Friday, December 30, 2011

Fifteen of my favorite 2011 Chicago music releases

By Frank Krolicki

Damn. At this point the last thing the world needs is another year-end list, but here goes. I tried to resist adding to the mountain of existing roundups, but after seeing so many people write about their favorite releases of 2011 I started to think more about mine and what I might say about them in a sentence or two. In keeping with the spirit of this site all of my picks are releases from Chicago-based artists, some who I previously highlighted as favorites in years past and others who I heard for the first time in 2011. I'm not going to say they're the "best" because of course it's all subjective--I'm sure even my fellow WCR writers would have very different lists--but below are 15 releases that I enjoyed the most, in no particular order.

Company of Thieves--Running From a Gamble: For their second LP, COT managed a bolder, sharper, more memorable set of tunes to create the opposite of a sophomore slump. The crazy-good vocals of frontwoman Genevieve Schatz move effortlessly from sultry to snarling, and so does the guitar.

Pet Lions--Houses: Introducing themselves with straightforward guitar pop on 2009's Soft Right EP, Pet Lions expanded on that foundation with greater depth and more atmosphere on their debut full-length.

The Kickback--Mea Culpa Mea Culpa EP: Four solid tracks of muscular, hooky alt-rock that make me really curious what these guys will come up with on their first full-length, currently in progress. Plus, "Sting's Teacher Years" is quite possibly my favorite song title of the year.

Gypsyblood--Cold in the Guestway: Speaking of alt-rock, there's plenty more high quality, guitar-driven specimens on Gypsyblood's debut, which goes the extra mile by throwing in the occasional curveball like the strangely twangy "Dirty Thieves."

Architecture--When We Were Young EP: Dream pop that’s equal parts sweet and eerie. Sort of like music for a haunted dollhouse, which I can't say about anything else I heard this year.

Smith Westerns--Dye It Blonde: I still can't figure out why Smith Westerns are one of the only current Chicago bands people are willing to give buzz outside our city, but that doesn't take away the fact that this record's exuberant glam pop is worthy of praise.

Village--Local Moves: A great big guitar record loaded with power pop hooks, psychedelic undertones and pure rock 'n' roll energy. 

My My My--Wishing You Whatever’s Best EP: One of Chicago's most consistently fun bands returns with more slightly off-kilter singalongs, this time with a dancier, synthier touch.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Margot & the Nuclear So and So's to release new LP in March

By Shannon Shreibak

We’re all looking forward to New Year’s Eve. After a long year filled with hard work, stress and sleepless nights, we can finally end 2011 for good with the help of our methods of choice. It’s finally time to raise our glasses to yet another year. But Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s have more than 365 days to celebrate; they also have an album.

Rot Gut, Domestic, Margot’s fourth studio effort, will be released March 20th of 2012 from their own label, Mariel Recording Company. The new album further develops their unique style of guitar-driven indie pop. Rot is filled with the raw, lo-fi songs that dominated their 2010 release Buzzard, the beginning of an album trilogy wrought with their “panic pop” sound. This second installment remains consistent with Buzzard’s abandonment of bombastic orchestral arrangements that made Margot famous in order for a more focused rock sound.

Written in a mere 26 days, Margot frontman Richard Edwards began the process during a retreat in Pismo Beach, California in the wake of last spring. Searching for solace from the exhaustion of touring and severe stomach pain, he headed to the band’s west coast mecca after commencing the Buzzard tour. Using character development and imagery stemming from his experiences in the Midwest, Edwards paints an evocative musical landscape that envelops listeners in thick rock arrangements.

In celebration of this major accomplishment, MNSS will be performing at Deluxe at Amber Room in their hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana, on New Year’s Eve. Made exclusively for the NYE show, a limited edition 7-inch vinyl of Rot’s lead single “Prozac Rock” with B-Side “Fingertips” will be on sale. Any left over from the stock of 500 will be available to donors of the band’s PledgeMusic campaign before being made available to the public. “Prozac Rock” will hit the web on January 3rd.

