There's 80 great Chicago bands with choice tracks free-streaming on the Chicago Indie Music Live SoundCloud!
Artist: Aaron Cooper (http://aaroncooper.bandcamp.com/)Venue: Elbo Room (http://www.elboroomlive.com/)Event Info: http://www.elboroomlive.com/events
Aaron Cooper has been a favorite of mine since he let me stream his “Three Cheers for Enlightenment” (https://soundcloud.com/chicago-indie-music-live/sets/reviewed-tracks-volume-5) on the Chicago Indie Music Live SoundCloud. And I'll tell you, his experimental folk stuck out like a sore thumb among the hours of great but contemporary-sounding Chicago music. The difference in sonic signatures was roughly that of Hank Williams (1923–1953) dueting with a Hank Jr. vocal that was recorded some forty years later [for the 1989 hit cover of Hank's own “Tear In My Beer”].
As I dug deeper, I discovered in Cooper an artist who had not only found his sound, but also flocks with other birds of a feather. And so I just had to stream his ditty with Dwain Story, whose memorably unique vocal on “Ode to Camp Hate” (https://soundcloud.com/chicago-indie-music-live/sets/reviewed-tracks-volume-2) is as singular as Cooper's own – instruments from another era, they are.
But Cooper uses his lyrics to place squarely in the present his throwback production and vocal treatment. Yes, on “Three Cheers” Cooper sings about loose change, which is per se quaint; but he also raises the specter of resentment. On “She's Gotta Hit the Road,” Cooper gets busy name-checking Little Joe, fried chicken, and dollar tips – meanwhile, Mama's got a needle in her arm. Now contrast these with Hank's topics of choice: being lonesome; crying.
Artists invest everything in creating a corner of the musical world that's unquestionably their own. Few are successful at it. Kurt Vile comes to mind. So does Aaron Cooper.
*** Aaron Cooper takes the Elbo Room stage this Monday, March 10th, with special guests Rae Fitzgerald and Mike Flood & Co. The show starts at 8:30 p.m.
To remind my reading audience of your sound, who do you sound like?
Josh at Raised by Gypsies said we sound like a less commercial Weezer crossed with a mod band, but then retracted his statement. Our sound varies.
What venue(s) do you play often, and why do you enjoy playing there?
We play Township pretty often. We usually get pretty drunk and occasionally we get paid. The sound guy there is a reasonable man, but we can't remember his name. We like playing in houses, especially our own house because it's in our basement.
What are the bands in your orbit whose shows you rarely miss.
Evasive Backflip. We like them like them.
The coolest thing someone said about your band:
A drunk middle aged woman in Lincoln Park told us we were "carrying the torch of rock and roll" at Fizz. The guys from Sex Fist introduced themselves and told us we blew their minds at a show once. That was nifty.
Preview some of the upcoming projects you're excited about.
We're working on a new album. It should be out by May. Kirk and Ryan are way into candles now, and we finished Deep Space Nine. Kirk's also been remastering all our old albums and working on completing his lossless Sting discography. Cam has been studying the relation between spatial ability and math ability, and is going to be getting his PhD soon. All that is kind of factoring into the process.
Link to where people can stream your music?
Artist: Red NovellaAlbum reviewed: Failure by DesignLinks: Spotifyhttps://www.facebook.com/RedNovellaCompilation track: https://soundcloud.com/chicago-indie-music-live/sets/reviewed-tracks-volume-5
In the melodic metalcore of Red Novella, the lows set up highs, and the highs drop you off a cliff. Julie Andrews was only partly right: The hills are alive with the sound of music, provided all that hilly undulation doesn't slow the sound of squealing guitar.
The title of RN's standout album, Failure by Design, is not just taken from one of its song lyrics. It's a hint of what's to come. The thematic arc starts at self-inflicted wounds: “Your words kill like a thousand cuts / And it's you that has to live / With the consequences and the blame” (Won't Back Down); “Did this go as you planned? / To self destruct … / To break down and be something that you're not” (Pieces); “You put the noose around your neck / And wonder why it's getting hard to breathe” (Broken Down); and “We can survive / If you swallow all your pride” (Survive).
At first glance, it appears most of RN's narrators would opt to stay stuck in admittedly awful situations (e.g. Won't Back Down, Survive, and Embers Never Fade). But then something happens. Near the end of the song cycle (Ashes Fall, Broken Down), we get the feeling that RN's romantically flawed narrators are nearly fed up. And it's here where inspirational lyrics (liberally sprinkled throughout the album) play a role. Most metal/-core bands avoid such constructive observation – e.g. Won't Back Down's “It's the past that makes us who we are / And guides us along the way ... Time heals all of our broken dreams / And all the scars … I'll stand my ground / I won't back down / I'm prepared to fight for this life” – to sidestep the appearance of being soft, even when doing so can come at the expense of establishing a deeper connection with the listener. On Failure by Design however, it helps to close the loop: It clues us in that RN's composite narrator will ultimately move beyond denial/acceptance to action. (And to think: It all started with the realization that the significant other's failure was by design.)
