Friday, January 31, 2020

Sometimes you just need to embrace the peace and quiet.

I got up, sat in front of the computer for about two minutes, and decided you know what—I'm still on vacation!

Relax and enjoy the weekend everyone!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Vacation laaaaaaziness.

My 9-to-5 is moving offices over the weekend and I decided to use some of my rollover vacation time during the move. No big plans, aside from being lazy at home. So I'll look for something fun to share tomorrow, but today was just dedicated to nothing beyond a trip to the gym and then running the risks of growing roots out of my butt and into my couch as I caught up on movies that have been in my watch queue for forever.

Oh, and the finale of The Good Place. Though it took me a few times to get through to the end since I was so exhausted from my day of doing nothing!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Everyone IS gonna be okay!

I get the impression Shana Falana has seen a few things, and over the course of Darkest Light she snares snippets and pockets of her observations with us.

Her music's sound is hard to pin down from song to song: some of it is dreamy, other tunes are dirge-y, and then there's "Everyone Is Gonna Be Okay," which is certifiably 100% a total jammy jam that coulda been sung by The Darling Buds back in the day.* Bonus points for tossing in a nod to "Bull In The Heather"-stylee delivery in the song's back half.**

So triple scores all around.

*Crawdaddy is still one of my favorite albums of all time. For serious.

**While I'm making comparisons, it also occurred to me the intro is also quite structurally similar to Sloan's "Unkind," which perhaps mad me even more vulnerable to the charms of "Everyone Is Gonna Be Okay" on a subliminal level.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Monday, January 27, 2020

On unexpected songs taking the place of intended thoughts.

Photo by Michael Wolever
Kicked out a stream-of-consciousness post this morning as an exercise to rev the mental engine and then sat on the results all day until I decided that, at this moment, I didn't feel like sharing where that ended up.

Luckily, this afternoon I stumbled across this little piece of twee and sprightly indie pop with just the right amount of sadness licking at its edges. To be honest, all of Sean Henry's A Jump From The High Dive is worth your time and listening instruments, but "Touch The Sun" leapt out at me, its mere existence improving the tenor of my day. Even if lyrically the tune does appear to have a bit of a depressing twist ending, if you hear it that way. But like I said, it did improve my day, on the musical enjoyability scale.

Maybe it'll do the same for you whenever it is you happen to stumble across this post and give it a listen.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Nothin' PHONY going on here!

Photo by Vanessa Valadez
I guess that while PHONY frontperson Neil Berthier is currently based in Boston, he was also a Chicago resident no too long ago. So that means I'm kicking myself twice as hard for only now firing up PHONY's recent debut, Songs You'll Never Sing.

Loud sloppy and tuneful, PHONY ain't afraid to let guitars rip and crash into each other, fighting to be heard above crescendos of drum racket, alongside see-sawing from low-key melodic vocals that tear into screaming peals of emotion, punctuating the music with a visceral slash through the heart.

There are elements of a bunch of other genres threaded throughout Songs You'll Never Sing, but Berthier is clearly indebted to what we easily identified as "indie rock" in the "college rock" days, before the descriptor grew so amorphous as to not be a clear indicator to set expectations.

Sadly I missed PHONY touring behind this last winter, but hopefully Berthier will hit the road again in the not-too-distant future, since I'm dying to hear how this stuff plays out live.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Slip and slide into NovaBound's currents and you'll be delighted.

NovaBound is a one-man band led by Andrew Michael Agulto and augmented by a rotating cast of guest musicians in the studio and n the road. Agulto's latest album, Sevenths, was built out of refreshed demos that originated after his first bad relationship break-up in 2015.

NovaBound inhabits an intimate '70s vibe without feeling small at all. The music is finely structured and is incredibly well thought out without sacrificing a certain flexibility that allows the songs to breathe and shift. Styles blend throughout the album, building off that base. For instance, the second track "Shattered Eyes" feels like an early Brendan Benson nugget until a guitar solo backed with a chorus of oooohs and ahhhhs comes in straight out of latter-era Pink Floyd. And so on and so on.

