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Around Hear: August 2009

| July 31, 2009 | 0 Comments


Alan Bailey evokes theatrical productions with the ambitious keyboard and string arrangements on Can’t Let Go. The forced wackiness of “To The Breaking Point” gets annoying, but Bailey entertains with fluid piano playing and inviting melodies on “(Don’t) Get Your Hopes Up” and “Release.” On the simple but charming “I’m Off To Bed,” Bailey sounds like he could have a successful career as an accompanist for silent films. (
– Terrence Flamm

Following its outstanding ’06 release, It’s A Sin, Bakelite 78 returns with the equally exceptional Delta Disc, bringing its own distinct brand of vaudeville-like stylings. This time, though, in addition to experimenting with such sounds as country and folk, jazz and blues are also thrown into the mix, providing listeners with yet another relentlessly enjoyable time capsule of a record. (
Dean Ramos

Egon’s Unicat is nothing if not ambitious on Bonesaw, an elaborately packaged two-CD set. The first disc, subtitled “Apocalypse Kramer,” offers hard-driving numbers with names like “Terror In Argyle” and “Accents & Accidents,” while the second platter, “The Reverse Beatles Effect,” provides such subdued but still comparatively heavy songs as “St. Patty’s Day” and “Joe Victory Line Of Freedom.” Unfortunately, though the presentation is noteworthy, the 23 melodies are merely mediocre. ( Appearing: August 22nd at The Mutiny in Chicago.
Jeff Berkwits

Mama’s House Live by the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble trio boasts some amazing music in opener “Oof,” “Mama’s House,” and “Barundi. For those still green to the genre, though, 15-minute track lengths like the one on “Ornette” may be a bit much to handle in one sitting. Needless to say, this one is definitely not for the uninitiated. (
Dean Ramos

Flatlander is a self-described aggressive experimental rock combo, and the trio of songs on its eponymous EP do show a willingness to explore variations within heavy metal. Drew Trilla’s inventive guitar playing is particularly impressive on the more subtle “Coma Forever,” while bassist Ryan Trembath anchors “Guarded By Flames.” Pedro Prosdocimo has a solid set of pipes but Flatlander would more interesting if he was as adventurous as his bandmates. (
–Terrence Flamm

A back-panel photo with all three members sitting on toilets isn’t exactly a selling point for Geronimo’s A Different Kind Of Greatness and, upon further listening, several songs could surely stand to be flushed. The zouk rockers jam incohesively throughout “Do The Driving,” continue the random noodling throughout “Ender,” and suffer from poor production quality across the entire five-track EP. (
– Andy Argyrakis

There’s an air of gorgeous melancholy to music of Jenny Gillespie, with Light Year offering eight mesmerizing melodies. The talented singer/songwriter channels Sinead O’Connor on “Hydra,” offering a heartbreaking voice complemented by stark piano, even as tunes like “New Maze” and “Hummingbirds” at times recall such legendary folksingers as Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. It’s coffeehouse music that’s ready for the big time. ( Appearing: October 10th at Uncommon Ground-Devon in Chicago.
– Jeff Berkwits

Falling somewhere between Bright Eyes meets Nada Surf, Incredible Shrinking Boy fills City Nights with coming-of-age reflections over airy acoustic strums. The title track and “The Moon Picked Me Up” both float with sublime bliss, but “Reminder Song” takes a whiny card out of Dashboard Confessional’s playbook, suggesting that despite the storytelling productivity, there’s still room for vocal development. ( Appearing: September 5th at Mike & Denise’s in Aurora.
– Andy Argyrakis

Joan Of Arc‘s Flowers (Polyvinyl), a 13-track effort supposedly born out of a two-day improv session, values unpredictability, loose arrangements, and musical inclusiveness. Nowhere is the juxtaposition of musical influences more clear than through the three-song progression of “Fasting,” “Explain Yourselves #2,” and “But Tsunshine [sic] and Moon,” which flows from scraping pipe/avant-garde on the former to simple drum and vocal arrangement on the middle to bluesy acoustic ditty on the latter. (
– Jason Scales

There’s a pleasing folk simplicity to the four tunes on Boomerang, the latest offering from Todd Kessler. Both literally and figuratively he hits all the right notes, providing a solid performance on the title track plus a de rigueur lyrical bashing of former President Bush on “Hoping That Tomorrow Is Better Than Today.” This singer/songwriter has now issued two EPs; it’d be nice to hear a full-length release soon. ( Appearing: September 18th at Horseshoe in Chicago.
– Jeff Berkwits

