. But, like I said, these things should offer us comfort without dulling our passion to implement real, lasting change.

I do feel incredibly hopeful about our prospects for success, but I also fear this may be our last chance to get things done before we slide irrevocably into a deeper, darker, and more chaotic abyss.

So we ALL need to keep at it and not give up!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Well, that's one potential way to bring live music back...

I mean, it does keep everyone safe whilst enjoying the show!

[Credz to my old friend Sean for bringing this to my attention since I fell asleep early last night and missed its original airing!]

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Rockin' My Turntable in 2019.

Photo by Travis Wiens.
Well, I'm still 6 months late with this, but at least I'm getting closer to being back on track since my 2017 list took almost a year to get up. Progress? Progress!

It's worth noting that in the intro to my 2018 list I mentioned my listing habits had returned to normal when it came to new music. Of course I wrote that at the end of 2019 and since then they have returned to normal (as of yesterday, I've logged 344 albums so far this year).

2019 was a year for me slowing down, regaining control, and leaning on the familiar to get me through uncertain times. In this case you'll see "the familiar" has to do with sonic connections of the bands more so than. litany of old faves. Sure, there are a few stalwarts in here, but the vast majority are newer artists who hew to the sounds of my personal nostalgia and sentiment. So that's the basis of a lot of how these wormed their way into my head and heart, but if these were just bands trading on their influences it'd bore me (and you) pretty quickly.

The albums below are in total random order. The only potential organizing principle was that if the music is available on Bandcamp (my preferred platform for buying and streaming but mostly buying music) those are grouped first. Honestly, I haven't a clue why every band isn't on Bandcamp since I think Spotify is not a musician's friend and Soundcloud is fine but, again, doesn't seem as financially supportive to musicians as one would like.

So, let's go!

Bob Mould - Sunshine Rock

The granddaddy of indie punk shows no signs of slowing down. He's taken many detours over the years but he always seems to land in the power trio format and simply can't help himself from writing chunky guitar pop masterpiece after chunky guitar pop masterpiece.

Foxygen - Seeing Other People

Foxygen decided to take a trip down the groovier lanes of '60s pop psychedelia and I was and still am all in.

Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising

Don't kill me for saying this, but this is the album I always knew The Carpenters had in them if they'd just unleashed Karen.

Brat Curse - Brat Curse

Power pop on trucker's speed, with a vocal delivery that will have people singing Tripping Daisy tunes from their past. Urgent, immediate, and so much fun. Chugga chugga chugga!

PUP - Morbid Stuff

These cats never disappoint with raucous party punk that keeps the blood and sweat glands pumping.

Kitty Kat Fan Club - Dreamy Little You

Imagine a lottery ball machine filled with tiny globes of perfect indie pop bouncing all over the place and nudging against each other to be chosen unknowing that in fact they are all winners. That's Kitty Kat Fan Club.

Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center

You've heard this. Everyone has heard this. And there's a reason for that. But hopefully you didn't just hear the singles. Better Oblivion Community Center also put on one of my favorite shows in 2019, even though I think I went solo since my friend who was supposed to go that night canceled at the last minute. Big mistake!

Ex Hex - It's Real

This power trio whips out the polish and applies an '80s gleam to their indie power-pop numbers to take you down right in the solar plexus.

Dude York - Falling

This trio gets sharper and sharper and I've enjoyed watching them grow, especially as the guitarist and bassist have slowly started to more evenly split the songs they sing on.

Charly Bliss - Young Enough

One of my newer friends thought Charly Bliss was my favorite band of all time because of how much I played their music and talked to anyone who would listen about how terrific they are in 2019. While they aren't my favorite band of all time, over the years they have swiftly risen up my internal rankings ever since I saw them open for Veruca Salt way back when. They get better and better and better and if they top this album I just might explode.

Great Grandpa - Four Of Arrows

Another gang of youthful types who love '90s indie rock and explored the noise corners of that sound on their last album, only to shed much of the volume in favor of finesse on this huge step forward.

The Dollyrots - Daydream Explosion

I keep saying this because it's true: if Josie and the Pussycats released new albums they would sound exactly like this.

100 gecs - 1000 gecs

This was certainly the most memorable show I saw in 2019. If you have to ask yourself if you're too old to "get" 100 gecs then you're doing it wrong. You don't need to "get" them, you just need to submerge yourself in them. Also, I'm sure the duo behind the group's music has never heard of Atari Teenage Riot, but they are the spiritual sonic forefathers of 100 gecs—even if the gecs get the last word when it comes to crafting backward hooks.

