Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Happy 20th birthday to this here little website!

Pretty accurate "about" section, eh?
20 years ago today, the first post appeared on the Tankboy blog!

What started as a potential archive for my previous years of Tankboy email newsletters turned into a website where I posted every week day for over 15 years, before slowing down a bit in late 2018. But I've never put the site on  a hiatus, once regular posts began.

The Tankboy site is also a space I've never run ads on or tried to monetize. So from the get-go, that space was always meant to be just for me and you. No distractions.
20 years later I'm not certain what the Tankboy site will be like in another 20 years. Heck, I'm not sure what it'll look like next year, at this point. But it's meant to evolve so I don't worry about it.

And 20 years later, I'm starting to think we might be moving back towards the blogging mindset, as platforms are choked by the demand for new content, people actually do like to hear personal thoughts not driven explicitly by press releases or the media cycle.

So happy 20th birthday to the Tankboy blog! How you and I have kept going is a bit of a mystery, but I'm glad we did!

And  thanks to EVERYONE out there—whether you've only visited the site once or you've been a regular reader, you're important to me—so thank YOU!

Monday, May 23, 2022

Woodsy walks are good for the soul.

15 minutes from my house? Yes!
Some days you get outside and forget about all the problems and are just overtaken. I was never a nature boy before; despite being an Eagle Scout, and even living on a farm at one point in the distant past, I've always been drawn more to the city and city things. But the last couple years flipped that on its head* and these days I find myself actually wondering where my camping gear went, now that I could see myself actually using it for enjoyment, and not just a tolerable burden of an excursion someone else asked me to do with them!

O.K,  I may be getting a little ahead of myself there. But I have grown to really treasure time in the woods, earbud-free, and clear eyes wide open.

*Though, really, has anything not been flipped on its head the last couple of years? I may be stating the painfully obvious with that line. Sorry!

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Sephoria! You know, like 'Euphoria!'

While I've never been particularly squeamish about running errands for significant others, this short had me in stitches because I have definitely called Sephora "Sephoria" in the past. 

Also, this just reminds me how dumb most guys are when faced with anything un-dude-ly, and that makes me chuckle too.

Also also, if Netflix ever created this, it's one reality program I might actually watch for entertainment!

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Just waiting for those rhythms of life to pick back up.

I confess I've been struggling in my more personal writing endeavors. The last couple of years have thrown everyone's lives into turmoil, so I can't sit here feeling sorry for myself. But it's still frustrating.

If I just write about music that feels too constricting. Plus, I really want to write more for Third Coast Review this year, so I've started to identify what might be more appropriate for that venue while keeping my more personal musical recommendations going here. 

But this site was never meant to be only about one thing. 

Of course, until recently, writing about a myriad of subjects was easy because I was always submerged in a number of different worlds at any given time. But those worlds have shrunk, and these days most of what I experience is either through a digital screen, outside my home-office window, or in my head. While I have grown to really value my long walks and all the mental work that gets done during those jaunts ... there is nothing to replace the human interactions and unexpected discoveries that arise from people just talking through even the simplest topics with each other. 

And while I've long strove to be a confident voice in the topics I write about, I am not interested in merely espousing my views honed from singular, internal discussions. I need people, man!

So, I'll keep pushing through this, and at some point I am sure it will all start to fall into place as new life rhythms pick up the pace. 

And, as always dear reader, I am thankful you're still sticking around to see where this all ends up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

We're coming up on 20 years since the first post in this here space.

My first post on this site was 20 years ago this month, though I didn't start writing almost daily until the following year. But it's a bit odd to realize I have an unbroken record of my life in one spot over the last 20 years. And if you were to tack on the Tankboy email newsletter, you'd have a pretty solid view—from one perspective—of my life since the mid-'90s! 

More on this later this month as the actual anniversary approaches, but I've been looking around for other uninterrupted, long-running independent, personal sites that have never been ad-based in any way, and you know what? There ain't a lot of them. So I'm thankful my own little project that began as an intended repository for my email newsletters turned into something completely different that has gone on for almost two decades now.* It seems a little unreal—20 years ago often feels like 20 months ago to me—but I'm glad this site exists. And will continue to exist as long as I want it to, which, right now, remains open ended.

*I also take a little pride in never posting an "I'm gonna quit blogging!" announcement, or having to write the requisite "I've decided to start blogging again after shutting this blog down" post.

Friday, May 06, 2022

'start at the end' with Tamar Berk this Bandcamp Friday!

I met Tamar Berk in the very late '90s when she was still fronting the fuzzy, power-pop Chicago power-trio, Starball. I really dug Starball, and even booked a few shows with them eons ago, but the band never quite got the acclaim I thought they deserved. Berk took off for sunnier weather out West a few years ago and I didn't hear much from her musically during that time, aside from a stint in a prog rock combo I found really enjoyable. But in the last couple of years, Berk picked up her guitar and decided to focus on her own songs (and has a healthy stable of amazing musicians to back her up, as needed).

