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| February 28, 2006 | 0 Comments

Typical of countless other bluesy-rock bar bands, Analog Theory play conventional, straight-up rock that lacks originality or interest. Their sound is tired — chunky riffs, generic rhythms, and trite lyrics. This doesn’t mean they lack passion or spirit, as their musicianship exhibits cohesiveness and the performances are sharp. It’s too bad they put such a strong effort into such a bland product. (www.analogtheoryband.com)
— Patrick Conlan

Tatsu Aoki and Tim O’Dell blend their considerable skills in creating Ancient Pines (Southport). Melding Aoki’s rich, warm upright bass with the spirited, textural tones of O’Dell’s saxophone, the duo explore the rhythm and space unique to jazz. The album is a mix of improvised and composed pieces; the instrumental interplay is delicately poised and constructed with fluidity and style. (www.chicagosound.com)
— Patrick Conlan

After landing on this year’s “Best Of Around Hear” list, performing during the Machine Records holiday party at Schubas, and being featured on Fox television in Milwaukee, Martha Berner has built a lot of local buzz. On her debut …This Side Of Yesterday, she unveils soothing vocals, folk-flavored guitars, and witty songwriting across 10 compelling cuts. Take for instance “Fantastic Ordinary,” during which she sings of being blissfully in love but strips the subject of its sap, or “Dear Franklin,” an alt-country letter to a long lost friend. (www.marthaberner.com)
— Andy Argyrakis

It’s only fitting the Westside’s Black Ice dubs his music “club hip-hop,” as nearly every song on his self-titled EP is a rowdy, keyboard-driven experience. There are obvious remnants of contemporary R&B and hip-hop radio hits here, but powerful tracks like “C.H.I.C.A.G.O.” demonstrate his ability to put his own stamp on the club-ready hip-hop scene. Thus Black Ice would certainly benefit if he looked closer to home for inspiration more often than at what the rest of the country is putting out. (www.myspace.com/blackicechitown)
— Max Herman

One of Chicago’s most promising and hardest working bands has finally released a full-length album. Canasta‘s We Were Set Up finds the band expanding on the chamber pop formula of 2003’s Find The Time EP by writing more mature and exciting arrangements. Hearing the best of Canasta’s recorded repertoire in one setting — both the softer, piano-tinged love songs and the brighter guitar-based rockers — makes me again believe this band has the potential to join the ranks of its heroes like The Decemberists and Belle & Sebastian. (www.canastamusic.com)
— Joseph Simek

The best way to describe Andrew Calhoun is he’s perhaps the male equivalent of Joan Baez’s less political and more reflective side. On this collection of music entitled Staring At The Sun, somber, heartfelt, and introspective songs are wonderfully presented along with his obvious acoustic guitar talents and his abundant gifts as a storyteller. (www.andrewcalhoun.com)
— Dean Ramos

The instrumental rock duo Chevreuil follow a structure-less format on Sport. Most songs are all over the place with mismatched arrangements, lack of melody, and occasional dissonance with exceptions on the title track, “Battiston,” and “Modenature.” Among the guitars vs. drums chaos there are energetic riffs and highly capable drum poundings, proving the twosome’s experimental talent. But Sport would be better if there was a bit more organization. (www.sickroomrecords.com)
— Jill Haverkamp

Chicago’s Hunt 4 Sound is a compilation of interesting local acts from across the musical spectrum. Showcasing styles such as reggae, pop, and bluegrass, the CD succeeds in shedding light on deserving acts like Dig The Wandering Endorphin and Big Sky String Band for starters. CH4S is a good intro/overview of the Chicago scene for newbies and vets alike. (www.catermenow.com)
— Mike O’Cull

. . . For All I Care is the kind of band that the Midwest (heck, the world) has heard just too much of, and honestly, how much of it do you hear on your favorite radio station? Maybe there’s so much of this because it’s easy to do? Tenat is moody, atmospheric rock with token dramatic changes in dynamic, with singer Melissa’s moody, atmospheric female vocals floating above it all. The musicianship doesn’t stink, and Melissa’s vocals are nice and all, but these four songs all sound the same and all go nowhere. (www.forallicare.com)
— Penelope Biver

Considering the hardcore punk of its members’ past bands, Holy Roman Empire‘s debut EP, Lost In Landscapes, should raise a few eyebrows. This Chicago five-piece leans to the softer side of all things hardcore due in large part to singer Emily Schambra’s vocals, which work surprisingly well with what is usually a male-dominated sound. Despite HRE’s obvious potential, this EP’s weakness should be attributed to Schambra’s bandmates, who give her hardly anything original to sing over. (www.hewhocorruptsinc.com)
— Joseph Simek

There’s a lot to digest on The Jacobson Organ‘s Spirits And Splinters, but it’s a pleasant, lumbering ride like in the front of an ancient Chevy truck. It’s Americana, country, blues, and rock the whole way. Think 16 Horsepower, Will Oldham, Jack Logan, Giant Sand, Freakwater, Drive-By Truckers on ludes — even a little Velvet Underground and Gram Parsons. This stuff is getting harder to find in the Chicago scene, so fans of this ilk take note. (www.yotjo.com)
— Penelope Biver