Rot Gut, Domestic track listing:
1. Disease Tobacco Free
2. Books About Trains
3. Shannon
4. Prozac Rock
5. A Journalist Falls In Love
6. Frank Left
7. Fisher of Men
8. Arvydas Sabonis
9. Coonskin Cap
10. Ludlow Junk Hustle
11. The Devil
12. Christ

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Interview: Ezra Furman

By Andrew Hertzberg

Ezra Furman is one of the unfortunately often forgot indie musicians of our day. Maybe because he started making waves around the same time as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and it was easy to compare his unconventional vocals to CYHSY's Alec Ounsworth's. But unlike them, Furman has continued to mature with each recording, growing equal parts more refined and primal. He and fellow Harpoons released Mysterious Power earlier this year, which nabbed a number two spot from the Sun-Times for the best of 2011. Now, Furman has a solo album: The Year of No Returning is ready for release on February 7th, 2012. The Evanston native now calls San Francisco home, but let's not hold it against him. The opportunity to go solo shows how consistent he is making stellar recordings, his gut-spilling yelp still in tact. Take a listen to the album's first track "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" here, and catch him live with the Harpoons at the Hideout this Thursday, December 29 and solo at SPACE on Friday, December 30. Read more to see what Ezra had to say about going solo, moving west and starting fights. 

WCR: The new album that you have coming out was recorded in the attic of your apartment at Montrose and Damen. Why did you choose that environment as opposed to a studio or somewhere more conventional to record in?

Ezra: Well, it is a studio. I was living in this house full of musicians and weirdos and outlaws and stuff. And the top floor was a recording studio. It was just there, it was there and I was living there for months, went on tour and came back and it was still there and it was just calling my name, you know? I probably wouldn’t have even made the album if the studio wasn’t there. Well, maybe I would have. The house really birthed the album in a way, living in this house. I started writing most of the songs while living there. I moved into this house that musicians lived in, had a studio on the top floor, a live venue on the basement floor and I just started feeling differently about what to do with music. And it culminated into going up the attic and making an album. 

Since Mysterious Powers was released only less than a year ago, how would you say the new album differs from that?

All the albums I’ve put out so far, I consider them rock and roll affairs...part of the goal was to capture the joy of playing in a rock and roll band where everyone’s playing together, having a good time. The new one is made in a lot more contemplative way. It’s built every track from the ground up, kind of. I was doing it alone without any outside help, except Tim [Sandusky] who was recording with me, the producer and engineer; there was not much input from anyone else. Rather than the rock and roll collaborative version of a musician, I was like the creative guy just kind of tinkering.

Is this your first foray into an entirely solo thing?

Yeah. Well, since the band has existed. I used to make some recordings before I was in the band. It’s so great to be in a band. It’s so fun for us, for me, to play live shows, and we want to make our records like our shows in a lot of ways. And that was always distracting us from getting down to the…I mean, you can hear it on some of the tracks we’ve made that we also have this drive to make…well, not softer music, but something that’s sort of less off the cuff and more composed and more contemplative. I don’t want to give the impression that the new album is all soft and stuff. It’s just made differently, where you can hear every instrument when it comes in.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Check this out: Harmonica Dunn's Best of 2011 mix

By Frank Krolicki

Here's another dose of free music to help end 2011 on a high note. The "Harmonica Dunn Best of 2011" mix comes courtesy of Donnie Biggins, who put together the Chicago Roots Collective a couple years ago with the goal of getting local bands working together and developing a stronger music scene in the Windy City. Its 19 tracks feature mostly Chicago-based bands (many of which we've written about here on WCR, such as Bailiff, Dastardly, Derek Nelson & the Musicians and Sad Brad Smith) plus a few out-of-state artists worth checking out as well.

Check out the full tracklist below, and download it for free on Bandcamp.

1. The Happen-Ins - Be Yer Fool
2. Elephant Gun - Go And Leave
3. Bailiff - In The Reverie
4. The Dirty Pigeons - The Way I See It
5. Young Buffalo - Catipilah
6. Dastardly - Exercises In Self Loathing
7. Go Long Mule - Ghosts
8. Michele McGuire - Darling Girl
9. Antony And The Tramps - Gold Rush
10. Musikanto - Every Which Way
11. Farewell Milwaukee - Living On Your Look
12. Sad Brad Smith - Sure
13. Derek Nelson & The Musicians - Die Darlin'
14. The O'My's - In My House
15. Tristen - Baby Drugs
16. Flame Shark - Straight Through Your Heart
17. Rachele Eve - Wife Song
18. Rambos - Chuck Taylors
19. Ornery Little Darlings - Lazy

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tandem Shop Records gives the gift of free music

By Frank Krolicki

Merry almost Christmas, y'all. To add to all the seasonal fun, the people of Chicago's own Tandem Shop Records has put out their third annual holiday mix for free download. Wasn't that nice of them? You can now head over to their Bandcamp page to grab the entire thing, including two new songs from both The Island of Misfit Toys and Project Film, as well as tracks from Mr. Bear, Honest Engines and Tandem's newest addition, Many Places.

