Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Analog Radio returns!

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2020

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

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

Ho ho ho! Happy holidays, y'all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Live your "Best Life" with Cheekface!

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

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

Nailed it!

So, yeah. Enjoy!

Friday, December 11, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

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

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

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

It's fucking fantastic.

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

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

Monday, December 07, 2020

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 04, 2020

When the b-side wins we all win.

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

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

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

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

Photo by Jon Weiner from the band's Facebook page

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

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

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

Monday, November 30, 2020

He said captain, I said "wot?"

I finished another rewatch of Legion over the weekend—if you're looking for an extremely rewatchable TV show that shifts its skin from episode to episode while still managing to tell a compelling, overarching tale, this could be your jam—and every time Captain Sensible's "Wot" comes up on the soundtrack I am absolutely floored with how much the song sounds like it could've been recorded yesterday. I am almost embarrassed at the number of times I've Shazam-ed the tune each time it comes on because I've completely forgotten its provenance.

So this seemed like the right thing to share of a cloudy Monday when we could probably use a little jolt to add some pep in our collective step.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Soundtrack your Thanksgiving break with the summery sounds of Hey, Chels.

File this as yet another in the category of "meant to write about it but never found the right time" and then forgive me for never finding the right time, because the right time is now!

Most of you likely have the next couple of days off due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and I'm also guessing most of you won't be celebrating the same way you have in previous years. So if, like me, you are celebrating the holiday solo, you may as well kick off the long weekend with something summery and fun, right? No reason to let the isolation get you down!* 

Hey, Chels is a quartet out of San Diego led by the commanding vocal presence of Jacque Mendez, resting within the easily digestible chunky, chuggy musical sugar pills constructed by guitarist Ricky Schmidt, bassist Kevin White, and drummer Stephanie Presz. It's all very '90s indie guitar, it's all just oh-so catchy, and it's all just what I needed this morning. 

And since you're reading this, that might be what you need too. Lemme know how it hits you.

*Actually, there are a ton of valid reasons for isolation getting you down. So instead view this as an isolation-management tactic.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A rare endorsement of a contemporary holiday album that could very well become a classic.

Photo by Chris Edwards
This is the year I know I've softened when it comes to the approaching holidays, because for the first time I haven't thrown into an irrational rage over Christmas decorations coming out before Thanksgiving. Given the state of the world, I'm realizing the power in even the smallest gestures of joy.

But I've held onto my disdain for most contemporary holiday albums as half-baked cash grabs with little to no personality. Or, even worse, those that simply turn pop songs into "holiday songs" by adding obnoxious sleigh bells to tunes that 100% don't need them.

The key word here is "contemporary," though. I love the heck out of older holiday music, which was no less a cash grab at the time but ended up being timeless despite that. 

So when Kelly Finnigan's A Joyful Sound showed up in October I listened begrudgingly ... for about 10 seconds before that initial resistance turned into an open embrace. When I went back to actually read the press release alongside the albums (when possible I listen to tunes first and read the bits about the artist intentions after) it made a ton of sense:
Featuring members of Durand Jones & The Indications, The Dap-Kings, Ghost Funk Orchestra, Monophonics, Thee Sinseers, Orgone, Ikebe Shakedown, Jason Joshua & The Beholders, The True Loves, Neal Francis, Jungle Fire, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Ben Pirani, The Jive Turkeys, The Ironsides, The Harlem Gospel Travelers, Rudy De Anda, Alanna Royale, and more! Inspired by records like Atlantic's Soul Christmas, Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You and Rotary Connection's Peace, this album will appeal not only to lovers of holiday music, but lovers of SOUL music in general!  
In light of that, Finnigan and his compatriots absolutely delivered an album I seriously consider a new holiday classic. In this world, Christmas is snowy and beautiful but also dusty and groovy. This could turn even the most sedate family gathering into an all-ages dance party—I guarantee grandma is gonna love these songs just as much as the dour goth tween sitting sullenly at the other end to the table grousing about the lack of vegan options.

In fact, this is the rare holiday album I could see playing all year round. It's that fucking good.

Don't take my word on it though, get into the holiday groove and see for yourself!

I mean, Grohl is cool and all, but Nandi RULES!

At least one adult in the U.S. knows when it's time to properly concede.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Wherein I finally get the point though that certainly wasn't a certainty from the beginning.

I’m doing the same thing every music fan is probably doing right now, going through albums I listened to this year to start putting together personal “best of” lists. My list has always been based on music that hit me hard and stuck with me throughout the year, and right now I'm finding that a barrier. Because of the nature of the music world n 2020 a lot of great music was released only to too swiftly disappear. Even the monsters of pop couldn't hold onto public attention, even if they did rack up decent sales/streams (e.g., Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, Green Day (?!), and on and on ad nauseam). And those are just some of the expected heavy hitters that swiftly vanished instead of leaving a lasting cultural impact.

