Monthly Archives: September 2009

Thoughts on Music Reviewers and Bloggers in General

Posted by Jason Petros on September 24, 2009
Reviews / 5 Comments

I’m a consistent blog reader, and I try my best to keep in touch with what’s new and exciting in the industry, Chicago-land or otherwise – and what I’ve been noticing is that there are three types of music reviews.  I’m doing this to show how I choose to critique your music – and to diagnose issues that I have with the ever increasing amateur writer out there.  My ultimate goal, with independent music is critique using two points: 1. Present it to readers explaining what is good about it or what’s bad about it – regardless of genre or personal taste and 2.  Give my opinion on why I do or do not like it.  These things are important – cuz maybe I’m not into industrial funk – but I can tell my readers what it sounds like, and then offer up my opinion on what works on the album and what doesn’t work on the album – it’s a fine line, but I do my best to straddle it. Now, obviously there are different opinions to be had, I’m just trying to give you all an idea of what I do and why I choose to do it this way. 

The track by track listing

This is a review that goes through an album track by individual track and expounds a sentence or two on the sound, but more often than not is just a summary of each song – ie; what it’s about, where it falls on the album, and sometimes, if the reviewer has done their homework – how each song fits the overall theme and/or mood of the artistic piece.  This last portion has the distinction of sometimes seeking out meaning where it does not lie.

Argument For/Against

With an established artist, this can sometimes work well – giving people an idea of the songs they may want to buy or download before going out and spending the money on a full album; unfortunately though, to me, this type of review is incredibly boring.  I don’t want a plot summary of the album, I want to know why I should listen to it – what is the appeal?  Plus, for the independent artist – track listing is sometimes last on their mind – more important is showing off their sound, the presentation of their cultivated baby.  So for me, this makes me want to describe them with a broad brush –which brings me to my next type:

The Repeat Review

Believe it or not, reviewers receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails a day from artists seeking some type of exposure.  If the artist is smart, they’ll also send a quick descriptor of themselves/their album so the reviewer knows what they are getting into.  The lazier critic will take these biographies and summaries, switch a few words out, and voila, there you go – it’s a home spun review from somebody too busy to listen, or too lazy to write.  Of course there are a multitude of reasons this may happen, but a true independent music critic will give the music an unbiased listen – and report what they heard.  

Argument For/Against

Well, this can save a lot of time – and we are all guilty of it at one point or another in our careers but it does a dis-service to the artist and to the reader.  If I reprinted everything I’ve been sent – you would think every single band reviewed has played the biggest venues for the biggest crowds and they are like totally super awesome and I can’t believe you haven’t heard of them!!!  Unfortunately, every band is not “embryonic and soulful on stage” and a lot of times it definitely doesn’t follow through on the album.  The biography is nice – it gives me a base line to start with.  For example, if it’s a DIY record – ok, I’m not going to expect it to sound like John Mayer’s new release – I’ll give it some leeway on the sound and I’ll concentrate on another selling point.  Point is, bios are great – but they aren’t reviews. 

Finally – The Broad Summary

My favorite type – and the kind I find most useful for critiquing independent music that’s never been heard before.  See, lots of times the artists I review are not yet established – maybe they have a bio, maybe not – sometimes I just get a list of 3 songs on a burnt CD.  I don’t usually get a ton of stuff to work with – so I concentrate on the sound – maybe the lyrics – possibly the recording technique – the musicianship/performance on the album.  It gives me a multitude of options to sell the independent musician’s music for them; good or bad.   It gives me an opportunity, as a writer, to push myself and come up with inventive descriptors and innovative techniques to give a reader the feel of the music – without even hearing it.   

So, what do you all think?  Am I right here?  Wrong?  Do you even care?

Whats the difference between…

Posted by Jason Petros on September 21, 2009
On Our Radar / 1 Comment

A rapper and a right wing conservative talk show personality?  Apparently not much – here’s a very funny article the New York Times had just put out:

Footlight Frenzy – power pop we’ve all heard before…

Posted by Jason Petros on September 18, 2009
Reviews / 2 Comments

ffFootlight Frenzy comes charging onto the scene with power chords, slamming, cymbal heavy drumming and a vocal that focuses on energy just as much as melody. Their music stems from a long line of Chicago power punk outfits including Fall Out Boy, Snowsera, The Academy is…, and Lucky Boys Confusion; it’s a happy structure that has stood the test of time.  Almost every song on the cd they submitted (untitled and burnt, more a conglomeration of songs than an actual honest to gosh EP or LP) is under 3 and a half minutes, with the exception of “Jumping Cliffs”, a jumpy, relatively slower tune with a great chorus.  There isn’t too much that deviates from the typical structure here – essentially they write short pop songs with heavily distorted guitars, quick drumming, very catchy and very hook laden melodies.  So, yes, they can be heard on the radio, but I’m hoping for some real experimentation here.  This is all good, and will probably earn them tons of little teenage fans bobbing their heads in time to the snare drum that clips away at breakneck speed; but for the rest of us, the true appreciators – there is something to be desired (at least they didn’t add a couple of synthesizers and call themselves electro-pop). They do touch on some nice vocal harmony; but don’t do it enough to have it stand out. I’m looking forward to hearing something that’s a little bit more cohesive and a bit more professional.  Here’s to their upcoming EP, April Snow being the next big power pop thing to come out of the city.

