Posts Tagged ‘Illinois’

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Like fellow Chicago rockers Twin Peaks’ latest release “Down in Heaven,” Flesh Panthers are taking a step back from brash garage energy in favor of something a little more “mature” (heavy emphasis on the quotes). With more atmospheric moodiness in the album lead-in and outro, “Willow’s Weep” is much more meticulous and coherent than straight garage rock assault, bringing to mind late-60s Rolling Stones more so than 70s punk.

“Willows Weep” is an absolute stunner. Stoned out rock and roll all smothered in jangly gravy.

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It surprises me every time I listen to it, not because I didn’t think they were capable (their live versions of some of my favorite songs by the likes of Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan showcase their tightness and versatility), but because they’ve made such a remarkable transition from their high-energy garage punk into these really beautiful, compelling rock songs. I really love Flesh Panthers. They’re a brilliant inside secret of the Chicago rock scene that deserves far wider exposure. With “Willow’s Weep,” they’re proving they’re a force to be reckoned with beyond these city walls.

polyvinyl-compilation-stay-home-1586355816

Introducing Stay Home, a Polyvinyl Record Co. compilation featuring 16 tracks including previously unreleased music, demos, and covers.

We’ve been especially inundated with covers this past month, though most have been recorded live from the artists’ living rooms. Hazel English’s contribution to the covers-heavy Polyvinyl Stay Home compilation, though, is considerably less of a novelty item, taking the impossibly dreamy Mamas/Papas joint and cranking up the dreamy factor. It’s stripped to the essentials—vocals, guitar, tambourine, and a Mellotron cameo, making for less emphasis on the plot and more on its unique stylizations .

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There are some tracks from recent Polyvinyl releases and some previously unreleased material. That includes Owen covering the 1975’s “Me,” Xiu Xiu covering Kim Jung Mi’s “Haenim,” Palehound covering Karen Dalton’s “Something On Your Mind,” Squirrel Flower covering Emmylou Harris’ “Icy Blue Heart,” and Hazel English covering the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’.” There’s also new songs from Chris Farren and Radiation City, and demos from of Montreal, the Get Up Kids, Yumi Zouma, and STRFKR.

Stay safe, and stay healthy Polyvinyl family. Some gems in this one

Released April 7th, 2020.

Tragedy and bliss woven together. A soundtrack for when dawn approaches and fades into daylight

Driven to Oregon by a loved one’s death and a relative’s deteriorating health, Robinson and frequent collaborator Esther Shaw withdrew from society and devoted themselves to writing the project’s seventh album. Pared down to a threesome with Thor Harris, drummer for experimental titans Swans, Wrekmeister Harmonies use somber expansivity and vulnerable minimalism to detail a path to healing with The Alone Rush. J.R. Robinson perceives life as a long, gradual process of decay. Lightness fades into darkness, while innocence succumbs to the evils of modern society. His music reflects not only this worldview but his emotional response to it.

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Released April 13th, 2018

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Melkbelly sculpts their signature balance between subtle melody and frantic noise on new album “Pith”, their second for Carpark Records/Wax Nine. The Chicago-based foursome has made spatial dynamics central to its arrangements, reaching for weirder highs and more startling atmospherics, negative space giving way to enveloping walls of chaos. This sense of form is reflected not only in the purposeful production, but in the ceramic cover art created by Chicago artist Deborah Handler.

As with many of the groups who’ve been traversing Chicago’s underground scene for the past decade, Melkbelly are hard to classify. They’ve slowly pivoted from bizarro lo-fi noise into, well, a slightly more polished version of bizarro lo-fi noise, writing songs with titles like “Twin Lookin Motherfucker” and “Kissing Under Some Bats.” Miranda Winters’ deceptively calm vocals float alongside a largely indistinguishable wall of grunge guitar (courtesy of Bart Winters) and bass (Liam Winters), and James Wetzel’s Lightning Bolt–like percussion.

Recording in two short sessions six months apart, the band worked with longtime collaborator Dave Vettraino, this time at Bloomington, Indiana’s Russian Recording. Alongside an arsenal of rock gear and airy synth layers coaxed from a Moog Prodigy, Pith’s multidimensionality was refined by the studio’s collection of rare Russian tube mics, which were placed in every corner to capture Melkbelly’s unabashed loudness. Frontperson Miranda Winters’ charmingly bright vocals are newly effected, delayed to a menacing, mysterious thickness. Guitars, handled by Miranda and Bart Winters, interlock and separate with dizzying ease, riffs dissolving into floating trails and reappearing with metallic edges. Bassist Liam Winters’ low grooves bounce and kick along with drummer James Wetzel’s rhythmically unsettling performance, which stretches time yet never falters.

