It’s a few days past the sell-by date, but I caught a great show this past weekend at Subterranean in Chicago’s hipster haven, Wicker Park. I arrived early, grabbed a $3.50 PBR and took in the sights and sounds of one of my favorite venues before the music set in. It was a 17+ show, so there was more shrieking than I was accustomed too, and, strangely, some actual dancing in the balcony. I suppose if the younger folks are good for anything it’s for amping up the energy for all us quickly surpassing our quarter life crisis.
Hotel Ahead opened with a solid set of songs. Their Villa Park home grown version of indie rock did a good job of keeping the crowd entertained even if they spilled water onto one of their amps mid song (ouch!). I was salivating a little over the lead guitarist’s orange Stratocaster – which, by all accounts had a clearer, purer and better tone than the guitar he began the set with. The singer’s punkish and whiskey tenor wasn’t out of tune and he did a good job of pounding through the tunes. The rhythm section was solid, nothing too crazy to speak of, but kept the beat and kept it strong. I was trying to listen for a little double kick drum action, but sadly, never got it.
Brighton, MA – has a fantastic sense of dynamics. Although led by an acoustic guitar toting troubadour, they do not sound like O.A.R. or Dave Matthews – which is both surprising and awesome. I have to say that I was more impressed with the simplistic nature of the songs, but everything came together and worked like clockwork. This is a touring band who knows preciscely who they are and what the stand for. Their lead singer looks like a mix between Eddie Vedder and Shooter Jennings, and has a great baritone voice to boot – mad respect for putting on a great set.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as enamored with The Appleseed Cast. I suppose it takes a certain type of listener to be able to pay strict attention to instrumental prog rock music (think Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky) at a live venue, and they had me for a little while. While listening to the album though, it’s not just the form of their songs that I enjoy, but it’s the recordings that really get me. The snares that morph from super loud and reverb addled to small and tinny are just a small example of what could never be emulated in a live show. I, and the audience included stood at attention for some of the larger builds off the new album, but the vocals, again did not have the same power they do on the record.
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!
There are three really great shows upcoming in the city – one of which is a truly amazing band that I can’t wait to see live, The Appleseed Cast, playing tomorrow night (June 26th) at Subterranean – for those of you who can’t make it I’ll have a live review up and posted of the show as soon as I can. The other two are previously reviewed Those Darlins, playing at the Beat Kitchen on July 17th, and also playing on July 17th is Makeshift Prodigy, headlining Metro for the second time this year. Links to video, music, and tickets soon to come. Makeshift Prodigy and Those Darlins are both featured on Metromix as one of the top 25 shows to see in July – including the likes of Beyonce (I know, I know, I thought the same thing – but nobody said Metromix was the best guide to awesome music, did they?) and Green Day.
The best part about being a music reviewer is the music. Besides the obvious idiocy of that statement, you have to understand that besides getting free music – 80% of it really isn’t that great, or fun to listen to. Every now and again though – somebody will throw you a disc to listen to before it’s even been released to the public. Luckily for me, I’ve been blessed with a recent sprinking of great tunes. This band is one of the more exciting one’s I’ve heard in a while – and the album, is fantastic. If you have a little bit of extra cash – visit the website and order a copy as soon as you can – the album’s due out on July 7th.
The Winter Sounds um, sound, on their studio album, ‘Church of the Haunted South’, like a live band with an impeccable mix. Beginning with Pink Floyd sounding vocals and a slow-to- develop melody the tunes quickly make you feel and believe their heartbreak. Overall the music is quality, the production is good – it includes Sigur Ros-like swells on the cymbals – which goes to show the band understands the concept of dynamics. They consistently change guitar riffs, vocal harmonies and drums – from soft to loud and back again. ‘Candlelight’ is undeniably catchy, the verse is like the alphabet song or ring around the rosy – you just want to bounce your head like a Muppet when you listen to it. Actually a lot of the songs contain real sing song melodies offset by Patrick Keenan’s baritone – giving the music a darker quality than one might expect. “Marry Me” is a little Decemberisty in its subject matter and antiquated language – but ends in this sweet Latin flavored drum programmed jam with a Violin solo. The Winter Sounds are a fantastic band coming out of Athens, Georgia – one that ‘gets it’ – they have pop songs that are experimental, but don’t stray into the “I know I’m a great musician so look at all the cool shit I can do” territory. It’s a band with a rock solid identity after three full length albums – they know who they are, what they stand for, and exactly what they are going to bring to the table. Check them out at www.thewintersounds.com.