Bleached - Don't You Think You've Had Enough?

These albums are indeed in random order, but I'm noticing a trend: Bleached also put on one of my favorite shows in 2019. Their set focused mainly on this album, so it was a slicker and more "disco" affair than one would expect from a band whose work often sounded as if it was made to bounce off garage doors and basement ceilings. But it was great, even if I think the singer in the band and me were the only people in the room not drinking that night.

Extra Arms - Up From Here

Ryan Allen and his crew never disappoint. Just listen to the whole thing already. Also a really fun show even if the cozy confines of the Montrose Saloon didn't seem entirely sure what to do Wirth the band when they started playing, everyone in the room was a convert bye the end. Bonus points fro keeping one of the owners of said Saloon dancing near the front of the crowd for most of their set.

Yeasayer - Erotic Reruns

It figures that just when Yeasayer releases an album that trims their flabbier tendencies towards excess in their music it would also be the band's final release. This deserved more attention than it got.

Starcrawler - Devour You

Another band with a phenomenal 2019 live show. They injected more glam into their tunes but the gutter is always half a step away in their music as it teeters on the edge of the abyss.

White Reaper - You Deserve Love

This is the album that should have made these cats an arena act. This is also the album that made me realize that the vast majority of groups the music press writes about and focuses on are much smaller than you would think when it comes to broader cultural awareness of their music, and that can set lopsided expectations divorced from reality. So while yes, in a different world You Deserve Love should have made these cats an arena act, in our world it's just a fan-fucking-tabulous album.

Telethon - Hard Pop 

These folks from Milwaukee are just cranking out hit after hit, and I can't get enough. Luckily they pace of their output is pretty speedy so I never have to wait too long for new goodness. Also? The album sounds just like it's title.

Tacocat - This Mess Is A Place

Yes, I think it's funny a band based in dreary (allegedly) Seattle would create such a terrific beach album. But they did, and it's great!

Radar State - Strays

When I wrote about this sorta supergroup I said,"The sound is all energetic, classic riffle and sing-along prompts that you'll fall prey to halfway through any given chorus. It's the sound of four people who share enough of a common background to keep things cohesive, but are different enough that none of this sounds like a rehash of their own bands." Yup.

Angel Olsen - All Mirrors

Grand. Eloquent. Stately. Baroque. Angel. Olsen. Outdoes. Herself.

Masked Intruder - III

According to my play counts over 2019, I played this album A LOT. It's pure release, and on top of it, Masked Intruder is just so much funny fun.

Dark Thoughts - Must Be Nice

As simple and loud as it gets. 'Nuff said.

The Regrettes - How Do You Love?

Sugar laced with cyanide and topped with bouffants hovering over sleeves of tattoos. At least that's what the latest album from The Regrettes sounds like to me.

Love In October - Shapes

These Chicago-based siblings continue to show a knack for kicking out condensed blasts of guitar pop bliss that, at the right moment, could also get you onto the dance floor.

Michael Kiwanuka - KIWANUKA

This album is a total '70s soul throwback that is absolutely sublime and made me immediately fall for Michael Kiwanuka. Don't worry though, even though it's got its dusty roots in a retro sound, KIWANUKA's immediate effect is all modern.

Miss June - Bad Luck Party

When Miss June played to a room of about a dozen people last year these kids from New Zealand could have just phoned it in. Who wants to play to an empty room? Wisely, they chose to rock the fuck out. (This is a tactic that works. The last time I saw a band play to so few people in that particular room while treating it as a stadium-sized sold-out crowd the band's name was Cage The Elephant. They turned out O.K.) Oh yeah, the music is great too. Still bummed I didn't have enough dough to buy a t0shirt at that show though.

The Futureheads - Powers

Still tighter than a wire even if they're not changing the formula. But if they did, then they wouldn't be The Futureheads.

Carly Ray Jepsen - Dedicated 

Did you get more and more frantic as you read, wondering how in god's name I could forget Carly Rae Jepsen?! I didn't!

You made it to the very end! Congratulations! And thank you! I promise my best of 2020 list will actually be published in 2020, or a week within its ending, at the very latest—we shall see!

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Yeah, I don't know what to say right now either.