Berk just released her second solo album in two years, start at the end, and it takes the youthful buzzy blast of her solo debut the restless dreams of youth and focuses it on more serious concerns without losing an ounce of excitement or energy. 

I just got my vinyl copy of the album in the mail, so I'm putting my money where my mouth is and not just blowing hot air here; this is music you will really dig. Check it out!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Wherein Post Animal crosses into personally sentimental sonic territory previously carved out by The Pursuit Of Happiness.

Photo by Courtney Sofiah Yates
I'm working up a full album review of Post Animal's latest release Love Gibberish that will run closer to its May release date for Third Coast Review, but had to share this track because it's stuck in my head for an entirely personal reason I just had to share.

In the late '80s I was big fan of The Pursuit Of Happiness. Moe Berg and his crew hit on the perfect blend of noise and pop and angst on that group's debut that ensnared my teenage brain right away. And the new Post Animal album bounces around approaches to its songs quite a bit, and one of their new tunes is very reminiscent of early TPOH to these ears.* That riffage and that speak-sing delivery—in this particular ratio those elements jettison me right back to junior year in high school. Yipes, but also fun!

So, I present to you, "No More Sports!"

*There is actually quite a bit of '80s-influenced sonic territory covered on Love Gibberish that I think many will find both surprising and refreshing. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Particle Kid's 'Time Capsule' gleefully rips free of time's bonds.

Photo by Randi Malkin Steinberger
The less you know about Particle Kid, perhaps the better. That way Time Capsule can unravel and reveal itself on its own terms.* I will note that the "Kid" is J. Micah Nelson—son of Willie Nelson—and I share that ahead of time so you don't listen and find that out afterward and feel like you've been had. While his last name certainly seems strong enough to pull in some heavy duty guest appearances, the album is weird and wooly in ways that can't just be attributed to a close proximity to fame. In fact, I still believe my initial response after my first listen is all you really need to know.

I will admit that late in the album, there is one track I would have probably removed—I won't tell you which one but it's got a real Funstyle flair to it—but even that song makes sense as far as the natural trajectory of the album is concerned. So I guess that's a long way of saying I probably would not remove it after all, eh?

Strap on some headphones and get ready for a ride, ya'll.

*As a 26-track double album, letting it reveal itself on its own terms is kinda key. Y'know?

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

On the edge of a new world.

I can feel it in the air. FINALLY. A change is coming. Spring is actually near. I'm cautiously optimistic major waves of the COVID epidemic may have finally subsided (even if there is absolutely no way to predict the future on that front, yet). I'm on a 300+ day step streak and am looking forwards to the majority of that walking moving outdoors instead of pacing in my apartment. Despite my inability to actually get out of the house and attend a show so far this year, I have not given up hope and want to remedy that within weeks if not days. 

Even if I'm not entirely sure how, I am 100% devoted to exiting my hermitage of the last couple of years. I've accepted that whatever insane human drive I had, that just allowed me to pile on activities far beyond what should have been a reasonable breaking point, was interrupted by my social isolation and is never going to return at that volume. (This is actually a relief. I don't think I knew how exhausting that was until all that nervous energy had nowhere to go when I stopped. It's taken a few years, but I've finally settled into a more realistic, human, mortal approach to what it means to be "active.") 

And here I sit, on the precipice again, waiting for the sign it's time to drop my metaphorical skateboard into the bowl and start to LIVE again. I've spent a lot of time in my head over the last 3 years, and while it's still not an entirely fun place to be all of the time, I've grown more comfortable being an unadulterated version of  me all of the time. I can be intense and earnest and sometimes throw people off with my weird energy, but I think the core ME—the one who has always been there since the earliest days of wandering South Texas farmlands and orange groves solo looking for adventure and living in a world of imagination—that me is one I like being around. Can't wait for you to meet him again too!

Friday, April 15, 2022

Primer's brainy but fun 'Incubator' is a perfect fit for these (and all) times.

Photo by Rik Horoky
Alyssa Midcalf performs under the Primer moniker and her debut album Incubator is just the laser beam of synth-driven sunshine we all need right now. Especially if you're in a region where spring appears to completely resists springing, for now.*

There have been a few pop albums that sprung up throughout the pandemic that delivered solid, positive, uplifting (but not vapid) touchpoints to hold onto amidst a sea of desperation and depression. Incubator is the latest entry in this more personalized musical genre of mine, but I believe its appeal to be universal!

Tl;dr—this is a ton of super-duper solid electro-pop, bursting with burbling and bubbly rhythms bouncing underneath Midcalf's sweet and assured but unshowy vocals.

Highly recommended!

*Ahem, Chicago.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

That's a mighty fine set of steak knives, Man's Body!

