Thursday, September 27, 2012

Interview: TOPS

Windy City Rock caught up with Montreal's twinkling soft-rock outfit TOPS, who strolled into Chicago this week for two shows- last night at The Empty Bottle and tonight (Thursday) at The Burlington. Touring in support of their debut release Tender Opposites (Arbutus Records), the band excels at crafting tight, kinetic pop songs and spacious, fragile ballads. While it's easy to draw comparisons between TOPS and current/former label-mates Grimes and BRAIDS, the truth lies somewhere in between. Absent is the heavy gloss of the former, and the obtuse structures of the latter. The result is an easily digestible album riddled with catchy melodies and smart songwriting. The band's personality seems to share that dichotomy; a charming combination of whimsy and thoughtful perspective. You can catch TOPS at The Burlington on Thursday, September 27th ($7, 21+). In the meantime, enjoy our chat with Jane Perry [vocals/keyboards] and Riley Fleck [drums].

WCR: To start, where did you all meet? How long have you been playing together?

JANE: We all came to Montreal a few years ago, David [guitar] and I both came from Edmonton and knew each other from before, everyone else met hanging out and going to shows.  We had been playing music with Thom [bass] for a couple years, he used to play drums with us and he wanted to play bass instead, so we asked Riley to jam with us at La Brique to see if it would work out. We got together and played some songs that David and I had started. It was really easy right from the start to finish songs and play together, so we decided to make a band out of it. That was a year and a half ago.

WCR: What role has living in Montreal had in shaping your sound, if any?

JANE: We all came to Montreal to make music and meet other people that make music. Montreal is great because people don’t have a lot of money and don’t aspire to. There’s a lot of creative people, and a lot of opportunities to dance and get fucked up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Go to There: September 25 - October 1

By Frank Krolicki

Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang
Tuesday, September 25th: Here We Go Magic, Pillars and Tongues at Subterranean (8 PM, 17+, $12) 
Now that you've had a few months to get familiar with the Brooklyn band's May release A Different Ship, you can take in the material live and check out Chicago's Pillars and Tongues, too.

Wednesday, September 26th: Janka Nabay at Little Black Pearl (7 p.m., FREE, 1060 E. 47th St.)
If you caught our own Gene Wagendorf III interviewing or reviewing Janka Nabay recently, you might have become enticed to see and hear the "Bubu King" for yourself. Nabay will play as part of the World Music Festival 2012 on Wednesday, so now's your chance.

Thursday, September 27th: Health & Beauty, Tops, Ahleuchatistas at the Burlington (9 PM, $7) 
It's a "dubble release" Thursday night for Chicago's H&B. In addition to the show you'll be able to pick up their Wintermagic on vinyl plus Our Lady on CD-R.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Riot Fest 2012 recap: Part two

By Gene Wagendorf III

Ferris Wheel | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
The 2012 incarnation of Riot Fest saved its best for last with an absolutely loaded Sunday lineup. Before I get into who I saw and what I thought, I want to take a moment to say this: do it again. As I mentioned in part one of my recap, I came away from Riot Fest blown away by the execution of the festival. The grounds were clean, the weather excellent, Humboldt Park as beautiful as ever and the sound, for the most part, spot on. Does Chicago have a lot of outdoor music in the summer? Sure. But I welcome the Riot Fest addition with open arms, assuming there are no plans to add an electronic music stage.

Reverend Horton Heat

Reverend Horton Heat | Photo Credit: Tara Griffin
While The Reverend and crew have been kicking around for decades (almost three of them, actually), the trio showed no signs of bland maturity or geriatric complacency. Kicking their set off with "Psychobilly Freakout," from 1990's Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em, gave the band the chance to quickly acquaint the unacquainted. The Reverend's big, sizzling guitar shreds skittered across heavy bass and Scott Churilla's slam dance percussion, promptly knocking the hangovers out of the afternoon crowd. The rest of the set was a cohesive blend of slick lounge pop and more rollicking jams. "Drinkin' and Smokin' Cigarettes" offered the crowd a moment of cool respite (as well as an unofficial theme song for the weekend); its elastic jangle met with the click of a hundred Zippos. While I still believe Reverend Horton Heat are best enjoyed in a dark club at a later hour, the group did well out of their comfort zone. The band rode out on "Big Red Rocket of Love," giving festival goers one last helping Jimbo Wallace's punchy bass to boogie on.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Chicago duo Wild Belle sign to Columbia, release new video

By Frank Krolicki

You might have heard bit about Chicago-based brother-sister duo Wild Belle over the past year. You'll probably be hearing a lot more about them in the coming months.