The author, hard at work looking like a dork.
Back in the spring the year looked to be stacked with promising indie or smaller releases, and while that proved to be true this environment wasn't exactly conducive to keeping anyone as a frequent conversational topic (unless you are Phoebe Bridgers, in which case you became the reliable focus of many music outlets when they needed something to write about everyone could agree on ... but even her Punisher has quickly faded in my personal estimation—a fine and solid album but not the masterwork many hail it as).*

Then there's the unexpected tripod of Dua Lipa, Annie, and Kylie Minogue, who all recorded albums entirely or mostly before the pandemic, but their release throughout the lockdown seemed to perfectly coincide with exactly what I needed from music in the moments they entered the world. In a way they built upon each other to create a triptych that I've come to rely on whenever I need a lift or an escape. In retrospect this feels like a cosmic alignment.

It's Monday, so forgive my rambling while I look for the point. I usually know what I'm driving at but now realize I started writing this to try and sort out my own thoughts, and as I go on I feel like I'm only confusing myself more. Do I want my "best of" to be grand artistic achievements or a catalog of alternate realties I escape to as needed? I guess my perfect list would include music that's both, right? And come to think of it, that's how I always build these things, so what's my problem?

Oh yeah, 2020. That's my problem. Something as simple and supposedly fun as creating a list of what I liked is brought down by the reality that even the tasks that seemed enjoyable in the past have to rub up against the friction that nothing is normal or expected right now. And my critical parameters have had to reckon with that in ways I'm less used to.

Hey! What do you know? I figure out the point I was trying to get at! Yay me. So now that that's sorted out, lemme go work on it for a while. Here's a fun song to reward you for slogging through all that.**

*No shade intended since it is a terrific album with a few truly outstanding songs (I still think "Kyoto" is an instant classic.) It just didn't have the staying power with me that other albums have, thus far.
**Oh yeah, did you even know Badly Drawn Boy released a new album this year? Probably not! It's rather good, even though I admit there are a few lyrics in "Is This A Dream" that feel oddly prophetic now.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Twitter finally makes their first smart move in a really long time.

I've had many issues with Twitter at the years progressed—oh how innocent it all seemed way back in January 2008 when I first joined—but am so far appreciating a few of the latest privacy options they're rolled out. While I know everyone still wants an edit button for their tweets, I've never been convinced tat wouldn't undercut the basic nature of the platform. But giving users the control over the conversations connected to their tweets seems like an excellent idea.

Yes, one could argue that this would only reinforce the echo cabers Twitter tends to foster, but after years of trying to figure out how to deal with the issue in a manner that might appeal to people's more rational nature and seeing everything fail on that front, this at least gives you control over whether or not your tweets are hijacked by vitriolic conversations.

I do wish they hadn't rolled this out in conjunction with their lame Stories ripoff Fleets, since that dominated the conversation around the latest update, so I think it's worth reminding you that you now have this option of additional control over the content you put out there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A vaccine is coming! But that doesn't change our current situation one whit.

It's not often I post something on Facebook first and then replicate it here, but after writing this I reckoned it couldn't hurt.

A vaccine is coming! And that is super exciting! But it's still probably 6 months away or more for most of us, so keep wearing your mask, washing your hands, and socially distancing, because I see everyone getting excited by the news as if we're at the end of this, and we aren't.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • None of the vaccines have been submitted to the FDA yet, and even an expedited review doesn't mean they'll ignore data or results that are concerning
  • I want the efficacy that's being touted to be true, but until we see the data all we have to go on are press releases, for the most part
  • Even if the vaccines are approved in record time, you're not getting one until next summer at the earliest, probably. Best case scenario would be spring, but I'm not confident in that happening right now
  • Everyone I've spoken to in the last week has said they expect to be one of the first to get the vaccine for this reason or that, so if you're in that cohort of thinking but not a first responder or medical professional, that isn't gonna happen
  • I still haven't seen any concrete distribution plans or vast networks of the specialized freezers that will be required to transport and store some of the vaccine candidates. (There is this, but I take it with a huge grain of salt.) This was the one primary responsibility of the current administration under Operation Warp Speed, and I have zero confidence it's been addressed.* So we could all be waiting even longer for a vaccine if they need to figure out most of the actual on-the-ground logistics after Jan. 20
So stay safe and keep following guidelines to stay masked and apart from each other, and we will all get through this together! 

*Trump telling scientists to "work faster" does not count as assisting in the actual work of creating the vaccine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The surprising delights of 'Manbird,' revealed!

Photo by Julia Boorinakis Harper
The photo above, and the album cover below, were my first introduction to Anton Barbeau's new Manbird double album. And yes, the art appears as if it was pulled together for an Angelfire website circa 1998. Luckily for me I ignore art and bios until I actually listen tenth music, so while I went in with low expectations, I still dove into the music headfirst and without preliminary judgement.

Talk about not judging a book by its cover!

Manbird is a densely stuffed album of psychedelic pop that has drawn comparisons to Julian Cope, only I don't think I've ever heard anything this consistently enjoyable from Cope.* And while Barbeau clearly wants to align himself with the more lysergic end of music genres, there's a steady supply of power pop humming along under the hood of Manbird's songs. Imagine if The Cars got even weirder, lost in their internal wanderings, then hit the speedway to a land covered in cartoonishly pink clouds and magical beasties all around.

