Thursday, February 15, 2024

Jon Brion² in Chicago!!!

Sixteen years after I saw him play Hideout, I finally got a chance to see Jon Brion perform Tuesday night at Empty Bottle. I considered myself lucky, since Brion never comes to the Midwest, and I felt like I was going into last night as a seasoned pro…until Nora pointed out she’s seen him over THREE DOZEN TIMES! I have rarely been so jealous of my own girlfriend, but if I could see him play weekly at Largo, I would’ve made it a regular occurrence too!

The Bottle show was 2+ hours of musical joy, and one of the very few times I not only stood in line ahead of doors opening, but stood right in front of the stage like a fanboy. In retrospect, it was a little distracting to be standing inches away from Brion at almost eye level.

Since I’m no longer out covering music 5–7 days a week, seeing two weekday shows is a rarity for me these days, and two consecutive shows by the same artist is nigh unheard of, but when Jon Brion makes a rare trip to Chicago, you DO NOT MISS IT. So last night we trekked to The Salt Shed for a showing of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind preceded by a shorter performance from the trio, and followed by a Q&A with Brion. I feel incredibly lucky—and slightly indulgent—to have enjoyed not only hours of live music from Brion—backed by / collaborating with Jay Bellerose and Jennifer Condos—AND a relatively wide-ranging Q&A I found largely illuminating.*

During the Q&A last night I did get to ask him to clarify when he was coming back to town, since at The Bottle he had hinted it would be soon. Sounds like while nothing is set at this time, he does seem interested in doing more shows outside L.A. in the near future. So, as with everything Brion, we’ll just have to wait and see if the stars align.

Want a few more shots? You're in luck!


UPDATED 2/15: Whoa! It appears someone recorded Tuesday night's full set! Listen to the whole thing below.

*After their set last night, I saw Bellerose as he was leaving and ran up to him excitedly jabbering about how much I loved his drumming, and then I saw Condos and could only seem to form enough words to say “your bass work is amazing,” probably sounding like a fool to both. Then again, shoving my foot in my mouth around people I respect is pretty par for the course, so...

Friday, February 09, 2024

Jesus jones live at the height of their early powers? Yes, please!

My history with Jesus Jones extends all the way back to the late '80s when the cover of the Liquidizer cassette caught my eye at a Sound Warehouse. A minute or two at the listening station convinced me I'd finally found something I'd longed for—a heavy rock band that was just as equally heavy a dance band, while retaining melody instead of turning down the more Industrial routes growing more and more popular at the time. 

I first saw the band in 1991 when I was reviewing their openers Ned's Atomic Dustbin both as a fan of that band and as an excuse to see the band I really loved headline. That era of the band's sound is probably my personal favorite, and last year I eagerly picked up a limited-edition LP of a 1990 show at The Metro—I literally waited for this full show to be released for years, always hoping that the smattering of live b-sides tracks recorded then might be released as a complete concert.*

Earlier this week Jesus Jones dropped a live recording from the tour that followed, from a show the band seems to unanimously agree (art least as far as I can see) that the show from the Trocadero in San Francisco stands as one of the group's favorite live experiences ever. After buying it and giving it a listen, I cans why they would. Give it a spin blow and consider adding it to your permanent collection if you dig it too. It is an older recording, and while I believe the Metro show benefitted from a proper recording rig—I thought this was recorded by WXRT's mobile unit, but can't find confirmation of that, so maybe my brain is faulty—this recording exhibits some of the hiss and slight muddiness of the time. But it sounds like "home" to my ears.

I was supposed to see Jesus Jones play last year just before my trip to see Blur at Wembley, but the show had to be postponed for logistical reasons. Luckily the band has sorted those issues out, are heading out back on the road, and will be playing on March 27 at Space, in Evanston.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Rockin' My Turntable in 2022.

No, it's not a typo: this is my 2022 list. I think this is the last time I’ll have to say “it’s never taken me this long to put together a year-end music list” … for real! But here you go, my best of 2022 list is finally here! 

One interesting aspect of putting this particular list together was that my memory had 2022 as a slighter year for music, but once I rounded up the finalists, there were so many it took me several hours to cut this list down to the usual 20 slots. 

It’s also interesting to evaluate 2022 listening at the dawn of 2024, since I have a much better handle on what actually made a lasting impression, effectively balancing out the recency bias and communal peer pressure most lists released before the end of the year they’re tracking routinely display. 

There’re a few acts I was sure would be on here in 2022 that didn’t make the cut (sorry, Wet Leg) and some of those truly surprised me (I mean, The Smile released the Radiohead album many of us had been waiting for, and they're not on the list either). I also noticed there’s a lot of guitar-based stuff on here. Historically my lists are a bit more varied in that respect. Obviously, the endlessly recurring reports of rock’s demise continue to be more histrionic than historic. But I also think that the poppier spheres of the musical world never quite regained the forward momentum of the pre-pandemic years, so less from that realm made a lasting impression. But music is cyclical, and last year saw some more interesting pop releases, so let's hope that continues; but in 2022, it looks like it was rock and/or roll (mostly) saving my soul, y’know?

