Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker are both known for their creativity and curious spirits. Rumback is a drummer in high demand in Chicago’s free-jazz circles, and a pillar of the second wave of improvisers in a scene first shaped by the legendary players like Sun Ra and the AACM. Walker draws deeply on other distinctly American styles, bringing a strong sense of folk tradition to his playing that is as arresting as his freewheeling performance style. Walker’s musical explorations are not limited to his own songwriting: the guitarist regularly collaborates in Chicago and now New York with innovators of every genre. Together, Rumback and Walker find common ground in their kinetic, intuitive playing and yearning creative outlook. “Little Common Twist”, their sophomore release as a duo, finds both players at their most adventurous. It compiles instrumental pieces that convey a striking range of emotions, at once introspective and expansive, with a delicate interplay that delights as they move with ease across a spectrum of styles. The recording has a pastoral quality that recalls Van Morrison’s classic album Veedon Fleece, and captures a remarkably dexterous performance by both Charles and Ryley that make this album so expansive and fresh.

Little Common Twist was recorded over several sessions throughout 2017 and 2018 with producer John Hughes, capturing the duo playing in the moment with minimal overdubs. The guitar and drums duo eschewed each instrument’s traditional roles of rhythm and melody, experimenting with texture and rhythm. Rumback and Walker remarkably paint in both broad, gestural strokes and intricate melodic details. “Half Joking” and “Self Blind Sun” are warm, deep songs that draw on structures from the American primitive guitar songbook. “Idiot Parade” leaps into more explorative territory, Rumback setting an urgent, rolling cymbal groove while Walker paints melodic sonic vapor trails across the sky. “Menehbi” experiments further with abstract forms, atomizing guitar and drums into an ambient haze where loose flourishes from Rumback hint at rhythm and structure, while a steady electronic pulse provides an anchor amidst the fog.


Little Common Twist is the culmination of a creative partnership that has seen Rumback and Walker constantly challenging each other. In stretching the bounds of their interplay even further than before, the duo created their most evocative and expansive work to date, conjuring the afterglow of sun-scorched landscapes and ethereal after-hours ambiance.

Releases November 8th, 2019

With Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Lake Street Dive, Langhorne Slim) at the production helm, Alio stretches well beyond Fort Frances’ Americana roots to unlock the potential that’s been building for the past two years with louder guitars, jubilant horns and dueling rhythm sections. 


If there was any concern that David Berman had lost any of his stunning acuity with language in the 11 years since the last Silver Jews record, the record is set straight right out of the gate: “You see the life I live is sickening/ I spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion/ Day to day, I’m neck-and-neck with giving in/ I’m the same old wreck I’ve ever been.” The musical milieu may be different this time out—lush indie rock that feints frequently toward Americana—but Berman’s knack for weaving evocative narratives shot through with hope, doubt, and self-destruction are as strong as they’ve ever been. The album feels like a gift: when Berman blew up Silver Jews in 2008, he disappeared entirely; the long silence that followed made it seem like things might stay that way. Purple Mountains rewards the patience of his ardent followers with some of his strongest melodic songwriting to date, and also has enough clean hooks and clever barbs to reel in a few new ones.

Centerpiece “Margaritas at the Mall” likens the futility of human existence in the face of a silent God with day-drinking at a shopping center: “See the plod of the flawed individual, looking for a nod from God/ Trodding the sod of the visible, with no new word from God/ We’re just drinking margaritas at the mall/ That’s what this stuff adds up to after all.” The melody in the chorus sounds triumphant; the lyrics are anything but. The album is dusted with traces of pedal steel, barroom piano, and string-like keys, but—as it should be—the centerpiece is always Berman. “If no one’s fond of fucking me/ then maybe no one’s fucking fond of me/ Maybe I’m the only one for me,” he sings wryly in the album’s closing number. Berman may feel alone, but his legion of disciples cheer his return—and hang on every word.


David Berman comes in from the cold after ten long years. His new musical expression is a meltdown unparalleled in modern memory. He warns us that his findings might be candid, but as long as his punishment comes in such bite-sized delights of all-American jukebox fare, we’ll hike the Purple Mountains with pleasure forever.