It's an escape. And honestly? Who couldn't use an escape right now? We can't go out so you may as well get lost in your own head with Manbird as a temporary guide.

*I do love Peggy Suicide, and it's my fave piece of Cope's music, but even then Cope has a hard time keeping up the quality and maintaining the focus. 

Monday, November 09, 2020

Miss The National? Maybe it's time to step OUTSIDE then!

Photo via the OUTSIDER Facebook page
Look, I enjoy and appreciate and genuinely really like The National—I booked one of their earliest Chicago appearances way back when—but I am not a superfan by any means.* But this year has honestly given fans two de facto The National albums: Matt Berninger's solo album and Aaron Dessner's little album with some singer named Taylor Swift both carry the group's aesthetic beyond its core members.**

But maybe that's not enough for you?

If not, might I recommend OUTSIDER a.k.a Seán Ó Corcoráin? His debut Karma of Youth has all the aural benchmarks of The National but gives it a slight twist so every song brims with exultant choruses, twisting the darkness into the light to reveal a mixture more beautiful than the equation on paper might imply.

Karma of Youth came out in April, so you are again forgiven for missing 'em. And my apologies for taking so long to write about them, because I liked them enough when I first heard Karma Of Youth earlier this year that I went ahead and bought the album because sometimes when something's this solid you've just GOTTA have the WAV files, right?

Oh, one other thing—as the album progresses yes, you're gonna start asking yourself if this is what it might sound like if Berninger and Dessner added Jack Antonoff to their weekly songwriting coffee klatsch, and admit it, reading that makes you wanna hear this even more. In fact, I'll admit that the Bleachers influence actually grows stronger as the album goes on, so sorry if that's a spoiler or too easily explains why I fall under OUTSIDER's spell so thoroughly each time I spin this album, but it's a fact.

And to Mr. Ó Corcoráin, I'm sorry for resorting to the "compare your sound to other bands' sounds" tactic here, but sometimes RIYL really is a strong argument to make in a short span of time, right?

*Every time I walk past Big Star in Wicker Park I wonder if the patrons eating near the rear of the room realize that The National once played in that tiny space.
**For the record, I thought the first was a nice Sunday listen and the second was pretty terrific all around, so I'm not knocking either effort in the least. I'm not a superfine but I am certainly a fan!

Friday, November 06, 2020

Big Triple Fast Action news!

It's not a reunion, but it's almost as good: Triple Fast Action is reissuing their sophomore album Cattlemen Don't in an expanded version and I could not be more excited! Read all about it!

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Sometimes the remix truly is superior.

Some Thursday levity for you!

Take a refreshing dip into Mundy's Bay. You have more than earned it.

Photo by Véronique Lévesque
Mundy's Bay released their debut full-length album on March 13, 2020, so if their name doesn't ring a bell, that's understandable. There was a lot going on that weekend.

Luckily for you (and very luckily for me) I listened to the album earlier this year, then slotted it in the category of "revisit to see how it stands up later this year" a.k.a. the list I pull most of my "best of" albums from at year's end after listening to all of them again. But there's no reason to wait one second more if you haven't heard this yet.

The Canadian quartet traffics in a mixture of indie-pop and dance-rock to craft a bubbly blend of absolute good time jams. Their bio mentions they come from the punk and hardcore scenes of the rough and tumble North, which tracks. I mean, even Sloan's members were in hardcore bands at one time, but there's something about the Canadian air that just triggers melodic rock and/or pop explosions to erupt in the midst of any songwriting session. They simply can't help it, much to our benefit.

Another reason to listen to this? It was released on March 13 of this year, which means it's an artifact from a different time, despite being a recent release. Thank god it's an artifact of all the positive things that went into its development, and not a reflection of a world threatening to tumble into a new Dark Ages. 

Lonesome Valley may be come off as an intimidating title for Mundy's Bay's debut LP, but for me the album has been a long drink of incredibly rejuvenating fresh water, courtesy our Canadian neighbors.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Count every vote!

I'm flabbergasted. Again. While it appears Joe Biden is on track to easily win the popular vote, we still have about half a nation that is voting in ways I simply no longer understand, and Trump could still take the Electoral College. But the votes are still being counted, no matter what the current President says. So we just have to sit tight.

Instead, for today, I went through the archives and here are my reactions to all the elections since this website launched and thought I'd share them with you.

2004: This was the year I just shared some of John Resh's thoughts and ... it is shocking how timely it is when you re-read it.

2012: I was so optimistic!

2016: It took me well over a week to stop posting short, scattered blasts that illustrated just how thrown I was, but I finally did manage to collect a few thoughts at the time.

2020? We'll see. No matter what the final results, the U.S.A. is. not the country I thought it was and, for the first time in my life, I don't know if it ever will be. But hang tight—giving up simply isn't an option.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

What's your post-voting plan?

There was so much talk about creating a voting plan to ensure your ballot is cast and counted, but I don’t think anyone extended that plan to cover what to do after you vote. What do you do in the gap between doing your civic duty and the final results?