Man's Body has a show coming up in Chicago playing with Hushdrops. I had planned on seeing Hushdrops the next time they played, so I took a swing through the Man's Body 2021 release A Set Of Steak Knives to see if I should plan on sticking around late enough to catch their headlining set.

The answer? A resounding YES!

Man's Body packs A Set Of Steak Knives with music that's catchy and buzzy in the earlier indie rock vein, and was honestly a surprise to me. Based on the band bio I thought this would be more of a "middle-aged dude" album* but this is almost power-pop in a scuzzier form. Lotsa those riffs that chunk-a-chunk-a-buzzsaaaaaaaaaaw all over the place, and that's the kinda thing that hits me squarely in the solar plexus of vibez.

So I'll definitely be sticking around to catch their later set when they play The Burlington on April 22!

*NO offense meant to middle-aged dude albums, though!

Thursday, April 07, 2022

2022 is shaping up to be a mighty fine year for new music.

I think the logjam created by the pandemic slowing down releases has finally broken. After two years of weeks and weeks where there was really only one or two really interesting releases amidst a sea of reissues and compilation albums and live albums and whatever anyone could create to keep the music moving even when there was little motivation to create new music. And even less motivation to promote it in a world where touring was impossible for the longest stretch of time in my own lifetime (if not ever).

I look through my spreadsheets from the last couple of years, and very, very, very few albums rose above a 5, while this year there are already an unusual number of 6s, 7s, and 8s. (FYC: A handy reminder of how I personally rate music as I track albums each year.) So that's great news!

I still haven't seen a live concert in 2022 though, so that's not-so-great news. But I like to balance that with the fact that whatever old sense of FOMO I ever had is still completely absent in my life, and I don't think it will ever return. So that ain't so great as far as creating blast-off levels of anxiety over missing something to get me out of the house, but it's awesome as far as avoiding those heightened levels of anxiety over, basically, nothing. So it balances out in the end.

I will tell you this though: I am determined to see a show in the month of April!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Kate Bollinger delivers intimate sounds with technicolor brilliance.

Photo by Jonathan Roensch
It was softly snowing this morning, and as the sun's light illuminated the clouds above it created one of those magical moments where two things that shouldn't collide do and open up a new view of the world in that moment.

I had a similar sensation listening to Kate Bollinger's forthcoming Look at it in the Light, an EP that manages to present her songs using really intimate production techniques while sacrificing none of the audio fidelity.* And the songs flow so naturally from Bollinger and her band that they simltaneously seem surprisingly refreshing and inevitably excellent to my ears.

The full EP isn't out until next month, but the songs streaming as a preview now do an excellent job of making my case for why you should be excited for its release.

*I caught myself writing "it sounds like it was recorded in a closet with a full band with excellent gear" and realized the "closet" description was directly inspired by my memory of first encountering Lou Reed's "closet mix" of The Velvet Underground. And there's your peek behind the curtain for today!

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Nerdy One.

After many, many years, the Chicago 2-piece Tuff Tamale has debuted their very first video ever for the first single from their upcoming full-length LP, Kitten Trapper Keeper! 

More later.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Marveling at Märvel!

I am certain there are longtime fans of Märvel, but the band was entirely new to me, and I confess when I fired this album up my expectation were low. A trio of Swedish musicians who perform under aliases* and originally met in Colorado (?!) as exchange students 20 years ago? If they'd been around that long and were good, how have I never heard of them?

But, one of the nice things about being a music critic for over 30 years is that I've chosen a passion that has the ability to continually surprise me.

On Graces Come With Malice, Märvel combines garage rock with touches of metal and tops it off with a healthy dollop of of groove that, to my ears at least, takes its cue from the swaggier KISS songs out there. It's a playful album that seriously rawks, and in the end the image perfectly fits the package in ways I could not have anticipated.

The full album isn't out until April 22, but you can get a taste of a few of the singles before then. Perfect to rock out of the work week and into the weekend!

*The King is on guitars and vox, The Burgher plays bass, and The Vicar holds things down on the drum kit.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Disco H?

I had no idea Kevin made this, so thanks to the latest (and rather excellent) LIFERS podcast episode for cluing me in.

Now, let's dance!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Get gritty and groovy with Gill Brothers Band.

One side effect of the last two years is sometimes forgetting an album I wanted to write about has been released. But in the case of Gill Brothers Band I was so smitten by the promo I immediately pre-ordered their debut album—to me it's worth it to at least have access to WAV files of the music I love, and in this case they added some live bonus tracks not on their promo. So when it popped up in my email that I could finally download the album I knew it was time to tell you abut it!

Gill Brothers Band is stacked with great songs, many of them carrying a down-n-dirty, slight twangy vibe grafted onto a full-on rock and/or roll attack. I know in some circles "classic rock" may be something one sneers at, but this is capital "C" capital "R" Classic Rock in the best sense of the phrase. I mean, it sounds like these folks have spent plenty of time in sweaty practice spaces perfecting their organic chemistry, and Gill Brothers Band is a shining result of those efforts.