Although the tunes aren't really holiday-themed, try sneaking this on at the family get together when you've hit your breaking point from all the usual lame, overplayed stuff. It'll be sure to bring down the house. Or cause deep confusion. Either way, there's the potential for amusement. You can preview a couple of the selections below.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Record review: Barefoot on Bumblebees - 'Everything Shiny Is New'

By Sasha Geffen

When the group then known as the gruesomely-titled We Will Eat Rats to Survive put out their first record back in 2009, they disguised the heft of their talent in a shroud of rust and wire. The songs were there, rock-solid and powerfully written, but it took a moment to settle into the grit of their aesthetic. I imagine followers of early Modest Mouse had the same experience once, before the group tightened their sound and scraped off the rough edges. Since then, though, the duo has been reborn. They've refined their songcraft, polished up their recordings, and even packed up their banjos and set out to play their music throughout the states. They keep an illustrated blog of their adventures on their website. Their debut LP as Barefoot on Bumblebees works as both a soundtrack to the travelogue and an independently wonderful musical reflection on yearning, death and wanderlust. 

The raw quirk notable in Bumblebees' original incarnation hasn't dissolved entirely. A warm, lo-fi energy still pulses through Everything Shiny Is New, but the scratches and burns that clouded the fullness of sound on the group's previous release have been cleared away. This time around, the instrumentation inhabits a fuller role in the affect of each song. Bells, whistles and singing saws slink coolly around bristles of acoustic guitar and banjo. The arrangements have their bucolic charm, but the philosophy they're wrapped around weights each song with a momentum that pulls the record far from the realm of indie-folk preciousness and into a deeper, more vital space.

A few Chicago music news bites

  • Scott Lucas & the Married Men will put on their second annual "Holiday Music Hour" at Hideout this Thursday, featuring an "old tyme radio variety show"-themed set complete with an MC and special guests (Rowlf from the Muppets showed up last time, nearly a year before the Muppets were all the rage again...just sayin'). If you can't make it in person, you'll be able to watch a recording on the band's website for a limited time starting on Christmas Eve.
  • As far as we know Dastardly still haven't found their stolen van, but they do have some good stuff going on to help lessen the pain. This week their recent session with Audiotree went live, and ever the crazy kids, they even shave their banjo player's head at the end. They're also gearing up for the late-January release of a new EP, Bury Me in the Country.
  • Jim DeRogatis blogged about Pitchfork editors relocating from Chicago to New York, and how that may or may not affect Pitchfork Music Festival and the future of Chicago band Scotland Yard Gospel Choir.
  • Richard over at Loud Loop Press wrote a review of the new album from Bully in the Hallway, in which he compares them to a twinkie. 
  • Wilco week might be over, but WXRT has a bit of video and some photos to remind us of the veritable Tweedy extravaganza that went down.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Clip Art to play Schubas residency in January

By Frank Krolicki

photo: Brad Meese
A lot of new music comes through these parts, and frankly, a good portion of it tends to fade from the memory just as quickly as it sinks to the depths of the ol' inbox. Every so often, though, something shows itself that refuses to be forgotten. Like Clip Art. It was back in the first half of 2010 that I reviewed Broken by Design--the band's debut EP--but its tracks still pop into my head quite often, making sure it keeps a comfortable place on my iPod. I mean, listen to "Dead Letter" and tell me it's not the catchiest damn thing you've heard all _____ (fill in the blank according to how much music you consume). Hook heaven. I haven't heard a whole lot from Clip Art since the EP came out, so I was pleasantly surprised to see they've got an active start to the New Year planned with a January residence at Schubas. Quality band paired with quality place to see live music is a recipe that should bring some much-needed joy to the frigid Monday nights in Chicago that are sure to be in store next month. Check out all of the dates and opening bands below, and get tickets here.

    1/9 - w/ Algebro + Any Kind
    1/16 - w/ Dick Prall + Paper Thick Walls
    1/23 - w/ Briar Rabbit + The Sometimes Family
    1/30 - w/ Baby Teeth + Jennifer Hall
    All shows are 8PM/$6/18+


Friday, December 16, 2011

Help Dastardly find their van

By Andrew Hertzberg

You may have seen by now that Dastardly's touring van got stolen...or so they say. This music blogger is convinced band leader Gabe Liebowitz just got drunk and forgot where he parked it, but he claims otherwise. Apparently, it was last seen at North and Ashland Tuesday night. It's a bigass white Dodge van with black streaks on the side and numerous stickers on the back window. The Illinois plates read N38 7306. If anyone has any info on this, let Gabe know at and peep more pics of the van on their blog here.