Four years ago I spent election night alone, growing steadily more horrified as the evening went on. 

This year I’ll be spending the evening alone again, fervently hoping that the results will at least give me hope, even if it’s not gonna immediately solve all our problems. But I will probably not be watching TV in real time for most of the night, instead opting to catch up with season two of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. There’s nothing I can do about the results of the election at this point, so I’m trying everything I can to keep from obsessing over them right now.

Whatever your voting plan may be, make sure it includes some voting post-care. Look out for yourselves and each other. 

We’re all in this together. Except Trump. He’s a dick. Still.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The band may be named Gloom Balloon, but their new album is anything but gloomy!

Photo by Joelle Blanchard
I’d been waiting for the “right time” to write about Gloom Balloon’s latest LP So Bergman Uses Back To Get His Point Across, I Feel Like I Have Chosen Rock But At What A Cost, but it's such an odd album I've decided any time would've been the right time to share it with you, and that any time that's the right time is now.

And that opening sentence should give you an idea of how dense and knotty this new album is. Hell, the album title alone would've done that, right?

So how do I describe this in a way that'll make sense to you? The quickest route, the elevator pitch, would be to imagine early Bright Eyes recordings traveling over the terrain usually dominated by Broadway musicals. 

I've listened to this album a dozen times and I confess I still I have no idea what to make of this as a whole. It's not challenging, but it is beset by a fractured ambition that makes listening to this akin to watching someone paint themselves into a corner and then consistently find a way to navigate the room and reach a pleasing conclusion.

Sonically, it runs the gamut of bedroom DIY to grand studio-sounding productions, complete with strings and choirs, all in service of what sound like snippets from some future musical standards, but I haven't a clue if they're actually connected or that's the just the impression the music gives. And I'm not convinced it matters.

But the reason this is the any time now being the right time to share it with you is because it is a winding and complicated musical journey that's still incredibly accessible, and will allow you to get lost along its twisting corridors and escape the world, at least for about 40 minutes at a time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Have you heard Slow Pulp's 'Moveys' yet?


Photo by Alec Basse

I did a piece for Third Coast Review about Slow Pulp's excellent debut album Moveys so on the off chance you haven't heard of the band or that album yet, I try and make a convincing argument to change your mind. 

FRESH POTS PART II! The story of Dave Grohl's fight against coffee's nigh irresistible pull continues!

Ten years ago Dave Grohl blessed the world with FRESH POTS! But while we were all laughing, he was dealing with the realities of his love of all things coffee. 

Until FreshPotix came to his rescue.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

How to survive the next 7 days.

How do we survive the next 7 days, and potentially longer, depending on how long it takes to tabulate all the ballots? 

That is the bajillion dollar question, isn't it?

And I don't have an answer to it.

But I do know you need to take care of yourself. 

I voted last Friday and it felt awesome, resulting in a natural all-body high that was fleeting but felt oh-so good! If you've already voted too, there's not much you can do now aside from making sure all your friends and family votes as well. It's not fair that in order to remove Trump we need to win by a landslide, and even then he will try and win the election through the electoral college or, now, steal it with the help of the Supreme Court, but that's how it is. 

But all you can do about that is vote.

And then take care of yourself. If you need to unplug, do it! Doom scrolling isn't going to do you any good now.

If I could climb into this blanket burrito with Pickle for the next seven days, I would! It looks soooooo cozy!

Monday, October 26, 2020

Jammin' in the streets?

I’ve been sitting on this for weeks because I have been trying to find anything constructive to say about this update of Tom Petty’s “Jammin’ Me” by the Supersuckers’ Eddie Spaghetti and Street Walkin’ Cheetahs’ Frank Meyer. It reminds me of Bowie and Jagger’s “Dancing In The Streets” update, especially when they adjust the lyrics to reflect “contemporary” concerns, which is a nice effort, but there’s something tone deaf about still railing against Paris Hilton, in my mind.

Anyway, in their defense, Bowie and Jagger made their "misstep" two decades into their careers, so at least Eddie waited three decades before doing the same?* Either way, it’s a little lame and old dad-is in its vitriol, but it’s at least entertaining. 

And who knows, you may love it, so I may as well share!

*"Misstep" is a relative term here, since both performances have their flaws but neither is a "failure."

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

So is it "animated give" or "animated gift?" You tell me!

I saw this last week and saved it in case I thought it was still funny and wasn't just hitting me at the right time. But I can now confirm it's funny no matter when you read it!

[h/t xkcd]

Monday, October 19, 2020

Some worries countered by an uplifting collection of tunes.

I was all set to write a piece about coping with the pandemic using delayed gratification techniques—an extension of the "treat yourself" philosophy, but with a little more structure to space rewards and maximize impact—but I got up late this morning (after 6 a.m.!) and it's so dreary outside in Chicago I admit to feeling all inspiration drain from my frozen fingers.* So no pandemic tips this evening.

I've gone back and revisited some things I wrote around the 2004 and 2016 elections, and it's odd how little has changed as far as feeling like Armageddon is right around the corner. Only this time around you really do get the feeling that the end times could be drawing nigh. Again.