No matter what I start writing it feels wrong. There's a swirling tsunami of thoughts up there, but focus is absolutely impossible. What little disposable income I have has already been spread thin through donations to local businesses and social causes I want to support through these trying times. And I admire the protestors out there making their point en masse and peacefully, even if I can't join them on the front lines. I do believe that this could be a positive turning point for our country, but only if the public's historically short and ever-shrinking attention span remains focused on change and ignores the non-stop volley of chaotic messages and actions from the people who are supposed to be leading our country. Like many, I remain absolutely perplexed that Trump continues to have strong re-election prospects despite the majority of the population disagreeing with his polices, and the minority that does support Trump seems absolutely blind to the fact that a) he has done nothing to improve their lives, much less the healthy economy he inherited (and continues to stake his reputation on—but we're talking about a man so stupid he believes the stock market is the leading indicator of economic security and growth) and b) I would venture the anecdotal guess that 99.999999% of the U.S. population is worse off on so many levels than they were in 2016. Including me. And I bet, you.

On top of all that, Trump is a racist in the midst of a national movement to finally address the issue of systemic racism that has been a core original sin of the U.S. from the very beginning. I'm just another white middle-aged dude, and there are so many inspirational people and activists and leaders so much wiser and better informed on this offering explanations and plans-of-action, but I am doing what I can to offer my full support for fixing this evil—as painful and uncomfortable as it is for everyone—however I can.

So, I don't know how we change this. It feels like it decimates rational thought and positively proactive actions. And don't you dare tell me to wait until November and let the people's votes do the talking when our system is loaded with laws to disenfranchise and keep the potential voters most affected by this away from casting their votes. Still!

I just don't know any more. But we can't give up hope.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Echoes of the past pulled into the rolling grooves of the future.

Photo by Marie Renaud
Huh. Must be something about this band because I was looking for something to share today that was short and sweet for a variety of reasons and realized I was just about to write almost the exact same first sentence on a post about Post Animal as I did over a year ago! Maybe I just turn to them in my times of need? Or something like that.

Anyway, to further the "short and sweet"-ness of thus post, I'm just going to share my verbatim notes about this album, written, ohhhhh, a month ago, when I thought what I was listening to hadn't been realized yet and you can see it dawn on me as I recorded my thoughts while listening to Post Animal's amazing new album Forward Motion Godyssey.
This is terrific! Lush and deep and dreamy while remaining powerful and forward moving.* This should be their big breakthrough. Then I realized it came out a few months ago and the COVID-19 thing obviously derailed their momentum behind this (including a lot of canceled dates opening for Cage the Elephant?!).
Yeah, I think you should definitely check out the whole thing. But first I wanted to share this particular track below because I want to see if anyone else thinks there's a pretty clear line from the midsection and the funky segment that follows to another (though much longer) song from some of Post Animal's spiritual ancestors.

And there you go! And I even managed to write this whole post without mentioning the band's connection to a famous actor who is no longer in the band but everyone seems to feel is VERY IMPORTANT to mention in just about every piece about Post Animal. So there. Um. DANGIT!

*After I put all the components of this post together I looked at that line, then the album title, then that line again, and I felt incredibly stupid and obvious.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Downpours can be fun!

Look, I know this is an ad for Lady Gaga's new album Chromatica—which is surprisingly good and indeed a return to her club roots—and the duet she has with Ariana Grande on the album. But seeing these two just being very DIY silly as they deliver a few of the song's lyrics in this promo is genuinely delightful.

But ... does it really never rain in L.A.?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

It's not your day job that gets in the way of your writing, it's you.

One of the many unexpected delights I currently encounter on my long walks. Photo be me.
I just wrote (and scrapped) a post describing the difficulties of focusing on writing during our pandemic times, while having plenty of mental rambles* that would make good material, if only I could stop vacillating on how to approach each and every subject that eventually results in the piece dying because I can't form an internal consensus.

Is this happening to you? I'm incredibly productive at my day job that requires plenty of writing and creativity, but that work is also propelled by creative briefs and group reviews and collaboration and the general all-around smart thinking of the people I'm teamed up with for each project, so the momentum and focus never wanes.

Years ago one of my college writing teachers was Alex Shakar and he gave me the advice to never go into advertising because it would kill any personal writing, since a similar outcome applied to his own experience, leading to his exit from marketing and entry into academia and novel writing.

I understood Shakar's advice for what it was; Alex wasn't telling me to actually never enter ad-land, but he was sharing his own experience to let me know that if you do head down a similar route to his, you have to proactively work to keep the individual projects and outlets going.

And I did! An unusually large number of folks long thought that Chicagoist was my full-time gig due to my output on a wide range of topics alongside the editorial position and influence I held. But the whole time it was my actual 9-to-5 that paid most of my bills. Writing for myself "part-time" wasn't reducing my productivity, it was amplifying it!