Bonus points for their ability to confound expectations too! The first time I listened, I thought the album had ended and my tankPHONE had moved onto shuffle, bringing in tunes by Meat Puppets and Hiawata! ... and then I realized, nope! Gill Brothers Band was still going strong and showing their range.

Give it a spin and pick up your one copy today!

Friday, March 11, 2022

Raise yourself "High Above The Sun" with Magic City Hippies.

Photo by Fro Rojas
Every once in a while someone will yell out "DJ Tankboy!" when they see me and I forget that for a good 15 year stretch I would do 5-7 hours sets multiple nights a week on top of all the other jobs I was doing in other sectors of  my life. And that doesn't even count my early days of house parties and residences I had at The Gallery in Normal, IL in the early '90! Old habits die hard though, and when I listen to music I still pick out songs I'd use in a set today, even though I have no active interest in actually DJing again.

If I was still DJing long sets though, "High Above The Sun" from Magic City Hippies* off Water Your Garden would be a great hour-two tune, as it amps up the funky vibes while simultaneously burying them in a shiny indie-influenced-basement-party package of sound. It'd a good bridge between songs as the evening ramps up, and one of those numbers I'd deploy to get the people still sitting to start swaying or tapping their toes, and get the folks who might be standing to start bouncing a little.

Which means it is also an excellent song to ease us into the weekend!

*A true sign of my growth over the years? I didn't immediately delete an album sent to me by a band with "hippies" in the name.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Tune into Yot Club's "Cannel 4" for the vibez.

Photo by Paige Margulies
Keeping this brief since ... you know what? It doesn't matter why. Let's just get to the song!

Yot Club’s Santolina EP mixes genres and sounds, but I like them best when their tunes sound like a lo-fi basement disco party.* "Channel 4" is built with minimal parts for maximum impact and my favorite part of the tune are the stabbing synth strings.

The song isn't so much a pick-me-up as it is a bridge between moods, but it's perfect for me as I type this in the pre-dawn light.

*This is the part where I should note that Yot Club had a popular tune on TikTok, and it seems to have helped raise their profile. So if you're not an old, Yot Club might already be old news to you. But you should dig this track either way!

Monday, March 07, 2022

This is not a review of 'The Batman.'

So I did not go opening night, or even opening day, but I couldn't wait until next weekend so I did end up getting a ticket to see The Batman early Sunday morning based on the number of empty seats remaining in the theater I was going to. It wasn't until later that I noticed the tickets were for the film in 4DX, but by then the other early movies were packed and I thought to myself, having never seen a movie in 4DX before, "How different can it be?" 

Um, very different.

I guess if you like being thrown around like you're on a rollercoaster whenever there is onscreen action, maybe you would dig it? Me? I prefer to actually see the movie instead of trying to keep from getting whiplash. I honestly couldn't describe 70% of the action scenes to you because it was impossible to focus on the screen as you're thrown all over the place.

It. Was. A. Terrible. Experience. So if you ever are tempted to see something in 4DX ... DON'T.*

Oh, what did I think of the actual movie? The story? The visuals? The content of the film?

O.K., I know the headline says "this is not a review" and it most certainly is not, but I thought the movie was pretty, pretty good! Now to see if I can wait the 45 days for it to come to HBO Max or if I'll be too tempted to plunk down dough for another ticket for a regular screening so I can finally watch those action scenes...

*This does not pertain to a movie developed to leverage 4DX—as in a short film to replicate a particular and well-mapped experience. At least I assume there is material like that out there. Because if the thought of "we'll get people into the theater with premium experiences!" means this is a premium experience ... well, then give me my home viewing experience over 4DX any day.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

An unusual feeling has settled in ahead of 'The Batman' for me.

I am very excited about the new The Batman movie but realized I didn’t feel the usual urge to buy a ticket to see a movie like that on the first day. Heck, I remember suffering through a loooooong P4K-music-fest Friday after seeing the midnight showing of ‘The Dark Knight’ the night before, and I was first in line to see ‘Batman’ in 1989, forcing my family to buy tickets and go even while we were on vacation. But this time around with The Batman … not so much.

In trying to figure out why I think I landed on two reasons:
  1. As a standalone Batman movie, spoilers are less of a cause of anxiety for me with The Batman. I’m expecting a good story but since it’s not a part of a larger “universe” for now I guess I’m not so worried the story could be “ruined” for me.
  2. The fact it appears many, many people in Chicago are treating the reversal of mask and vaccine mandates as “the pandemic is over!” So I’m not super pumped to be in an enclosed, packed theater. 
I think I still hope top see it this weekend—I’m more comfortable with super early morning showings of movies these days—but it’s still weird to me that I don’t FEEL like I HAVE to see it right away.

