Sunday, January 31, 2010

New release: Midstates & the Choir of Ghosts - 'Hate to See You Smile'

Just released from Chicago's Midstates and the Choir of Ghosts is Hate to See You Smile, a 6-track EP including the basic take on title track as well as four remixes and a Spanish-language version. The band, featuring Paul Heintz and José Rodriguez, evolved from a former project simply called Midstates, and dub themselves "the world's only space-motown band." The "space" definitely comes through in full force on the wonderful "Hate to See You Smile," an open, lilting dose of melodic dream pop that couldn't go down more smoothly. The remixes are a welcome addition, with the "Return to Mono" version providing the biggest variation via a pulsing synth-pop backdrop. This is excellent stuff and a great taster of what's to come on the band's full-length, Morning Pacific, coming later this year from Mental Monkey Records.

You can download the EP from iTunes, Amazon MP3 and other digital outlets. Catch Midstates and the Choir of Ghosts live on Wednesday, February 3 at the Empty Bottle (free, 11 p.m., 21 and over) and Thursday, February 4 at Darkroom (EP release dance party, 11 p.m., free entry with password "ghost"). For more information, visit the band's site.

New Lissie song - 'In Sleep'

Anyone who frequents the site might remember me gushing over Lissie, a singer-songwriter hailing from Rock Island who recently came out with a stunning EP, Why You Runnin'. Earlier this month, while in San Francisco at The Fillmore, she recorded a live take of a brand new song from her forthcoming record on Fat Possum. Watch and listen to "In Sleep" below and become a fan:

Lissie "In Sleep" [Part 1 of 2] from Yours Truly on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kid, You'll Move Mountains live set to be filmed for Travel Channel

One of Chicago's favorite indie bands, Kid, You'll Move Mountains, will soon receive some national attention via The Travel Channel. The band's live set on Friday, February 5 at Lincoln Hall (2424 N. Lincoln) will be filmed by a crew from the channel to air on an upcoming episode of "The Last Adventure," a new series spotlighting the local culture of various cities. Be sure to show your support for KYMM and help represent Chicago's wonderful music scene to a national audience by checking out the show, where the band will open for Bishop Allen and Unicycle Loves You. 10 p.m., 18 and over, $14. More info and tickets.

For more on KYMM, read our recent Q&A with vocalist and guitarist Jim Hanke.

Tonight: Free show at Double Door

Get your mid-week live music fix tonight, January 27, at Double Door (1572 North Milwaukee Ave.) with a FREE show featuring four Chicago bands - Gunners Daughter, Last Minute, The Streets on Fire and Gypsy Fly. You might remember The Streets on Fire, in particular, from our recent review of their debut disc, Hot Weekend, an excellent set of super-charged, fuzzed-out rock 'n' roll fun. Doors open at 7:30, show at 8:30. More information here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Chicago's Essex Chanel release all music for free download

Photo by Christopher Hiltz

Our ever-creative, multi-talented friend Travis Lee Wiggins has informed us that one of his bands, Essex Chanel, have decided to release all of their music for free download in 2010. As Travis and company are veritable music-making machines, that adds up to 11 albums and 249 songs! Free up some space on your hard drive and get to downloadin' at

Last Fall marked the release of the eighth Essex Chanel LP, Love Is Proximity. The sessions for that project actually yielded over 40 songs, so the band has been putting out the material that didn't make it onto the initial albums in the form of follow-up installments. The third installment is set for release on January 26.

For a taste, here are a few tracks from the Love Is Proximity recordings:

Download mp3: Essex Chanel - "Skinny Dippin'" (from Love Is Proximity)

Download mp3: Essex Chanel - "She Cuts His Hair" (from Love Is Proximity Sessions, Disk 1)

Download mp3: Essex Chanel - "33-2-21" (from Love Is Proximity Sessions, Disk 1)

Also, mark your calendar for a special Essex Chanel string show at Uncommon Ground (1401 West Devon) on Thursday, March 4.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Q&A: A Sample Life

Stephanie Fravel and Adam Stein, an up-and-coming musical duo known as A Sample Life, are bringing a fresh vibe to the Chicago indie scene. A deviation from the typical band setup you'll likely find most nights at rock clubs around town, the two put on a unique show, combining guitar, keyboards and vocals with samples and beats from both original material and well-known songs. Since launching A Sample Life in late 2009, Fravel and Stein have played bars such as Martyrs' and Cal's, and they'll play Red Line Tap this Friday, January 22 ($5, 9 p.m. 7006 N. Glenwood). The duo also has shows lined up for February 2 at Subterranean and March 3 at Tonic Room.