Part of me wishes the album lasted longer than its 7 songs, but ultimately that's probably the perfect length for this piece, and Agulto knew it.*

*Those 7 songs are stretched out over 40 minutes, and most break the 6 to 7 minute mark, but they never feel long.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Dancing with the clairvoyants.

I've been a huge and unapologetic Pearl Jam fan from the get-go (the number of bootlegs I burned onto cassette tape in the first half of the nineties was ridiculous in my efforts to grab every piece of music that I could*) but have gradually lost touch with the band over the years as they slowed down the pace of new albums and focused on their (always excellent) live shows.

This new song off their soon-to-be-released Gigaton seems to indicate that era may be ending as the band appears to be opening up their sound more than they have since Vitaology dropped and confused many (while, I would argue, delighted many more).

*I remember when the Soldier Field show was released in a couple of Chicago indie record stores, I begged Photogal to lend me the money to pick it up since she had a "big money" job and I was still slugging it out part-time creating designs for a company that sold trophies both big and small. "I was at that show!" I said. "It's only fifty bucks!" I said, at a time when $50 was prohibitively expensive for something like a compact disc, illegal or not, and I was definitely not making enough money to justify such a huge expenditure on my own. I did eventually get it all on my own, and it was worth every penny.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Moving and shaking with Mover Shaker.

Well, I was all set to write about this one band, but then realized they had no tunes in my preferred sources for music embeds. So I’ll write about them at a later time. No biggie.

But that means I sat down right here expecting to have “content” to share, and now I have none. None prepared, anyway. I have tons to write about, but none of it feels right for right now. Waitaminnit, I just remembered this!

So, yesterday I was driving around and listening to Detroit’s Mover Shaker in my quest to finally get through the playlist of albums released in 2019 I have on ye olde tankPHONE, and realized that what I was listening to was kind of a weird little album. So let’s get meta and just take a gander at what I scrawled as notes while listening to their Another Truck Stop album, with no background knowledge of the band (other than they are from Michigan).
Punk? Math? Pop punk? Indie Guitar Rock? These cats move all over, but the one connecting thread is INTENSE delivery. Sound like music/band nerds that got volume pedals. And now have gone to town giving those pedals a workout while challenging each other with who can write the gnarliest chart for a song.
So, at this point I could delve into the group's actual bio—since writing the above I have scanned it, doing my own due diligence—but I think perhaps, if the half-sensical notes above hit a chord within you, it makes sense to just jump in and make up your own mind. Maybe it's more accessible and straightforward than I originally thought? You tell me.

Oh hey, look! Mover Shaker is playing Subterranean in Chicago on February 3! (And touring elsewhere if you're not in Chicago.) What timing!

Friday, January 17, 2020


Spotify wants to provide the soundtrack for your pet's days of lazing (or jumping) around your home. You enter a few basic parameters based on your pet's personality, and then Spotify spits our a playlist they thing your pet would approve of.

So, of course this led me to explore just what Spotify would answer when asked "What would Pickle listen to?"

Since the results are supposed to be a blend of your own tastes and your pet's presumed preferences, I was curious to see what would happen, primarily because even though I had an account on Spotify before it was even available in the U.S. (one of the benefits of working for a marketing firm focused on digital back in those oh-so early days, resulting in various potential partners giving me early access to exclusive situations—woo hoo!) I almost never use the platform.

So, with all that in mind, let's see what Pickle wants to listen to!

I'm still listening to it myself, but I'm pleased to see Chicago's Ratboys—Pickle did once bring me the present of a dead mouse three living situations ago—made the list! And she does enjoy herself some Bleachers. I have to say I'm not so sure she'd enjoy the eerier noises peppered throughout Sophia Kennedy's "William by the Windowsill" though. Doesn't seem like the sleepytime kitty music I believe Pickle prefers.*

*I confess Pickle and I have never had a deep discussion to dig into her musical tastes, which is pretty surprising given the fact I both write about and create music. But, based on her reactions to my forcing her to dance around the apartment when I play more upbeat numbers I think she probably leans toward—though not exclusively—lower key fare. Just a guess.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Waiter, there's a toe in my drink.

