Thursday, February 28, 2008

THE ITS! - Mistakes

The Its! are high energy indie rockers from Chicago who recently released their sophomore LP, Mistakes (a.k.a M!stakes). The CD marks a notable shift from the sound of their 2005 self-titled debut, which was more stripped back in production and overall sound. On Mistakes, The Its! go all out, delivering a fuller, more powerful sound.

At times, the combination of danceable beats and the up front, jumpy vocals of frontman Maciej Padwoski brings to mind acts such as Hot Hot Heat and The Bravery. This is very apparent on cuts such as My Fantasy, When the Trend Dies and the title track, which start off in full force and never take a break.

Opener Winning the Lotto, Just to Say and State of the Union are highlights, offering up instant hooks and well-developed melodies. The hopeful My Day and Seaside are also noteworthy, mixing things up with a bit of acoustic guitar and a slightly more organic vibe.

The lyrics on Mistakes are also worth pointing out. What are We Doing Here?, The Teenaged Local Rock Superstars (TLRS) and Instant Family, for example, refreshingly either make fun of or criticize the stereotypical indie rock bar scene. The Its! come across as having the potential to be highly successful without the typical indie rock pretentiousness, which makes Mistakes even more enjoyable.

Anyone with a soft spot for straight-up, energetic, hooky rock should find Mistakes a worthy addition to their collection. Listen for yourself at The Its! MySpace site and pick up a copy of the disc CD Baby.

- Maciej Padwoski - lead vocals, guitar
- Patrick Fraser - drums
- Nicko McCurley - bass, vocals
- Eric Quinlan - guitar, keys, vocals

Monday, February 25, 2008

THE 1900s - Cold & Kind

Sure, it's been said before (many, many times), but between the male-female vocals and the folky, gorgeous arrangements, it's pretty hard not to think of The 1900s as Chicago's answer to Belle and Sebastian. I was going to attempt writing about the local seven-member act without mentioning that band, but I really think it's nearly impossible. That's not to take anything away from The 1900s, as their debut LP Cold & Kind clearly establishes them as vital and irresistible in their own right.

The brief, piano-driven No Delay starts Cold & Kind off nicely, introducing the record's mellow vibe and lead vocalist Edward Anderson's pure, straightforward delivery. Georgia, with its refrain, "Jump for joy, Georgia" and chiming keys, is unquestionably joyous. When I Say Go is arguably the best track. Many of the numbers on Cold & Kind require a few listens to fully reveal themselves, but this tune oozes with instant melodic charm.

Elsewhere, the title track, Acutiplantar Dude and Two Ways bring to mind classic, Zombies-style guitar pop. Wool of the Lamb - especially its very effective final minute or so - is a fitting closer.

The entire album flows seamlessly. The fact that its hooks can be subtle means it's not the kind of record you wear out too quickly and tire of easily - it's made for repeated listens, each one more satisfying than the last.

Check out some 1900s tunes for yourself on the band's MySpace page and pick up a copy of Cold & Kind here.

- Edward Anderson - lead vocals, guitar
- Caroline Donovan - vocals, keys
- Jeanine O'Toole - vocals, tambourine
- Mike Jasinski - guitar, keys, vocals
- Tim Minnick - drums
- Charlie Ransford - bass
- Andra Kulans - strings

Thursday, February 21, 2008

THE RAVEONETTES Coming to Double Door March 18

Danish duo The Raveonettes are bringing their brand of cool, 60s-inspired fuzz rock to Double Door on March 18. Buy tickets here.

Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo will be promoting their latest release, Lust Lust Lust, which just came out in the U.S. this week. Lust Lust Lust marks a shift away from the poppy, uber retro experimentation of 2005's Pretty in Black (see my review here), back to the noisier, edgier - but still melodic and hook-filled - sound on Whip It On and Chain Gang of Love. You can pick up the album on or itunes.


The Raveonettes
With Black Acid
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Double Door
1572 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622

Monday, February 18, 2008

MAY OR MAY NOT Post New Songs for Download

Less than five months after the release of their brilliant second album, A Kaleidoscope of Egos (previously reviewed on this site), Chicago psychedelic indie popsters May Or May Not have already begun making brand new material available for free download via their MySpace site.

So far the band has posted two new tracks - Be My Tree and Tender Engine. Be My Tree is only the third May Or May Not recording to feature lead vocals by keyboardist Amelia Styer. The lengthy track is a wintry epic that further explores the band's psychedelic side. Tender Engine is peppier, but also has an introspective, cold-weather vibe.