As they prepare for their upcoming gigs and the release of their debut EP, Fravel and Stein took some time out to answer some questions about A Sample Life for WCR. Read on to learn more, and click the link to hear a medley from the two.

Download mp3: A Sample Life - "A Sample Medley"

The concept behind A Sample Life is one that’s definitely unique to Chicago indie music. Tell us about how the project came to be and what you hope to bring to the scene.

Stephanie: The project began when I auditioned for a band as their new vocalist. Adam was the bass player. I came in with a song to teach them, "Time Alone," and Adam caught on right away. That developed our musical connection that stayed dormant for a few months until we decided to get A Sample Life up and running.

Adam: Considering that we combine many different styles and performing for a variety of audiences, we hope to bring to the table something that people can dance to, kick back a beer to, even headbang to. Also bring back the enjoyment of going to a show – like the feeling of being 13 and rocking out. And to bring a level of honesty into a business that is, unfortunately, a business.

Your material consists of both original material and well-known songs. Were either of you writing music before forming A Sample Life, or did you begin after you came together as a duo?

We were both writing a lot of music before. Adam was a conscious songwriter and Stephanie stumbled into songwriting when she co-wrote a full-length musical in college.

Tell us more about A Sample Life’s original material – what are some of the specific songs, how did they originate and what can people expect stylistically?

A: “Tyouesday” came about because that was the day we had band practice. Stephanie was out of town one week, and the song is based around how empty it felt. This was the first song that lent itself to experiment with melody and counter melody (which is also symbolic in the song in terms of singing alone/being alone to Stephanie joining in/ending the track together).

S: “When Life Just Sucks” is about personal life frustrations, but not taking them too seriously. Like being able to approach certain things in life with a sense of humor but still not denying the vulnerability of reality.

Stylistically, the two of us come from very different backgrounds of music. So you’ll hear a little R&B/pop princess in "Strong Like You," a little funk-fusion in "Composition 8," and truthful rock ballad singing in some of our other songs.

What about the existing songs you sample in your set? What are they and how do you decide which ones to use?

Culture Club’s rendition of "You Spin Me Right Round," "Come Together," "Walking on Sunshine," "Replay," "Octopus’s Garden." Some are mashed together and some are stand-alones or paired with our originals. We decide which ones to use based on personal experiences so that we can play them with a certain sincerity, along with their popularity. We want people to instantly connect with what they hear at our performances.

You’re currently working putting out your debut EP. Will it include a similar mix of originals and samples as in your live set? When do you hope to have it released?

The EP will be strictly original work, considering copyright laws. Yet the recording will still communicate the intensity and entertainment value of our live set. We want the popularity of our live mashups to travel word of mouth, kind of creating that element of surprise at our shows. Like, “what are they gonna do next?” and “I hope they play track #3!” Growing, more writing, and funding studio time has pushed the release date back to the end of March or early April.

So far you’ve played a few local clubs and have some more dates on the schedule. How have the shows gone so far?

The shows have gone extremely well and have gotten better and better with each one. Our last show at Martyr’s was when something finally clicked. The turnout was great, the atmosphere was beautiful. We’re still hearing about it now.

Tell us about A Sample Life’s stage set up. What sort of equipment do you use?

We like lights. Our most important instrument is a light-up tambourine.

But really, topping the list is a laptop, guitar, bass, drum machine, looping machine, and other percussion instruments.

Do you think the fact that A Sample life is not typical to what people might normally see at a rock club has impacted how people are receiving you? Has it made it more or less of a challenge to get people to take notice?