How 'bout you? You gonna see the film?

Thursday, February 24, 2022

An illegal war that must end immediately.

I am heartbroken over the events surrounding Ukraine. I spent some time there when Photogal's sister worked in the capitol, and my visit happened to coincide with Putin's first election. At the time the only person who raised a concern was a supposed ex-C.I.A. guy* who reasoned that since Putin came from the KGB, it raised worries despite Russia's then-waning influence over the region. It had been just over a decade since the fall of the Berlin Wall and I admit I was like most Americans who felt the days of constantly fearing a Cold War developing into a nuclear war were permanently behind us.

Putin's war against Ukraine is complete bullshit—if you watched the negotiations over the last couple weeks and the constantly moving goal line, you knew Putin had made up his mind and this wasn't a going to be a rational act on his part. Of course I have my own theories as to what is behind his aggression against a sovereign nation, but theories are meaningless once the death toll starts. 

There is no justifiable reason for this and I hope the world responds quickly and in unity to counter this criminal act.

*The number of ex-pats claiming to be (or more precisely, allowing whispers to remain without refute that they are) "ex-C.I.A." over the years has always seemed unusually high to me. So take this with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

"Levels" up with Howless.

It's a dreary morning in Chicago, and while the sun is slow to share its light from behind the grey blanket wetly hanging above, I find myself turning inward for warmth. 

Today's interior journey takes us to Mexico City, home to the band Howless. Their debut To Repel Ghosts is a tidy collection of shoegaze pop that deserves a full listen from you, but you can get started with "Levels." I'd be surprised if this didn't pique your interest hear more from Howless, but I'm confident that even if it doesn't, this particular tune will find a home in your head, and refuse to be shaken free. As if you'd want to.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

It's no snow and all summer with Hembree.

Photo by Jonny Marlow
Chicago went to bed with dreams expecting sheets of ice and piles of snow this morning. A look out my window tells me that prediction didn't come to pass and all the weather alerts pelting my phone and email inbox changed their tone into much gentler prognostications of inclement weather while we were all sleeping.

So as I dug around for some recent music to share I've settled on Hembree's It's A Dream!, out earlier this month. Initially I selected this album because it's filled with dance rock that just won't stop, stuffed with sunny vibes and warm beats that made this an early winner of the year for me. Then again, two years into a pandemic, maybe I'm just not used to music that sounds like the people making it are having actual fun. Either way it's great.

And then, as I went to pull a press photo for the album—I will often wait to fully read press releases until after I've had a chance to listen and form my own first impressions—I realized a number of my friends are in Hembree! And I was completely clueless! So if you ever worried I showed favoritism in my writing, I think you can probably relax your fears on that front.

So dig these summery sounds and celebrate a day of less wintery bluster than expected. And you know what? Maybe reach out to a friend you haven't heard from for a while ... you might discover they've been up to some pretty cool things! 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The critic as cockroach. And I mean that in a good way!

It's February 16 and this year I've already listened to and logged 101 albums coming out in 2022.

Just in case you were worried I was slacking or anything.

Album 100 was a lovely bit of super old school reggae and ska. Album 101? It started as a melodic slice of instrumental metal but turned into a subpar goth album that thought it rocked. You can't win 'em all.

And with that, you're caught up to where I am!

"Why do you still listen to so much music, with so little actually going on in the music world for the last few years?"

Fair question, and one I've asked over and over of myself. The answer always seems to be "because it's what I do."

I was on a panel with a bunch of other music critics years and years ago, and they asked what I would do if I lost the outlet I was writing for (at the time that would've been Chicagoist). My answer was I'd just keep listening and keep writing. I think I also said, "I'm like a cockroach, even a nuclear bomb wouldn't stop me from being a music critic."

Well, thank god there's been no nuclear bomb, but after the combined events of the last 4 years I think it's fair to say I definitely wasn't lying about my internal drive.

Oh, hey! Here comes album 102...

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Thank you for being a (3rd) friend.

I finally joined Blank Check with Griffin & David’s Patreon this weekend. I’d been meaning to do so for a long time, but on the regular Sunday podcast they mentioned they had been watching the Ghostbusters franchise for their members-only episodes, and that pushed me over the edge and I plunked down my $5 a  month commitment.

Hours later I would discover Ivan Reitman’s family had shared news of his passing the day before.

Coincidence? Or just the cosmos?

Also, if I had to pick my favorite Reitman movie, I’m not sure I could. I love both Stripes and Ghostbusters deeply, but for different reasons, so I’m choosing both!

Also, the Blank Check Patreon is totally worth the dough and if you're a fan of the show it actually feels nice to directly toss the creators a few bucks. I finished the more recent Ghostbusters commentaries and am now making my way with the two friends and Ben as they tackle the MCU filmography from start to current day.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Head "Northwards" with AMORPHIS.