However, since it looks like I've got a few more decades on this planet ahead of me, I refuse to believe that we'll go the doomsday route. At the same time, I've also already started to accept that while the current resident of the White House has no chance of winning the popular vote, the electoral college system could still potentially save his bacon and give him a second term. If that happens I have absolutely no idea what to do.

But I do think we'll survive. I have to believe that, even if my brain can't conceive of another four years of isolationism, racism, turbulence, and death. We must do better.

Well, that was cheery, eh?

You're not gonna just leave us with that, are you?

Did you think I'd drop something so dreary as the above without some sort of balance? Of course not! 

GRiZ released this Chasing The Golden Hour, Pt. 3 EP last month and it has been my go-to for afternoon and evening walks. It's upbeat and energetic enough to keep you smiling and moving, but its laidback vibe will keep you feeling mellow as you ride its forward momentum. Repeat as many times a day as needed.

*The heat in my place is a little spotty right now. I'll survive. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A minor update on how there is not much to update as far as day-to-day living goes.

Some much needed humor spotted on one of my walks.
It's Thursday, which is odd because I've felt like every day this week was Thursday, so to finally have the perception of the day on the actual day feels ... odd. 

I have slowly been starting to occasionally see other humans I know in (safe!) social settings outside of my house and that's provided a few technicolor bursts of new activity, but for the most part I'm still stuck in the same weird sense of flat time as everyone else I know. 

It's all wake up, work, walk, coffee, work, work, eat, work, walk, work, work, work, walk, eat, listen to music / podcasts, read, watch TV, walk, sleep. Every single weekday. 

Weekends are only different in that additional walking takes up the spots I'd be working during the week.

It's hard to make plans though. When I'm done with work most days I'm pretty drained, so the notion of traveling around the city to do anything in those evening hours I'd otherwise be listening to music / podcasts is exhausting. Honestly, the thing I miss most these days is relaxing on a couch with someone else and either watching TV or just talking about all the things going on inside each of our heads. But we're not really at a point where that feels safe, outside a committed partner or close friend(s) / family member(s). Right?

I've also caught myself daydreaming about what I wish these days looked like if we lived in a world where we were in the midst of reelecting the first woman President of the U.S.A., and the pandemic had been handled by adults who care about humans. That is the world we should be living in right now. 

So, yeah.

Minor and completely unrelated rant: Is anyone else having a hell of a time with autocorrect lately? I swear I watch properly typed words transform into completely unrelated words as a I hit the space bar. and it's mystifying. While I can't figure out for certain what's causing it my suspicion is it's a combo of a crap "AI"-ish experience coupled with the truly terrible butterfly keyboards Apple foisted on us (and have since figured out might not be so great). 

Sorry, it's annoying.*


Anyway! Time is flat, it's Thursday, we're all in this together, and blah blah blah because I know all of you have already heard this before—most likely from inside your own head—so I'm not certain why I am writing about it again. Strike that. I do know. I just have to remind myself from time to time.

*Seriously. And it's one of a thousand reasons why I love the older but oh-so-so sturdy MacBook Pro I own versus the MacBook Air I've used for work over the last few years. Thank goodness Apple is killing that butterfly keyboard though!

Monday, October 12, 2020

These Mav Karlo and Free Energy songs have a lot in common, so you may as well become a fan of both!

I won't get into the boring specifics of how I listen to the music I'm considering for review, but one component is allowing albums to play in the background during my work day. Since my brain has grown adept at picking out the little things that can elevate an LP from a single listen, through to me thinking of writing about it, this works pretty well. I think part of this is also tied into my years DJing, since songs that popped up above the surface waves of noise were sometimes the exact thing I was looking for to expand a set. 

And sometimes you realize just how similar two songs sound. When this happens I don't jump to the "who wrote it first" argument since the nature of music, and rock music in particular, means there's going to be similar melodic repetitions, and sometimes those structures are very similar for no other reason than both songwriters just happened to stumble across similar progressions on separate occasions. 

Which is a really long way of me saying that this brand new Mav Karlo song...

...reminds me a LOT of this Free Energy song from 2010!

So I did a little digging and found this on the Free Energy Facebook page (that I hadn't checked in a really, really long time since the band basically disbanded years ago):

Hi Friends, it's been awhile. Everyone doing okay?

Our longtime pal, tour brother & all-around good guy Menno Versteeg from Hollerado is releasing a solo record as Mav Karlo in October. Produced by Chris Coady (Beach House, Future Islands), the record features Hollerado’s Nixon Boyd, Vivian Girls’ Katy Goodman, Dizzy's Charlie Spencer and Free Energy’s own Nicholas Shuminsky.

Yes, it took a looooooong way to get there, but in the end the reason these tunes sounded so similar is perhaps not such a mystery! Again, I'm not judging or viewing this as a negative issue in the least—heck, if this helps turn on a Free Energy fan to Mav Karlo, or the other way around, everyone wins!

Also, don't forget to check out the entire Mav Karlo album "Wirewalker" is on, Strangers Like Us, when it's released this Friday, October 16!