Natalie and Elliot Bergman--who together create a breezy sound described as having a "retro, psychedelic-pop feel with hints of jazz, reggae, and R&B"--have signed to Columbia Records, which will release their debut album Isles in early 2013.

According to a recent article by Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, the duo, who grew up in Barrington, have been working together musically since Natalie was in her teens (she's 23 now; Elliot is 31), but have been focusing on writing and performing as Wild Belle only since last year. Previously, Elliot had toured with Afrojazz band NOMO.

Wild Belle attracted significant interest after releasing the reggae-infused track "Keep You" early in the year, and are now offering another taste of what's the come on the album with a video for a new track called "It's Too Late," which you can check out below.

In addition for preparing the album's release, the two are about to go on a tour which includes some dates with Tennis. Check out their site for details, and look for more information on the release of their debut soon.

A few Chicago music news bites

  • Logan Square record store saki announced the first release on their new in-store record label, saki records. The store has teamed up with Chicago band Santah to put out a vinyl version of the band's new EP, You're Still a Lover, complete with a vinyl-only bonus track and digital download code. The 12" is due out November 13th. More details here.
  • Gypsyblood released a new video for their track "Endless Summer" off their 2011 debut Cold in the Guestway. Check it out here and catch the band live at Liar's Club on October 12th.
  • Chicago Mixtape talked to locally-based band Blizzard Babies.
  • reviewed Local H's latest release, Hallelujah! I'm a Bum. Also, this week the band released a video for the album's first single, Cold Manor.
  • Gapers Block has a slideshow of photos from last weekend's Riot Fest, which you can check out here. Also take a look at part one of a review from WCR's Gene Wagendorf III here.
  • has photos and a writeup of On and On's (the band born out of Scattered Trees) September 11th show at Lincoln Hall.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Riot Fest 2012 recap: Part one

By Gene Wagendorf III

Andrew W.K. | Photo Credit: Eric Kolkey
Riot Fest got a new look this year, abandoning its week-long series of shows across the city format for that of a more traditional music festival. Things got going Friday night at The Congress Theater with a show headlined by Neon Trees and The Offspring, but the festival proper played out across two days in the absolutely gorgeous Humboldt Park. Carnival rides and games were sprinkled between four stages, with music going non-stop from about noon to ten. While the festival maintained its usual focus on punk and varying subgenres, the promoters did toss in (mostly seamlessly) enough non-punk acts to keep the show from feeling stale. My two big casualties-of-scheduling on Saturday were Nobunny and GWAR, not because something tantalizing was playing opposite them, but because I have a crappy corporate day job that I couldn't escape from in time. #ReviewFail, I know. I arrived at Humboldt Park with enough time to down a few beers before Andrew W.K., and in that short time on the ground I heard nothing but buzz about GWAR. Half the crowd seemed to be covered in fake blood from their set, and most of those people were still red on Sunday. If you want to know how that set went, odds are there are still some crimson-coated lunatics wandering around Chicago. Ask them.

Andrew W.K.

Partying. Period. This is what Mr. W.K. is all about. He sings about it. He lives it. I've heard his music at parties. I've been to Andrew W.K.-themed parties. My reaction has always been, "OK, I get it. Let's move on." That said, I couldn't help myself. I had to see it.

The set blasted off with the cocaine thrash of "It's Time to Party," from 2001's I Get Wet. The track's mindless, pachyderm chug was a microcosm of the the next 45 minutes; kind of fun, kind of stupid and totally baffling. This is what adrenaline sounds like, no doubt, but I'm not sure simply creating the sound of wanting to drink beer 'til you vomit is a worthy endeavor. It's been done, and frankly, it's been done better. What would it sound like if I smashed "Pour Some Sugar On Me" into "Too Drunk To Fuck" is a weird pitch for a song, let alone a career. That Andrew W.K. has been cashing in on that auditory nihilism for 10+ is astonishing. That he managed to sound pretty good doing it is a miracle.

