Posts Tagged ‘Illinois’

A perfect pairing is a joy to come by, and a blind pairing is even finer; here, a role of dice slides Bill Callahan into Jerry Jeff Walker’s big shoes to walk over an ethereal Mojave country take on Mike Burton’s classic cowboy tune, courtesy of Wand’s Cory Hanson, shape-shifting into his solo persona with ease, and giving Bill and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy plenty of room to display theirs too. Cover artwork by Aline Cautis, shown as part of the group show “The Monochrome Set”, at Soccer Club Club, October 2018.

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Released January 20th, 2021

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Chicago-based singer-songwriter Gia Margaret released an ambient album, Mia Gargaret, last year, and she’s now followed it with her first new single of 2021, a studio version of a song she’s been known to perform live. “I just felt like sharing a song,” she writes. “I’ve been missing the spontaneity of releasing music on a whim, I suppose. During these slow winter months and after such a slow (and rough) year for everyone– I thought it would give me (and maybe you) something nice to start 2021 with. It is my offering. It also feels like a misfit (production wise) in a body of newer songs and especially with the direction I’m moving into. That’s not to say there might not be another version on a record at some point. I just decided this deserves it’s own celebration.”

I just felt like sharing a song. I’ve been missing the spontaneity of releasing music on a whim. During these slow winter months and after such a slow (and rough) year for everyone– I thought it would give me (and maybe you) something nice to start 2021 with. It is my offering.

Released January 12th, 2021
Produced by Gia Margaret

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 song writing: 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.

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“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. 

Released November 8th, 2019

I just felt like sharing a song. I’ve been missing the spontaneity of releasing music on a whim. During these slow winter months and after such a slow (and rough) year for everyone– I thought it would give me (and maybe you) something nice to start 2021 with. It is my offering. 

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Released January 1st, 2021
Produced by Gia Margaret
Mastered by Dan Duszynski

Greg Rutkin (drums),
Rhodri Brooks (lap steel),
Nick Papaleo (bass),
Arthi Meera (background vocals).
Gia Margaret (keys, synthesizer, organ)

beach bunny honeymoon

Emo garage-rock becomes thrillingly new on this Chicago band’s debut, driven by the bracingly real song writing of singer-guitarist Lili Trifilio. Pop-punk torpedoes like “Promises” and “Colorblind” power through self-doubt in a way that makes post-teen romantic angst seem at once archetypal yet wholly original; Beach Bunny are college-age kids who’ve been playing together for years, so there’s a surprisingly amount of song writing chops and musical precision here, and when Trifilio gets what she deserves on “Cloud 9,” singing “I don’t want to seem the way I do/but I’m confident when I’m with you,” you can’t help but want to jump up and high-five her.

Honeymoon is the excellent debut album from Beach Bunny, the four-piece band out of Chicago. Recorded at the iconic Chicago studio Electrical Audio with producer Joe Reinhart (Hop Along, Algernon Caldwaller), the nine songs on the LP burst with energy that capture their vital and life-affirming live shows. Songs like the swooning and anthemic singles “Dream Boy” and “Ms. California” encapsulate the highs and lows the exiting the honeymoon stage of a relationship.

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Beach Bunny found its initial legs in 2018 as fully formed fuzz-pop quartet, landing a streaming hit with the dark-witted body image paean “Prom Queen.” More so than on her earlier more-acoustic releases, Trifilio’s full-band version of Beach Bunny revealed a knack for infectious pop hooks played with a collaborative energy, which helped propel her anxious observations beyond mere folk confessionalism. The success of “Prom Queen” also helped the group net a deal with New York indie Mom + Pop Records, which offers up their full-length debut, Honeymoon.

Like the self-released EP that preceded it, Honeymoon capitalizes on Trifilio’s emotional honesty and strong melodic sense, but with a bolder production aesthetic, doing away with some of the lo-fi leanings of her previous output. Having spent the last couple of years gelling as a live band, Beach Bunny seem altogether more streamlined here, even flirting with elements of pop-punk precision on cuts like “Cuffing Season” and “Colorblind,” though without losing their indie charm. Most of the songs are up-tempo, with Trifilio taking a timeout on the introspective electric piano piece “Racetrack” and the more jagged “Rearview,” the latter of which is played entirely solo until its mighty final 30 seconds. Honeymoon is bookended by a pair of highlights in “Promises” and “Cloud 9,” two rousing tracks that connect squarely and showcase the best of what Beach Bunny can do.