Thursday, October 08, 2020

The fizzy, buzzy, beauty of Supercrush's 'SODO Pop' is an effervescent tonic for your ears and soul.

Photo by Brandynn Leigh.

Dang, sometimes I write a headline that sort of makes whatever follows seem redundant, huh? But I'll try and improve upon it with additional information meant to get and hold your attention while directing you towards music that will improve your life.* Simple! So let me introduce you to Supercrush.

What I first learned is that one doesn't try to pigeonhole musician Mark Palm, the creative force driving the insanely catchy power-pop that Supercrush relentlessly doles out. If you go to Palm’s Discogs page, it’s clear Supercrush is the odd band out amidst a bunch of much, much heavier and punkier and metal-ier projects.

So Supercrush has primarily served as an outlet for Palm to release his power-pop in drips and drabs over the last few years, assumedly whenever the hard-candied muse of melody bent his ear from a slightly happier and more pleasant dimension of existence. And while I hadn't heard any of Supercrush's earlier EPs or singles, the band's debut SODO Pop arrived out of the blue last week at the exact right time.

If you're looking for a tonic to treat the malaise that currently envelops you, SODO Pop will quaff your thirst and feed your soul, leaving any free millimeter of internal space filled with sunshine and puppies. But cool puppies. "We've still got attitude, maaaaaan. We just leave you feeling good about it," they happily bark.

O.K., that covers the casual music fans, but what if you need landmarks to judge your own interest or point of entry? If that's you, imagine Teenage Fanclub is standing next to the Wannadies and suddenly a rip in reality appears between them and out pops Supercrush saying, "Here we are, and we love you, and hope you will love our music." And you will.

SODO Pop is out this Friday, October 9, so sample a few tracks below ahead of time and add it to your Bandcamp wishlist or pre-order it today!

*Results may vary.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Miranda Winters steps into the spotlight for her new solo single.

Photo by Lenny Gilmore.

I'm a fan of Melkbelly, the somewhat genre-less and thrilling Chicago-based band that Miranda Winters sings and plays guitar with, so when I heard she had a debut single coming out you could color me intrigued. After hearing it, you could color me quite pleased indeed.

All-Purpose is the name of her double-sided single and these two songs allow her to showcase her singular musical voice in a less frenzied setting than her band usually occupies. It's nice, mellow little indie stuff that definitely has some sneakier grander ambitions.* So it's well worth your time. 

Plus, if you don't dig it, it's just two songs, right? But you will dig it. You will.

*Listen to the gently building towers of swirling synths on "Double Mirrored Light" and prepare to gently swoon, or the quiet restraint of "Little baby Dead Bird" and you'll feel that ambition pulsing just below. You'll see what I mean.

Friday, October 02, 2020

20 years ago today I threw an unlikely Radiohead midnight release party...

Painting by Finkusaz via reddit

I wrote a version of the below earlier as a Facebook post, but after reading it I decided to park a slightly edited version here as well. It was kind if a landmark evening and is worth saving outside of that particular platform. Sooooo...

Twenty years ago today—well, technically beginning at 10 p.m. last night—my first "official" event as the new talent buyer for The Note* was the release party for Radiohead's Kid A.

The previous talent buyer had left me with a nice cushion of other quality bookings I oversaw after she left, but this was the first one I had booked that was happening on the calnder. And it was a massive success, far exceeding my expectations, but it was very weird at the time. The notion of Reckless Records teaming up with The Note for a Radiohead release was unusual enough to bring a lot of people into the club who had never entered the room before. It took me a while to convince Reckless of the pairing, but it worked! So I set up an evening of movies, a spin of the new album at midnight, and DJ sets until 4 a.m.

I had to work at Kamehachi** that night, so got to the event late and walked into a room full of people watching my DVD of the Meeting People Is Easy tour documentary projected onto a screen and played through the club's sound system. 

And I immediately noticed something was off. It sounded weird. Once I got to the soundboard I saw whoever had plugged the movie into the system hadn't noticed the reverb was turned all the way up, creating a wash of sound that was barely intelligible. Yet people had been watching the movie without complaint for at least an hour! 

It was then I realized that the fans drawn in by 'OK Computer' were willing to believe anything by the band was intentional. The "new" fans packed around me were hipper and cooler than the fans of the band's earlier albums I had known. So this truly marked the dividing line in my head for the band—from here on out people would accept everything they did as genius just because they're Radiohead. Which is fine—to each their own, and there are far worse acts to give a musical pass to than Radiohead! And I remain appreciative of every single person who attended the event.

ANYWAY, I just realized that anniversary was today. And the fact it happened 20 years ago makes me feel MASSIVELY ancient. But it is a very fond memory and I cherish it. 

*Which would eventually become The Flat Iron (R.I.P. Flat Iron).

**I was still working two jobs at the time, restaurant manager and talent buyer, but that would end soon because even I needed to occasionally sleep no matter how young and energetic I was.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Bringing something new to Bond...