Thanks to the band for putting out some tunes so soon after their latest LP release. What better way to make this long, harsh Chicago winter more tolerable than new music from May Or May Not?

And what better way to welcome spring than a May Or May Not live show? The band is playing at Hideout on March 22 with The Swimmers.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

SKYBOX - Arco Iris

Originally from Arizona, Skybox is a five-piece band still fairly new to Chicago. The band released its debut LP, Arco Iris, in 2006, and have been playing gigs and stirring up buzz around town ever since.

The first thing you'll likely notice about Arco Iris is its off-the-wall song titles. Actually, you'll probably first notice the cool cover art - which looks like marshmallow peeps chillin' on stilts - but the song titles will be the second thing. Some examples are Disco Duck, Superglued to My Spaceship, Various Kitchen Utensils and Don't Get Spin Spin. The titles make it clear that you're in for anything but straightforward and pedestrian. Sonically, the songs live up to their peculiar titles, taking many random, unexpected turns.

In fact, Arco Iris is like some kind of twisted, futuristic vaudeville act put to CD. It's ragtime, it's glam, it's spacey, and at times, a bit impenetrable. This could make it a frustrating listen to some, but for those with an open mind and an appreciation for musical genres across the map, it's very rewarding and lots of fun.

As much as the material on Arco Iris is "out there," it manages to avoid sounding overly pretentious or contrived. At certain points, Skybox sounds just as concerned with being accessible than they are with being different. The two best examples are album opener The Caravan Cabaret and Various Kitchen Utensils, which are both really catchy and brew up an unlikely-yet-likeable combination of ragtime and indie rock.

Elsewhere, the frantic The Lass, The Bitch and The Butcher sounds like some kind of drunken sailor song on speed (not a bad thing, by any means). Disco Duck sounds like it's name. Superglued to My Spaceship brings to mind David Bowie space rock. The slower numbers such as Infinity and Blue Skies and Cue Conversation represent the CD's more subtle spots, sometimes going on a bit too long. However, the nearly seven-minute Gravity Can't Keep Us Down (Unless We're on Earth) is a welcome addition for its mellow, almost shoegaze qualities.

Although it alternates between instantly likable and somewhat difficult, Arco Iris has plenty of charms and represents a truly unique band with great potential. Check out some of the tunes at the official Skybox MySpace and pick up a copy of the album on CD Baby or itunes.


- Tim Ellis
- Johnny Kenepaske
- Aurelio Damiani
- Christian Fields
- Anthony Hornyak

- Skybox official site
- Skybox on Wikipedia

THE BACKROOM - Reagan Era Rocketship

In my last post I profiled Shoes, a classic Chicago power pop band from the 70s and 80s. Shortly after I wrote it I listened to Reagan Era Rocketship - the recent debut release from local power pop trio The Backroom - and I couldn't help but think of the band as a sort of modern day Shoes, complete with loads of hooks, superb harmonies and a 60s-style lyrical and musical innocence.

The disc kicks off with the strongest song, the instantly catchy Lost Without You. This is one of those tunes that's filled with such expert pop craftsmanship that on first listen you'll swear it must be a cover of some old hit single, and will have to take a second glance at the liner notes just to convince yourself it's not. Lead vocalist and songwriter Keith von Kaenel has a pure, straightforward delivery that reminds me of Allen Clapp from California indie pop band The Orange Peels.

Reagan Era Rocketship continues in full force with the rocking I Want Out, while halfway through the disc "Loads of Love" stands out as second only to Lost Without You in irresistible hooks and radio-readiness. Other highlights include A Moment of Clarity, Better Time Than Now and Always Wish You Did, the latter two being a pair of peppy, just-over-two-minute gems. The CD is an enjoyable listen all the way through, and I can't wait to hear what the band comes up with next.

You can hear cuts from Reagan Era Rocketship at The Backroom's official MySpace page. Then head over to CD Baby or itunes and get a copy for yourself.

- Keith von Kaenel - lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, piano, lyrics
- Matt Greenfield - bass, backup vocals
- Matt Jankowiak - drums


- The Backroom official site
- Remedial Records

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Flashback - SHOES - More Perfect Chicago Power Pop

For my second blast from the past, I present another amazing power pop band to come out of the Chicago area in the 70s - Shoes.

While the aforementioned Pezband combined catchy hooks and melodies with a somewhat raw sound, Shoes represented the smoother side of the genre, creating song after song full of jangling guitars, 60s pop harmonies and airy vocals.