Maybe I was more driven back then? I'm not sure, but I don't think so. I think that writing for a site where the vast majority of my output had to be relatively short, focused, and digestible certainly helped knock down some of the barriers I'm now facing. That doesn't mean my writing was any less fully considered in my head back then, but the workflow was certainly different than it is today.

So now, each day I take long walks and come up with lots of great ideas and worry through tons of questions and very occasionally come up with something I believe has value to myself and others.

I hope you got some value out of this today. I know it helped me to get some of this down and out of my head. Of course, now I've unlocked numerous other avenues on how to approach this ... so I'm glad I managed to bang on my keyboard and get this out, even if it's a momentary observation of a particular juncture in my evolution.

Thanks for coming to my TANK Talk.

*In this case I'm using "ramble" in the pleasantly wandering sense, and not the realm of unhinged discourse. Though, with me, I could see how you might confuse the two. Hee.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Why ever graduate 2nd Grade when it's this good?!

Photo by Julia Leiby
I was going to wait until the actual release of the new album Hit To Hit from Philadelphia's 2nd Grade to write about it, but in these times, why wait? Sure, it'll still be 10 days until you can hear the whole thing when it's released on May 29, but at least you can get a few of their songs stuck in your head before then so you can fully appreciate this 24 track monster in its full context in a week and a half. While Hit To Hit is 2nd Grade's debut, bandleader Peter Gill isn't new to the game, having spent time in other bands and releasing music under a number of different names.

2nd Grade lurves the '90s; early indie pop and Teenage Fanclub in particular. And if they don't lurve those things then they've certainly grown an appreciation for them through musical osmosis. The group has the lock on somehow mixing twee rock inclinations with power pop machinations that end up sounding epic and conversational at the same time. I can't tell if Gill and company know just how to push my buttons or if this is just another example of my personal tastes of the past realigning with the music cycle in the present. So if you hear this and immediately think, "This is so familiar, I must have heard this song before!" then the music is successfully doing its job.

You'll still have to wait a bit to hear the whole thing, but getcher feet wet with the handful of tracks below and brace yourself for when this currently-one-of-my-favorite-surpises-of-2020 lands at the end of the month.

Monday, May 18, 2020

I can't offer you any specific answers or reassurance, but I know we will make it to the other side of this.

Despite a torrential downpour last night, the basement in my building dod not flood, and I thank my landlord's efforts at protecting our basement from water.

I wanted to open the week with a positive sentiment, because on all other fronts right now ... I just don't know. Today being the third month since my office closed and everybody was told to work from home.*

I keep seeing that it's O.K. to not feel O.K., and that is certainly true. What's missing is what to do about it.

Some people feed that space with anger.
Some people feed that space with fear.
Some people fill that space with hope.
Some people fill that space with despair.
Some people fill that space with humor.
Some people fill that space with a tragic focus.
Some people fill that space with an optimistic resolve.
Some people don't know what to fill that space with because all of it seems so uncertain right now.

I don't know what to tell you to do about it. I kept intending to write a guide to dealing with isolation based on my own experiences over the years, but I don't feel anything I'm doing is especially different or offers additional guidance to anyone.

I suspect I'm doing the same things as many of you: staying home, walking a lot around my neighborhood, working from home with few time boundaries, wearing a mask in public when indoors or outside if it's impossible to stay distant from others, and having trouble at times differentiating between days.

The anxiety levels are high, but for me they are manageable because I am taking all the steps I can in order to keep myself and others safe.

We'll make it to the other side, eventually, I promise.

*I will be eternally grateful I was blessed with a job that was able to keep us all employed and working remotely during this pandemic. I know how incredibly lucky I am to be in that position.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Enter the multi-faceted world of Jeff Lescher.

Jeff Lescher was in Green, one of those Chicago area bands long known to music fans. Green was one of those groups everyone thought would break big, but they never quite did. Regardless, their influence remains. Lescher's solo album All Is Grace is 20 tracks sprawling all over the place. Some of it is lovely Midwestern power-pop and other segments fray and unravel with the excitement of a DIY bedroom project. It's even got a song I swear is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Guns 'N Roses' "November Rain." There is A LOT to take in.

The opening track, the chug-chiugging "Can't Do It Without You" caught my ear from the get-go, and but album's end I was still feeling its pull, so give it a spin below and then allow yourself to get sucked into the remaining 19 songs. It's a ride!

Friday, May 08, 2020

Worriers' "Relentless Noise" grabs you and won't let go. And you'll love it.