There’s an endearing tenderness to Trifilio’s personal song writing style that mostly avoids emo clichés, and the band’s cautiously buoyant indie pop walks the line between sweet and muscular on this solid debut. The long-awaited debut LP “Honeymoon” from Beach Bunny follows their breakout hit with “Prom Queen” (65 million global streams). released February 14th, 2020 on Mom+Pop Records

Some psychedelic albums reach a hypnotic end cheaply. But “Shadow Talk”, the second album from Chicago experimental five-piece Cafe Racer, reaches heady emotional and sonic heights, not by leaning on overused effects or sprinkling meaningless, abstract imagery, but by expecting more out of a song and its lyrics. Shadow Talk is all about finesse and dynamics—melodies cascade with subtlety and spark with a euphoric glow. They’re also masters of grooves both meditative and invigorating, and they experiment with foreground and background sounds in mind-numbing ways. It’s an extremely calming album until it isn’t—the guitar and synth fury on “Faces” is life-affirming, the guitar solo in “Exile” is painfully emotive and its subsequent outro track creates blistering, ambient havoc. It’s a moody, empathetic album, bolstered by repetition and the palpable scenes they create, whether that’s an imagined, heavenly gorge or the melancholy urban landscapes you traverse every day. 

Cafe Racer continues Chicago’s long tradition of indie-rock / post-punk / whathaveyou, but with splashes of psych. Fluid but not overly studied. The debut album from Chicago five-piece Cafe Racer arrived in 2018 with Famous Dust, which artfully wobbles as much as it confidently struts. Their ability to make keyboard and guitar sounds bend, zigzag and squeal was already well-developed, so by the time they released their 2020 follow-up Shadow Talk, they were firing on all cylinders. With art rock, psych and krautrock as their backbone, they lock into immersive grooves, but even when a groove is dismantled or they’re building up to another one, Cafe Racer have a way of dazzling with subtle, snaking riffs and luscious vocals. 

Written and Performed by Cafe Racer: Michael Santana, Adam Schubert, Rob McWilliams, Andrew Harper, and Elise Poirier. Saxophone on ‘Breathing’ performed by Spencer Ouellette. 

During the enforced idleness of the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people hatched ambitious plans: reading unreadable books, mastering a language, baking virtuous sourdough. For Jeff Tweedy, the global crisis truncated a Wilco tour, and he found himself at home with his family. His son Spencer lives at home anyway, and his other son, Sammy, returned from New York to do remote schooling.

Tweedy had tuned in to the discussion about creativity during times of quarantine, and had learned (the arguable fact) that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while sheltering from the plague. What to do? Well, in times of stress, as in all times, Tweedy’s habit is to visit his Chicago studio, The Loft. There, he planned to write a country album named after Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, producing a song a day.

“Love Is The King” is not that record. Tantalisingly, Tweedy suggests that a number of straightforward country-style songs were recorded before his own instincts started to kick in. True, if Shakespeare had gone countrypolitan, he might have taken his sense of jeopardy, his troubled masculinity, his interest in tempests as an emotional metaphor and created something similar. “Ripeness is all,” says Edgar in King Lear. “Oh, tomatoes right off the vine,” croons Tweedy in “Guess Again”, “we used to eat them like that all the time.”

This album marries Tweedy’s mature emotional outlook (love is all, and is a dream worth dreaming) to the workaday manners of Uncle Tupelo or the Woody Guthrie project, Mermaid Avenue. There’s a home video lurking on YouTube of Tweedy sitting on his sofa, strumming his way through Talking Heads’ “Heaven”. The sound of Love Is The King is what you’d expect from the bar band in that song: briskly functional, with an enduring tension between Tweedy’s balmy vocals and the electric guitar, which arrives in these songs like a deluge.

“I always think that the electric guitar player, who’s me, is the guy who’s having the toughest time dealing with everything,” Tweedy tells says. “He’s a little bit frayed. He showed up for a different type of session, his nerves are getting the better of him.”

Occasionally, broader influences seep through. The playful “Gwendolyn” has the wayward electricity of the Faces, and a heroine who sounds the sort of paramour the young Rod Stewart might have conquered and regretted. For Tweedy it acknowledges his habit of finding himself several steps behind a woman, emotionally. The title track has a languid rhythm that is almost obliterated by the guitar, and a lyric that marries the Lear-like outlook of the narrator (“At the edge/Of as bad as it gets”), to flashes of current affairs; tanks in the streets and violence.