So I don’t know how many of you read up on my previous review of Drew Danburry, one of my favorite singer/songwriters I’ve heard in a while, but he makes some great music – he sent me a link to this vid and so I thought I’d share it with everybody – he’s a great musician and a great guy.
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.
What a weekend for music! If you didn’t see any live music this weekend, I pity you, truly. Between Randolph Street Fest and Mobfest alone, I was hard pressed NOT to see any music – it seemed like all of my favorite haunts had good bands playing, and I was having hard time making it to shows on time. None the less, I was on time for Incredible Shrinking Boy – and actually early enough to also catch a little bit of singer/songwriter Matt Ryd as well.
Matt Ryd has a smooth, raspy voice which is remarkably similar to John Mayer. His songwriting is stellar and his guitar playing is pleasant. Unlike most singer/songwriters stuck in the down up, down up down, holding pattern, his strums alternate between different styles, accenting the songs. One of his songs has been featured on Zach Braff’s “Scrubs”, and he deserves it – overall he put on a good show ending with a montage of covers, the most notable being “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder.
Poor Incredible Shrinking Boy; despite horrendous sound at Fiesta Cantina and a broken bass string in the middle of the first song, ISB played a decent set for us at the Natiiv Media showcase. I could sit here and rag on the sound guys for probably an hour, although the hard wood floors and walls probably had a lot to do with it – here’s a hint though – turn down the drums! Anyway, after an incredibly awkward minute of ISB reaching out for some help in the bass guitar department, they stumbled through one of their piano-lead older songs, but once the nervousness wore off – and a Samaritan lent his bass they hit their stride. They rumbled through the rest of their set – what I was most intrigued about was how they still kept in touch with the depth/density of their songs using only one guitar, a keyboard, a drum kit and a bass. Good job guys, next time I’m sure will be better.
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.
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.
The Action Painters are balanced. Their song writing is poppy, their musicianship above par, and their genre, Indie Rock. In all of their songs, a catchy, resolute chorus sits adjacent to tension building verse; and this is a direct contributor to them becoming a nationally recognized presence in the indie rock circuit. They don’t need fancy production tricks to get their sound across (one of my pet peeves is the obviously digital Yamaha strings holding the sustained first, third, or fifth throughout a chorus – it’s pure cheese, and Action Painters don’t do cheese). What they do, and they do it well, is illuminate basic arrangements with well thought out guitar solos, consistent bass lines and lyrics that never go for the easy rhyme – for example, on my favorite track, “How Could it Be So Wrong”, their lead singer croons – “even when you shine it’s not too bright, when the days out it’s just fine, but when the night comes it’s not so easy, baby now” – he doesn’t purposely go for the obvious ABAB rhyme scheme, but instead plays coy, not feeling content to leave us with a Chris Martin dunker. Nope, the Painters are better than that – they sound comfortable with themselves and lean hard on Indie tradition while embracing pop melody. In my head, to use the insanely cliché metaphor of X + Y = Our Band!, they have a kind of a Colin Oberst-y singer mixed in with some clear and punchy guitar tone and a bass that isn’t afraid to go up the fret board every once and a while. They aren’t painfully love-sick – they give off a warm glow. They use electronics sparingly which is incredibly appropriate for the music – the tunes are kind of like that guy or girl in high school who was never a star athlete, or super nerd or anything, but was totally comfortable in his or her own skin – not, like the rest of us, awkwardly wallowing in the usual trappings of pubescent adolescence.