Despite performing in Chicago for more than three years, Lunar Breakdown‘s EP Behind The Calm could still use some work. The psychedelic/alternative rock blasts are intended to be effective, but instead come across scattered and bogged down by unrefined production. As a result, the machine- gun guitars within “Powdered Water,” the off- key harmonies throughout “Save It,” and the Pearl Jam knock off “Orange Alert” make for a trying listen. (www.lunarbreakdown.com)
— Andy Argyrakis

Can’t Get Enough: The Classics & More (Trax) is a best-of compilation of mid-’80s house from Master C&J (Carl Bias and Jesse Jones), featuring Liz Torres on vocals. “Can’t Get enough” contains the escalating keyboard scales that would be repeated ad nauseum for the next 10 years in clubs all over the world. The sultry ambience and bubbling electronics in “When You Hold Me” and “In The City” reveal why Master was such a groundbreaking pioneer in house music. (www.traxhouse.com)
— Patrick Conlan

While locally renowned for their animated shows, Outerlimitz don’t always keep things energetic on their Galapagos4 debut, Suicide Prevention. Yet the eerie, synth-driven beats and socially alert lyrics of this hip-hop trio remain largely potent, regardless of the tempo of a given track. Whether giving wannabe thug rappers a verbal lashing or encouraging people to be aware of their potential, Qwa, H.E., and Silent deliver a profusion of well-intentioned rhymes, which can, unfortunately, come dangerously close to preachy. (www.ol19.com)
— Max Herman

Electrocaine, Thomas Pace‘s third disc in as many years, once again showcases his songwriting ability in an Americana setting. “Cryin’ Out Loud” evokes a Springsteen ballad, while “Quicksand Town” has a freewheeling C&W arrangement. “You’re On Your Own” depicts a failed marriage with observations like, “This old house has been like a prison since I told her I’m sorry but wasn’t forgiven.” (info@thomaspace.com)
— Terrence Flamm

In the ’80s, DJ Pierre, Spanky, and Herb J formed the Chicago-based group Phuture and released a song called “Acid Trax.” It would become one of the biggest house records of all time. As part of its Trax Classix Series, Trax Records has released Phuture And Other Classics From DJ Pierre. The album includes “Acid Trax” along with other cuts from this DJ/producer’s catalog. Although no doubt an interesting release, Phuture will probably fail to get multiple spins from anyone other than obsessive house music fans. (www.traxhouse.com)
— Joseph Simek

Words can’t do justice to the music of Princess. Their self-titled, 10-track debut is truly outré, showcasing styles ranging from the wacky nonsense rap of “Autograph” to the new wave-meets-hip-hop exhilaration of “Stroller Controller.” Other cuts reveal metal, funk, and noise influences, and while the collection never completely coalesces, the duo’s experimental sounds – which at times recall everyone from Negativland to Tone Loc – remain by turns dynamic, droll, and defiant. (www.zibbi.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

Whether Chicago’s Quiet Kid is playing lackadaisical indie rock and uptempo power pop, the tracks on its second album, Somewhere, are always guitar heavy. Sometimes the guitars make for memorable hooks, other times they serve only to mask the weaker vocal melodies of the more pop-leaning songs. With its darker (and usually better) song craftsmanship, it’s obvious Quiet Kid is growing up, but whether the band grows into a unique sound remains to be seen. (www.quietkid.com)
– Joseph Simek

Dark Day is an apt name for the latest 12-track CD from Qwel. Out of the Galapagos4 hip-hop stable, Northsider Qwel puts down prolific, nonrepetitious raps over dark, ominous beats crafted by Jackson Jones. “The Ladder Builder” and its doomsday feedback mesmerizes, while the title track slinks along with a low-gear reggae riff. Although the vocals at times get lost in the uneven production, an authentic vibe remains. (www.galapagos4.com)
– Jason Scales

#Regrettable Me# suffer from an identity crisis. “The Game” sounds like a smooth Smashing Pumpkins rip off until the ’80s-metal chorus rips through the bridge. “Time Flies” opens with a flimsy electronic beat before dissolving into Candlebox-like soft metal. These sort of awkward juxtapositions and disjointed remnants make Forever As You Fade a confusing, schizophrenic listen. (www.regrettableme.com)
– Patrick Conlan

While hardly anything really new or groundbreaking, it’s the youthful sincerity of Rachel Ries‘ jaded optimism that really leaves an impression on this collection of classically styled, folk-tinged country songs entitled For You Only. From the sassy, yet romantic “You Only” to the somber, yet hopeful “Unkind,” it’s the way Ries subtly conveys such emotions as love and regret that makes her music charming and engaging. (www.rachelries.com)
– Dean Ramos