I was listening to this week's Slate Political Gabfest, and David Plotz shared a Canadian drink as his cocktail chatter.

I hope you are laughing and gagging just as much as I was when I learned this little factoid.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The return of The House Of Love!

Photo via the band's Facebook page
My very first show at The Metro was seeing The House of Love in 1990, something I celebrated when I was invited to speak at the venue's 35th anniversary party. That was also the year that the

Yesterday Keep sent me an excited text letting me know the band had just announced they would be returning to the road and will be in Chicago this coming May to play Subterranean!

The band hasn't toured the U.S. since 1992, so this is a really big deal! Well, to me, at least, And, I'm certain, many other folks that were Anglophiles in the late '80s and fell in love with the band way back then.*

At the time their "big" single (probably at the time only played on 'XRT) was "The Beatles And The Stones," but I always though "Hedonist" and "In A Room" were superior. In a different world they would've been bonafide hits singles. Well, my perfect world.

For this tour The House Of Love will be playing their self-titled debut album, which should not be confused with their self-titled sophomore effort that spawned the tracks I referenced above. I know, it's confusing, but such were the time for a British band in America back then! Anyway, that means this is another one of those "classic album" tours, but I imagine they'll have to play stuff off the second album as well, since they haven't been around here in so many decades.

Don't miss out! Tickets go on sale today.

*And, honestly, probably everyone whose stumbled across the band between now and then. It's hard not to fall in love, if not a really deep like, with them after hearing their music.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

"You're a bunch of boys! You don't have anything under control!"

I finally watched Damien Chazelle's First Man last week. It was a movie I'd meant to take in since I respect the director's previous work, but admit it wasn't a priority because how many movies about the early years of the "Space Race" do we really need?

But First Man does something remarkable and reframes the story in realism that somehow makes a greater impact than any other movie I've seen before on the same subject. I was a space kid—who grew up ion the '70s or '80s and didn't dream of going to Space Camp* while being obsessed with rockets and space shuttles?—and I've seen all kinds of spacecraft up close and in person. But I don't think it ever hit home just how dangerous and relatively rickety** those earlier craft were! Even the training materials feel life-threatening!

Most stories about the U.S. space program focus on lofty patriotic ideals, but First Man puts you in the midst of daredevil number-crunchers and pilots who seem to barely break a sweat under the most insane of circumstances, which of course forces you to confront just how insane one must be to undertake something like launching into orbit and flying high above the Earth.***

It's early in the morning and I'm not doing this justice. I'm trying to describe just how Chazelle took something so burrowed into my own consciousness and made it feel vital and new, instilling an even deeper respect for the people that quite literally put their lives on the line to get us into space.

It's stuck with me.

*An ex of mine went to Space Camp and I was (am) always soooooo jealous.

**Something that goes to space and back isn't "rickety" but I mean this stuff was all experimental and no one could be sure and WOW every other depiction of take-off has people smushed in their seats but never before have I seen something that puts you IN those cramped seats and shuddering aircraft so viscerally.

***Plus, Ryan Gosling! Hubba hubba.

Monday, January 13, 2020


You know what? it's a Monday and it's kinda grey* outside and I don't feel much like writing. But I did want to celebrate something positive to kick off the week.

I have had a few things happen over the last couple of days that reminded me that there are people out there that value my contributions to their lives, both personally and professionally, and the timing was perfect since I was threatening to descend into an existential spiral questioning whatever legacy I might leave. It reminded me that having an impact on people's lives in a positive manner is probably one of the most rewarding things in my own life.

So that was nice.

*LONGSTANDING INTERNAL DEBATE: Grey or gray? I can never decide.