Photo by Sam Jamsen 
As I mentioned a little while ago, despite most genres hitting a bit of a lull over the last two years, from what I can tell the metal scene has just kept chugging along. And Finnish band AMORPHIS has it all! Their latest album Halo features subterranean growls and melodic wails, towering guitars, thundering drums, bone-shattering bass, choirs, strings ... even their own dedicated lyricist (think Bernie Taupin if he was really well versed in Finnish mythology)! And it's all locked together with AMORPHIS' genius-level mastery of their instruments and arrangements.

And that's just the album's opening track!

Stream or snag Halo here.

Friday, February 11, 2022

A new Spoon album is out. Do I really need to convince you to give it a spin?

Photo by Oliver Halfin
These days I’m not even sure what one can say about a new album from Spoon. They’ve hit that level of consistency where critics get less effusive with praise while simultaneously saying any new album “doesn’t disappoint.” Early singles from Lucifer On The Sofa were met with either praise or worry, and I heard more than one person bandy about the notion "is this going to sound like a Queens of the Stone Age album?" and not in a good way. 

No, Lucifer On The Sofa does not sound like Queens of the Stone Age. It sounds exactly like Spoon. Maaaaaaybe the songs are a little crunchier and punchier and concise than usual—Lucifer On The Sofa is less an album driven by themes than one driven by emotional energy—but I can't see how that's a negative thing.

While Britt Daniel and Jim Eno are the only original members era of the band to remain, they continue to "hit that level of consistency" that shields the group from any real meaningful criticism and rely on bemoaning the band's commercial appeal, as it that's a strike against them. Of course, that contingent completely forgets the fact that Spoon hasn't changed their sound much over the years, but the listening habits of the "commercial" public caught up to Spoon long ago.

Basically what it comes down to is this: if you like Spoon and are not trying to write  a review to polarize readers and gain yourself clicks, you will likely love Lucifer On The Sofa.

Also, the band is heading out on tour—I have yet to ever see a bad show from 'em and I've been seeing them live a very, very, very long time—so see if they're hitting you're town (if you're comfortable doing the live concert thing yet, of course).

Thursday, February 10, 2022

A race with no winners, presented in a song from The Kickback that is a winner.

Photo by Jim Vondruska
Some days I want to just give Billy a hug, and others I want to high-five him and his bandmates for creating music that is so mind-blowingly terrific.* 

Everything about The Kickback's evolution since I first encountered the band has felt like the exact right step for the band to take, whether or not their fanbase was in lockstep. And right now one of the things I look most forward to is hearing new music from them—it's the sound of our times packaged in an extremely personal package.

Did you dig that? If so, catch up with other recently released tunes I've written about from them, "PreshMo" and "Kare."

*Side effect of the pandemic? I finally understand why people like high-fives.

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Beach House does the nigh impossible—they've made me a fan of their music.

Photo by David Belisle
I have seen Beach House quite a few times over the years and always kept up with their albums, primarily out of a sense of needing to keep up with music popular with my readership at the time. But I've always found them incredibly boring, and slotted them into the "vibes for days with little else to offer" category.

So imagine my surprise as I listened to most of their new double album Once Twice Melody (13 of the 18 tracks are already available) and ... I found myself going back for a second, then third listen!

What changed? I'm not certain, but I do know that for me the empty spaces that used to exist between the notes of music are now filled with emotion, that weird intangible addition of what feels like true feeling versus the calm and reassuring if somewhat vacuous sounds of their previous work. Heck, maybe I've changed and am just hearing the same thing everyone else always did! 

Either way, it's lovely stuff that drew me in, And I'm looking forward to hearing the final "chapter" of music when the full album is released on February 18!

Monday, February 07, 2022

Checking in from Chicago...

It was a good weekend. I took Friday off work and spent most of the day spring cleaning in the dead of winter. My place isn't really messy or overly cluttered, per se, but it was in dire need of a good top-to-down cleaning.* And I ended up unpacking a bunch of vinyl and rearranging a number of things, so by Saturday it felt a little bit like a fresh, new apartment. I recommend it!

Oh, gator watch ... how I miss those simpler times.
As I was in the midst of this, I began to revisit just what makes a "home." For me, it used to mean being surrounded by items from various collections that brought me joy. But these days, very few physical things have that effect on me any longer. It's probably a mixture of age and no longer being able to quite locate the passion that led to my need to own so many of the things I've collected over the years. 

It does make home decorating a little difficult though. In fact, after cohabiting with other people for many of the last 20 years, I'm not even sure I have my own style any longer, if I ever did. Plus, honestly, nowadays I really am a person who lives within his means and doesn't feel the need to buy anything beyond the items used on a daily basis. 