S: My ignorance to what is expected at a rock club disables me from fully answering the question. But I also want to say that it’s beneficial because then we’re not trying to mold to that certain, preconceived said image.

A: We stand out more because we’re a duo, but that also puts more pressure on us to sound bigger. There are nerves involved when you’re guessing how it will sound in a certain club’s PA. It’s also more of a challenge with technology at our base, but people are more accepting of that now than they were 5 years ago.

What clubs/venues would you most like to play that you haven’t yet?

Metro, Double Door, Schubas…you know. If you play those clubs, your band gains a certain respect. A bigger weight is attached to your name. We’ll play there when the time is right.

Where can people go for more information on A Sample Life?

Search us on Facebook.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Record review: Skybox - 'Morning After Cuts'

Last Spring Chicago's Skybox released a new track, "In a Dream," for free online to build some buzz for Morning After Cuts, their new sophomore LP out this Tuesday. That track was an irresistible dose of musical sunshine so good that during the many months waiting to hear the rest of the record I feared nothing on it could be half as good. I shouldn't have worried. Morning After Cuts is a wonderful alt-pop record that's a joy to listen to all the way through, showcasing a band that's developed a stronger sense of self and a new-found emphasis on melody since their 2006 debut, Arco Iris.

"In a Dream" remains the strongest and most immediate cut (someone should tap this for an iTunes commercial), but there's not a dud to be found among the other eight tunes. The breezy, hopeful vibe and clever lyrics of the title track add up to another instant winner, and the upbeat quirkiness of songs such as "Light," "Buckets" and "Fences" offers up indie pop gems that are nearly as infectious as "In a Dream." "Slipping" and "Trout" are slower, more gentle and reflective, serving as a nice balance to the sugar-high throughout the rest of the record. Sean O'Keefe's effervescent production and the distinctive falsetto vocals of singer-songwriter Tim Ellis complete the picture - both work perfectly with the material. This is downright fun, memorable stuff that has the potential to attract a huge audience.

To download "In a Dream" for free and sample other tracks from Morning After Cuts, head to The band will play Schubas tonight, January 17, as part of Tomorrow Never Knows fest (more info and tickets here).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Show preview: Color Card, Wiitala Brothers, The Last Chivalrist at Beat Kitchen Thursday 1/14/10

By Susan Schomburg

If you, dear readers, are like me, you probably resolved to spend less time at home and more time supporting local bands at shows. One of the first opportunities of 2010 to hear an evening of solid local songcraft is happening tomorrow night (Thursday, January 14, 2010) at Beat Kitchen:

Opening act features the lovely and sad songs of The Last Chivalrist (the solo handle of Mario DiSandro, frontman of Chicago's On The Lam).

The Wiitala Brothers follow with their blend of melancholy (yet somehow also poppy) indie rock.

Headliners Color Card will end the evening with their ethereal, ambient musings.

The show is 21+ and admission is $8. Doors open at 8:30 pm, 9 pm show. For more information, check out Beat Kitchen's website, or order advance tickets here.

Video: The Last Chivalrist - Love, Hate Kind of Thing

* * * * *
This article also appears on the Chicago Indie Rock Examiner blog.

EP review: The Kickback - 'Great Self Love'

When I did a Q&A with Billy Yost, front man for The Kickback, back in September, the band were fresh to Chicago from South Dakota and planning to record new music at Engine Studios. The result is this month's release, Great Self Love, a 4-track EP sent to me with details describing each song as a separate act, all coming together in what seems to be the story of the downfall of the news industry, or the downfall of a generation, or perhaps the downfall of society as a whole. In any case, something's going down the tubes and these four gentlemen are giving us a rock-and-roll play-by-play.