As always, this list is in no real particular oder (save one album) and since so much time has passed, I'm keeping the write-ups brief. But if any of this looks intriguing, please give the acts a listen ... I think any one of these albums would be a terrific addition to just about any collection.

Fun Days

This was the biggest surprise of 2022 for me, and remains a release I listen to frequently. As I mentioned in another recent review, I usually have one album at the top of my mental rolodex to answer the endless queries of "what's good? / what should I listen to?" and Ne'er-do-well's Fun Days was my go-to answer in 2022. These days? I'm eagerly awaiting their sophomore album and hoping that eventually they break out of the Austin scene to play a show closer to Chicago.

Tamar Berk
start at the end

The Inflorescence
Remember What I Look Like

My year-end lists historically top out at 20 releases, so to "technically" stay within those self-imposed boundaries, I've grouped a few acts together. If you somehow haven't read anything I've written about Tamar Berk, her album start at the end is an excellent place begin sampling her perfectly crafted pieces of guitar-driven pop. The Inflorescence also traffic in catchy guitar tunes, with the clear stamp of catchy '90s indie rock. Some say it's the sound that's (thankfully) sweeping the nation! And anyone who gravitated towards Matador releases in the early '90s hears a whole lotta that label's DNA in a striking swathe of similarly-minded contemporary groups. Why am I grouping these two acts together? They also share DNA—Berk is mom to The Inflorescence's singer and guitarist, Tuesday Denekas.

Keep For Cheap

I loved this album so much I bought the vinyl right after I received the promo for it. And I've continued to regularly spin this album both on my hard disc and on my turntable. Crisp, melodic songwriting causes this one to whoosh forward to the front of the line any time I need a little upbeat reflective time.

Extra Arms
What Is Even Happening Right Now?

Ryan Allen put out an unbelievable number of solo and side projects during the pandemic, but he made enough room to also release a stunning blast of nigh-perfect hard-guitar pop by his band Extra Arms.


MUNA's playful pop is better-known today than when this album was initially released, so it may be less an undiscovered gem to many. But if you haven't listened to this in a while (or at all!) give it a spin today and familiarize yourself with its positive ebullient charms.

Deaf Lingo

This Italian quartet turns their guitars way, way, way up while keeping the energy at a similar level. They've got big Superchunk / Bob Mould feels filtered through a new millennial lens, and its just too much fun.

The Handcuffs
Burn The Rails

Farewell Captain

Pink Frost
Until the Summer Comes

These were three excellent releases from three long-running Chicago acts, all of whom I've enjoyed following along with since each group's genesis. The Handcuffs have got your power-pop crossed with Nuggets-rawk and glammy swagger needs covered. Farewell Captain took years to finalize Amends, and that care shows in the quantum leap forward that band made (and they were already pretty great). And Pink Frost create howling vortexes of guitar squall pinned to driving rhythms creating a focused attack few will want to escape from.

2nd Grade
Easy Listening

So, yeah. This was on a ton of lists, and while it is easily identified as somewhat sentimental indie rock, their influences are aces, and the end result s familiar while being completely new. 

Household Name

Super-duper catchy, Momma takes a few musical cues from Weezer while side-stepping anything too silly. They then turn up the guitars around the sweet yet powerful vocals cutting through the curtains oof the song's arrangements, and they've got me in their grasp. Did I mention super-duper catchy?

The Brontosaur


Both of these albums are awesome, and both of these albums is HEAVY. Also worth noting, both albums are heavy slabs of vinyl (and both bands clearly embrace the ethos of a time when everything was analog, album covers and LP sleeves ruled the world, and heavy prog-rockers wandered the Earth. Dig into 'em and dig 'em both!


Oddly enough, this album took the longest to get its hooks into me. But once I unlocked it for myself its genius continues to floor me.

The Year That Never Came

I don't think this was widely released until 2023, but I picked up this final, long-gestating Assassins album the second I uncovered it online. In my case, Amazon had the MP3s for sale, so I'm counting it as a 2022 release. I am also clearly writing anything I can to not address why this album means so much to me. Instead I'll offer a fun fact: Assassins were the first band I wrote about when I was auditioning for Chicagoist! Who knew what amazing new worlds would unlock for me over the next 12 years that followed me writing that piece...

Neal Francis
Sentimental Garbage

A Chicago musician that stayed under my radar until this album, but if you're anything like me, the notion of Dave Fridmann producing a funk-pop album was too good to not listen to, and far far better than I expected it would be. Nowadays I pick up everything Francis is putting down the second he releases it.

Ghost Funk Orchestra
A New Kind Of Love

My absolute go-to for months and months and months for those days I needed to escape to a mental meadow-space and just vibe.