But in melodic metalcore, all the lyrical themes in the world would be nothing without metal or melody. With Red Novella, there are multiple moments that memorably meld both vocal and musical melody: Won't Back Down's “But I'd do it again, I wouldn't change a thing” (at :52); Pieces' “Tonight I sing this song for you” (1:19); and Ashes Fall's “My stomach turns / It's filled with envy” (1:08). These typically occur when the vocal lead is coupled with harmonies to evoke yearning.
As for metal, there's a reason I call Red Novella “the riff armada” (beyond the fact Groove Armada was taken). Examples are everywhere. To observe the important role that riffs play in the dynamic development of RN songs, look no further than album-opener Won't Back Down. After two minutes of its verse/chorus song-in-chief, when other bands would think about awkwardly ending it, RN simply goes off. Just as the screaming fades (at 2:22), RN's drummer and guitarist resume hostilities, trading punches until double-bass and screamo signal yet another round/layer of knockout riffage (2:32).
Like the best bands of the genre, Red Novella is blessed with a tremendous sense of melody, dynamic song-writing, and lyrical themes emotionally suitable to the musical heartbreak.
(In other words, they kick Julie Andrews ass.)
Artist: OkapiAlbum: OkapiLink: http://okapiband.bandcamp.com/Compilation track: https://soundcloud.com/chicago-indie-music-live/sets/reviewed-tracks-volume-3
I personally view Okapi through the lens of R.E.M.'s “Low” (which, along with “Country Feedback,” is one of the better deep cuts from the Athenian alt-rockers' mainstream days). Okapi is partially to blame. They got me to thinking about “Low” with their pulsing bass introduction to “Powder” (even though it's melodically closer to Nirvana/the Meat Puppets' “Lake of Fire”). But it was not until repeated listens did I remember the R.E.M.-Okapi connection. Because it was then that I got my hands on the lyrics.
Despite the fact that “Low” was one of my five-star iTunes songs for years [“what is an 'iTunes'?”], I just now realized I have no idea what the lyrics mean: “I've been laughing / Fast and slow / Moving in a still frame / Howling at the moon.” And while they likely make perfect sense to the song's narrator, they remain largely impenetrable to me. So it is with Okapi's lyrics. And yet, like “Low,” it's the music that sucks you in. To the point you love it. Even before you know what it means.
Ah, the music. Starting with “Virgin Lips,” which recalls the quiet instrumental excellence of Tim Hecker, we exist within Okapi's darkened landscapes for five minutes at a time, hearing true organic orchestration using only bass, drums, and cello. That's right: Nary a six-string guitar in sight. Whether crawling up the “Water Spout” (like the song's narrator) or making a song move like Me'Shell Ndegeocello/Van Morrison did for “Wild Night” (“Partisan You”), the bass is finally a star. Meanwhile, the kit/hand percussion rolls, clicks, and clacks, even providing the color while the bass supplies the time-keeping groove; and the cello alternates between nuanced experimentation and pure emotion.
There's a tiny obstacle that keeps us from truly spacing out to this fascinating instrumentation, and that's the lyrical density (lots of words + lots of meaning-per-word). This, along with a relatively naked vocal (appropriately alt-rock in character, e.g. A Perfect Circle/Tool, Incubus, and Placebo), has us hoping for future additions of vocal layers, nonlexical vocables (oohs/ahs/etc.), and a halved word count, which would serve to focus our attention on the more accessible of the poetry: “My halo has been lifted and carried away” (Virgin Lips); “We’ll give you to the setting sun” (Upon the Clearing); “Dead to a sense of relief” (Water Spout); “As my colors change....I watch your mold grow” (Partisan You); “I would commit a thousand sins....Journeying to the center” (Powder). (After all, even R.E.M.'s “Low” contained an easily understood hook – “I skipped the part about love / It seems so silly/shallow and low.”) Anything to facilitate our deep dive into Okapi's lovely sonics.
In their capacity as alt-rock's elder statesmen, R.E.M. would surely be proud. There's a first-rate alternative to rock 'n' roll bands who've grown tired of the genre, but continue to play it all the same. And its name is Okapi.
Artist: Get Up & GoAlbum: ImpellerLinks: http://getupandgo.bandcamp.com/https://www.facebook.com/GetUpAndGoBand
There are approximately 8,345 varieties of punk music. Okay I made that up; there might be only a tenth of that. But you literally cannot count them (and still be punk). So you punkers shouldn't be surprised that we laypeople are content to learn the easiest of labels, which let us know whether we'll be hearing the bouncy Green Day/Blink-182 that got famous during our lifetime, or the angry Sex Pistols stuff we heard in passing during VH1 commercials. The pop-punk label was an adequate descriptive. But since the term is apparently pejorative, “melodic punk” is being used instead. (After all, what is pop if not melodic?)