Musically, the style here is passionate, sometimes fiery alt/indie rock with hooks that are present enough to make you want to listen more than once, but subtle enough not to wear themselves out too quickly. While the four songs gel together to tell the overall story, each has a distinct personality. Opening track "Indigenous Newspapermen Circa 1980" (which I daresay will never have to worry about sharing its title with another song), is probably the strongest and most immediate, featuring a big, open sound, an anthemic chorus and some wonderful guitar hooks. It's tough to make out exactly what Yost is singing, but this is the sort of music in which the words aren't necessarily all that important - the overall feel is what matters most and the band have that down. "Rough City," described as " a loving nudge at the only city we grew up knowing and the relief of not having been from there," has a moody, melodic vibe and is another standout track. Rounding out the EP is the most aggressive, rocking number, "Counselor," followed by "Burner (Things I Know About)," a downbeat ending to the story that closes things out with a menacing air and a refrain of "we're dead in the water."

Over its four solid tracks, Great Self Love makes it apparent that The Kickback are a band with plenty of compelling ideas plus the talent to back them up. Visit their site to hear for yourself, or see them live at Bottom Lounge on Friday, January 22 with Camera, Land of Lincoln and The Vindits. $5 advance, $8 day of show. Click here for tickets and more information.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chicago artists featured on Wolfgang's Vault

One of the best music sites on the net, Wolfgang's Vault - a treasure trove of streamable live concerts - is paying special attention to the Windy City this week. Today, the site's blog announced that the Vault is kicking off a series of city-specific collections of live music, starting with Chicago. This includes the debut of a live Wilco recording on Friday! Check out the post for details, but here is a list of the week's offerings:

— Indie rock from Daytrotter:

Tuesday — Bluesmen of Chicago:


  • Chicago Transit Authority
  • Styx
  • Gene Krupa Quartet


  • The Staple Singers
  • The Impressions
  • Charlie Musselwhite


  • Wilco
  • Steve Goodman
  • John Prine

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tomorrow Never Knows fest kicks off this Wednesday

Music festivals in Chicago might not be a rarity, but music festivals in Chicago during the harsh days of January are a completely different story. While it's some people would rather stay at home during the first year of the month than brave the elements to see live music, the annual Tomorrow Never Knows festival, courtesy of Schubas (and starting this year, the recently-opened Lincoln Hall), is a great way to tide the hearty souls over until the music-filled days of summer are here again.

2010 marks the sixth year of the festival and perhaps its most diverse lineup to date spanning 40+ acts. See below for a list of band and performance times, and click here for tickets as well as additional information.

Wednesday, January 13

Schubas: Laugh It Up, Kid (doors 8:30 p.m., show 9 p.m.)

Lincoln Hall: The Dead Trees (doors 8 p.m., show 9 p.m.), Adam Green (9:45 p.m.), The Cribs (11 p.m.)

Thursday, January 14

Schubas: Lasers and Fast and Shit (doors 8:30 p.m., show 9 p.m.), Bear in Heaven (9:45 p.m.), Freelance Whales (10:30 p.m.), Surfer Blood (11:30 p.m.).

Lincoln Hall: Gemini Club (doors 8 p.m., show 9 p.m.), Maps & Atlases (9:45 p.m.), Solid Gold (10 p.m.), Voxtrot (11:30 p.m.)

Friday, January 15

Schubas: Only Children (doors 9 p.m., show 10 p.m.), Truman Peyote (10:30 p.m.), The Hood Internet (11:30 p.m.), Neon Indian (12:30 a.m.)

Lincoln Hall: SHAPERS (doors 9 p.m., show 10 p.m.), Icy Demons (10:45 p.m.), Atlas Sound (12 a.m.)

Saturday, January 16

Schubas: EARLY SHOW - Paul Green's School of Rock: Women Who Rock (doors 1:30 p.m., show 2 p.m.) LATE SHOW - Peter Wolf Crier (doors 8:30 p.m., show 10 p.m.), Sharon Van Etten (11 p.m.), Final Fantasy (12 a.m.).

Lincoln Hall: Julie Doiron (doors 9 p.m., show 10 p.m.), The Rural Alberta Advantage (10:45 p.m.), Bowerbirds (12 a.m.)

Sunday, January 17

Schubas: EARLY SHOW - Paul Green's School of Rock: Women Who Rock (doors 1:30 p.m., show 2 p.m.) LATE SHOW - Netherfriends (doors 8:30 p.m., show 9 p.m.), Pomegranates (9:45 p.m.), Skybox (10:30 p.m.), Clues (11:30 p.m.)