Luckily there was no equipment on the inside, but I'm sure the band isn't looking forward to taking the CTA to their next shows. Speaking of which! The alt-folk band has a gig on January 6th at Honky Tonk BBQ with Cains & Abels. More officially, Thursday, January 19th at Lincoln Hall will be a release show for their newest EP, Bury Me in the Country. Brighton, MA and Santah are also on the bill for that one ($10, 18+, 8 PM). Until then, keep an eye out for that van!

Video: Secret Colours - 'Faust'

By Frank Krolicki

Just recently I was thinking to myself, "I wonder what Secret Colours are up to. For a while they were releasing new tunes and playing shows like crazy and I haven't heard any news from them in a bit." (yes, I'm enough of a geek to have these sorts of thoughts on any given day--but you knew that already). And then poof, like magic, one day shortly after I get word about their new release EP3 as well as an accompanying music video for the track "Faust." The track is a pretty sweet psychedelic freakout and the clip is kind of crazy, in a good way. Check it out below, look for the new EP on January 1st and see the band live on Saturday, January 7th at the Empty Bottle (free with RSVP--more info here).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Show preview: Noise for Toys, Friday 12/16 at Beat Kitchen

By Andrew Hertzberg

Last year I had the pleasure of being introduced to Archie Powell and the Exports at their annual holiday show at the Darkroom. Aside from adding revved up live energy to their already stellar album Skip Work, along with a few Christmas covers, the fellas threw vanity to the wind and dressed up in red onesies while rocking the night away. Not only did that cement them as a band I needed to see again, but I knew I wouldn’t want to miss another holiday show after a spectacle like that. This year promises to be even better with the Dad Rock / Not Dad Rock four piece playing along with the Scissors, the Noise FM, and the show being headlined by State and Madison. Local pop-rock goodness all around. As the evening is called the Noise for Toys charity event, bringing a sealed toy will get you half off the ticket price. As if that weren’t enough, all four bands roamed the streets of Chicago looking for a drunk Santa. Huh? Watch below then follow the directions. As for the show, you can catch the fun tomorrow night Friday December 16th at the Beat Kitchen (8:30, 17+, $10 / $5 with packaged toy).

Be in Unplugged and Reborn's First Music Video

By Andrew Hertzberg

Are you an actor? Do you like music? Want to party? Answering yes to just one of these questions means you should be in the next Unplugged and Reborn music video. The three piece is throwing a party this weekend for part of the video for the undeniably dancey “Khandi Kids” off of their debut Promise Me this Day. The role is simple: show up looking good and party. Seriously. Dressing in neon / retro / underground chic is requested, but certainly not mandatory. The event is free and open to anyone and BYOB of course. The party is taking place at 4447 S. Karlov this Saturday, December 17th at 8 p.m. and will feature DJ sets from Sickboy, Rude Gentlemen, Blowclerk, and Erok 69.

Leading up to the night, the band has been counting down, revealing more details and releasing remixes of the track in question. Head over to their website for the full breakdown. The band will be giving away CDs with the remixes on them while supplies last which makes it difficult to decide if you want free music or to be fashionably late? The choice is yours.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hear A Lull cover Springsteen's 'I'm on Fire'

By Frank Krolicki

Cover songs are a tricky thing; when they sound almost exactly like the original they're pretty pointless, and when they go too far into a different direction they can totally lose the spirit of whatever they're paying tribute to. The perfect cover songs fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Take the unexpected new version of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. cut "I'm on Fire" from Chicago experimentalists A Lull. Whenever I think of A Lull I think "really arty" and whenever I think of the Boss I think "rootsy dad rock," so on the surface this is kind of an odd combination. But it actually sounds really good, and A Lull do a nice job of finding that cover song sweet spot. Check it out below, and catch the band when they play Subterranean on Friday, December 30th with Deleted Scenes.