Friday, January 10, 2020

All politics are personal, and the personal is universal. And so on.

Photo by Zach Hertzman
Ostensibly Little Scream's Speed Queen is "a reflection on class and poverty in America," but it's also an exquisitely constructed album that is simultaneously beautiful and melancholic and hopeful—all at the same time. Is there such a thing as laidback yet sprightly? Because that's what this sounds like.

Little Scream (Laurel Sprengelmeyer) certainly makes it clear she's not gonna mince words on the album opener "Dear Leader," singing "Now all those racists who would kill for their law and order / Can go ahead and build their walls on every single border." Later on in that song she makes it clear that change is gonna come, but the her hope is that love will overpower the chaos. And that's just the opener.

Little Scream's music is precise and delicate while remaining powerful in its convictions and adherence to pleasurable principles of aural caresses. It's an interesting gambit, putting together a political album that doesn't sound angry at all. Exploration of topics will demand action, but the exploration itself is couched in a positive packaging.

Oddly, my favorite song on the album isn't political at all (to my ears). "Switchblade" is a simple longing for love lost, one of the most simple and universal pop topics of all time, but Little Scream's lyrics are unusually effective at spooling out the aftermath of a relationship while the music is dotted with tasteful guitar curlicues and punctuations of sax that give the proceeding a timeless element.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Dreams don't come true? Sometime they do, especially if you've been dreaming of a new Dead Stars album!

In 2014 I celebrated my birthday at The Empty Bottle because Dead Stars were playing. I wanted a) an excellent soundtrack for the proceedings and b) to turn as many folks onto their music as possible.

I don’t know how successful I ultimately was, but I do remember having a great birthday that year.

I just got word the band has a new album, Never Not Here, coming out next month, and released the first single from that LP today, "Dreams Don't Come True."

For me a new Dead Stars album means I have a new reason to turn even more people onto their music. Get in on this now!

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

I can't I can't I can't stand losing...

Rachel Lichtman was always one of the most impossibly, effortlessly cool people I met through the Chicago music scene, so it was no surprise when she took off for California to further her art and surround herself with even cooler people. Over the years she's done a bunch of really cool video stuff, and more recently she's been collaborating with Juliana Hatfield on her own music videos.

Above is their latest endeavor, a near shot-for-shot remake (from what I can tell) of The Police's video for "I Can't Stand Losing You" for Hatfield's cover of that tune. Rad, huh?*

*Betcha thought I was gonna say "cool" again, eh?

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

I Fight Dragons returns, and makes a stand as a band outside of time.

This is the "newest" band photo I could find?
Yet it's old enough to still be working that whole "chiptune" persona.
I seemed to remember having a semi-rocky relationship with the Chicago band I Fight Dragons, and a search through the Chicagoist archives shows I’ve been writing about the band for well over a decade now. It looks like I was a little snarky at times when writing about them, but always gave them kudos for their tunes. Then they disappeared from the public gaze for so long I assumed they broke up and just didn’t tell anyone, so imagine my surprise listening to a friend’s podcast featuring I Fight Dragons' bass player that brought to my attention both the band’s current existence and the fact they released a new album at the end of 2019!

The band began as a combination of nerd-rock and what can be best described as super proficient alternative power-pop, but they shed most of their comic book and video game affectations long ago. So on the new Canon Eyes we’re left with a band writing big rock numbers that sound like they’re from another time. This is the kind of music that bands used to make when striving to hit it big and get on a major label (which, they kind of already did). It’s almost stunning in how straightforward its ambitions are—“Hey, let’s put out an album of big rock songs!”

To my ears this sounds like a project by a bunch of craftspeople who know exactly how to do what they do and do it well. There’s even a smidge of swing in the new album that is perhaps a nod to the fact the group is comfortable with being a back-burner affair for all involved, whose heat gets turned up and down as members’ interests wax and wane. And that’s totally O.K.

