As a Quick Heads up…

Posted by Jason Petros on September 08, 2009
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Hello all you loyal Chicago’s Independent Music Review readers – I know that we’ve been extremely weak on our reviews as of late.  As a quick update – a few months ago we tried to raise a bit of money so we could revamp the website a bit and maybe take on another writer.  Unfortunately, we did not achieve our goal, so the redesign has been put on the back burner for a bit – and obviously, unless we can recruit a real quality writer who doesn’t mind working for free – it’s going to be a one man show for a while.  I have received a multitude of cd’s and emails in the recent months and am working my way through them one by one.  I’m a pretty fast worker, but this is probably going to take a while.  In order to do so in the most efficient way, I am going to get through the mountain of physical cd’s first, then review the digital downloads sent to me, and then visit individual web pages/myspace pages.  Anyway, I do appreciate all the communication I’ve received and will be posting as many reviews as I possibly can in the upcoming months. Please, tell your friends about us and feel free to leave a donation if possible – every little bit helps!!

In the meantime – please allow me to direct you towards two other quality music blogs that I help out with: – A Indie Rock blog out of Milwaukee, WI – and – a huge music site based out of New York and Chicago. 

Your friendly neighborhood reviewer,


Hotel Eden – A Way Back Home Review

Posted by Jason Petros on September 08, 2009
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With the advent of relatively cheap recording equipment, there has been a complete rebirth in how music is being recorded and distributed these days.  Granted, this may be old news to some – but the DIY industry has come a long way since Fostex 8 track recorders – leading to a proliferation of loop based recording artists.  Anybody can make music – but not everybody can make music well.  You can buy a complete archive of drum sounds for ten dollars on a cd, and with the smallest bit of talent can lay down a guitar riff or piano sound over those stock drums, sing a melody, and voila, you have yourself an EP.  Unfortunately, the relative ease of doing so has, in some ways, lead to the degradation of music as an art form; because for every Passion Pit, there are 35 other bands/individuals that don’t have the slightest clue about arrangement, holding the listener’s interest, the relationship of tension to release, or the importance of dynamics; and this doesn’t even get into EQ, or compression – or other production techniques that would fly under the newbie’s radar. 

Hotel Eden understands the art of creating a song.  Formerly of the Lab Rats, a Columbus, Ohio based beat production team, Kelly Warner has provided us with an interesting collection of songs complete with hip hop break beats, plinky piano lines and well thought out melodies.  He’s a little bit of a throwback to DJ Shadow’s older days with an MPC, though not as gritty – evident in the head nodding beat which unfurls nicely in the first track, “Tell Me Where You’ve Been”.  What makes Warner’s 5 song EP stand out above the rest of the fold is his attention to simplistic detail.  Although working with loops, his moving songcraft keeps you interested in a number of ways – be it a slight change in the melody, a kick drum drop out, or a moving acoustic guitar loop. His handle of dynamics and the obvious foundation in hip hop beat production gives the music a foot hold in a number of different worlds without sounding too trite (Matthew Santos?) or too much like a just a background track.  He has successfully invoked sentiment and urban credibility in this EP, and I applaud him for it. 

“A Way Back Home”, presented by Solar Set Records, is not another electro-pop fake Postal Service album – this is a much more down to earth, urban, and cinematic pop soundscape with an appeal to people of all ages; steeped in the loop based history of music – but as interesting and intrinsic as a full blown band could be.

I Think Everything I Say album Review

Posted by Jason Petros on September 04, 2009
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tape-outlineMy first thoughts when listening to I Think Everything I Say’s self-titled album was wow, the vocals are almost dead on for a pre- Dude Ranch Blink 182 – without all the fart and penis jokes.  The music that envelops these sometimes pitchy vocals is straight outta the mid-90’s: it’s alternative rock, with straight forward drumming, arrangements reminiscent of Soundgarden or even Nirvana – glued together with bass playing that stays safely in the box.   After doing a little research on the band, it turns out fellow Rock and Roll critic Jim Derogatis had the same thoughts:

“With roots stretching back to their time at Bradley University in Peoria, guitarists Carl Johnson and Jon Trainor, drummer Zach Dresser and bassist Matt Heston clearly are children of the alternative ’90s: Their trumpeted list of musical heroes includes the Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam and Third Eye Blind.”

There are some standouts on the record, including the excellent final track, “This is a Hospital for Sinners”, but unfortunately, due to the obvious influences and lack of a true lead singer, I don’t know that these guys are destined for anything more than some garage rock and a couple of gigs at some of the mid-major rock venues in the city.  It’s a good introduction, but I’m waiting on something with a bit more of the grit from their punk side, and a lot less of a bygone era.  You’ve got it in you guys, just push a little harder.