Chicago’s Independent Music Review News…

Posted by Jason Petros on September 17, 2009
Reviews / 1 Comment

Check it out, CIMR Nation!  We were mentioned back in July on an article about where to find local music – truly humbled to be mentioned here! Thanks!!

Online Music Discovery 101

On Our Radar: Hammertorch – Lions Don’t Cry

Posted by Jason Petros on September 17, 2009
On Our Radar / 22 Comments

bush_dance2hammertorchIt’s a countrified sound, a truly American twang delightfully merged with rock and roll.  When I hear Hammertorch, a picture pops into my head – illustrating their sound.  Take a mental walk with me if you will, and picture this: we casually stroll into a saloon – not an old timey saloon from the Old West, but a fancier place that says “saloon” on the outside, but on the inside has nice tables, lush padding on the stools, and is regularly visited by the upper echelon.  Sitting at the bar is our former President in Chief, casually puffing on a cigar – and, after some country music comes on, does a fancy little dance – just like those little gif’s your friends always email you with – it’s a goofball dance both arms at right angles, going up and down and back and forth, and his legs taking turns supporting his body  – think of that hilarious Russian dance your friends like to do when their drunk –which consistently results in them falling and you laughing.   Ok, so where is this going?  Hammertorch doesn’t take itself too seriously, but, unwillingly, the music always gives you pause.  It makes you stop and say, there is something magically deep to this fun music – there are secrets lying in wait that we have yet to discover.  The discovery to which you are searching is the overarching quality of musicianship and songwriting.  These guys are steeped in the knowledge of those who came before them; and certainly indulge their influences – but are not so pretentious that they aren’t above ordering a domestic beer and calling the barkeep “darlin’”.  See; they are immediately lovable and affable –but underneath the soft exterior lies some darker meaning – some sinister truth, and some painful loss.  Once you can get past the name, and the album cover, you’ll find a nice little gem, sitting proudly, displaying it’s roots and not falling, like so many others into the “alt-country – I’m a singer/songwriter who wants to be like Wilco so bad I recruited an upright bassist , a violinist, and a lap steel player to augment my amateur acoustic guitar playing”.  Instead, Hammertorch is more of a rock band with a little bit of twang in their step – not as pop as Kings of Leon; but they are certainly on their way.  I highly recommend “Too Little Too Late” for all your ears.

I Want You…

Posted by Jason Petros on September 16, 2009
Reviews / 4 Comments

untitledTo tell me who the top 10 Chicago Bands are of 2009 thus far.  I have a pretty good ear for things, and keep my feelers consistently out there for new talent – but I’m looking for recommendations from you, the average listeners, the bands, and the loyal readers to tell me who I might be missing.  Any genre, only rule is they have to be from Chicago; and have to have garnered some sort of attention – in other words, don’t tell me about your little brother’s band and how they are “sooooo great, they rocked Reggie’s the other night and it was like, totally awesome, and you should review them and feature them and write about them because they are super cool and nice guys!”


If you have a suggestion – feel free to leave a comment, email me, find me on twitter (@chimusicreview), or even send me a regular ole’ piece of mail – check out the submissions page for that. 

Later today I’ll have reviews posted for a promising young band out of Tennessee named Hammertorch and also an interesting little disc form a band called Footlight Frenzy.

Pervertable Tongues – shock rock with an art twist – Does it work?

Posted by Jason Petros on September 15, 2009
Reviews / 23 Comments

syntacCOVER(BANGFINAL)Shock rock had its heyday this decade past, and thankfully, has not returned in the popular culture with the vehement need for attention that it lusted for in years.  It can be argued that we are no longer shocked by these cries for notice – the usual suspects of sex and drugs have mercilessly been beaten into our mainstream lives; and as a result, they no longer serve up the gasps they once bathed in.  Enter Pervertable Tongues – right away, the name gives you an expectant idea of their sound.  They are “the sound of Avant Pop…the fury of the working class…the distaste of mainstream convetions…” – now, each of these could probably be argued for or against the band, but I’ll leave the political and theoretical rhetoric out of the review. 

To give full disclosure – I have short patience for Avant-garde pieces of art in any form – in my mind, you can live and create outside of the mainstream without completely turning your back on it – see “Radiohead”.  Many times, I feel that artists use the word as an excuse more than as a form – they can’t play very well, so they play noise and slap an artsy name on it to impress those who will never listen.  Now, you can take a form, and play with it until that form no longer resembles itself, but with numerous songs mentioning the word ‘rape’ Pervertable Tongues don’t impress me; but they seem more like a beginning writer who thinks having his characters curse a lot will make them seem more real, when, in reality, this only serves to show 1. How unrealistic the characters actually are, and 2. How naïve the writer is who conceived such characters.  There is a time and a place, and if the foul language and artsy takes on the modern world serve the character, or in this case, the song, then so be it – I applaud you’re authenticity and your fresh viewpoint.  Unfortunately, the constant brow beatings of the unfortunate, and the over-abused feminist theme on this debut “Syntactical Makeover”, push it to the bottom of my pile. 