I was listening to the excellent new album from Lauren Denitzio's Worriers, You or Someone You Know. It was released just before the world shut down, so I don't believe it's received the acclaim it warrants, and would have received in different times. I hope that changes once this is all over, but I'm beginning to fear that 2020 will be the year of great music too few people hear. No tours and no festivals, paired with a news cycle that is (justifiably) focused on more life and death matters, means there are just so many non-blockbuster releases in the music world that aren't getting the blockbuster attention they deserve.

Tl;dr—You or Someone You Know is one of those albums that definitely deserves your time, and I hope it breaks through on a bigger scale once we start returning to whatever normal is going to be in the future.

My favorite track on the album is "Relentless Noise." Lyrically it's just, well, almost too much for me emotionally. Something about Denitzio's phrasing and word choice feels like they're in my head, which also means they managed to find something so specific it has universal appeal. I mean, that enough would have me head over heels with this tune—even more impressive since I'm not always a big lyrics guy—but then there are some dual guitar riffs that just slay, without sacrificing the authentic emotional urgency of the song. In other words, to me, "Relentless Noise" in an impressive piece of rock and/or roll alchemy that blends the fist-pumping with the tear-jerking.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

When dreams come true...

I fell asleep on the couch Sunday night and had a weird half-dream that John Oliver had retooled his weekly show for a cat audience. I woke up Monday morning, just thinking "how weird was that dream?"

Last night, after work, I sat on the couch with Pickle the Kitten to watch the latest episode of John Oliver I had slept through the previous evening and discovered CAT WEEK TONIGHT WASN'T A DREAM!

Monday, May 04, 2020

You bet your Ash this compilation is terrific!

Sometimes a review is hard, and you spend a lot of time trying to craft a convincing stance with the hopes of the reader checking out something new.*

During these pandemic times, I had the notion this would be an ideal opportunity to review a couple collections and/or box sets for people that might not be fans of a band, but might find these collections and/or box sets useful and perhaps even pleasurable and for sure illuminating.

Today's was an easy-to-write quick review because the item in question is a no-brainer.

Everyone has heard of Ash. Even if you don't know Ash, you know Ash. Either you heard their song for the Danny Boyle film A Life Less Ordinary titled "A Life Less Ordinary" or you've heard "Girl From Mars." Trust me, you've heard them.

While Ash is relatively unknown in the U.S. these days, they are still a force overseas, so while longtime fans here have access to all their work, we  don't tend to have fans around us to share or discuss said music with. And Ash has released a few "career compilations" over the years, and unlike other compilations they don't seem tailor made to annoy with each iteration of the "greatest hits" since the compilations tend to add tracks instead of removing one or two tracks that are on every other compilation.

So this year, when Ash announced yet another collection off their music titled Teenage Wildlife: 25 Years of Ash I was like, O.K., this seems fine, even if I'm not sure how they'll expand on the previous "greatest hits" I had, until I clocked the 3 disc version of the compilation stuffed with all the hits and a bunch of rare goodies.** Plus, this is the cover!

So Teenage Wildlife: 25 Years of Ash wins my complete endorsement. If you already own a ton of other collections from Ash, or all their singles and b-sides ... you'll still find this delightful. And if you are a casual fan or passive Ash listener, this is an excellent argument for devoting more of your time to discovering Ash's genius with loud guitars and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of hooks.

Yeah, this one gets a thumbs-up!

*Even more rarely they attempt a convincing stance on why the reader should not check out something new, but these days those reviews are far less frequent and in today's environment—IMHO—less helpful. In this instance, some of my reviews mentioned in the following paragraph will be "warnings" to all but the most fervent fans.

**In fact the only letdown was discovering that disc 3's final track, hidden but entitled "Devil’s Haircut," is not a Beck cover. That would've been neat.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Get a taste of The Lemon Twigs live and in concert from the comfort of your couch while benefitting a good cause!

The first time I saw The Lemon Twigs was at Lollapalooza a few years ago. My companion had it on her list of bands to see and I tagged along because there was nothing I wanted to cover in that time slot. It was yet another example of how smart that companion was, and her talent for discovering music even I had overlooked, due to her disciplined habit of checking out streams of just about every act playing the fest each year beforehand.

Anyway, The Lemon Twigs were electric. Amazing. And truly unpredicactable. The two brothers leading the band would jump around instruments, and the younger sibling came across as a balance of Keith Moon and some outer space glam alien. I had no idea what to expect but their mist cure of brawny rock, twisting hooks, theatricality and purse physicality won me over. By the end of the set the group had won over at least two more fans for life.