After two years touring internationally, the band felt comfortable enough to rearrange songs they knew well, their renewed closeness guiding them. Their literally familial relationship was crucial for support, as Pith was summoned from a place of mourning. “We lost an incredible friend suddenly and nostalgia always acts as a helpful tool for me in navigating difficult times,” Miranda says. “Revisiting emotionally challenging moments or significant social interactions helps shed light on confusing feelings for me. Lyrically, grief gave way to considering life.” She drew from diverse scenes—Grimm-like children’s stories too dark for kids; thorny, mossy forests—to create stories that feel distinctly Melkbellian: philosophically strange, strikingly textural, funny and sad and open-hearted.

Maturation, as well as their DIY reverence, can be heard on the tempo-shifting “Sickeningly Teeth.” It’s an homage to “feel[ing] like shit really loudly or obnoxiously. You know, in an unapologetic youthful way,” deadpans Miranda. James describes it as a “rhythmic exploration to make the song feel like it’s pulling itself apart.” Follow-up single “LCR” similarly shapes Pith’s dynamics and mood. Its shifting signatures held steady by James’ frantic beat, the track is a purgatorial homage to motion, ultimately propelled by its tangled guitars and layered vocal harmonies. “It’s about how having conversations with the dead can scoot you along in life, even when you’re really only hearing one side of the conversation or making up the other half,” says Miranda.

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Since their 2017 debut Nothing Valley, the members of Melkbelly have an even better understanding of their sonic motivations. “We’re always going to sort through the past to make better sense of the present,” Miranda says, and in doing so Melkbelly continually finds ways to mutate its sound. On Pith, Melkbelly sought space, and succeeded in crafting it. What a pleasure to be let in.

1. “THC” 

Miranda: This is a song about losing a friend physically versus losing a friend emotionally—it’s a sad Venn diagram. Liam: Miranda calls the bass during the verse on this track “prom bass” after the original bass line was much more aggressive. Bart: A friend of ours says he likes to get stoned and listen to this track on repeat, which to me is the highest compliment you can give. James: If there were one Melkbelly song selected for the golden record sent out on the Voyager Spacecraft, it would be “THC.”

2. “Sickeningly Teeth”

James: Teeth is a tempo experiment—it pushes and pulls itself apart as the song progresses. It once was a ten-minute song that got chopped down significantly in the recording/mixing process. Bart: Usually we kinda tear apart the melodic parts of the songs Miranda brings to the band, but we decided to lean into it on the chorus for this one. I miss the ending that just continued to slow down for another three minutes.

3. “LCR”

Bart: Not something that we overtly discussed, but on most of these tracks we tried to pull back a little during sections of songs to allow for more variety in the song. On “LCR,” one of the guitar takes is pulled from the opening verse, leaving just Miranda’s sparse rhythm guitar. Felt weird at first but ended up working, in my opinion. Miranda: This is one of those songs that just fell out super fast which usually makes me nervous. We were happy with how basic it was and fought to keep it simple.

4. “Little Bug” 

Miranda: When we were in Berlin I was feeling real low and ended up at the apartment alone for a while. I was laying on my bed pitying myself when this moth showed up and wouldn’t leave me alone. The frustration inspired me to get up and start writing “Little Bug.”

5. “Humid Heart”

James: The oldest song on the record. Been playing this one for years and years and years.

6. “Kissing Under Some Bats”

Bart: This was originally not an eight-minute song, but during recording we started messing around with repeating the last note, stretching it past the point of being obnoxious or gimmicky (we hope) into a more meditative thing (Miranda still may not like this track). We are not reinventing the wheel, but, as with most Melkbelly songs, we don’t really have any goals for song genre or song length. It’s really just whatever we’ve been listening to lately or is rattling around in the back of our skulls.

7. “Season of the Goose”

Bart: We had a lot of challenges with this song. Initially it was James’ aggressive beat, then it was whether we should keep Bart’s synth-like guitar riff in the beginning. Developing this song was the complete opposite of something like “LCR.” We experimented with altering almost every aspect of the song at some point. I really like how it turned out, and its position on the album right after “Kissing Under some Bats.”  James: I’m a huge advocate of “the riff” at the top of this song. It almost didn’t make the cut, but thank god it did.