That mood spills into “Opaline”, a honky-tonk lament that playfully blurs images of death, paranoia and dread. The inspiration for the song is more prosaic. The lyric is addressed to a golden orb-weaver spider that lived in Tweedy’s backyard through spring and summer before abruptly disappearing, presumed dead. The song’s most troubling image, of a hearse stuck at a toll gate, actually happened. Tweedy saw the funeral car, parked in its own metaphor, when escaping Chicago via the skyway to Michigan. “I kept looking in my rear-view mirror, thinking, ‘Holy shit, that’s one of the worst things I can think of,’” he says with a laugh. “A guy driving a hearse with no change for a toll.”

On paper, it sounds tormented. In reality, it doesn’t. As a singer, Tweedy patrols the trunk road between regret and resilience. Straight-legged sincerity, when he chooses to use it, is a good look: see the thankful love song “Even I Can See”Tweedy is probably more instinctively comfortable undermining himself, as on the countrified “Natural Disaster”. That song’s image of “a lightning bolt punch a bird right out of the sky” may be a nod to the sudden death of a flamingo in Charles Portis’s book The Dog Of The South. On a further literary note, Tweedy’s pal, author George Saunders, provides a couple of lines to the sprightly “A Robin Or A Wren”, a song that manages to roll together romantic devotion, love of life, fear of death, and a playful suggestion of reincarnation. Saunders’ lines are about “the end of the end of this beautiful dream”. 

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Tweedy, with his unerring ability to find himself while getting lost, ushers in a conclusion that is happy and sad, with hope kept aflame by his faith in the power of song. No matter what he does with Wilco or solo, simply one of the best songwriters alive. His lyrics are poetry. His vocal delivery invites you in and is so vulnerable. I like this a bit better than Warm, which was also brilliant. This is just another in a string of albums from artists over the pandemic that have blown me away this year.

Released October 23rd, 2020

All songs written by Jeff Tweedy
except “A Robin Or A Wren” written by Jeff Tweedy and George Saunders
Performed by Jeff Tweedy, Spencer Tweedy, and Sammy Tweedy,

Chicago duo Ohmme was started by Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham in the summer of 2014, combining their love for lush vocals and song writing with their love of experimentation and sound.

Surprise! We’re very excited to announce a special split 7” with our friends The Aubreys out TODAY exclusively on Bandcamp. Our side has 2 new songs: “Eagle Eye” and “We Human”. Yuuuge thanks to the Aubreys for asking us to make this sweet thing with them!
Drums by the man, the myth, the legend Eric Slick. Recorded by Dorian Gehring. Limited number of vinyl available now.

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Released November 16th, 2020

Written + performed by OHMME
Drums by Eric Slick

Three years ago, Trevor Sensor released the wonderfully off-kilter album, Andy Warhol’s Dream. Like Warhol conveying messages about society’s insatiable consumerism through his art, Sensor crafted widescreen tales about the everyday person’s desires to have more. The stories were clever, entertaining, and timely, and even today the entire LP remains relevant as everyone continues to seek to have everything.

Given Sensor’s proclivity with the spoken word, however, a more apt comparison may be Hunter S. Thompson. The former journalist and late novelist immersed himself in American’s “counterculture”, delving deep into every corner of the USA to expose its ugliness and myriad of contradictions. The Illinois-born singer-songwriter similarly has dove headfirst into the polarization that threatens to rip America at the seams. His purpose, like Thompson, is to chronicle the truths that people wish to ignore, which he does brilliantly and with typical Sensor fervour on his latest single, “These Dark Days”.

The song is an entertainingly raucous and biting folk-rocker that sounds surreal yet is extremely present. It is filled with contradictions, including how the song is jubilant in its approach yet appalling in its observations. Immediately, Sensor sings:

“Everything is dead, the past left behind
Saw three pretty women weeping in line
Holy Bible in the drawer, sleeping on the floor
Waiting for the news of the comin’ war”

Throughout the song, Sensor discusses the many ways the world is imploding: leaders resigning, parents sacrificing their children, communities decaying, and religion striking fear into the people it is suppose to save. But the even more bizarre aspect is that we accept these occurrences as part of our daily lives. That these contradictions define who we are. Sensor goes further when he shares: The thing I notice is we all carry on with our pursuits no matter how good or bad the odds of them succeeding are. The fact that we do anything in spite of our certain end is the essence of our nature. That’s what makes the human story so heroic and comical. We put on the face of infinity while death hides in the back of our heads.