Their recorded music varies in quality, so while I enjoy their albums, none of them capture just how wild and loud The Lemon Twigs are IRL, but yesterday they released The Lemon Twigs LIVE, a live album stitched together from performances on their latest 2018-2019 tour. And I am so happy to finally have a reasonable document of the group's onstage power. Even better, The Lemon Twigs are donating 100% of proceeds from sales of the album to Coalition for the Homeless.*

Give it a listen and buy it! I should also note, that if you wait to buy The Lemon Twigs LIVE until tomorrow, Bandcamp is waiving all their fees again on May 1 to support the artists on the platform, so even more of your cash will go to charity.

*I'm really enjoying bands releasing live benefit albums right now. Everybody wins! The first I bought was from Father John Misty near the beginning of our unified lockdown, so I think it's super funny there's a long Father John Misty story told during "Hi+Lo" on this album.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Save Chicago's music venues, because they are being crushed right now!

Right-click, snag this, and share!
Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL) is a coalition of more than 20 Chicago music venues, including Avondale Music Hall, Beat Kitchen, CafĂ© Mustache, Cole’s Bar, Dorian's, Empty Bottle, GMan Tavern, The Hideout, Lincoln Hall, Martyrs’, Metro, Park West, Patio Theater, The Promontory, Reggies, The Riviera Theatre, Schubas, The Silver Room, Sleeping Village, Smartbar, Subterranean, Thalia Hall, Tonic Room, The Vic, and The Whistler.

Last week CIVL announced a partnership with the newly-formed National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which currently includes over 1,000 members representing all 50 states.

From what I can tell the partnership is to elevate and unite venues and fans amidst the crisis facing all in-person live music performances right now. You may have seen this elsewhere but perhaps these purely Chicago numbers (below) reported from 16 local venues participating in CIVL might provide the shock you need to realize just how huge an economic impact to COVID-19 pandemic is having on your favorite local venues. And this doesn't even highlight how much artists are being decimated by not being able to play to promote their work. The number of spring album releases that aren't The Weeknd is turning into a virtual graveyard of stillborn ambition.

But for those of you that love numbers, here's the effect the closure of music venues had in Chicago between March 15 and April 30:

Venues (reporting): 16
Cancelled events: 1,219
Audience lost: 297,815
Lost Revenue: $7,176,253
Full-Time jobs affected: 206
Full-Time wages affected: $1,336,698
Part-Time jobs affected: 1,702
Part-Time wages affected: $2,119,810

That's just a month and a half. And if you look at the list of participating venues you'll see these numbers only reflect the trials of a small percentage of all the live music venues in Chicago.

And, honestly? These numbers are just a small percentage of the broader economic fallout afflicting both venues and everyone who utilizes them (from the biggest touring acts to the single, individual fan) so while these numbers are sobering, they are a mere glimpse into what's ravishing the scene right now.

I ... I ... I ... I can't even really process all of this. It's just too scary! But we can all do little things to help keep these venues afloat in the short term. To that end, this is an excellent list of resources to donate to for some individual venues, and here is CIVL's own list. And keep hoping. And praying. Because we need live music and the venues it gets played in, and when this pandemic finally subsides, we're gonna need live music more than ever!

Monday, April 27, 2020

That cat is one really versatile actor!

This week's Saturday Night Live displayed huge technological leaps over the previous episode, as far as filming everyone in different locations ... and I bet no one ever expected to see "Pete's mom" as a director credit on one of the earlier sketches. And I felt that it was also a pretty solid episode, even without the caveat that it was produced during a pandemic when no one can be in the same room together.

But I'm spending a LOT of time in the same room with one other living being, and that is Pickle the Kitten! The above was both our favorite sketch of the evening, for obvious reasons.

Friday, April 24, 2020

'Blade Runner' as you've never seen it before!

I saw this a few days ago and saved it as a curiosity and now I need everyone I know to watch it and tell me what they can make of it!

I'm not gonna prepare you for what to expect at all, just carve out 20 minutes and GO.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

You don't need to celebrate (or smoke) 4/20 to love White Mystery's 4/20 Fest!

I am acquaintances with the White Mystery folks and have long been quietly in awe of there fun events they've either created or played a part in over the years. (I also quite like their music.)

They always do something fun around the whole 4/20 thing each year, and obviously this time around they had to get even more inventive than usual. So they corralled a bunch of their musically talented friends and created a virtual fest that is far more satisfying to watch than whatever that thing that took over network television last weekend was supposed to be.*

My personal favorite performance comes in around the 27:30 mark, but the whole thing is packed with celebrities large and small!

*I'm talking about the broadcast of the network thing, not the 8 hour streaming version of it because, even in this weird situation, who has time for that?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Musical blindspots—Feltworth!