Released July 12th, 2019

2019 Drag City Inc.

Image may contain: 2 people, eyeglasses and text

Whitney was born from a series of laidback early-morning songwriting sessions during one of the harshest winters in Chicago. after Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek (former members of Smith Westerns) reconnected – first as roommates splitting rent in a small Chicago apartment and later as musical collaborators passing the guitar and the lyrics sheet back and forth.

Whitney have shared another new song from their forthcoming album “Forever Turned Around”, which is out August 30th via Secretly Canadian. It’s called “Valleys (My Love)” and arrives with a new music video from Kamp Grizzly. Directed by Nick Woytuk, it follows a truck driver. Watch it below.

Whitney’s sophomore album features production from Brad Cook (Bon Iver, Hand Habits) and Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado (who’s worked with Weyes Blood and Father John Misty). The new single follows “Giving Up.”

Whitney are performing later this year’s at Green Man Festival Brecon Beacons, UK

“Valleys (My Love)” from Forever Turned Around, the new album from Whitney, out August 30th, 2019 on Secretly Canadian

As a founding member and leader of the American rock band Wilco, and before that the co-founder of the alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, Chicago-based Jeff Tweedy is one of contemporary American music’s most accomplished songwriters, musicians and performers. His memoir, LET’S GO (SO WE CAN GET BACK): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc., was released last year.

Through his pioneering work in the legendary country-punk band, Uncle Tupelo, to his enduring legacy as the creative force behind the unclassifiable sound of Wilco, Jeff Tweedy has weaved his way between the underground and the mainstream – and back again. Funny, disarming, and deeply honest, his memoir casts light on his unique creative process and the stories that shaped his life and career, from a childhood spent in Illinois to the release of the bands album “No Depression” in the early 90’s – which set the blueprint for alt-country – and later working with Mavis Staples and, posthumously, Woody Guthrie. (Rough Trade BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

Jeff Tweedy and son Spencer, 

The book delves deeper into the creative development of one of the greatest American songwriters on his generation than any interview or biography I’ve read about Jeff Tweedy. The guy is honest, dishonest, candid, flippant, coherent, rambling, sometimes all on the same page.

Jeff Tweedy – One Wing – Woods Stage

Jeff opens up about the development of his writing style, making the understanding of the Wilco albums greater than any journalist review ever could. In fact the only flaw I would throw at this book is that it is almost too revealing about the personal lows Jeff has experienced in the troubled phases of the Wilco era. I’m sure it will hardly appeal to anyone unfamiliar with Tweedy’s output, which is sad as Jeff’s contribution to recorded music  in general is as vital as anyone else I’ve ever heard.

In February 2017, Twin Peaks took fellow Chicagoans Post Animal on a short tour of Michigan. Within a month, and on the tails of their budding friendships, Cadien moved into a home with all five members of the band:

Now roommates, Cadien and Javi wrote songs together, experimenting with open tunings and finger picking in ways neither had in their other bands, channeling John Fahey and Nick Drake through a lens more familiar to them. They quickly recorded a few instrumentals on a 50s’ portable reel to reel tape machine, with Wes playing drums, Matt playing bass, Jake playing synthesizer and guitar, and Dalton triggering nature sounds. And so Column was born.

It wasn’t until January of 2019 that the words were written and swiftly tracked. Mixed and mastered by good friend R. Andrew Humphry, “I” & “II,” the first entries in the Column story were written.

Chicago band Column is made up of Cadien James of Twin Peaks and all five current members of Post Animal (Dalton Allison, Jake Hirshland, Javi Reyes, Matt Williams, and Wes Toledo) who all live together in the same house. Their debut 7″ is out August 17th via Grand Jury and you can check out one side of the that, the very mellow, laid-back “II” right now.

COLUMN is Cadien James, Dalton Allison, Jake Hirshland, Javier Reyes, Matt Williams, and Wes Toledo. Debut 7″, “I & II,” coming from Grand Jury Music August 16th.