The Hudson Branch – Tightrope Walker

Posted by Jason Petros on September 03, 2009
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hudsonbranchStaying on that ‘ethereal tip’ as the kids are prone to saying, the previously reviewed group, Hudson Branch has come out with their newest album, Tightrope Walker.  I had an itch for them to bring the energy up a bit on their newest album, and they have successfully turned their backs on my request, but none the less have offered up another ambient-heavy, sad, melody driven pop album that builds upon their latter efforts. 

Tightrope Walker moves exactly where you expect it to, there are no slamming beats or shifting key changes; it is a tightly put together album.  Bass lines are packaged nicely in between two chord guitar riffs, (see Clouds); and the lead singer, Cobey Bienert’s, melodies do their best to wind and weave through the spaces left open.  The result is a finely produced record that limps it’s way into your heart.  It will never push above 140 beats per minute, but I think that is asking a bit much from a band that is so indebted to the slow burning singer/songwriter based bands aforementioned.  All but one of the songs clock in under 5 minutes, and every single one of them is a step into a lush forest of sound, including tasteful horns, pads and solid back-beats. 

hudsonbranchcoverIt’s an attractive package that doesn’t necessarily pop out at you, or grow on you – the melodies are not immediately catchy, and the music is smoldering emotion, not out-right brigade of sap.  They’ve stuck to what they know here, and luckily for us listeners, it’s very easy on the ears. As the commenter had mentioned in my review of Flights, this is another album that is poised to have much success in this transitional season.  As summer signs off and gives way to the fall, keep an eye out for more excellent tunes coming out of our great city.

Flights – Living Bodies

Posted by Jason Petros on September 02, 2009
Reviews / 4 Comments

33038595Flights, an ambient rock band, from Chicago by way of Milwaukee, has been taking copious notes whilst they listen to the likes of Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Death Cab for Cutie, and other Brian Eno-esque musicians. 

They push the envelope between “this is too weird to listen to” and “my parents might enjoy this album”; and they do so successfully.  Piano based, but not afraid to jump into hard guitar jams, or open themselves up to sonic experimentation; they have leap-frogged any Coldplay references.  There are cinematic builds and emotional outlets throughout the music, Winter 1 being a fantastic example.  The play between tension and release, supported by an off putting (but serenely awesome) drum beat sends the listener into an emotional spiral.  It drives and dips, drawing in upon itself and eventually grows and blossoms into a complete being keeping your interest with stereo delays, some drones and a simple jam-band style guitar riff.  Major props for production fellas, you have dually impressed this careful listener. 

At first listen, singer Eric Hillman’s vocals don’t seem to fit, but, like the rest of the album, they grow on you and attach themselves steadfastly, eventually landing, with perfect emotion, in Old Wings.  When he sings, “I squint my eyes at the setting sun, won’t come inside, won’t rest my head, until my work is done.” – you feel it, you understand it, and you believe it.  He is speaking truth here and it’s never been sung with more beauty. 

It’s a quality album, with fantastic production – one that should keep audiences beckoning for more. 

They play tonight (September 2nd)  at the Empty Bottle at 9PM.

Sony Walkman turns 30 today!

Posted by Jason Petros on July 01, 2009
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Holy crap, I didn’t realize I was just 5 years younger than one of the most innovative personal listening devices ever created! Pre-dating the Ipod, Sony held market share all the way into the 2000’s with variations on it’s prototype. There’s a great article about it here.

I remember the days when I would romp around listening to Vanilla Ice, Makavelli, and MC Hammer thinking I was the coolest kid on the block. Not to mention begging my parents to buy batteries and headphones every two weeks!

What’s your fondest Walkman memory?


Face Time Police – the Definition of Deviation

Posted by Jason Petros on June 24, 2009
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As soon as I see something along the lines of “this is a DIY recording” – I immediately prepare my ears for a unprofessional thrashing of recording concepts – bass that’s too loud, close to zero panning, and/or vocals that are too quiet, too loud, don’t use any compression, and are generally pitchy – and that doesn’t even get into the drums. This record surprised me – the recording quality is actually clear – and most of the elements sit in the right place. They describe themselves as “pop macchiato” – and I can’t say I disagree with the assessment. The lead vocals sound a lot like Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong, and the music doesn’t stray too far on the experimental side – songs when they push electronics (Seashells) aren’t overpowered by the studio and contain just enough ‘live’ instruments to keep you from forgetting that it’s a band playing this music, not a DJ. Song to song I can’t say I agree with all the choices – the misguided rap rock ‘Minute Made’ falls on the cheesy side of things, but there’s a rocking slap bassline in it which (kind of) redeems itself – not by much though. It’s cliché chorus is enough to make me cringe: “trippin’ on these girls like they’re giving off ecstasy, I’m about to blow like an airborne hand grenade”…in less than 10 seconds that’s a shout out to 50 cent and Linkin Park – I have a hard time taking that seriously. Overall this is a solid album – and it’s definitely commendable to do a lot of things well, but my advice to FTP would be – pick a genre and stick with it – you can be pretty decent at a lot of things, but most of the time this means you aren’t great at any of them. Songs like None of the Below, Seashells, and Nothing Left to Break all sound like they could be part of a bigger, greater album, but the final two, “Minute Made” and “Of Man and Monster” sound like you all are just showing off your songwriting/arranging chops, and they are good, but they aren’t great and it would serve everyone better to grab an identity and stick with it. I suppose that in a way, this is the point of the album, the Definition of Deviation, but I feel like I’d rather listen to an album straight through than skip over songs that don’t “fit” with the rest – either way, this is a well recorded, great album from a good band; and I’m looking forward to a full length in the near future. You can find them at CDbaby, Itunes, and obviously Myspace.