Hear this excellent and clever single below. For those in the US, with an election just around the corner, maybe, in Sensor’s own words, “it seems that we’re heading towards darker days.” Well, let’s hope not.

Trevor Sensor returns with the first single from his forthcoming LP “On Account of Exile Vol.1”

Laura Jane Grace wasn’t planning on making a solo record this year. In fact, she was planning on making a record with Against Me!, the band she’s fronted for the past 23 years. But clearly, nothing went according to plan this year. “We came home from the Against Me! tour we were on in March, and right before we left, we had been in the studio working on songs, and I had been working on them for months prior,” says Grace. As she sat at home, all of her tours cancelled, and the members of Against Me!—as well as her other band Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers—spread across the country, she was left with a batch of songs and no band to record them with.

“I sat around for a month-and-a-half at a home just being shellshocked being like, ‘What the fuck happened and what the fuck is happening with the world?’ As I started to get my bearings, I just came to the realization that waiting was going to kill the record and kill the songs. I spent two years working on all these songs, and the idea of throwing them away didn’t sit well with me,” says Grace. “But then I was like, ‘What am I waiting for?’ All I have to do is adjust my scope. I can sit here on my fucking ass and do nothing, or I can work.”

So, Grace got to work. She picked up the phone and called Electrical Audio, the iconic studio in her adopted hometown of Chicago, Illinois, to ask if she could make a record with famed engineer Steve Albini. The goal was to go in and document these songs exactly as she’d been playing them in her home, straight to analogue tape. When she hung up the phone, she had four days booked.

The result of the session at Electrical Audio is “Stay Alive”, a record that doesn’t just embody that title, it serves as the guiding principle behind its creations. But it also put life back into an industry that’s been ravaged by venue closures, cancelled tours, and delayed records. “By putting the songs out, that puts the label in work, that puts a photographer in work, that puts a graphic designer in work, that puts a merch company in work, that keeps it alive,” says Grace. “You hear on the news every day about people losing their jobs and everything collapsing, and I want to fight against that. The only way I can think to fight against that is to work.”

Across the 14 songs that comprise Stay Alive, Grace takes all her pent-up fears, anger, and anxiety and releases it, like an olive branch to the weary listeners who are feeling those exact same ways. As she says in “Blood & Thunder,” a love song to Chicago—or perhaps a mea culpa for “I Hate Chicago” on The Devouring Mothers album Bought to Rot—the album’s thematic premise is all but spelled out: “When you give in and quit / There’s a power to be found in it.” It’s an idea that may sound odd on its face, but it displays Grace’s commitment to no longer resisting the changes in front of her. On a record that sees her traversing the globe—from Marbella, Spain to Glasgow, Scotland to London, England to the Land of Oz—”Blood & Thunder” is a begrudging embrace of what can’t be changed; Instead of resisting the city she once loathed, she finds the beauty in the little things, like the moon rising over Indian Boundary Park, or the wind rolling up Western Avenue.

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The album’s title is one that surfaces in the record itself, and serves as a subtle rejoinder to her Polyvinyl labelmate Chris Farren, who gifted Grace a hat that said “Can’t Die,” and she’s spent the last two years running in it every single day. By flipping the phrase on its head, Grace built her own message; one based around work, struggle, and reaffirmed commitments. In certain cases, songs like “Hanging Tree,” which has a chorus that builds to the phrase, “A burning crucifix and a hanging tree,” have been kicking around since 2017, but finally found a moment that made sense for it on Stay Alive. And in the case of “Shelter In Place,” a song about her own isolation and introspection, the pandemic finally gave words to a feeling she’d long had but was never able to accurately describe.

The songs that make up Stay Alive are documents of a time and a songwriter who experienced enough to find levity in the simple act of doing the work. Recorded with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, an occasional drum machine, and her own powerful voice, Grace’s distinct song writing signature is front and center. What’s more, she made it purely for herself. “I just want to put this out because it makes me feel alive and it’s giving me something better than sitting here losing my mind while the world falls apart,” says Grace. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about what you do. Just stay alive.” 

Released October 1st, 2020