V.V. Lightbody (Vivian McConnell from Chicago bands Santah / Grandkids) is playing music that is self-described as nap-rock. V.V. released her debut LP, ‘Bathing Peach’, in June of 2018. Her songs have cocktail lounge vibes; layered with flutes & lyrics about dried fruit. Think of glitching mermaids with dozing and comfortable songs. 

Just a few weeks when we last raved about Chicago’s V.V. Lightbody, yet with the release of her new single this week, we’re more than willing to do so again. The track, Car Alarm, is the latest taste of where V.V.’s music is going following last year’s Bathing Peach.

“Car Alarm” is a somewhat darker affair than the bossa nova shuffle of V.V.’s last single, Baby, Honestly. Discussing the track, V.V. has suggested it came to her in around 10 minutes, combining her, “humid nap rock”, with a more driving quality. There’s a nod to the more 1970’s leaning moments of Angel Olsen’s My Woman, as Car Alarm bounces on a chunky lead guitar riff, even finding room later for a twanging, beast of a solo. Lyrically, it finds V.V. pondering death, yet finding a quiet humour in it, “the thought of me hypothetically trying to contact everyone in my life to let them know that I’m dying made me laugh. The chorus pokes fun at being a selfishly dark artist, taking small human moments and exaggerating them into song”. Another thrilling trip into this songwriting mind, V.V. Light body is a musician on a roll.


Car Alarm is out now via Acrophase Records.

Song and lyrics by V.V. Lightbody (Vivian McConnell)
Guitar & Vocals – V.V. Lightbody 
Lead Guitar – Evan Metz 
Drums – Nate Friedman
Bass – Michael Harmon

Love is everyday magic. That’s the impression you get listening to Water, the new album by Chicago trio Dehd. Veterans of Chicago’s increasingly fruitful DIY scene Jason Balla ( Ne-Hi and Earring) Emily Kempf (Vail and formerly with Lala Lala) and drummer Eric McGrady share a strange and inexplicable chemistry. Love rises up into the atmosphere like steam off a summer sidewalk and makes you wild. Love breaks your heart and you consider yourself lucky for it. Like water itself, it surrounds us, it supports us; it’s what we’re made of. It takes the shape of its container. The music is hazy and reverb-drenched, a scuzzy and hyped-up take on surf rock that could only come from the Third Coast.  It’s all animated by the red-lining feel-good spirit of the Velvet Underground’s Loaded and the breezy melodicism of C86-era indie rock, with a dash of the Cramps’ spooky-hop bop courtesy of McGrady’s locomotive drumming.It’s a clear-eyed look at the wild nature of everyday life that’s been spun up in sugary sweet melodies and scratched-crystal sounds. More than anything, it’s the embodiment of Dehd’s m.o. from the start: As Kempf puts it, “Work with what you have and make it magical.”

There’s countless reasons a band could break up: personal differences, creative differences, the magic just isn’t there anymore. You’d think a literal breakup between two dating band members would do the trick, but for Chicago’s breezy rockers Dehd, it only made their bond stronger.

Dehd’s unique story is thoroughly documented on their new album “Water”, with songs tracing the perspectives of both guitarist Jason Balla (NE-HI, Earring) and bassist Emily Kempf (Lala Lala) through the end of their relationship. The songs feel ironically weightless for an album dealing with tense moments of frustration and heartbreak, and mirrors the ever-shifting essence of water itself. “It’s like a weird party,” Balla tells me. Weird, but comfortable. Both Balla and Kempf based in Chicago talk about their new record, how the band’s dynamic shifted in the face of a dramatic life change, and how music kept them together.

“When you play music with certain people and it just clicks, it’s not something you can take for granted. It doesn’t always work like that.”  Jason Balla

Is there a central focus on Water, or is every song its own living thing and the record’s just a natural collection?

Jason: It’s kind of a product of the circumstances at the time, because we were in the process of our romantic relationship breaking up, so it was mostly that couple-month period distilled into the songs we were writing at the time. Emily: It was really cool. The band just prevailed through the form of our relationship changing, and it was just documented in the songwriting.