The great thing about music is we all have plenty of blind spots, which means we're all open to the discovery of new things or art that challenges us!

But there are the glaring blindspots that are nigh inexplicable—like finding out one of your favorite bands on the planet had a side project purportedly performed by puppets in 2017 you were completely unaware of, despite meeting members of the band numerous times and growing an honest friendship over the years with people working within their camp. And, you know, thinking you owned just about every piece of music created by members of that band since, as we mentioned, they are one of your favorites on the planet.

So it was that I discovered that members of Sloan were also creating music as Feltworth, "a 4-piece rock/pop group [of] former children's entertainers" personified by puppets.*


Well, now I do, and now you do, so we can both bask in the glory that is the sole 7-inch Feltworth released, and VOILĂ€ it's like hearing brand new Sloan tunes in 2020!

*And boy oh boy do they have some thoughts on Tame Impala...

Monday, April 20, 2020

Monday musings.

Hi there. Happy Monday! So here we are again, only I took Friday off of work so this actually does feel like a Monday to me! For the first time in weeks. In a good way—I'm refreshed and raring to go!

The only thing I listened to all weekend was the new Fiona Apple album, something I believe should be distributed universally and is also her finest album. Tidal will always be the "big" album when writing the history of her impact, but Fetch The Bolt Cutters is astounding. I can't really say much more about it that that at the moment. I'm still processing it, and I suspect that will be the case for weeks and months to come. And that's awesome.

What else?

Is everyone getting their steps in each day? I'm still breaking 10K steps a day, but my average is down under 11K. I need to work on getting that number back up above a 12K average to match my pre-pandemic goals. I know this doesn't sound important, but maintaining whatever routines you have from the olden days feels really important right now. Or adapting those routines. Either way, routine is important! We all need something to latch onto as an anchor of sorts, and routine is one of those things we can implement, control, and feel good about. You already know that, but a reminder never hurt anyone,

What else? Oh! I know!

I hope you have an amazing Monday. That's what else!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Losing feels good with Hello Emerson.

I was listening to Hello Emerson's How to Cook Everything this morning and was immediately comforted by its warm and intimate vibe. "Warm" and "intimate" are not usually connected to the music I immediately respond to, since songs in that style tend to pique my interest if I sense something deeper going on, but often require a few additional listens before really getting their hooks into me. And I was pretty sure How to Cook Everything would follow that pattern.

The majority of the album's songs follow the same conventions; gentle strumming, the occasional pedal steel, sparingly used but judicious strings.

Quite lovely, really.

I finally read the band's bio and felt a rush of recognition when I saw they were from Columbus, OH—of course they sound like The Decemberists on a nature retreat with The Mountain Goats! But the song that snapped me to attention was "We Lost"—the whole album is erudite and thoughtful, but only this song amps up the wattage and throws everything the band has at their fingertips at you. And it works!

Losing rarely sounds quite so triumphant.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020


This morning's walk in the snow is
definitely going in the gratitude journal today!
Just realized I hadn't written anything non-9-to-5 related since last Friday! I won't trot out the whole "what day is this" trope since by this point it's not funny, but it is universal. I am lucky enough to still be working from home, but things have changed so much since I was last physically in the office.

So, a few days ago I started a gratitude journal. I attempted to keep one back when my marriage was crumbling in order to remind me of the good things in my life, but that fell by the wayside as the bad things took over. Of course, that was the time when I probably needed reminders of all the positive elements around me, but I wasn't ready to see that.

Since the whole COVID-19 lockdown started I've been busier than ever with work, but I've also had more quiet moments of reflection to enjoy on my many walks around my neighborhood over the last few weeks. I've been discovering parts of my neighborhood I'd somehow missed over the last 2 years of living here. I've also been buoyed by the signs of community all around me, even if we can't get close to each other. Sidewalk chalk art, lotsa bunnies and squirrels, so many waves from across the street from neighbors showing silent solidarity in our social distancing, so many things I've decided to open myself up to seeing that have resulted in a smile and the understanding that while those with largest bullhorns are doing us no good in this trying time, we are all trying to look out for each other at a local and neighborhood level.

So I started a new gratitude journal, because I'm finally ready to embrace the view that my world is still filled with wonder and joy and magic. That was something I truly thought no longer existed for me. I'm so happy that it does, and if it exists for me it must exist for you too!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Should Lollapalooza be cancelled this year?

Photo by moi
Yesterday Governor Pritzker shared his viewpoint that all summer events should be canceled, though Mayor Lightfoot is less comfortable making that call ... yet.