For whatever reason, the indie press doesn't fawn over melodic punk as it does with “twee” pop, with which it shares similarities. They're both a bit silly, when not fetishizing objects of youth. The difference being: the items revered. Twee is the hand-knitted doily that great-grandma finishes the day she dies. And pop-punk is the scammed beer you accidentally spill on it when the parents leave to visit her grave. As for the music, twee is defined by addition. “Let's add an old-timey instrument like a glockenspiel to normal sounding music.” Punk would rather discard everything that's extraneous, in service to the song. And it's the hardest thing to do: retain song-writing self-control (especially while singing about excess). And that's why pop/melodic punk is genetically superior.
Musically speaking, melodic punk bands change on a dime. Perhaps the bands/audiences have internet-addled attention spans; or have just been treated like they do by marketing/programming execs. Regardless (and fortunately for us), NOFX set this high bar long ago, namely the three-minute opus, and pop-punkers will either die or rise to the challenge. More notably than the “have to,” these bands impress me because they “can.” Chefs don't go all 18 courses on us, unless they have three-Michelin-star-caliber chops. And boy does Get Up & Go got chops.
The best of the bunch is “The Need to Run,” with its introductory drum-less diet of ska guitar and superb vocal phrasing (“There’s a panic that’s been choking on my life as I age / It’s catching up and creepin’ in like a jihadist crusade”), song-stop/starting rhythm section, and fill-laden drums racing with frenetic guitar distortion. But it's the litany of songwriting flourishes – a rhythmic whipsaw at :53 (which works in conjunction with, “I’m feeling slower every day”) followed by a bass guitar climbing up and down the ska chord charts (at 1:12) – that supply the song with a bridge par excellence.
Also exemplary: the ending of “The Teacher Who Loved Me,” which goes from double-time to half-time in 10 seconds flat (at 1:12); as well as Impeller's consistently on-point harmonies, e.g. 1:01 of “Socialite” (itself, a much appreciated take-down of vicarious viewers keeping reality TV alive well into its third decade of cultural dominance).
In short, Impeller is proof positive: Get Up & Go is to melodic punk what Grant Achatz is to molecular gastronomy. Modern masters. Hating babies. (Okay, I made that last part up.)
Artist: Totally WreckedEP reviewed: Heavy PettingLink: http://totallywrecked.bandcamp.com/album/heavy-pettingCompilation volume: https://soundcloud.com/chicago-indie-music-live/sets/reviewed-tracks-volume-2The Totally Wrecked experience is like getting finger-cuffed, Chasing Amy-style, by the tailpipes of cars backing into each other. And since I ranked TW's War Cry second out of hundreds of tracks reviewed, I guess you could say I'm into that sort of thing – the blistering garage wail, not the auto[motive]-erotica. (Having said that, the ability to consistently staff and monetize such scenes for the car porn genre would be a “fucking valuable thing”).After reviewing the EP series, Garbage Tapes, I viewed with trepidation the opportunity to go on record evaluating a TW release that averages six-minute run-times and was preceded by the proclamation, “OFFICIALLY DONE WITH PUNK MUSIC.” Contrast these song lengths with TW's inimitable “Play Dumb,” which made its point in a third of the time; and I'll admit my pop alarm did go off a time or two as I took in Heavy Petting. (Then again, it also did during Swans’ critically acclaimed The Seer, e.g. at 3:02 of “Mother of the World.”) But it begs the question, since TW recorded the whole EP live as a continuous track, would it offend them if we just chose our own adventure, editing as we please? (If so, I'll snag Potion Control's intro riff and its memorable middle section, e.g. 1:42).It's common to learn something new about a band with each EP released, and Heavy Petting is no different. After lamenting not understanding a word out of their mouths (the heavy vocal effects noted in my Garbage Tapes review), I'm pleased to report that the lyrics of Totally Wrecked can hang with their visual marketing (more great cover art; title-appropriate too), humor (name your price on BandCamp, as long as it's over a hundred dollars), and musical output (waves of emotive noise; distinct voice; still missing a more robust low end). Specifically, the expert vocal phrasing makes hooks out of “You were the only one / On again, off again, on again, off again” and “We don't need to separate.” Even a risky pentagram reference is qualified with, “Relax, it's only magic” – which may do little to assuage the audience's concern, but at least adds nuance to the symbol's considerable cliché.But the lyrics aren't just effective in passing. They are integral to the efficacy of Potion Control's middle section, which ranks among the very best TW has to offer. The layered vocals, subtle pausing, and melancholy melody combine to suit the weather phenomenon described: “When I pray for rain / Watch the storm, clouds, change / Gravity, pulls me down / Take these pills, put me out.” We not only hear – we understand. We see ourselves in this narrator’s need to fade away.Maybe we're totally wrecked too.