Eight ball vocals boomed from the speakers, distorted guitars slammed into eardrums and the mosh pit churned. My inner Rob Gordon chastised me the whole time I bobbed along, but I simply couldn't help myself. Beneath the layers of sloppy guitar and Neanderthal-meets-Dionysus lyrics, the songs were catchy. When the singer dedicated "She Is Beautiful" to all the ladies in the crowd, my stomach turned. It's pure objectification. My tapping feet didn't seem to care. When he produced a pizza-shaped guitar and zipped out semi-indulgent, ultimately uninteresting solo, I laughed at the absurdity. Or maybe, more accurately, along with it. I simply can't tell if there was any irony in what I saw during W.K.'s set, and that proved to be it's ultimate downfall. As a performance piece, the spectacle was totally fulfilling and perfectly hilarious. Problem is, it all looked sincere. I think this guy actually believes that partying is THE answer. That his music "fuken rulez" and that he's never going to age. In looking for a comparable immortal, I turned to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Quoth Wikipedia, "The fictional Everlasting Gobstopper is a candy that not only can never be finished, but never even gets smaller." That is to say it'll be around long after its rotted the teeth right out of your mouth. The sweetest candy coating can only disguise the truth for so long. In another lifetime, Andrew W.K. might've stuck to the keys and made a truly thrilling record. He could've been the second coming of The Killer. The treat I wound up enjoying at Riot Fest amounted to little more than a guilty pleasure, and I'm not sure I'll be looking for seconds.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Go to There: September 18 -24

By Andrew Hertzberg

Mako Siko
Tuesday, September 18th: Uh Bones at Empty Bottle (9:30 PM, 21+, $8) 
The lo-fi '60s inspired garage rock trio kicks off the show tonight, supporting similarly minded Plateus and Colleen Green on tour from California. Heavy Times headlines.

Wednesday, September 19th: Mako Siko at the Whistler (10 PM, 21+, FREE) 
In the experimental trio’s bio, you’ll see references to Sun Ra, Ennio Morricone and Dischord Records. Even a cursory listen to Dual Horizon expresses free jazz, cinematic soundscapes and layered chaos.

Thursday, September 20th: Django Django at Schubas (9 PM, 18+, $12) 
I’ve seen the term "futuristic" a couple times to describe the Scottish four-piece. But I think they owe just as much to the experimental art-pop of post-punk groups from the early 80s like the Fall and PIL as they do to Hot Chip or Cut Copy. This is the first of two nights at Schubas for their Chicago debut.

Friday, September 21st: Empires at Lincoln Hall (9 PM, 18+, $12) 
They nearly got rained out at Lollapalooza this year (fortunately got rescheduled; unfortunately at an inconvenient slot time for me to see), but there shouldn’t be a risk of that this time. The band can finally give the arena-sized Garage Hymns a proper local release show.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Video: Geronimo! - 'Into the Sun'

By Sasha Geffen

It's been a couple months since Geronimo! last sandpapered our brainstems with their gritty, amped-up space rock.  In this new video for the thunderous single "Into the Sun," the band enjoy a pretty sweet thrifting session in between Halloween-lit basement jams. The trio will be returning with their sophomore LP Exanimate on October 5th, the follow-up to their fantastic debut Fuzzy Dreams.

Keep an eye out for them in New York next month too, when they play the Exploding In Sound/GIMME TINNITUS CMJ Party at Paper Box in East Williamsburg on October 20th. Good things on the horizon all around for these loud locals.

Watch the new video (which was directed by John Ugolini) below.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A few Chicago music news bites

  • Chicago's Santah released details for their upcoming EP You're Still a Lover (out October 16th) along with a stream of the first single, "Indigo." The EP follows last year's full-length White Noise Bed. Find out more and take a listen to the track here.
  • has a preview of this year's Riot Fest, which is set for this Friday through Sunday.
  • Save the Clocktower, who released their latest album Through the Glass earlier this summer, were featured on NPR's World Cafe. Check it out here.
  • Brighton MA released a video for "Touch," the lead track from their upcoming album Oh Lost. They'll also be playing at Lilly's on September 21st as part of Tom Schraeder's "Chicago I Love You" festival.
  • Chicago Mixtape interviewed Mark Messing, bandleader of Chicago's favorite 30-piece "circus punk marching band" Mucca Pazza.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Video: Twin Peaks - 'Stand in the Sand'