How comfortable was the songwriting process, knowing you two were writing about each other? Even on the single “Lucky,” you get straight to the point, singing, “Lucky to have people in my life with the power to break my heart.”

Emily: Yeah, there’s a lot of songs like that [laughs]. We don’t even really talk about it. Frequently, we write lyrics and neither of us know what the other is saying until we’re recording. We both start singing stuff and I don’t really hear Jason, then when we’re recording I’m like, “Oh, shit.” I think both of us are committed to the truth, but we’re also not shitty to each other on purpose. The songs reflect that. None of them are hateful. They’re just both of our takes on a scenario without us talking about it.

Was there a learning curve dealing with this subject matter face-to-face?

Jason: It’s pretty much always worked this way with us, which is why it was possible, I think. Emily: This [album] is probably the first time we’ve talked about it so bluntly.

Jason: Making music feels natural, so it was like, this is something worth putting up with and having some discomfort about, because it’s worth doing, and it’s rewarding in a creative and artistic way.

Emily: It’s like being in a different world, like when we were in the band it was a different world to be in and it was safe to do all this processing, together and separately. Jason: And you have to be on your best behavior together because [drummer Eric McGrady]’s there and you don’t want to disappoint dad [laughs].

Yeah, there’s a relaxed sound to your music, and obviously you all still get along well. Do you see one being the product of the other?

Jason: It’s just the combination of the three of us. When you play music with certain people and it just clicks, it’s not something you can take for granted. It doesn’t always work like that. I’ve tried to play music with people over the years where it’s like, “Oh, we don’t understand what each other is doing at all, actually.”

How has the dynamic shifted within the band? I assume with a change in your personal relationship, there’s been a bit of a shift?

Jason: Oh yeah, it’s a record with a lot of emotional growth and learning about yourself. Emily: We didn’t really know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if the “we” was going to stop being a “we.” We just kept showing up. If it seemed like it was time for us to stop showing up, I feel like we would’ve honored that, but things kept working themselves out. The music, and the way it feels to write songs and to play them.

Emily: The magic, honestly. The concept of “true love conquering all” kind of shit, in America and culturally—it’s usually sent into a romantic spin. But it’s like, I see this band as a true love situation. The real love is we’re all friends and we all show up for each other. There’s this unexplainable mystery when we come together in a musical way, and that’s the kind of thing we’re in awe of. I don’t know why the three of us met and work together so well and create this really fun music. It’s very pure and free from this other stuff. We’re not absorbed with ourselves, we’re absorbed with the music that comes through us together. We just loved making music together and for some reason when we make music together, the other stuff just didn’t matter.

Like the real love thing that I was talking about, it’s not always romantic or sexual or fun and frilly—or even in a “getting high” sort of feeling. It means showing up when it’s hard and having these tough conversations and crying on tour and saying sorry for stuff and writing a song about it and learning how to communicate in a musical space and also an emotional space. We’ll have conversations at practice and we’ll have short talks just checking in on each other, like, “Is this okay? How’s this going?” and setting, like, boundaries. It just keeps working.

Do you feel like when people listen to the record they’ll understand that message? Do you feel like it comes through?

Emily: I think the message comes through from watching us perform and by watching us continuing to exist as a band. Jason: I think on the record, you can pick what’s applicable and what makes sense to you.

Emily: It’s probably relatable on a “dealing with heartbreak” sort of level. The conclusion that we’re at now, maybe that will be apparent on the next record. I don’t really know what the story is going to be yet, but I guess we’ll know soon.

From Dehd’s sophomore LP ‘Water’ out May 10th on Fire Talk.


On May 28th, 1991 The Smashing Pumpkins released their debut album ‘Gish’. Billy Corgan performed nearly all of the guitar and bass parts on the record.  They had been an active band for the 3 years before the release of this album, playing small shows here and there in their hometown of Chicago, Illinois.

Upon its release, it was quite positively acclaimed. This was, of course, in May of ’91.