Don't Know What You're in Until You're Out

I play this album a lot and it never gets old. Is there higher praise to be given that that? Augusta Koch and her crew of merry musicians kick out jam after jam and I eagerly jump right into the center of the web they're spinning every single time.

Signs of Life

Buzzy catchy Britty brash guitars slinging against cabinets and crashing into each other while shower-hummable melodies wend their way to and fro? Yes, please.

The Backseat Lovers
Waiting To Spill

What do we get when you combine Radiohead Vox with a nod to early Bright Eyes and no fear of cranking up the volume? This is what you get. I happened to see them live on this tour and think they could be mega mega one day. 

Gill Brothers Band
Gill Brothers Band

Daniel Romano's Outfit
La Luna

Gill Brothers Band might look like a bunch of roots rockers, but this is vibrant, lively stuff that effortlessly swings while rocking hard. Danial Romano traffics similar terrain on La Luna, but eschews discrete tunes for a largely seamless song cycle. Both album are just terrific.

Wild Pink

This is one of those I throw on to get lost in. It starts off slyly quiet and slowly draws you in so that by the time to hit the insistent repetition of title track a third of the way in, it acts as a winch drawing you tightly in line with the rest of the album's ebbs and flows.

Carly Rae Jepsen
The Loneliest Time

It's Carly Rae Jepsen in full-on soft-disco sad-girl-with-a-smile mode. Of course I love it.

Whoa! You read everything until the end?! Thank you! And I promise that my best of 2023 list isn't far behind—I swear!

Monday, January 29, 2024

Those January blahs.

The sun is shining this afternoon and it's a welcome change from the weeks of gray skies and freezing temps, driving even the hardiest of Midwesterners indoors for far longer than is probably healthy. It wasn't until a few weeks into January that I even accepted just how negative an impact the weather was having on me, until I shared my private concerns with my partner. I mean, it's winter in Chicago—who am I to complain about a known quantity? But the truth is that it's been a really hard month, and I've felt more penned in than usual. While I still hit my 10,000 steps goal every single day, there are spans of days where I never leave the house, and pace the miles in solitude, following a closed loop around the interior of my abode. I have never been so thankful to have a long hallway smack dab in the middle of my first-floor apartment. It is a lifesaver (and thank goodness there is no one below me to annoy)!

But I digress.

It's been a psychologically rough and dreary month, and I suspect I am not in the minority when it comes to feeling like that. So this is a gentle reminder you are not alone in feeling like that. And on a sunshine-y day like this one, take the opportunity to soak in the sun and store up that energy! We're all gonna get through it together, y'know? 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Not a great day in music media.

In the aughts—between Pitchfork and the AV Club—Chicago was ground zero for music criticism and everyone writing or booking venues or playing in bands in this city at the time benefited in that collaborative community. And I'd argue that everyone in the music writing scene in Chicago at that time influenced the direction of the scene and ultimately the mainstream tastes that remain near the tops of the charts today.

I've felt no need to comment on the recent state of either of those once-mighty sites—it's not fair to constantly hold he Imperial Period of stuff like that as a reasonable measure against how they do decades later, especially when under the leadership of coldly corporate raiders.

Regardless, the news of Pitchfork being merged into GQ is incredibly alarming news, effectively killing one of the last major centers of music criticism (regardless of your opinion of said criticism, every outlet's survival benefits us all). And in full transparency,  I do still have friends that work there, so I know the staff has been fighting the good fight, but I fear for all their livelihoods in the wake of this crushing announcement. Especially in a sector of the job market that is already overburdened by the overly-talented unemployed.

Thank gawd Stereogum went indie again, and there are a few smaller sites that might benefit from running more original pieces and fewer cut-and-pastes of press releases to help fill the inevitably massive void left by P4K. And of course I still believe in the power of independent blogs, and hope other individual voices and smaller arts sites find new readers hungry for their guidance. So there are still a good number of us out there fighting the good fight.

But it's still a very, very dark day for people who love music and music writing.

Friday, January 05, 2024

Don't call 'em resolutions, call it a check-in.

Heya, hi there, how're ya doin' today? 

Welcome to an extremely brief check-in, wherein I decide that I will endeavor to get both my personal best music of 2022 and 2023 lists upon this space before the end of January 2024. 

Speaking of 2024, additionally, I plan to write for Third Coast Review on a more frequent basis (I'm shooting to share at least one music-related post there a week, but we'll see how that goes). 

And finally—and this will make longtime readers hold their sides as they fall over in stitch-making guffaws aplenty—I resolve to become a regular visitor to the gym this year. After this Saturday I'll be all vaxxed up and boosted to protect against the most common ailments we have to worry about these days, and I think it's time to put aside my anxiety of working out in an enclosed space with other people and embrace the return to an even healthier, stronger (and I think, happier) me!

Also, do not be surprised if you start to see more short, personal posts begin to appear as I re-embrace the kind of writing that started this site in the first place, over two decades ago.

2023 was one of the best years I've had in a very, very long time—2024 is looking to be even more amazing!