I started keeping a gratitude journal a few years ago and have tried to stick with it. When you're as isolated as I have been for as long as I have been, just noting at least 3 positive things I personally experienced that day does make a huge difference in keeping my mood up. And reminds me that while I may rarely see the people I wish I could spend time with in person, I am having experiences spurred on by elements outside of me and I am not alone. Neither are you.

Also, the Chicago winter. While I am ecstatic to live in an apartment long enough for my to get my 10K steps in per day without ever leaving the house, too many days inside without a long walk outdoors was beginning to take its toll on me.** But yesterday, after a long freeze, the sun came out, the wind died down, and the temperatures rose enough that with the proper layering I was able to visit the nearby forest preserve and get back in the middle of some actual nature. Who woulda ever thunk I'd turn into a nature boy who needs the outdoors?! But here we are. And it was truly glorious. See?

This week? This week I am going to embrace the notion of Swiffering and mopping on a regular basis now that the baseline is set. It's just building a routine in to keep that forward momentum going. And I am so oddly excited by that!

*You can do it too! I spent the previous week devoting an hour or so a day to organizing or tossing clutter and readying the place for a good cleaning. I don't know about your brain, but mine is much happier with a clear plan of attack versus just tackling the whole job at once. The trick helps to shush your internal procrastinator. And then you're done!
**Luckily, no one lives underneath me, so don't worry—no one besides Pickle the Kitten is disturbed by my clomping around.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Dance With The Dead—more high energy than horror, but a ton of fun either way.

First, I have to get this out of my system, but the first time I heard Dance With The Dead's Driven To Madness I thought, "This sounds like what would happen if Andrew W.K. and Trans-Siberian Orchestra collaborated on a video game soundtrack. 

After reading Dance With The Dead's bio I discovered I maybe wasn't too far off? But this duo (a trio when they play with a live drummer) love old horror and sci-fi soundtracks, especially when they mix—wait for it—synthesizers and guitars! 

This would be a good place to mention that both John Carpenter and his son Cody do pop up on the opening track of the album, so that should give you an excellent idea of where Dance With Dead's aesthetic is grounded.

Turn down the lights, train a single candle on the disco ball, and just let this one wash over you.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Stick around until the end of the credits.

As this site enters it 20th year I've been looking through old entries and realized I've grown paralyzed by procrastination, to a certain extent, in recent years. At some point I adopted the mindset that every post here needed a greater purpose beyond just being whatever I wanted to write at that moment. And that's no good!

So as we enter the next 20 years of this little site—believe it or not it actually looks like I'll still be around at least that long, barring the contents of an airplane bathroom falling on my head or some other unexpected yet cartoonishly outlandish tragedy—I'm going to try and re-embrace some of the more freewheeling vibe of the earlier years while maintaining the output of more straightforward posts about music you should have in your life. 

And to thank you for stopping by today, I'd like to present you with a photo of the cutest kitten in all the land—Pickle!

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

What's that I say? You should check out Ombiigizi? Well, O.K.!

Photo by Rima Sater 
I needed something to reflect the noise in my head today, and I think this single from Ombiigizi does a nice job of melding the noise with the melody with the quirk with the yearning and they hope ... I mean, a perfect Tuesday theme song, right?

Ombiigizi is comprised of Zoon's Daniel Monkman and Adam Sturgeon of Status/Non-Status, and they've come together to create an album driven both by current times and their own cultural histories. 

Ombiigizi's Sewn Back Together—out next Friday—is an adventurous and really satisfying listen. It's super catchy but intricately built—there's lotsa stuff bouncing around from headphone to headphone as these lushly textured songs make their way into your world. The whole LP is propulsive, driven by tons of explorative energy. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Want a sneak peek at some of my best music of 2021 list?

I contributed a couple Chicago-centric entries to the Third Coast Review's music writers' favorite albums of 2021 list. So while I still work on my own "best of 2021" list, you'll at least know three of the albums that will appear on it if you read the entry.

Check out the whole thing, and then hop around Third Coast Review to check out the website's brand spankin' new redesign! It's nice and elegant and a lovelier reading experience for visitors overall.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Pixel Grip delivers those groovy, underground, late-night vibes you might be missing.

Photo by Alexus McLane
I was digging around for something to share with you and realized I had completely missed writing about the release of Pixel Grip's album ARENA last year. Yipes! Because this was an album not to miss, in my humblest of opinions.*

The Chicago trio of Rita Lukea, Jonathan Freund and Tyler Ommen beat the pandemic blues by trying to create an underground dance club in your ears. The result is a groovy, dark collection of pulsing synth bombs that sounds like a very hottt and sexy dance party populated by every variation of freak under the sun. And there's a laid-back kinda vibe that still has a non-stop energy moving it, and my hips, forward. 

Any time I need "a night out" while being trapped indoors, I've popped this on and it always delivers. So, better late than never, I implore you to check out ARENA and get in touch with your underground dance diva today.

*I mean, I even tweeted about 'em last year, partially so I wouldn't forget to write about the album! See?