Arriving several months before Nirvana’s Nevermindthe Smashing Pumpkins‘ debut album, “Gish”, which was also produced by Butch Vig, was the first shot of the alternative revolution that transformed the rock & roll landscape of the ’90s. While Nirvana was a punk band, the Smashing Pumpkins and guitarist/vocalist Billy Corgan were arena rockers, co-opting their metallic riffs and epic art rock song structures with self-absorbed lyrical confessions. Though Corgan’s lyrics fall apart upon close analysis, there’s no denying his gift for arrangements. Like Brian May and Jimmy Page, he knows how to layer guitars for maximum effect, whether it’s on the pounding, sub-Sabbath rush of “I Am One” or the shimmering, psychedelic dream pop surfaces of “Rhinoceros.”

Such musical moments like these, as well as the rushing “Siva” and the folky “Daydream,” which features D’Arcy on lead vocals, demonstrate the Smashing Pumpkins‘ potential, but the rest of Gish sometimes falls prey to undistinguished songwriting and showy instrumentation.

The album’s sessions, lasting 30 working days, were brisk by Pumpkins‘ standards, largely because of the group’s inexperience.The recording sessions put an intense strain on the band, with bassist D’arcy Wretzky later commenting that she did not know how the band survived it, and Corgan explaining he suffered a nervous breakdown

Regarding the album’s thematic content, Corgan would later say,

The album is about pain and spiritual ascension. People ask if it’s a political album. It’s not a political album, it’s a personal album. In a weird kind of way, Gish is almost like an instrumental album—it just happens to have singing on it, but the music overpowers the band in a lot of places. I was trying to say a lot of things I couldn’t really say in kind of intangible, unspeakable ways, so I was capable of doing that with the music, but I don’t think I was capable of doing it with words.

“Gish” went platinum 8 years after its release. As far as debuts go, this one is a masterpiece. You’ll love this album;

The band:  Jimmy Chamberlin – drums, Billy Corgan – vocals, lead guitar, bass, keyboards, piano, production, James Iha – rhythm guitar, vocals, D’arcy Wretzky – bass, vocals, lead vocals on “Daydream”, layouts

Mavis Staples has never shied away from making a statement, going all the way back to the raw vocal power and unshakeable commitment of The Staple Singers’ 1965 civil rights anthem “Freedom Highway.” The records she’s been making on ANTI for the last 15 years — the overt examples being We’ll Never Turn Back and If All I Was Was Black— have been increasingly oriented toward raising consciousness and, considering Americas’s current state, we need Staples’ fiery forward momentum more than ever.

The message is clear from the get-go on We Get By, as the dirty, grinding blues riffs of Staples’ bandleader/guitarist Rick Holmstrom power opening cut “Change.” “What good is freedom if we haven’t learned to be free?” asks Staples, and the band’s gritty rumble underlines her outrage.

Jeff Tweedy produced and wrote her last album, and wasn’t above gently pushing the envelope, but Ben Harper fills the writer/producer role by just letting Mavis be Mavis on We Get By. Harper takes her down a vintage Staple Singers path with the funky “Brothers and Sisters,” and when she sings, “trouble in the land, we can’t trust that man” her intentions aren’t exactly elliptical. The classic vibe is carried forward with Holmstrom’s doomy Pops Staples-style guitar licks on “Heavy on My Mind.”

Staples’ gospel repertoire comes to the fore on the sanctified stomper “Sometime,” when she utilizes simple, gospel-style lyrics to passionately reiterate the need for change. It’s not all current affairs though — for all the biblical allusions, when Mavis sings “Nothing in the world is stronger than my love for you” in blues-rocker “Stronger,” she seems to blur the line between earthly and spiritual. And she allows a peek at her intimate side on when she dips into her sensual side for the slow-burning, love-hungry, “Chance on Me.”


Nearly 80 upon the album’s release, Mavis is the last surviving member of the Staple Singers’ ’70s lineup. But closing out the album by calling for “One More Change,” she makes it plain that her struggle is our struggle, and it goes on.