Artist: Supercell Mothership (www.facebook.com/SupercellMothership)Singles reviewed: www.reverbnation.com/supercellmothershipParticular compilation volume at Chicago Indie Music Live's SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/chicago-indie-music-live/sets/reviewed-tracks-volume-5Supercell Mothership are self-described “post-genre.” Even without a listen, I'd be inclined to believe it since they're gigging with my favorite New World Ancients, a band who straddles genres like an adonis. But listen I did, and tried to nail them down.
And entertaining it was, as I analyzed the two advanced singles, concluding that a “psychedelic rock” label could stick given the guitar of “Golden Flower,” which brought to mind “Venus in Furs” as it deliberately induced daze through plodding paces. Relevant here, Supercell had been kind enough to admit to a few influences, one of them being the Black Angels, who are not only psych-rock, but named after a Velvet Underground song. Add to this Supercell's layered chorus vocals (“Golden Flower”), permeating keyboard arrangements (“Circles”), and a song-stopping middle section injecting space through lovingly off-kilter riffs (“Golden Flower”) – and Supercell clearly descend from Cale, Reed & Co.
In assembling the puzzle though, I ran across a few pieces belonging to another set. The guitar angles wouldn't sound out of place in Interpol/Strokes-era NYC, and the tone/effect recall the spacious guitar work of The xx. So too with the keys: a tone/setting befitting the best of indie music. But at times (“Circles”), the vocals shade to the mainstream rock stylings of Salvatore Paul "Sully" Erna, who is per se awesome, but persona non grata in the hipster circles frequented by the Interpol/xx/Strokes of the world.
All this could confuse the indie press monolith (itself, the new mainstream). But here, where indie still means something, it's the fans who decide. And decide we will. Loudly. As Supercell Mothership psych-rock us from the Cole's stage on January 17th. (Yeah, I said it ... psychedelic rock.)
Stumbling upon the recorded output of Emily Jane Powers made my day. The expansive six LP collection, including one as Introductions (with Jasen Reeder, who's on other recordings as well), ranges from homespun sing-song recalling Liz Phair and Best Coast to the minimalist folk rock of a Cat Power. [Usually the Phairian hints are vocal in nature, but Apple Blossom's “Wayne County” recalls Liz's “Shatter” for their deep sonic backdrops.] There's also glimpses of Wall of Sound-era girl group (“Undertone”), as well as a vocal twang not often heard outside of country. But something in the calming vocal layers of Undertones' “Beatrice” brings to mind the gifted nature-folkie Laura Veirs.
The standout is Undertones' “Amelia and I.” As the two-minute ray of sunshine bounces merrily along [on second thought, a two-minute sunbeam could be more painful than pleasant], the speedy vocal phrasing ending in girlish squeals sounds right at home among the current crop of indie-but-really-pop darlings, Haim or Chairlift. Nearly as good on Undertones is “Give it Up,” with its angelic introductory harmonies (at :13); sophisticated, bass-driven pre-chorus (1:20); well-placed drum fills worthy of the accompanying pop vocals (1:37); and homey soft rock bridge built on descending guitar and bass (at 1:49). It's the little things like these that make all the difference between mere singer-songwriters and the pop pantheon [typified by the Beatles' “She Loves You”].
As for Saltwater, with gentle strumming, a charismatic vocal performance, and the crackling recording, bringing to mind front-porch picking in the summer haze, “Get Cool” gently beseeches a summer love to play hooky and cool off either by swimming in the lake or lying in bed (sans clothing, apparently). Another notable track on Saltwater is “What You Want,” which showcases a lyrical hook – “If it's what you want, it's what you want, it's what you want / Then I guess that's what you'll get” – with bells (1:02), strings (1:50), and fiddle (2:11), additional vocal tracks supplying dimension both on their own (2:37) and in backing (1:03 and 1:50).
Other fine particularities include the ascending harmonies (:38), warbling background vocals (1:01), and intriguing instrumentation (:42) of Artifacts' “Codes”; the harmony/tambourine mini-hooks (e.g. :26) of Artifacts' “All the Good You'd Ever Want”; and the atmospheric melodies and vocal blends (2:27) of Apple Blossom's “We've All Got Your Back.”
I suppose there are occasional mixing issues, where a vocal and/or instrumental track out-volumes the others (brief moments of Saltwater's “What You Want” and Apple Blossom's “What Makes You”). But given this is the worst that can be said of an astonishingly accomplished assortment by an artist previously unknown to me, over six LPs no less, that's quite the compliment. So Emily Jane Powers, please proceed. We're listening.