8. “Mr. Coda”

James: The best song on the record. Liam’s time to shine. It was fun to experiment with the second half of this track. There’s some Moog Prodigy bass line that’s being triggered/gated by the kick drum. And some Serge synth drone wobble in the background. When we figure out how to play this one live, it will be great.  Liam: Miranda had a very specific vision of the bass tone for this song. I tried a lot of different options until we agreed on something passable. I don’t think it was what she wanted, but I’m happy with how this song turned out.

9. “Stone Your Friends”

Miranda: This was a song that took a lot of playing before it felt comfortable. It’s about shopping at the mall.

10. “Take H20” 

James: Oldie but goodie. Blue Man Group inspiration throughout (think “Rods and Cones”). Bart: We played this song live for the first time at the Pitchfork Music Festival. It was one of the easiest to record because we had been playing it for so dang long, but also I think we were a little bored with the song by the time we recorded it so we ended up going back to the recording and changing/adding additional instrumentation. I think we tried to channel Oozing Wound during the little jam-out.

11. “Flatness”

Bart: Just a simple song that highlights Miranda’s voice and proves James can play the drums softly.

released April 3th, 2020

Miranda Winters – Guitar, Vocals, James Wetzel – Drums, Moog, STS, Bart Winters – Guitar, Liam Winters – Bass Guitar
All songs written by Melkbelly
Lyrics by Miranda Winters

Ratboys Printer's Devil

Back when they released 2017’s GN, Chicago’s Ratboys were regulars of the DIY/indie/punk world but they were injecting a little alt-country into their sound and they seem poised to be one of DIY/indie/punk’s next breakout bands. Now, three years later, their third album Printer’s Devil just might be the one that does it. Ratboys already seem to be getting more praise and hype than ever, and compared to their first two albums, Printer’s Devil sounds big. They’re channelling the soaring, power pop-tinged alternative rock of the ’90s, sounding kind of like a cross between Weezer and the Gin Blossoms but with a distinct delivery from vocalist Julia Steiner that sets them apart from any one band in particular. They also know how to change things up, with Printer’s Devil finding time for punk speed, folk balladry, atmospheric build-ups, and plenty of the in-between. As ever, Julia’s earworm melodies and the band’s strong vision tie it all together.

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Upheaval and change are themes spread throughout the songs on Printer’s Devil, the latest Ratboys LP, released via Topshelf Records. A tangible sonic shift is apparent thanks to a newly-expanded lineup – founding members Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan are now joined by Marcus Nuccio and Sean Neumann on drums and bass. What started as an acoustic duo has finally transformed into a full-scale indie-rock band with a clear identity. Recorded live at Decade Music Studios in Chicago, Printer’s Devil features big-chorus power pop songs like “Alien with a Sleep Mask On” and “Anj” that sound massive and larger than life, alongside intimate folk songs like “A Vision” and devastating alt-country tracks like “Listening,” showcasing once again the group’s signature versatility. Building off their previous albums Ratboys captures the bombastic, electrified fun of their live show in a bottle on Printer’s Devil and showcases their growing chemistry as a tight-knit group.

The Band:

Guitar, vocals, lyrics – Julia Steiner
Guitar, bass (Tracks 3, 8, 9) – Dave Sagan
Bass – Sean Neumann
Drums, synths – Marcus Nuccio
Drums (Tracks 3, 4, 8, 10), Vibes – Ian Paine-Jesam

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The Mike Kinsella-led group’s third full-length album “American Football” (LP3) is a beautiful return to form, brimming with the band’s signature sonic elements while also shedding and reinventing so many aspects of their sound. It’s a wonderful step forward for them creatively.

By rights we should hate this album. It’s an incessant moan, flips the math-rock-lite thing which gotten boring last decade and is stuffed to the brim with whiny Yank vocals. But the songs are undeniable good. And it doesn’t stick around long enough for you to get pissed off yourself.

LP3’s most defining quality is how expansive it feels. On the sweeping seven-minute opener “Silhouettes,” gentle bells and chimes greet lush dueling guitars and pulsating drums as Kinsella’s voice floats into the track’s misty corners. Whispery reverb draws out each note as he ponders the “muscle memory” of love, and whether or not romantic strife is just the result of simply going through motions.