I'm On Fire by A Lull

Check this out: Village do Coach House Sounds

By Frank Krolicki

One day in the not-too-distant, warmer past, Chicago rockers Village paid a visit to Coach House Sound's studio and recorded a live set of tunes that has just now seen a light of day. If you happened to catch my review of their latest album Local Moves, you'll know I was already a big fan of these guys, and they sound just as great as usual here. They played a few tracks from that LP, plus both songs from their recent digital single, one from their first release Minimal Animal, and a great take on Big Star's "When My Baby's Beside Me." Sweet sounds and good vibes all around.

You can check it out in either video or audio format here. Then, see Village live this Wednesday, December 14th, at the Empty Bottle with Charming People and Strychnine (free with RSVP--more info here).

Monday, December 12, 2011

A few Chicago music news bites

  • A few Chicago acts have been announced so far to play SXSW 2012 in March, including Gold Motel, Musikanto, Chrissy Murderbot, U.S. Girls and Mahogany. Head over to Gapers Block for a list of others from the region and stay tuned for more.
  • Opting for something different to roundup 2011's finest musical offerings, Gonzo Chicago put together a great Windy City-centric video featuring footage of live show highlights from throughout the year. Check it out here.
  • Locally-based mashup duo The Hood Internet released their new album for free download, including mashups of Ariel Pink, Foster the People and many more.
  • has a new session up for download from Chicago rock stalwarts Wilco.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Show review: Bon Iver at UIC Pavilion, 12/9

By Shannon Shreibak

Anyone at all well versed in the indie music scene knows the overly romanticized story of the origin of Bon Iver. Heartbroken after a break-up, Justin Vernon secluded himself in the woodlands of Wisconsin during the harsh Midwest winter to emerge with his masterpiece debut album For Emma, Forever Ago. Three years later, Bon Iver has transformed from underground syndicate to a Grammy-nominated musical machine. It’s hard to imagine that they have reached such a high level of notoriety that they managed to pack UIC Pavilion Friday night.

Upon hearing that Bon Iver would be appearing at such a large venue, to say I was worried would be an understatement. There were too many hypotheticals to consider! I wondered if their ethereal sound would manage to fill the huge amount of dead space in the large pavilion. Would the songs maintain their trademark intimacy? How would the intricacies of Justin Vernon’s breathtaking compositions translate live? Not only were my fears put to rest upon listening to the opening song, but also I completely forgot about my qualms against the venue choice.

Beginning with cuts from the most recent album, Bon Iver, the nuances and impressive number of layers in the songs became evident. With as many as 10 men on stage at the same time, it took an arsenal to recreate the unique sound that has made Justin Vernon a musical innovator in his own right. The crisp drum rolls of “Perth” bounced against the dark expanses of the pavilion, leaving no audience member hungry for sound. Vocal harmonies between all band members were spot-on; it was easy to tell that I was not the only one left speechless at the first song.

The set list was Bon Iver in almost its entirety. Wrought with unrestrained sound effects and rolling guitar riffs, each song blended into the other seamlessly. Personally, I’m not a fan of seamless transitions between songs. I think that it prevents audience interaction and is unnecessary. But the way it was executed tonight created a beautiful soundscape to admire, not something to scoff at. One downside of these transitions was the length. Between “Holocene” and “Blood Bank” was a nearly five-minute saxophone solo consisting of no more than three notes. While much of the appeal surrounding Bon Iver’s musical style is its sparseness, this was taking it to a whole new level that shouldn’t be revisited.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Show preview: Tiger Bones at the Burlington, Saturday 12/10

By Andrew Hertzberg

Tiger Bones are back with seven new ominous and cryptic tunes. When You Die finds the band exploring the same general sonic landscape as Go Over Here released in March, but with a more fully realized performance and production (despite an ever-present hiss throughout the EP). So that’s really to say, the brooding parts are more brooding, and the surf-punk parts are packaged in tidal wave sized surges of energy. My guess is the guys were watching a lot of David Lynch when writing these tunes, "Alone" sounding particularly Twin Peaks inspired. Conversely, "Send Me Gold" is loaded with fractured and anxious guitar riffs backed with uptempo drums. Although the album comes out Tuesday (via Candy Dinner), Tiger Bones are celebrating early this Saturday at the Burlington (3425 W Fullerton, 9 PM, 21+, $5). Limited stock of handmade CDRs of the new album will be available. The band recently tweeted that it’ll be guitarist Nick Hagen’s last show with the band, and possibly the last Tiger Bones show ever. As if that weren’t enough incentive to get out the door, the show is opened up with the Runnies, celebrating the recent release of their garage-rock stomper You Can’t Win. Sandwiched between the two bands is Paul Cary and the Small Scaries channeling Lux Interior and the Cramps. Gonna be a wild night.

