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.