On the bright side this is music, and the punk stylings fit the trite subject matter.  There are splatterings of very cool vocal effects and lots of neat little melody and counter melody going on.  A+ for the noisy punk reverberated vocals and pounding guitar lines.  D for the subject matter.

Men Who Listen – “Men Who Listen” Album Review

Posted by Jason Petros on September 11, 2009
Reviews / 1 Comment

30698907Men Who Listen are a poor man’s REM.  They are very good at arpeggiated guitar lines, and all the members are obviously accomplished musicians – their timing is right on spot, and all the notes are played perfectly.    The arrangements are quality, especially on the minor key “(Dead & Buried) In Your Love”; where a very nice electric piano creeps it’s way in and out.  All the harmonies hit the sweet spot of thickening up the lead vocal without overpowering it, and at times, you don’t even realize it’s multiple voices singing – just one rope of song, made of separate and equal threads, all gluing everything together.  

Where REM’s Michael Stipe succeeds is where Men Who Listen fall short.  Stipe’s oblique lyrics offered themselves to many different interpretations, but on songs like “Look but Don’t Touch” – MWL go for the obvious and tired: “There she goes walking down the street, the kind of girl you have to meet, but you can’t say a word to her, you’re just a tin can amateur – look, look but don’t touch, (yeah yeah you know you want to yeah)”   Again, everything is perfectly in tune, right on time, succinct and rehearsed – but the perfection of the album is also its downfall – it just doesn’t force the listener to guess about what is going to happen next.  Although pleasant to listen to, there’s no inherent drama in the songs – this is due to the consistency of everything – there are no triumphant highs and no rock bottoms in the music – it stays safely in the middle of the road. 

It’s a good, easy listening rock album that’d be a safe bet to play with the whole family around – nobody’s going to take any offense to the sound, and nobody will complain about the quality – but unfortunately, nobody’s going to take major notice that it’s playing either.

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Live Music Friday, September 11th

Posted by Jason Petros on September 10, 2009
Reviews / No Comments

REGO Record Release party, with Elsinor, Julia Klee, GO and DJ iRon, Friday, September 11, 9 p.m., 17+, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, $10 via Ticketweb

Here’s a little bit about Rego, from their website:

REGO is Rebecca’s musical project after self-releasing a very successful solo EP titled Learning To Be Lonely in the spring of 2007. The EP marked the introduction of Chicago based singer/songwriter Rebecca Rego and expressed her ability to write poignant songs with delicate melodies.

On From The Royal Arcade, Rebecca drops her first name from the title and embarks on larger adaptations of her acoustic songs and themes of adolescence and images of changing seasons. Accompanied by a stellar cast of musicians, REGO is comprised by Rebecca Rego (Vocals/Guitar), Stephanie Whiton (Drums), Michael Biederman (Guitar), Mike Przygoda (Keys/Multi-Instruments) and Renee Serritella (Bass). From the opening track, Astronauts, to the final track Frozen Cars, Rebecca’s sultry vocals are front and center and a clear focus throughout the album. It is the larger tones from the band, however, that blend seamlessly together and change the overall dimensions of the album from a solo folk acoustic sound to a self-actualized band called REGO. The band has combed over this music, with the help of Engineer Producer Ryan Staples. They spent months in his and drummer/wife Stephanie Whiton’s West Town apartment recording/mixing all the final versions of these songs.

Since its inception, REGO has supported such acts as The Bottle Rockets, City & Colour, Death Vessel, The Rosebuds and many more. They have performed at famed Chicago venues such as The Metro, Double Door, Schubas, Lakeshore Theater, and Martyrs. With their upcoming release, REGO hopes to take their sound to all corners of the globe and hopes that it has a place in your own Royal Arcade. 

They are a good band if you are into the alt-country scene – and her voice is very interesting – I’ve reviewed them here.

Seeking: Non-Beatles Lovers

Posted by Jason Petros on September 10, 2009
Reviews / 2 Comments

Hey all – since we are all about independent music here – and since I just read this article from the BBC, it got me to thinking – is there anybody out there who doesn’t like the Beatles?

Every year, around this time, an argument begins circling around literary circles about our current Literary Canon – who’s in, who shouldn’t be in, and why.  So, let’s start our own canon here – a musical canon – not necessarily Chicago-Centric, but world-wide – lets limit the genre by a few things – no world music, no classical music – other than that, everything is fair game from Metal to Country and all the genres inbetween. 

Mine would probably include The Beatles, Led Zepplin, The Ramones, and Marvin Gaye – to name a few.  These are some of the folks I see as really impacting how music is sung, played and heard in my mind.  What do you all think?  Who should be included in our Canon?