I don't know when I turned into enough of a James Bond fan that I bought the entire library of movies on Blu-ray years ago, but over the years I got more invested in the different storylines that run from movie to movie. I'm so dumb I didn't realize as a kid that the villain was sometimes the same character played by a different person, or just how long the SPECTRE plot line stretches back (basically the "Hail Hydra" of spy films).

Maybe it's in my blood? My dad loved Bond films, though I suspect he was most interested in the girls, gadgets, and cars (not necessarily in that order because my dad LOVED cars). But I'm guessing his enthusiasm took root in my and didn't take root for many years. But once it did I was in! Daniel Craig's performance as Bond is also now my favorite so that didn't hurt either.

When it comes to Bond themes, I know the genre is supposed to be iconic, but most fall into a familiar patterns, and the "No Time To Die" theme from Billie Eilish is no different in that regard. However her theme is striking in its restrained maturity and the additional of a new vocal vulnerability to the Bond catalog without simply relying on a steamroller "bring the roof down" kind of approach. So in that sense, it is a unique addition to the canon. I think you will agree, so enjoy!

UPDATE: The day after they released this, it was announced the studio would be holding the new Bond film until 2021. So this is the second time the marketing machine started to spit out content to excite potential movie-goers to see the film only to have to halt it again. By the time the movie actually comes out the marketing budget will only have a tweet or two left in it!

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

When Lou Reed brought 'New York' to Chicago.

Yesterday a cassette of Lou Reed's New York showed up in the mail, which was a surprise to me! I pre-ordered the box set reissue of New York the day it was announced and then forgot about it since I like to be surprised. And when pre-orders arrive I am often delighted. It's a bit of internal theater but it works for me.

So of course upon seeing the cassette I was thrown back to 1989 and when I missed Reed play David Letterman's show when it spent a week filming in Chicago. I was all prepared to go into detail about that since it remains one of my biggest regrets—though I did finally get a chance to see Reed play before he left us all—when I realized I'd already documented that whole experience on Chicagoist almost seven years ago

Luckily these days I have a better sense of when I'm repeating myself, so just read the original piece if you want the deets. Otherwise, enjoy a video with slightly better quality of the performance than the one I shared in 2013.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Freedom truly is love, and The Freedom Affair sets out to prove it.

Photo by Erica Joi Photography

Since the world is a dumpster fire right now, both literally and figuratively, and the pressure seems to only be increasing on everyone about everything, so this week I'm interrupting the previously planned editorial calendar to focus on music that is uplifting or transporting in a positive way for anyone who might need a 30 to 50 minute respite from it all before going back to fight the good fight.

Another rule I haven't shared about selecting the music I've shared this week is that I wanted it to be so accessible that my mom wold enjoy it, even if the musicians making the tunes were a complete mystery to her.* Today's entry totally meets that standard, and is a truly remarkable album, suffused with love, hope, and joy.

I don't really want to ruin The Freedom Affair's Freedom Is Love by trying to describe it further, but just in case you need an additional nudge, the vibe is very early '70s soul flirting with both gospel and a few psychedelic R&B touches, and their choir of voices should appeal to both the dusty soul junkie and the choral aficionado who deeply appreciates group singing.**

I hope you deeply dig it!


BONUS ALBUM: The Freedom Affair knocked the other album in contention for today out of the running at the last minute. I had planned on sharing some early Polyphonic Spree because a) it's been so long since they were last active I think most people have forgotten them and even more never heard of 'em, b) I was definitely looking for something with a chorus of voice, and c) it would allow me to again mention I saw the band crammed into The Empty Bottle on their first tour.

I was also originally going to post The Beginning Stages Of..., but at the last minute decided Together We're Heavy would more immediatley appeal to my mom more. So enjoy this bonus album to close out the week.

*I may have stretched this rule a bit with the Superchunk entry. My mom tends to appreciate more traditionally "controlled" singing from her vocalists, but I think the melody of the singing paired with the song's energy would still be appealing to her. Bit I haven't asked since she had no idea that was even one of my considerations when posting these.

**What I call the "Plotz preference" after David Plotz's famous love of group singing.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

I'm not sure you can ever get enough of Bleached.

Photo by Nicky Giraffe

Since the world is a dumpster fire right now, both literally and figuratively, and the pressure seems to only be increasing on everyone about everything, so this week I'm interrupting the previously planned editorial calendar to focus on music that is uplifting or transporting in a positive way for anyone who might need a 30 to 50 minute respite from it all before going back to fight the good fight.

Unbeknownst to you dear reader, I had a number of rules around this series that I started breaking almost immediately. But one I am sticking to is that any of the music I suggest be available through Bandcamp, because it offers the best streaming experience coupled with the ability to easily purchase the music you're listening to. I've had to make a few last-minute adjustments due to that rule as I've gone along, so that helps explain today's delayed entry, but here it is!

Another thing I've tried to do is avoid most pop stuff, since that is usually built to trigger joy and seems both a little obvious and rather susceptible to your response being, "C'mon man, tell me something I don't know." Well, if you've read my writing in other places over the years you're already aware of Bleached, but you might not be aware just how excellent last year's Don't You Think You've Had Enough? really is. So consider this me telling you something you might not know.