Tonight: Sequoia, The Set, and more at Martyrs'

By Sasha Geffen

The Set
Oh, hey there, snow. It's been a while. Good to see you could make it in time for the holidays. Personally I'm a fan of the seasonal frost (at least in December, while it's still clean and white and cheery and not slushy and awful) but if the shorter daylight hours are getting to you and you'd like to hide away somewhere warm and dry tonight while pleasantly battering away at your eardums, you might want to scope out the loud lineup at Martyrs'.

Chicago's own rock quartet Sequoia will come out to play their first show since releasing their third LP, Couple Two Tree, at the end of the summer. Their upbeat, thunderous guitar rock reaches the scope and density of Hum but carries a far lighter, janglier mood. Like Hum, Sequoia is definitely a band for the tone freaks, those of us who can't get enough of the electric guitar and the way it sounds when treated properly. And swinging in on their way back to their hometown of Minneapolis, The Set will drop by to play our own windy city. After dropping a 5-track EP, they went on to bring their sunny electro-acoustic rock to SXSW 2011. Not bad for a young Midwestern outfit.

We'll also see openers Hot Hot Robot (like Hot Hot Heat, but with robots instead, I guess) lay down tracks from their new self-titled EP. They're a punky bunch, with just enough alt-country slide tones woven in to keep things interesting. We'll also see Persistence of Memory in slot two with their metal-influenced, lady-voxed alt rock.

Tickets are $8, doors are at 9, and the show is 21+.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

EP review: Cousins - 'Axthoxy'

By Sasha Geffen

Of all the "it" bands of a given year, there remains the question of who will last and who will drop away into obscurity after an album or two. No matter how beloved a record may be by all the right publications, it takes a special kind of inertia to become a mainstay in people's music libraries. How many "best new bands" of 2005 can you remember? As something of a digital hoarder, I keep all those records--deep in the recesses of an external hard drive, without playing them for years, but I keep them. And it's always interesting to go back and see how certain glowing criticisms of the past falter with the ongoing course of music history. That oddly tribal mid-decade neo-noise, for example, was a turn I never liked despite all the praise it garnered from the big players in underground music journalism. I may have not been an expert, but I think I was right. No one listens to Wilderness anymore. They weren't good. Noise is a hard genre to pin down. You need to build momentum with texture, bare weight, and punctuation rather than traditional songcraft. Most who attempt it let their progressions hang in stale air, hoping their effects pedals will be enough to carry them through. Then there are the bands who get it--bands who enter the reverbed fray with purpose and intelligence. Cousins? They get it.

This emergent Chicago/Milwaukee four-piece get that to build a true state of hypnosis takes patience--that sometimes a single chord, if propelled correctly, can fill more space than a whole hook. The opening whallop of a track "a" demonstrates a spectacular sense of pacing as it turns on its axis, building a full and spacious revolving drone. Two gently chanted lines fall in the background as a new animal swells. A quick look at Cousins' lyrics page reveals that they're based on a Eugene O'Neill play. In fact, the lyrics to each song are prefaced by a literary quote of some variety--some longer than the lyrics themselves. These intellectually-sourced snippets of text could stand alone as prose poems, but somehow work even better draped in echoes beyond recognition, discovered only when the work of investigating them is done. 

Anyone who's listened to early '90s shoegaze and no-wave will recognize the shapes of those echoes. Cousins sources textures from recognizable places--the Sonic Youth, Slint, Slowdive roster, with an offhand Dinosaur Jr. vocal delivery thrown in for good measure. But they aren't here to reminisce. They've come to reassemble those artifacts with enough brains and brawn to make them their own. 

The Axthoxy EP emerges as an exciting debut from a new band who understands how to play within their genre from the start. I can't wait to see how they'll evolve their sources. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Show review: The National, Local Natives, Wye Oak at the Aragon, 12/6

By Shannon Shreibak
The National
Very rarely do I find myself excited about opening bands. More often than not, they either bear no name recognition or their MySpace music samples are disappointing. But the lineup at Aragon Ballroom on Tuesday was absolutely flawless in every sense of the word. With Local Natives and Wye Oak opening for The National, there was little conceivable room for improvement. Whether it was the unrestrained energy of Local Natives, the drunken ramblings of The National’s Matt Berninger or, most importantly, the unmatchable music, the Aragon didn’t see a dull moment last night.