My personal history with Lollapalooza goes back the the fest's inaugural tour in 1991, and I've made it to just about every single Lollapalooza since then—only missing a few as it turned toward its "metal" period, but picking it back up and attending every Lollapalooza in Chicago once it found a new home in Grant Park. So I've seen almost every incarnation of the festival.

I wouldn't classify myself as a Lollaplooza apologist since it made its home in Chicago, but I have adapted to its changing identity more than some others music writers as it went full on mainstream and grew to the size of a small city each year. But accepting it for what it now is doesn't mean I feel the same way about it, and this was the first year I was considering skipping the whole thing altogether.

Lollapalooza isn't just a music festival. It's also a huge source of revenue for Chicago and Chicago businesses, and it supplies a LOT of people with jobs. Most people that work festivals work a festival circuit, and depend on them happening as major sources of incline throughout the year. So, much like my personal feelings about SXSW—another festival I long ago lost any personal warm feelings towards, while simultaneously appreciating its importance to the city and residents of Austin—cancellation isn't something I worry about affecting organizers and attendees as much as it will decimate the living of so many people who work on the ground to make it happen.

So it's a difficult question. I'm assuming that both Lollapalooza and the Pitchfork Music Festival—the two major festivals most in danger right now—have done their due diligence and investigated how many acts they could keep if they had to postpone until later in the year, and decided that would be difficult to impossible.* And it grows even less less possible with each day as other musical acts have to move their tours to the second half of the year. So while we potentially face an overabundance of great concerts to choose from come the fall, it will also potentially be a period where we experience a musical glut. And that glut is standing in the way of rescheduling things for the big fests.

Clearly Lollapalooza is hoping that by the end of July we will have returned to a state of being where gathering 100,000+ people in downtown Chicago will be an acceptable option. But that's looking less and less likely.

So it's a thorny question; should Lollapalooza cancel? I don't know about should, but I'm having a really hard time seeing things getting back to normal enough that they won't have to cancel.

We'll see! I'm trying to remain optimistic, mainly for the legions that depend on the money Lollapalooza brings into Chicago, but I'm not feeling great about Lollapalooza 2020's chances.

*A side note: I imagine Lollapalooza the business could survive a year off, I'm not certain Pitchfork Music Fest or Riot Fest would. P4K's chances look a little better since they're owned by a corporation, while Riot Fest is still primarily a DIY affair despite the size of the event. I've mentally steeled myself for P4K not happening, as well as Lollapalooza, but if things were so bad in the fall that even Riot Fest got canceled I can't even imagine what Chicago's music scene will look like a year from now.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Take a break from the apocalypse and get lost in the entrancing sounds of Locate S,1.

Usually I wouldn't mention someone's romantic relationship when writing about a musician, but in the case of Locate S,1 the fact that Christina Schneider is partnered with Kevin Barnes from of Montreal is relevant. He produced her latest album Personalia and played most of the instruments. This is clearly a two-way street since Schneider's influence is all over of Montreal's latest album, and one of my favorites from them in a long time, UR Fun.

Personally, I find Schneider to be a more focused songwriter than Barnes has a history of being—there are plenty of grooves here but none of the ADHD arrangements that sometimes makes her collaborator's work a little harder to digest at times—making this a lovely indie pop album with expansive aspirations. The tunes work well on a loud stereo as a (for now stay-at-home) dance party but also reward closer listing on headphones as the full panoramic use of sound reveals itself in Schneider's songs.

Give it a listen before and, fingers crossed, she'll tour behind this once things start to return to (relative) normal. Just another thing to look forward to!

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Kleerup is back and is just the aural release our ears, brains and boogie-machines need right now.

It's been a while since I last listened to anything from Andreas Kleerup. According to his own artists bio, he's been dealing with various personal issues over the past few years, so that would explain why there's been such a long wait for another proper album since his debut, Kleerup, in 2008. But here we are, and earlier this month Kleerup finally released his proper sophomore effort, 2.

One track from that album, "UR" featuring the vocals of Rebecca Facey, popped up in my earbuds this morning and reminded me I hadn't given the whole thing a proper listen. So I did. The first note I wrote was:
Kleerup continues to push forward that dance producer goes pop thing and the results are so smooooooth. Equally perfect for late night jams, early evening power-ups, and creating a fabulous sense of playful sophistication that'll turn any living room into a late-night danceteria.
Also, the album's a real grower, as the songs hold up and blossom under repeated spins.

Here's "UR." If you dig this taste, you'll definitely love the whole meal that is 2.