Coming off like an unholy melding of White Zombie, Pantera, and Charles Manson, local metal machine Skank drops it hard and heavy on anyone who will listen with its three-song demo, White Collar Crime. The sound is all jackhammers and rage and delivers a satisfying reminder of what rock is really about. Dig “Circle Of Pain” for a taste of the strong stuff. Sick of whiny acoustic types and lame Blink wannabes? Skank is the solution. (www.skankmusic.com)
– Mike O’Cull

On Rhymes With Orange, Skitzophonic push the boundaries of hip-hop with their turntable scratching, flash-fire vocal rhymes, and scattered bits of guitar. Add in some live drums and clever shards of samples, and Skitzophonic have the foundation for their infectious, often hilarious lyrics. The funky “6:30 (Anthem Of The Ages)” epitomize their virtuous rhyming and incisive grooves. (www.skitzophonic.com)
– Patrick Conlan

Sonikore blends old-school electronica (Kraftwerk) with new-school industrial (think lighter side of Nine Inch Nails) on the ambitious, 12-track Simple Korelation. Elaborate, programmed dance beats and multi-layer synth loops highlight a Madonna-meets-Shirley Manson lead vocalist. The instrumentation is truly complex and nearly induces a rave-worthy trance on tracks such as “Her Life Is Gone.” A compulsive attention to detail was paid in the musical arrangement, as evidenced by the 15-minute opus “Why.” (www.sonikore.com)
– Jason Scales

On the Stick Figures‘ self-titled debut, Chicago’s Robust connects with Rhode Island MC/producer Prolyphic for a crusade to reclaim hip-hop from its recent superficial nature. Atop their dusty, sample-centric beats, this cross-state duo spend a great deal of mic time playing the underdogs trying to “knock the king down the mountain.” And while Robust and Prolyphic articulately detail why so many MCs in the spotlight are fake, their cynicism gradually weighs down their cause. (www.galapagos4.com)
– Max Herman

Street Brats apparently want to be the punk rock representatives of Chicago. They make a compelling case for the job on the 10-song See You At The Bottom. The pictures in the liner notes heavily identify with Wicker Park, and the songs are short bursts of punk fury mixed with sing-along, anthem-heavy choruses. “Destination Nowhere” often repeats the lyrics “Destination nowhere/ Look for me, yeah I’ll be there,” and the chanting on “Southbound” continues well after the steady beat of the snare and rumble of the power chords subside. (www.fullbreach77.com)
– Jason Scales

Todd Snow hopes to conjure a foreboding atmosphere with instrumental tracks like “Haunted” and “Dust To Dust” on Pentagram. Unfortunately, the repetitive synth washes and other keyboard effects will have listeners envisioning spacecraft instead of covens. “Innerspace” has some distorted voices and chimes, but otherwise Snow doesn’t offer enough variety to keep Pentagram interesting. (www.mukkydiscc.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Suitcase: 72 spends two thirds of Traveler’s Guide To Central Neptune effectively mixing power pop and glam rock, with singer/guitarist/keyboardist Henry Jeffries setting the tone with his charming, Anglo-style vocals. The catchy “Tragic Show” and psychedelic “Blow Away” have elaborate arrangements that hint at the wilder experimentation that comes later on the sci-fi noir of “Last Stop.” (www.suitcase72.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Power pop fans probably won’t flock to Texpert‘s latest EP (cheekily called Self-Titled) though they’re likely to find it mildly intriguing. The group mixes British invasion with modern alternative melodies to meld hook-heavy cuts on “Velvet Eyes” and “Ozone Bloom” with surging guitar chords throughout “Barfly.” However on that latter track and “Miles Away,” the harmonies leave a lot to be desired and don’t come across as clean as one would hope. (www.texpertmusic.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

Turntable Lover – the second full-length from local all-American blues rock quartet Voodoo Pilot – soars on the playing of lead guitarist Bill Galey, wherein he follows a semi-pretentious opening lead on the title cut with some serious fretwork by the song’s close. But he’s equally subtle and nuanced on quieter forays. Vocals by supporting ax man John Liggett are serviceable to his lyrics in a deadpan Jim Morrison way (especially on opening cut “Down”), and there’s adequate bass and drum support. There’s makings for greatness if they can just find the right spark. (www.voodoopilot.com)
– David C. Eldredge

Volcano! have two goals in mind: melt amp circuits and cause permanent ear damage. “Easy Does It” lays out the blueprint for their operation. Two-and-half minutes of raging cacophony, stinging dissonance, squeals of feedback, and otherwise terrible noise suddenly give way to something resembling a melody, before it all drowns again in suffocating yelps and more static. This general plan covers just about every track on Beautiful Seizure (The Leaf Label), though the part about melody appears purely optional. (www.theleaflabel. com)
– Patrick Conlan

Wicked Liz & The Bellyswirls are all about the pop. Their sound is tuneful, a little crunchy, and instantly appealing. All they need is a great song. Their material is good, but their CD Hulathong doesn’t contain that one great cut that would get them on the air to stay. Hopefully their writing will develop and that tune will present itself. In all other areas, WL&TB are better than most. (www.wicked-liz.com)
– Mike O’Cull

Category: Around Hear, Monthly

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