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Around Hear Page 3

| April 27, 2007 | 0 Comments

Elmhurst singer-songwriter Dean Milano has been part of The New Seekers and opened for Cab Calloway, but it seems his biggest achievement is his latest CD, Songs About Stuff, which manages to be tuneful, intelligent, sometimes humorous, and well-executed from beginning to end. Milano’s songs are streetwise and smart, a welcome addition to anyone’s collection of troubadours. “Flashes Of Brilliance” is a great song, but any choice here is a winner. (deanguy@ameritech.net)
– Mike O’Cull

Seldom do you hear a rapper call himself “kinda nerdy” as Phillip Morris does on his debut, Instrumentality. Here, this nasal MC/producer makes no bones about tossing out “X-Files” and Sudoku references. But Morris’ intelligent wordplay isn’t all about nerdiness as he cleverly takes on Dubya’s “dirty politics” (“Divided States”) and stands up for women trapped in abusive relationships (“World Of Deceit”). To top it off, his laptop-produced beats bump. (www.myspace.com/phillipmorris)
– Max Herman

Though it would be easy to dismiss Nine Fifty as competent Gin Blossoms knock-offs, that would be a big mistake. While they play peppy rock (and a few slower, melancholy numbers) on Heads Up Face Down, their incredibly tight musicianship and strong songwriting distinguish them among the hordes of faceless bar bands. Bright, sunny melodies drive the country-tinged rock of “Another Second Chance” and the extraordinary, swinging “Be There Again.” John Castino’s husky vocals add a nice tonal touch that contrasts well with the jangly acoustic guitars. (www.ninefifty.net)
– Patrick Conlan

The Poison Arrows are Justin Sinkovich’s (ex-Atombombpocketknife) latest project. On Straight Into The Drift (File 13), they explore dynamic, apocalyptic song structures while huge, menacing drums provide a thunderous backdrop to drilling guitars and undulating bass lines. Sinkovich’s incisive vocal bite cuts through the massive wall of sound to deliver his cryptic musings on surviving emotional land mines. (www.thepoisonarrows.com)
– Patrick Conlan

Produced by former Vertical Horizon drummer Ed Toth, Jen Porter‘s third independent release, Moving On, showcases the fiery-haired pianist’s powerhouse voice. The styles vary throughout the album’s 10 tracks. On “Get Out” Porter channels Melissa Etheridge as she dons her rock hat, while a Gretchen Wilson honky-tonk groove bleeds into “Along The Way” and “The Way.” On The Cure’s “Pictures Of You” Porter slows the tempo to a crawl revealing an aching, bittersweet sentiment not even Robert Smith can fully convey. (www.jenporter.com)
– Janine Schaults

Kris Racer keeps it short and sweet on his sophomore effort, . . . Has A Banner Year. For six acoustic pop songs, the upbeat 20-something looks on the bright side of ordinary adulthood dread (traffic and the office) with a voice still wet-behind-the-ears. When he sings of his “awkward presence” on “North Milwaukee Damen,” he could be acknowledging that he comes across as too childish. But this ounce of humility might just add to his boyish charm. (www.krisracer.com)
– Mike Meyer

Shipwreck rose up in the Champaign scene opening for the likes of The Appleseed Cast, Chin Up Chin Up, and Mates Of State. On its House Of Cards EP, the group turn in a blend of melancholy indie rock with more aggressive alternative, sometimes psychedelic undertones. “Black Moon” is the project’s standout, seemingly paying tribute to Pink Floyd in current contexts, though the rest are throwaway tunes for the bar background. (www.shipwreckband.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

Soft Targets‘ five-song Whatever Happened To Soft Targets? serves up a nice enough guitar-charged garage/grunge/pop with Bunnymen echoes to document the ever-in flux band’s sound circa 2006. However, the sole instrumental (“Clearing The Bush”) aside, the simplistic lyrics and weak, poorly enunciated vocals sound as if afterthought additions that otherwise undercut the other four songs. (www.soft-targets.com)
– David C. Eldredge

Simplicity Is The Name Of The Game is not just an album title for Chicago rockers State And Madison – it’s a way of life. From the make-up of their band (a picture-framer, a student waiter, a graphic designer, and a church-goer), to their lyrics (lots of love and loss), to their music (straight up emo-rock), these guys keep it simple. And in their case, it really works. No messing around with complex sonic layers here – just regular guys cranking out simple, relatable rock songs. (www.stateandmadison.net)
– Carter Moss

Why Suffrajett isn’t way too big to be reviewed in “Around Hear” by now is beyond us. Black Glitter doesn’t provide any answers, either. Songs like “Closer” are sweaty, sexy, druggy rock in all its glory. Vocalist Simi’s feistiness carries the songs, but it’s guitarist Jason Chasko’s gritty riffs that lay the groundwork. Nearly half of these tunes, including standouts “Mr. Man” and “Down And Out” were on the group’s last EP, but these reworkings are welcome. (www.suffrajett.com)
– Trevor Fisher

For those who think ska is dead, local quartet Tusker are here to prove you wrong. Combining elements of metal and punk with their beloved ska the way bands like The Suicide Machines and Rancid did before them, this self-titled EP is filled with ska-centric horns, fun vocals, and roaring guitars that are sure to give those looking for an excuse to skank every reason to do so. (www.tuskerchicago.com)
– Dean Ramos

White Hot Knife‘s self-titled EP channels elements of Bayside and Alkaline Trio to simultaneously blend surging alternative rock chords and punk-tipped insistency. Tunes like “Speakeasy” and “The Plastic Connection” are among the most infectiously jarring, while “This Girl” incorporates the occasional dance beat to provide additional variety. However, not all of the sonic mergers are as meaningful, such as the choppy, loosely produced pop punker “Pedestals.” (www.whitehotknife.com)
– Andy Argyrakis

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