For a band that got their start through self-promotion on digital platforms, and mastered a genius little bit of crowdfunding back in the day when crowdfunding was barely a thing, it seem odd that the new album came in via whisper rather than roar. However they have held onto some of their old habits by offering the digital version of the album to download for free to anyone interested—all it’ll cost you is an email address.

If you're more into physical copies of things (and I totally understand if you are) then you can get the new album on CD or vinyl as well.

Monday, January 06, 2020

The most perfect, littlest B there ever was.

Today is the anniversary of Betty the Beagle's trip heavenward from this earth, and I still miss her so much.

I wish she was still here, but the fact I had so many memorable years with her will always be something I treasure.

Friday, January 03, 2020

I'm trying to remain optimistic about the world and everything—I really, REALLY am.

I woke up to news that the U.S. had killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani during an airstrike near Baghdad’s airport today. I could be cheeky and embed the video for R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" and be all ha-ha isn't Trump a card for assassinating a foreign military leader gee whiz I wonder if he's playing interdimensional chess and this is just another masterful gambit to help keep Americans focused on anything other than everything else he's doing while in office but JESUS KEERIST this is insane and haven't we all just had enough of this all already?


Thursday, January 02, 2020

One thing to consider if you're undertaking a Dry January.

Dry January is growing increasingly popular, and this recent piece in The Chicago Tribune considers who should try Dry January and who shouldn't. In my humble opinion, I think it is something worth doing for anyone who's interested, but if you're a particularly heavy drinker, you might not want to enter the month cold turkey without any medical supervision.
[Mark Zissman, a psychologist and clinical director of Lake County services at Gateway Foundation] points to studies that show taking a month off from drinking can help in various ways, improving sleep and resulting in weight loss. But he cautioned those who are heavy drinkers.
“Largely, the risks are how much is somebody drinking prior to actually participating in Dry January,” he said. “Alcohol is one of two substances where people can actually die from going through withdrawal.” (This also applies to certain kinds of prescription drugs.) “People forget that.”
Me? I've been dry since last summer, and I love it. And that's all I'll say about that, for now.

The Hecks are ready for their star turn.

Photo by Ashleigh Dye
Chicago's The Hecks released their sophomore album My Star a few months ago, and it took a while to work my way through my thoughts around it. Upon first listen, it sounded like the trio gleefully pilfered their sound from all kindsa obvious targets including Kraftwerk, Joy Division, Devo, Wire, and XTC—honestly, it sounded a bit all over the place to me. And the rather straightforward approach to the drum programming, while aiming for more acoustic sounds, also served to institute a sameness to the sound that might have caused me to dig in deeper and overlook the band's actual strengths.

But there was something in there that caused me to go back after my initial listen and notes. I think the. In some ways this is a sonic throwback, but closer inspection reveals there's a lot more thought going on in the construction of this collection than might initially reveal itself. The guitars stab back and forth at each other in conversation throughout many of the songs, creating spiky discourse that stitches the music together in intricate patterns. And the lyrics had more depth that emerged after spending a little more time with the sometimes rhythmically frenzied vocals.

Upon learning The Hecks worked on a previous version of this album in 2017, only to scrap that and rebuild the songs from the ground up as they added personnel, I dug through the group's debut and it was then that I really appreciated what a leap My Star is for the band. I had initially written The Hecks off as a party band more into their idols and image than their music, and I now realized my mistake.

But heck, The Hecks don't need my help to get local attention. I see they just opened for Whitney recently, and have a plum spot in an upcoming Tomorrow Never Knows showcase at Lincoln Hall this month. However, if you are unfamiliar with the band, now might be just the time to rectify that situation. And even if you already knew about the band but lost track of them over the last few years, I think you'll be surprised at the slowly unveiling beauty of My Star.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Hello 2020!

Happy new year from Pickle and me! We were both sound asleep when the clock struck midnight in Chicago, but we both woke up optimistic for what 2020 may hold for us. I hope you woke up in similar spirits!