By Gene Wagendorf III 

When I wrote about Twin Peaks' recently released debut record, Sunken, I mentioned that the band conjured up feelings of summer skinny dipping and strolls along the lakefront. The group builds on that carefree, rabble-rousing ethos in their new video for "Stand in the Sand," in which we find these guys up to their usual hijinks: chilling by the beach, skateboarding, waving sparklers, smoking weed and trouncing around an abandoned industrial site.

The video, shot and cut by Ryan Ohm, is the perfect companion piece to the song's sweaty, make out swagger. That said, watching Twin Peaks gnosh on ketchup-slathered hot dogs is pretty fucking disturbing. Check it out below, at your own risk.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hear Fort Frances cover the Grateful Dead

By Frank Krolicki

There's never a shortage of cover songs that fail to impress, but throughout the year Chicago's own Fort Frances have proven they are a band that knows how to put a worthwhile spin on another artist's track. Adding to a short list that includes the likes of Beck and Will Smith in their "As Told By..." cover series, this time the guys decided to pay homage to the Grateful Dead with a rendition of the breezy "Ripple" of the 1970 album American Beauty. Fort Frances vocalist/guitarist David McMillin said this of the track and the decision to cover it:

"This marks the most calming and relaxing recording I think we've ever done, and we all loved it: banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass, snare drum and lots of harmonies. We chose this particular tune because a) we love it and b) we're gearing up for the Americana Music Festival this weekend. Jerry Garcia was a past recipient of the AMA's President's Award."

Take a listen to the track and download it for free below. Also catch Fort Frances live at Schubas with Dry the River on September 28th.

Go to There: September 11 - 17

By Andrew Hertzberg

Shapers (Photo Credit: Joe Carsello)
Tuesday, September 11th: Shapers at Burlington (9 PM, 21+, $5)
After dropping an EP on the first day of the year, Shapers has spent most of 2012 being pretty quiet (save for their Instagram feed). But their bandcamp promises the experimental group is working on a new LP, so hopefully more live performances is a sign they want to test the new stuff out.

Wednesday, September 12th: Victor Villarreal at Double Door (7:30 PM, 21+, $8)
A quick listen to this year’s Invisible Cinema will find the same enigmatic and constantly moving guitar riffs that Villarreal delivered in Cap’n Jazz, Ghosts and Vodka, and Owls.

Thursday, September 13th: Daniel Knox at Saki (6:30 PM, AA, FREE)
At various times, Knox blends together Eastern European folk, Andrew Bird-like Americana and his soulful croon. Backed by whimsical piano, accordion, brass and various other arrangements, the intimate record store will be an interesting space for his performance.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Video: California Wives - 'Purple'

By Frank Krolicki

Following this week's release of their debut album Art History, Chicago's own California Wives have put video to the audio of one of the LP's songs, "Purple." To go along with the track's colorful name, the video features artwork submitted by fans and other artists that was created with Sharpies (the band partnered with Sharpie to bring the video to life). It debuted during the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards.

See the video for yourself below, and as a bonus check out a stream of the track "Blood Red Youth." You can also check out California Wives live at Lincoln Hall on September 12th.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Show review: Charlie Mars at City Winery, 9/2

By Gene Wagendorf III

When I was first offered the chance to cover Charlie Mars' Labor Day weekend gig, I hesitated. Slick singer/songwriters aren't generally for me, and with few exceptions I prefer not to write about music I really don't like. There's usually little point in slamming an artist, especially knowing going in that they're unlikely to be something I'm going to digest well. Luckily I decided I couldn't pass up the chance to check out Chicago's newest venue, the swank yet surprisingly laid back City Winery.

Well, you can't judge a book by its cover, and apparently you can't judge a singer by his pretty boy looks. 

Mars confessed at the get-go that he's seen one too many episodes of VH1 Storytellers, and playing without a backing band gave him the chance to showcase his considerable songwriting talent, as well as to indulge in some story telling of his own. The result was less a straight concert and more a one man show, an impressive combination of charm, humor and nuance- both in the music and in the tales behind it.