Wye Oak, hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, was first. Their opening song was strong, but an early cut that few audience members recognized. Luckily, redemption came early to the alt-rock newcomers when the second song they busted out was single "Holy Holy" from their most recent album Civilian. Vocalist/guitarist Jenn Wasner belted the difficult chorus with ease, pushing the limits of her impressive vocal range. A front woman whose falsetto can prevail over a deafening whirl of electric guitar and percussion is a true gem, and Jenn proved herself to be one. The crowd reached a point of elation when the opening chords of Civilian's title track chimed through the acoustically unsound theatre. Wye Oak traipsed off stage with a crowd full of newly declared fans.

After a quick set change, L.A. band Local Natives took the stage. Congratulating Chicago on our recent snow and promptly beginning their set, singer Taylor Rice enchanted the crowd with both his personality and voice. Local Natives played a well-rounded set, featuring about half of their debut album Gorilla Manor interspersed with new songs. The new material maintained the essence of the band with flawless harmonies and intricate guitar picking, while adding a new depth to their already strong catalogue. They closed with the single that catapulted them to notoriety, “Airplanes.” Its strong mandolin riff and catchy chorus enthralled the audience and energized them for the main event that we had all been waiting for.

Though both opening acts were strong in their own rights, no band could appease the crowd’s thirst for headlining melancholy rockers The National. Right on time, a giant screen hanging from the rafters of the stage shone with a black-and-white footage of the band preparing backstage. Some members were enjoying each other’s company; others paced back and forth nervously anticipating the electrically charged crowd awaiting. After a few long minutes of spying on the band, they finally vanished from the shot and appeared on stage.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Video: Blah Blah Blah do Chic-A-Go-Go

By Frank Krolicki

Thank you, Chic-A-Go-Go, for consistently injecting joy into the world. Your rock and roll dance parties never fail to entertain, and what other music show could make lip-syncing so fun to watch? Case in point: Blah Blah Blah's recent performance. Keyboardist going apeshit + drummer drumming with pool noodles + dancing Santa + baby crawling around in the background = gold.

Show review: Moon Furies at Double Door, 12/2

By Gene Wagendorf III

Moon Furies blasting out "Sun Burnt Love"
Former Chicago residents/current Brooklynites Moon Furies returned home Friday night for the first time since completing their 100 Shows in 100 Days charity marathon this past summer. Armed with a new drummer and a batch of fresh songs, not to mention matching turquoise pants, the band looked... snug. Energy was abundant from the get-go as the trio blasted off with "Way Down," from their 2011 release Mercury. The track found vocalists Andy Kiel and Jim Wittmann snapping trundling rhymes at each other over fizzing synth lines while gyrating to dance beats.

Moon Furies have never been short on catchy hooks, and the new material played Saturday proved that their load was not blown on record one. The first such cut found more of Kiel's flow snaking around a curvy synthesizer lead and clattering drum work by aforementioned newcomer Pat McAvena. Later, it was Kiel's guitar that took center stage on a new tune, slapping a zaftig crunch on some shadowbox percussion. A bit more bite than what I'd come to expect from Moon Furies, and something that a less confident group might have botched. Smooth electro-pop bands can get themselves into trouble when they drop the slick and get a little dirty, but here it worked, and with the right production it could be damned refreshing on a record.

Kiel and McAvena jamming
 Despite a joke about the song's subject (a "bitch"), "Look At Me" stood out as being the urgent feeling song of the night, a result of a desperate-to-celebratory vocal turn and McAvena's mountainous crashing and thumping. The audio orgasm came courtesy of Wittmann, who dropped to his knees and wailed on his trumpet like he was trying to punch a hole in the roof with pure sound. "Sun Burnt Love" provided a nice moment, and proved that all breakups aren't ugly, as the band invited former drummer Andrew Hertzberg onstage to jam. The song benefited from the dual percussion, as well as Wittmann's raspy vocals. As if determined to blow his lungs out, he picked the horn up again and wandered through the Double Door, whirling out the opening notes of "Fallen" before springing back on the stage. Watching he and Kiel boogie through the set, I couldn't help but wonder if a part of them wished they could opt out of Moon Furies as well, at least for a night, so that they could spend more time dancing with the audience.