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Rabble, Rabble

Posted by Jason Petros on June 22, 2009
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The first thing you notice on this EP is the production – it sounds like it was recorded from the next room over (everything is small and tinty – like a muffled scream) – pretend you live underneath a band, and they practice every evening at 7pm – this is what the record sounds like – I want to say that the music sounds pretty good, but the quality of the recording really brings things down a notch. I am of the opinion that a band is, essentially, a business – the music is your product as and you are your own board of directors – and as such, you must be ready and willing to sell your product at the highest possible quality. If the majority of bands took their product and compared it to the industry standard, we would be able to weed out the weaklings, strengthening the market overall. Of course, this is not to say that some bands, because they don’t have the professional resources should quit now, but it’s all about presenting yourself in the very best light – unfortunately, bands will settle for something mediocre, expecting the people to listen for the music and nothing else. Luckily for Rabble, Rabble, I am one of these listeners. Their guitar players have some talent, playing off each other in ways that are predictable, but worthy – lead guitar riffs abound on the EP, and it’s a bit Rolling Stones of them to write consistently blues based rock. The harmonies could use a little work, but not too much, for a rock band, they are actually pretty good. Being a strictly local outfit, they are distributing the record through Reckless Records – it’s a good start, but a producer and a quiet studio would improve Rabble, Rabble’s sound exponentially.

Keith Masters – Discotheque EP

Posted by Jason Petros on June 22, 2009
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I’m not sure if the recent spat of electro upstarts (Paper Route, Passion Pit, Lady Gaga) is a quickly fading fad or a continuation/exploration into previously unknown music – but I like it. Keith Masters – who had shared the lead single with us back in January, (here), is planning on releasing his newest EP, “Discotheque” this coming July. The EP is a continuation of awesome – Keith rightfully gives the music the opportunity to shine – like I said before, his flow is similar to Kanye’s, but he doesn’t rely on any auto-tune – although the similarities are most evident on “I Love to Floss” – he stands more on his own as the EP continues. His choice of electro beats instead of the typical boom-bap makes him stand out above a lot of other “new/up and coming” rap artists. This album is made for the club, not ‘da club’ –it is created for the ultimate sound systems that can pump out bass below 50 hz – bass you feel more than you hear. The kicks are heavy – the snares are mini explosions of white noise – bass lines are dirty 8 bit synthesizers. The songs incorporate elements from House music and the thick textures Thom Yorke used on his solo album, “The Eraser”. Roto-toms and Korg Electribes roam the sound-scape adding glitches and pops in all the right places while leaving room for Keith’s flow. Speaking of which, he successfully inserts pop culture references – “got game like PS3” – giving all the suburban white kids something to rap back to the their friends while the live out their Asher Roth fantasies. The combination of strong production and strong lyrical ability make Keith a Chicago artist to watch.

On Our Radar – King Sparrow

Posted by Jason Petros on June 11, 2009
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Jim Derogatis, one of my favorite music reviewers, ended up reviewing this band before I had a chance – there are times when I have had contentions with what he has to say, but his support for local music is unyielding, so when I saw him say, “the trio already has made its mark on the local underground–the Windy City Rock Web site named it one of the best new bands last year–and the buzz is sure to grow louder with the release of the band’s debut EP”, my ears perked up a little. Clearly, these guys are a rock band. They are unique in that you can hear alot of different influences pushing through in their music – for example, the 60’s drum beat on “Good and Plenty” is an homage to the Beatles, and, in turn rhythm & blues, but the vocals and guitar work are a throwback to garage rock. It’s sort of like when you go to see a friend’s band at a bar, so you reluctantly oblige, but then you are in the middle of the dance floor spinning around with girls on either side of you – turns out to be one of the most surprisingly fun nights you’ve ever had. They have a strictly analog sound, which I can appreciate – in recent times, bands sometimes rely on new tricks and sounds to cover up with a lack of talent otherwise – King Sparrow isn’t like this – and luckily for us, they’re playing at Schubas on June 22nd so there’s not a reason in the world not to go see them. Hopefully we’ll be brought through the decades during their live show just as they do on their myspace page. I’ll be there – and I’ll see you there too.

Sightseers – King Sparrow