Lincoln Hall: Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers (doors 8 p.m., show 9 p.m.), JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound (9:45 p.m.), Lee Fields & the Expressions (11 p.m.)

In addition, the festivities at Lincoln Hall will include the following DJs before and after sets:

01/13 | Mother Hubbard
01/14 | Kid Color
01/15 | Popstatic
01/16 | Scotty Brandon vs. Mr. Joshua
01/17 | DJ Misa

If that's not enough Reckless Records will host the following in-store performances throughout the festival:

1.14 | Bear In Heaven | Lakeview -
3126 N Broadway | 4:00
1.15 | Icy Demons | Lakeview | 5:30
1.16 | Bowerbirds | Lakeview | 4:30
1.17 | Pomegranates | Wicker Park -
1532 N Milwaukee | 5:30

And finally, for more information on Tomorrow Never Knows, check out this Sun-Times article by Jim DeRogatis published last week.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Vote for your favorite emerging Chicago band of 2009

Recently our friends at The Deli Chicago asked us to send in a few of our favorite up and coming locally-based acts as part of their Emerging Artists of 2009 poll, and now they're asking you to vote for your top picks. There are plenty of great choices, including many you might have read about right here - King Sparrow, Kid You'll Move Mountains, Pet Lions, YAWN, Van Ghost and more. You can cast your vote at the link above until January 16.

New Chicago music: SHAPERS

Astute followers of the Chicago music scene might recognize the names behind SHAPERS, a recently-launched experimental four-piece that will soon release their first record, Little, Big. In a former musical life, Zaid Maxwell, Amelia Styer, Steve Reidell and Todd Waters played as indie pop act May or May Not, putting out a handful of releases under that name (most notably 2007's amazing A Kaleidoscope of Egos LP). While the pop of May or May Not was always left of center, SHAPERS finds the four venturing further afield. Much further. So far that it's pretty tough to classify the sounds on Little, Big. Sometimes there's Brian Eno-esque ambience (as on highlight "When I Was a Zygote"), sometimes there's brash discord ("Father Trout") and other times there's psych-pop leanings ("Autoliberation," "Milk Bug"). Another track, "Mothership Sequins," boldly extends beyond the 15-minute mark. Much of the material is instrumental, and when vocals and words show up they serve more as an additional instrument than anything of discernable meaning (see the frantic "Hot Gravy Available" - which, by the way, I declare the most amusing song title of the year even though it's only January). This isn't the kind of stuff that aims to stick after a single spin or lure you in with loads of hooks. It's more about the moods and intricacies that continue to unfold with each listen, and anyone into unconventional and experimental sounds should find that SHAPERS pull off "weird in a good way" wonderfully.

Little, Big is due out in early March, with hard copies being pressed exclusively on vinyl. Click below for a download of "When I Was a Zygote," and head to the band's official site to hear two additional tracks before the record drops.

MP3: SHAPERS - "When I Was a Zygote"

Check out SHAPERS live on Friday, January 15 at Lincoln Hall with Atlas Sound and Icy Demons ($15, more info and tickets here).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year goodies from Blah Blah Blah

2010 is sure to be another year of amazing music from the Windy City. There was definitely a lot to love, both local and beyond, in 2009 - documented very well by end-of-year lists from many of our fellow music site buddies (see here, here and here, for example) - but the New Year promises to be even more exciting. One of Chicago's most noteworthy up-and-coming indie acts, Blah Blah Blah, are kicking things off with some new music to watch and download.

You might have caught wind of the band from our recent post on them, or from their inclusion in the Chicago Tribune's article on "Local bands on the verge of breaking big-time," which referred to their sound as "a dazzling bit of '80s Brit-pop jangle." Now they are offering two excellent tracks for download:

"They Don't Dance"

"Blue Moon"

As well as two brand new music videos, which you can check out below.

If you like what you hear, go see Blah Blah Blah play their first headlining show at the Double Door on Tuesday, January 26 with The Rikters, Unearthed and Warren Buckler ($3, tickets here).