Shoes formed in Zion in 1974, and consisted of brothers Jeff Murphy and John Murphy, Gary Klebe and Skip Meyer. Both brothers and Klebe contributed songs and lead vocals.

The band's first significant release was the home-recorded demo album Black Vinyl Shoes from 1977. It definitely doesn't sound like a home-recorded demo album, and with absolute pop gems such as Boys Don't Lie and Okay, is regarded by many as one of the finest power pop records of all time.

Shoes went on to record a handful of other albums, including Present Tense (1979), Tongue Twister (1980), Boomerang (1982), Silhouette (1984), Stolen Wishes (1989) and Propeller (1994). Their biggest hits - Too Late and Tomorrow Night - came from Present Tense, and are now considered power pop standards.

The band also formed their own label called Black Vinyl Records based in their hometown of Zion. Most recently, Jeff Murphy has released a solo CD titled Cantilever and has also penned a book that documents the formation and early years of Shoes. Both are available through the Black Vinyl Records Web site.

On August 10, 2007 Shoes played a gig at Millennium Park, marking their first Chicago performance in over four years.

All Shoes releases are available through Black Vinyl Records and CD Baby.

The Raspberries, The Beatles, Pezband, The Rubinoos, Nick Lowe, Badfinger, 20/20, The Records, Dwight Twilley, Phil Seymour

- Shoes on Wikipedia
- Shoes tribute page on MySpace
- Black Vinyl Records
- Shoes Tomorrow Night video on Youtube
- Shoes Too Late video on Youtube

Friday, February 8, 2008

OFFICE - A Night at the Ritz

Offices usually aren't fun. They go along with work, bosses, boredom and lots of other unpleasant things. Fortunately, Chicago band by the name of Office is not like the rest. Their September 2007 release, A Night at the Ritz, is anything but dull, pairing irresistible melodies and poppy hooks galore with largely lovelorn lyrics.

Office has been around for most of the decade, but began receiving widespread recognition in 2006 when their song Wound Up was designated single of the week in the itunes store and they played a set at Lollapalooza. Shortly after that they signed with New Line Records - a label owned by James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins - and crafted A Night at the Ritz from a combination of new songs and songs culled from past releases, mainly their 2005 "demo" album, Q&A.

The disc opens with the brief, stomping pop of Oh My and the jittery If You Don't Know by Now. These two songs make it clear you're about to listen to an album that you won't likely be able to get out of your head. Track three - The Ritz - contrasts a downright melodic, sing-song chorus with downright bizarre verses half-spoken by lead vocalist and songwriter Scott Masson to create one of the most interesting tracks.

Other highlights include the straightforward, radio-ready Plus Minus Fairytale, the tried and true Wound Up and the lively power pop of my personal favorite, Paralyzed Prince.

If you want catchy pop/rock with lyrical substance, you'll find much to love on A Night at the Ritz. Sample some sounds here and purchase it here.

Official Office site
- New Line Records site

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Few Classic Bands Coming to Chicago...

Check out these classic bands coming soon to Chicago...

(with Rx Bandits)
House of Blues Chicago
Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

(with 65daysofstatic)
Allstate Arena
Saturday, May 17, 2008

(with Modest Mouse, The National)
United Center
Friday, June 6, 2008
Tickets (coming soon)

(with Steve Winwood)
United Center
Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

This Week at Beat Kitchen: THE BACKROOM + THE ITS!

Beat Kitchen has a couple of noteworthy shows coming up this week. Double down and see The Backroom on Thursday night and The Its! on Friday night.


The Backroom is a band I definitely need to become more familiar with. One listen to the tracks on their MySpace page reveals loads of crisp, melodic power pop goodness. With songs that catchy they are bound to put on an entertaining show.

Here is what their page on CD Baby has to say:

A 50’s sentiment in an up-to-date power-pop wrapper: an Abercrombie Cardigan, a Hollister poodle skirt. They captivate with accessible melodies, crisp vocals, lyrics that surprise, gliding easily to insinuate themselves into the soundtrack in your mind.

They will be playing Thursday with For Pilots, Sincerely Calvin and Footlight Frenzy.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 9:30 p.m.

The Its! put on an extremely energetic show. Any fan of current bands such as Hot Hot Heat, The Bravery, or The Strokes should dig their hook-filled brand of rock, but their sound also has a classic appeal that hearkens back to a variety of bands from The Clash to The Cure. You can't help but have fun watching The Its! play.