Friday, January 21, 2022

Digging deep with The Dollyrots

Photo by Jen Rosenstein
I was looking and the first time I wrote about the Dollyrots seems to be right around 2007, and I made a pretty obvious-to-me Josie and the Pussycats reference about the band that is probably less arcane these days than it was back then. I also remember it being one of the bands my pal Chip Midnight wrote about quite a bit back in the Donewaiting days. And their most recent full-length laded on my Best of 2019 list of albums.

Today the duo of Kelly Ogden and Luis Cabezas released Down The Rabbit Hole,  a collection of various singles, b-sides, covers, and general miscellany that I've been plowing through all morning. And lemme tell ya—my Friday has been glorious so far as that soundtrack powered me through the morning.

Give the new collection a spin below, and as always please do feel free to snag the digital or CD versions of the album. The band is planning on hitting the road this spring, starting with a show at Reggie's in Chicago ... and I hope things are feeling safe enough by then because I really wanna catch The Dollyrots live in 2022!

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Movin' right along!

Some days ya just need to check in, say hi, and let everyone know everything is O.K. Well, as O.K. as things can be, these days.

So, hi!

Lessee, where do we go from there? New year's resolutions? Nah, never really been my thing. Although I do think this year if I resolve to do anything, it's to do more of the positive stuff that's gotten me through the last couple of years. So some reading, quite a bit of writing, a LOT of walking, and generally trying to be a decent, kind human being. 

You can pretend I'm reading along with you!
While I'm not particularly happy to have been living such a solitary existence, I can at least appreciate that it's given me plenty of time to work on all the fun* little things inside me that broke over the years. So I guess this year will be more of that, and hopefully some kind of return to "normalcy" that includes seeing friends I haven't seen in literally years now and hopefully getting reacquainted with the notion of live music.

Do you have the slightest idea what it's been like for someone who saw hundreds of shows a year to become someone who can count the concerts he's seen in the last two years on one hand? It's weird. It also makes me wonder if there's a place for me in that world any more, or if it's time to resign myself to being an outdated old.

O.K., I think we all know the answer to that last one. There are some things I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully leave behind, and while a pandemic curtailed my live music experiences, I'm not gonna allow it to eradicate concerts from my life.

It sounds strange but I've hit the point where I have so much I want to write about, I'm having a hard time prioritizing and winnowing down and finding a way in to a lot of stuff so it doesn't just tumble out in a jumble.

So what's 2022 hold for this here little website, as it enters its TWENTIETH** year of existence?

We'll find out! But if you guessed "more writing about music and bands mixed with a few personal posts and whatever else catches Jim's fancy" that's probably a decent thing to lay money on, if you're the wagering type.

*Mostly not fun, but I'm trying to not get too heavy. And it's all been worth it.
**I know! WHUT? Even weirder when you consider this site sprouted from the Tankboy email newsletter that started in 1995 or 1996? Every once in a while I hit landmarks that show how incongruous my own experiences in the digital realm are compared to most others my age. It's weird.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Prepare to be entranced by the magic of windfyre steel with Power Paladin.

Photo by Eva Alexandra 

In the past year or so, as most other music hit the pause button, I noticed that the output of metal albums did not decrease and I found they started to be one of the music genres that seemed less impacted by the general state of the world.* My working theory is that since metal tends to hew to a time-honored approach to music that operates outside most external trends, as the world turned into a dumpster fire, the genre nonetheless thrived.

Like I said, a working theory. I'm not saying metal doesn't still pull inspiration for all over the place, simply that the execution tends to hew to long-standing formulas, even within each subgenre. But I've also tended to be more a generalist in the last decade or so, so I'm in no way trying to pretend like I'm the expert here—just thinking out loud.

Which brings us to Power Paladin and their debut With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel. First—that name! That title! You know exactly what you are in for, and Power Paladin delivers. I mean, this is jubilant power metal, man. Old school stuff. Operatic and over the top ... yet, oddly refreshing! They may be from Iceland—Reykjavic—and Paladin is all about mining those early-Iron Maiden / latter-NWOBHM vibez, only adding even catchier hooks.

It all just freaking rocks. Sample "Creatures Of The Night"** below—it hits all the buttons described above—and then move on to the rest of the album if that tickles your interest. And it will.

*FYI, yes I am absolutely looking forward to the day when that intro line or a version of it doesn't seem necessary in so many reviews.
**I was tempted to share album opener "Kraven The Hunter" since it is full of Marvel comic books references and fucking rawks, but I know not all y'all are comic nerds. 

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

An optimistic note to start the year.

This was the first time in far too long that I felt I ended the year in a better place than I was when it began. While 2021 was pretty terrible overall on a global scale, my own life started an upward trend after too many years of feeling stuck in neutral. So based on that, 2022 is already off to a promising start! 

I hope you felt that way too.