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The swelling ballad “Every Wave To Ever Rise” is pensive and cavernous, contemplating love’s inevitable heartbreak over wandering guitars and longing atmospheres. “Love is the cross you bear/ You’re every wave to ever rise/ Your slow retreat is no surprise,” Kinsella croons poetically, full of bittersweet acceptance over love’s ebb-and-flow. Buoyed by a trifecta of stunning features from guest vocalists Hayley Williams, Rachel Goswell and Elizabeth Powell, American Football (LP3) is 2019’s most endearing journey of melancholy, and another high point in the Midwestern band’s dazzling career.

Not long after Polyvinyl Records released American Football’s self-titled debut album in 1999, the band called it quits, having only played a smattering of Champaign-Urbana college house parties and sets at small clubs like Chicago’s legendary Fireside Bowl. Such an inauspicious turn of events made what followed all the more incredible. Over time, the record went on to become one of Polyvinyl’s bestselling releases to date, and ended up serving as “one of the single most influential rock records of its time” according to Noisey and many others.

Whitney are releasing a new 7″ single to celebrate their upcoming sold-out, four-night hometown run at Chicago’s Thalia Hall. One side is “F.T.A.,” an alternate version of the title track from this year’s terrific “Forever Turned Around”, with a cover of Wilco’s “Far, Far Away” on the flip.

Whitney was born from a series of laidback early-morning songwriting sessions during one of the harshest winters in Chicago history, 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. 

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released November 22nd, 2019

Ryley Walker is the reincarnation of the true American guitar player. That’s as much a testament to his roving, rambling ways, or the fact that his Guild D-35 guitar has endured a few stints in the pawnshop. Swap out rural juke joints for rotted DIY spaces and the archetype is solidly intact.

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 other members of 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. 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. This album 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 ambience.

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Chicago quartet The Hecks have been at it since 2012, starting out as the duo of guitarist Andy Mosiman and Zach Hebert. The band drafted guitarist Dave Vettraino into the fold, a recording engineer who was recording the band’s s/t debut (Trouble In Mind, 2016) & ended up joining the band shortly thereafter. The band’s journey to the end result of “My Star” their second album – has taken them nearly three years in the making.

The new Hecks album is way more fun than anything released by a godchild of Women has any business being. Despite mining the same corner of ’80s pop culture at nearly the same time as Ceremony and Omni, neither of those bands were quite as playful with their homage to new wave, even if that recreational period doesn’t extend all the way to My Star’s repetitive eight-minute closer. The slow build-up of vocals, percussion, synths, and an additional guitar over a single, simple riff across the title-track’s extensive runtime is subtle in a way the rest of the record definitely isn’t, recalling the harsh guitar-rock of their debut.

After recording an initial version of the album in 2017, The Hecks started gigging with new fourth member & keyboardist Jeff Graupner, whose synthesized squiggles added some welcome heft & swagger to the band’s tunes. After reworking & rearranging much of the new material to integrate Graupner, the band scrapped the recordings & rebuilt them from the ground up, incorporating Graupner’s skills at the keys.

Dave V: Vocals / Electric Guitar / Electric Bass Guitar / Engineering
Andy M: Vocals / Electric Guitar / Electric Bass Guitar / Drum Machine / Synthsizer
Jeff G: Vocals / Synthesizer
Zach H: Vocals / Drums / Electric Drums / Drum Machine

“My Star” Trouble In Mind Records, Released on: 2019-10-11

DEHD – ” Letter “

Posted: November 5, 2019 in MUSIC
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’Letter’ is a visual and sonic representation of the physical embodiment of subtle lingering grief and the arc of healing that follows once love has lost and relationship dynamics have shifted. The pain of one party moving on before the other, leaving a feeling of replacement. The empowerment and strength found from non-sexual friendship, from creative pursuits, and from constant, unapologetic self care, self soothing, and acts of self love. A moving on and moving forward that only happens once one has returned truly to oneself. ‘Letter’ is the beginning of the end of an era.

As if Emily Kempf’s throaty vocals weren’t pronounced enough on Dehd’s sophomore album “Water”, the Chicago trio dropped “Letter” as conclusive evidence that her voice is equally fit for fronting a metal ensemble or going solo as a theatrical pop singer of the exclusive tier pioneered by Kate Bush. As if to prep for another winter on the frigid coast of Lake Michigan, the band seems to be closeting their surfboards and infiltrating the icy post-punk scene, the track opening with nearly a minute of ambient synths before a familiar surf-rock guitar gets to work thawing things out.

released October 10th, 2019, Recorded by Jason Balla