For sound samples and more info check out The Its! MySpace page.

They will share the stage Friday with The Penthouse Sweets and Days Off.


(773) 281 - 4444
2100 W. Belmont
Chicago, IL 60618
Web site

Monday, February 4, 2008


Photo by David Cubberly

Chicago area psychedelic garage rockers The Living Blue are scheduled to release their new LP, Walk, Talk, Rhythm, Roam, this Spring.

Originally known as The Blackouts, the band comes from Champaign, IL and frequently comes to the city to play shows. They released their first CD as The Living Blue, titled Fire, Blood, Water, back in 2005. That CD - with its loads of raw rock 'n' roll energy combined with plenty of psychedelic flair and melodic hooks - was one of my favorite releases of the year.

There is not yet an exact release date for Walk, Talk, Rhythm, Roam, but if it's anywhere near the quality of Fire, Blood, Water, it can't come soon enough. Here's the track list:

1. Numb
2. Nightwind
3. Walk, Talk, Rhythm, Roam
4. Kerry Mills
5. Refugee
6. Without You
7. Forrest Fire
8. Depth Charge
9. Something You Do
10. Leaf in the Breeze
11. Roll the Breakers
12. Venus Fly Trap

You can preview a few of the new songs at The Living Blue's MySpace page. Also check out the official Living Blue blog.

Hopefully it won't be long before we have an official release date and can hear the album in full. In the meantime, check out an interview I did with The Living Blue front man Steve Ucherek back in 2005, when the band was just about to release Fire, Blood, Water.

Buzz Magazine Interview with Stephen Ucherek

And here are a few shots I took on September 29, 2005 at the Fire, Blood, Water CD release show Highdive in Champaign. Hopefully I'll have the chance to take some new ones when The Living Blue hits local venues to promote Walk, Talk, Rhythm, Roam.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

STAR Makes Noise at Hideout - 2/1/08

There are many reasons to love STAR. Here are some of my favorites:

1. STAR songs are edgy, noisy and thought-provoking, yet full of pop hooks.
2. STAR songs are short and sweet, never outstaying their welcome or venturing into the land of pretentiousness.
3. STAR songs have awesome titles such as Flesh Eating Mothers and Cock Swan.
4. STAR has a seemingly endless arsenal of material, and the majority of their setlists consist of songs that have not yet been released.

All of these STAR factors were in high supply at Chicago's Hideout Friday night when the band delivered its brand of noisy pop as first in a triple bill that also included Fun Club and The Prairie Cartel.

STAR is a band perfect for the studio - the drum beats are programmed, the vocals are almost otherworldly and the guitar is fuzzy and distorted. It always seems to be a challenge to pull off this kind of setup live, but as I watched the show I was happy to learn that STAR does so quite effectively.

As soon as vocalist Shannon Roberts, guitarist Scott Cortez and bassist/percussionist Theodore Beck took to the stage and kicked into Like Flies on Sherbert - an Alex Chilton song that does not appear on their debut and so far only CD, Devastator - you couldn't help but be completely captivated. Not many bands would be so bold as to open with a tune that virtually nobody in the audience knows, and go on to pull it off so beautifully. It sounded fantastic, and fans can only hope the band includes it on their upcoming second CD, Violence Against STAR.

While the entire set emphasized songs not yet released, Devastator material was not completely absent. STAR included four of that disc's highlights, including Pure Gold Reason, Champion of Love, Various Gun Designs and Liars in Love.

Among the other unreleased songs - most or all of which I assume will appear on Violence Against STAR - Flesh Eating Mothers was my favorite. What other band could produce such an infectious, melodic little number (at least loosely) based on a campy 80s B-movie in which mothers contract a venereal disease that causes them to eat their children?

The stomping Rock Hard was another clever take on a Chilton tune that was highly memorable on first listen.

STAR's 13-song set seemed to fly by, but how could it not when it was made up of material that rarely hit the three minute mark? That's OK, because the band's brief, loud stay on stage only left me wanting more - something that doesn't happen as often as it should at live shows.

Like Flies on Sherbert (Alex Chilton cover)
Pure Gold Reason

Champion of Love

Cruel 15

Various Gun Designs

Rock Hard
(Alex Chilton cover)
Cock Swan

White Fear

Flesh Eating Mothers
I Am a Scientist (Guided By Voices cover)
Violence Against STAR

Artificial Planes

Liars in Love