On Don't You Think You've Had Enough? Bleached takes the killer hooks they used to smear over with a wash of guitars, and pulls them to the forefront, bolstering them with a newfound precision that sounds oh-so very human when it could be rendered to sound machine-like in less skilled hands. 

Also, the material absolutely rips on stage. 

So you have something to look forward to whenever it's safe for bands to tour again. But until then, this is so full of life and so freaking catchy it should help hold you over.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

With Superchunk, when it comes to Summer, "This Summer" is a real winner.

Since the world is a dumpster fire right now, both literally and figuratively, and the pressure seems to only be increasing on everyone about everything, so this week I'm interrupting the previously planned editorial calendar to focus on music that is uplifting or transporting in a positive way for anyone who might need a 30 to 50 (or in today's case, 3) minute respite from it all before going back to fight the good fight.

Instead of a feel-good album, here's a feel-good song for the day. I first heard this Superchunk track when they originally shared it as a fee download in 2012, though I can't remember which website got the "exclusive." Much like yesterday's entry spoke about music bending time, "This Summer" manages to somehow cram what feels like an epic anthem into 3 minutes, and that includes a slowly building intro that manages to take up almost a minute of that time before things really explode.

So why share just one song today? Because this one song has come to my rescue so many times in the past I literally can't keep count. There is something at its core that is so suffused with life and joy, it is one of my two go-to songs in an emergency where the interior world needs rebalancing and my mood needs a boost. And it has never failed to lift my mood, so maybe this will be your secret weapon to fighting off the darkness as well.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Slipping through the streams of time with Wye Oak.

Photo by Kendall Atwater

Since the world is a dumpster fire right now, both literally and figuratively, and the pressure seems to only be increasing on everyone about everything, so this week I'm interrupting the previously planned editorial calendar to focus on music that is uplifting or transporting in a positive way for anyone who might need a 30 to 50 (or in today's case, 20) minute respite from it all before going back to fight the good fight.

Today's entry featuring music to make you feel good is a weird one for this series, I'll admit. Even I thought all these posts would feature immediately recognizable "up with people" tunes, but one of my main criteria for uplifting music is that it transports you to a better place, and on the No Horizon EP Wye Oak certainly takes you to a different plane. 

It's a world of aching beauty given power through hope and and the openness to something bigger than you in this world. The entire EP lasts a brief 20 minutes, but the space within those minutes is far larger, creating a weirdly pleasant dissociative effect as the music literally takes you into a different temporal dimension.

I know this all sounds very highfalutin and one might think I'm describing the exact opposite of comforting, feel-good music.* But once you start the little journey into No Horizon it will all make sense and you'll come out the other side of this EP feeling refreshed and positive. 

And then you'll have a trusty quick musical hit to turn to when you just need a few minutes to reenergize throughout the day.

*Did you know highfalutin doesn't require an apostrophe at the end? I was today-years-old when I discovered that!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Nada Surf is here to lift your mood and remind you we're 'Never Not Together.'

Photo by Annie Dressner

Since the world is a dumpster fire right now, both literally and figuratively, and the pressure seems to only be increasing on everyone about everything, so this week I'm interrupting the previously planned editorial calendar to focus on music that is uplifting or transporting in a positive way for anyone who might need a 30 to 50 minute respite from it all before going back to fight the good fight.

Nada Surf is a band who offered distinct different entry points to different people over the years. I was introduced to them as a prematurely labeled one-hit wonder, but many others probably became fans during the group's early shift from more straightforward alterna-rock and started exploring deeper lyrical complexities while opening up their sound. Which means emo fans went ga-ga over albums like Let Go. This is not a veiled insult. And it opened the band to a broader reconsideration by the populace, to the benefit of all.

And then Nada Surf did the unspeakable: they just kept releasing really high quality music with an emotionally accessible core that felt spiritual and uplifting even when the lyrics might've veered into more dour or raw territory. And just kept the quality way up, over and over again. And I think people took them somewhat for granted because of that.

And Nada Surf did nothing to counter that viewpoint, and kept releasing a stable run of really impressive albums. So in some ways their constant excellence may be their biggest barrier to more widespread acclaim? 

This year's Never Not Together came out in February with huge touring and promotional plans ... and then disappeared from most of the musical conversations as the world shut down.* This is depressing not only because the album really deserves your attention, but also because it's truly a tonic for the soul. Jubilantly uplifting clouds of energetically strumming guitars lift you ever higher, song after song. And lest you miss the higher spiritual (not religious, spiritual) aspirations, halfway though one song kicks off with a choir.**

This is spiritual music in the life-affirming, good-for-you, feed the soul category. And most importantly, you just feel good, and positive, and human after riding its waves for 42 minutes. Repeat as needed.

*I know, a constant refrain from me these days, but worth repeating since it really is stunning how much terrific music has just disappeared this year with no touring to help keep the new works in the news cycle and heighten exposure.
**The shift between the frenetic "Something I Should Do" and the softer yearning of "Looking For You" is just so perfect.