 "I Do I Do," which appears on the recently released Blackberry Light, swayed on a fragile melody, taut enough to support some of the night's more simplistic lyrics, but spacious enough to lend them gravity. The love song's precision and grace was made even more impressive by the admission that it was written hastily the night before a friend's wedding. "Meet Me By The Back Door," Mars' tongue-in-cheek attempt at "sexing up" his image, was catchy in its silliness while still providing a showcase for clever turns of phrases. Some of the evening's biggest laughs came at lines like I got a little/ I could use a little more and why do you make me wait so long/ when you know I got this monkey to please. A more serious and moving metaphor was the foundation of "Blackberry Light," a studied meditation in which Mars compares his own listlessness to fumbling in the dark by the glow of cell phone. 

The only things more prevalent than wordplay during Charlie Mars' set were seductive melodies and references to smoking weed. And here I thought I wasn't going to enjoy myself. The somber tip-toe of  "Listen to the Darkside" shimmered in its minimalism, allowing Mars' nimble vocals to take center stage. While the idea that toking up to Pink Floyd can ease all forms of weariness is sentimental at best, the singer's thoughtful croon was more than convincing. The song also served as an interesting companion piece to "How I Roll," a bluesy, paranoid jaunt whose pop fell a bit flat without a backing band. "Roll" was the exception though, as I enjoyed Mars more without the glossy  production and noodling that sags a few songs on Blackberry Light. "Got To Be Blue" epitomized just what the singer is capable of when left to his own devices; the thoughtful ballad-of-the-down-and-out was the most mesmerizing and emotional tune of the night. I'm hoping Mars can fend off his producers long enough get it recorded without any added pomp. The evening closed with a positively appropriate cover of "The Joker," a song that seemed almost perfectly autobiographical. The man tokes, and he jokes, and he showed City Winery a good time.

Go to There: September 4-10

By Andrew Hertzberg

Show You Suck (via Facebook)
Tuesday, September 4th: Angel Olsen at Reckless Records (Wicker Park) (5 PM, AA, FREE)
The release show for Angel Olsen’s Half Way Home out on Bathetic Records. In brief, she simply has a gorgeous voice, and being backed up by minimal folk tunes gives it some room to breathe. It’s no wonder Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (who she toured with) was attracted to it.

Wednesday, September 5th: Show You Suck at Schubas (18+, 9 PM, $10)
Can’t neglect the facts forever: Chicago has great hip-hop, and not all of it promotes violence and smoking weed. Show You Suck still shows depth and simultaneously can make undeniably fun music with a hint of silly. Mo Slices Mo Problems is a great one that fell under the radar late last year. 

Thursday, September 6th: Panoramic and True at the Burlington (9 PM, 21+, $5)
Orchestral indie-pop that reminds me of Beulah’s best days with a more rugged side. When John Lennox’s voice hits things a bit on the yelpy side, those strings bring everything back to the melodic, in a constant dance between tension and cohesion.

Show review: Dastardly at Schubas, 8/30

By Andrew Hertzberg

Dastardly will never just simply play a show. I mean, yeah, I guess they probably do a conventional set from time to time, but between last year’s Catastrophe, the feud with the Shams Band and now a two-set evening at Schubas, they always come up with something new to forget how miserable life can be…before lead singer Gabe Liebowitz starts singing about how miserable life can be and we’re all doomed to the same inevitability that all generations of any living organism have experienced.

Set One, affectionately referred to as the “Quaalude set,” focused mostly on tracks from May You Never… like "Creepy" and "Traffic" (which Gabe may or may not have forgotten the words to) as well as one of my personal favorites, "Dead Birdhouse Blues," which is an accordion-led middle-finger to the Show Me State. The band wrapped up the first set by performing Ballads in Blue in full, with special help from members of Santah and the Shams Band. I was already losing count of the instruments used. By the end of the night, Joe Rauen would play with an electric guitar, three clarinets (occasionally two at once), a banjo, and what are those, rocks being poured on a mirror? Likewise, Sarah Morgan mainly helmed the accordion, but picked up the tuba and helped on percussion from time to time as well.