That unasked question was answered at the close of the set, when the band debuted their video for "Mercury 13" and played along with it. Its slow build exploded into what I've previously praised as being their most euphonic hook, making the song both undeniable danceable and emotionally gripping. All three members of Moon Furies looked to be on cloud nine during it, which is probably only a few million miles lower than where they're aiming. Most of the crowd bopped along blissfully as Kiel and Wittmann harmonized on the line we cannot lose/ we were born to win. Well, they almost got it right. I'm thinking that this band is what they were born to do. Here's to winning.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Download a new track from Unicycle Loves You

By Frank Krolicki

photo: Meagan Fredette
Chicago trio Unicycle Loves You loves you so much that they want to give you a brand new track from their forthcoming album Failure for free. I feel like everyone takes free mp3s for granted these days because nearly every band offers them and frankly a lot of them suck. But this one is in the camp that ensures free mp3s will never stop being worth getting a bit giddy over. "Wow Wave Cinema," operative word being "wave," takes you on a great big, joyous fuzz pop ride that doesn't stop for anything until it comes to a halt at two-minutes and fifty-seven seconds. Grab it below and keep an eye out for Failure on Valentine's Day 2012.

Download MP3: Unicycle Loves You - "Wow Wave Cinema"

As a bonus, check out another new track, "Sun Comes Out (And I Don't Care)," that ULY have released to preview the record. It features the same poppy goodness with a bit more of a '60s pysch vibe.

Sun Comes Out (And I Don't Care) by UnicycleLovesYou

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tonight: Free Smith Westerns show at Hard Rock Hotel

By Frank Krolicki

Free show alert! Our friends over at have put together another really great event, this time teaming up with vitaminwater for a "Winter Escape" at the Hard Rock Hotel's Fender Ballroom (230 N. Michigan Ave.), featuring sets from Chicago favorites Smith Westerns plus Franki Chan, Black Light Saints, Windy City Soul Club and Kirby Kaiser. Things kick off tonight at 9 p.m. and there will be a hosted bar until 11. You can get in for zip just by RSVPing on the event's Do312 page, and when you do so you'll also get a chance to win a private luxury ride to and from the event.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Show review: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Lincoln Hall, 11/29

By Gene Wagendorf III

CYHSY's Alec Ounsworth and Lee Sargent on "Misspent Youth"

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah took the stage at Lincoln Hall Tuesday night seemingly intent on confirming everything notion of them that I had going in. They're uplifting, occasionally boring, sometimes danceable and impossible to win an argument about.

Touring to promote their third and most recent release, Hysterical, the band Ponged between that new material and tracks from their first two albums. CYHSY have a pretty distinct timbre and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried that the set would wind up melting into a semi-repetitive blur of soothing sounds and whiny vocals. My worries were quelled early as the group rumbled through a broody version of "Satan Said Dance" that featured spelunking drums and a swollen bass line. That percussion then tumbled through "Gimme Some Salt," a skitterish, chunky jam slicked with low, grimy guitars. Normally bands that pull such scuzzy sounds from their instruments are fronted my mutton-chopped ghouls with bellowing voices, which made the nasal la-di-da of frontman Alec Ounsworth even more refreshing.

In a genius bit of setlisting, the aforementioned songs were followed by the twinkling narrative of "Misspent Youth." Probably the strongest of the new songs played, it gave me the same warm, pastel feeling I get from watching Lost in Translation. Ounsworth's lyrics, when decipherable, tend to lean toward interesting goofball stuff. This only makes his more poetic moments more convincing, as I found myself mesmerized while he sang there's a permanence to the memory of a bruise/ and I still take it on the chin/ for you. You're falling in love too, aren't you?

A few Chicago music news bites

  • has posted a new live session with the always-entertaining alt-country outfit Dastardly. They've got video of three songs plus a photo gallery from the performance.
  • Josh Caterer of Chicago rock mainstays Smoking Popes has a new holiday EP out titled The Heart of Christmas, with a take on "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" plus a few originals. He'll celebrate the release with an acoustic show at Schubas December 14th (also with Scott Lucas of Local H and Rainbow Rhythms).
  • Audiotree has an audio session up from Bailiff, with tracks from their recent album Red Balloon and more (including a pretty sweet slow-burning take on the Boss's "Dancing in the Dark").
  • Jim DeRogatis picked his "biggest turkeys of 2011," calling out Metallica/Lou Reed, Bon Iver, Coldplay and more. See what he thought the year's worst were here.
  • Pysch-rock locals Secret Colours have a new single out titled "Faust," part of their upcoming five-song EP3 out January 1st.