Trinity seems an inadequate name for Dylan Lloyd‘s three-song EP, because the entities he worships number far greater. Despite the rumbling piano base of “The Ride,” he’s backed by a funk that’s equal parts ebony (Stevie Wonder) and ivory (Dave Matthews). “All I Wanna Do” keys on a loungier version of Fiona Apple’s blocky chords, and “Visible” begins pensively before pouring itself a drink and reclining its seatback. Lloyd’s wordplay could stand a little personality, but it’s hard to develop too many skills at once. ( or Click here to download “All I Wanna Do.”)
– Kevin Keegan

Megitza Quartet offers an intriguing blend of classical, jazz, and world music on its debut, Boleritza. Although guitarist Andreas Kapsalis’ “17_14” is the only track with lyrics in English, the exotic music artfully conjures images of campfires, folk tales, and lovers dancing the tango or samba. Vocalist Malgorzata Babiarz is consistently enchanting, whether she’s conveying the beauty of the traditional “Krywaniu” or breezing through her own Latin-flavored “Cisza (Silence).” ( Appearing: September 18th at Katerina’s in Chicago.
– Terrence Flamm

Milk At Midnight‘s third release, Less Love More Acid (Stars/No Stars), finds the trio alternating between heart-stirring indie pop (“Sticks In My Stomach”), Killers danceability (“Kristol Ball”), and bombast worthy of Muse (the title track). “The Leaning Tower Of Astigmatism” opens with a riff that’s a little bit country and a little bit “Big Bird In Japan,” while “Lost Highway” drowns in a cacophony of psychedelia. Rarely does an album’s full track listing consist of must-hear ditties, but here’s a perfect dozen. (
– Janine Schaults

The Nashville Wreckers may hail from the city’s South Side, but the sextet wouldn’t seem out of place taking the stage at the Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium. And if the band’s four-song Alleyways is any indication, an invitation from the venerated venue could come soon rather than later. The brainchild of guitar/vocalists Don Melas and Andrew Wetmore, The Nashville Wreckers take up where Ryan Adams left off on Heartbreaker, especially on the album’s tour de force, “Streets Don’t Sing.” ( Appearing: October 3rd at Chicago Country Music Festival.
– Janine Schaults

The Possum Hollow Boys play straight-up hillbilly music in the truest sense and would have fit right in as a part of Sun Records’ mid-1950’s roster. The sound is stripped down and old school, full of twanging guitar and slapped upright bass and sounds as if it could have been recorded live in the studio. Guitarist Casey McDonough steals much of the show on Introducing The Possum Hollow Boys, but the rest of the trio rocks just as hard. (
– Mike O’Cull

Roosevelt Jenkins hits on all cylinders with its brand of unadorned, punched-up rock, styled with a collegiate friendliness and warm-hearted genuineness. “Streets” and “Your Smile Snuck Into My Dream” ride a buzzing guitar and hooky melodies with Jeffrey Connor’s vocals cresting over the steady rumble. There’s nothing flashy or artfully clever on Turn Your Lights On (except for maybe the sly cover art), but that’s the essence of the album’s appeal, and strong melodies performed by skilled musicians will always find an audience. (
– Patrick Conlan

Debut Out Of The Sky from The Steak House Mints is a richly layered/produced orchestral pop confection, with songs for the most part sounding as if Chicago were covering Magical Mystery Tour in a pleasant enough way. Breaking this mold is the Cole Porter sounding “Cheap Thrill,” tongue-in-cheek jaunty quickie “If I Were President,” and Southern jam-bandy “Run Two” – all of which stand out by their difference, leading one to wonder about the band’s best future direction. (
– David C. Eldredge

Despite the floundering economy, it’s not too late for the members of Strawberry Horsecake to hit the streets looking for a new job. Office work might really suit Tom Velat, Brian Foust, and Eric Kmiec because as a band, the trio would have a hard time fending off a couple of sophomores in a local battle of the bands. Throughout the 13 minutes and seven rudimentary songs that make up Incontrovertible Theory, a few glimmers of hope (or at least humor) transpire: the righteous Alice Cooper-like riff in “Right Hand Man” and the faux warbling in “Edith Bunker’s Countdown To Armageddon.” (
– Janine Schaults

On his debut, Starin’ At A Green Light, Dan Tedesco yearns to join the ranks of American troubadours like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp. He mostly succeeds, thanks to poignant lyrics about blue-collar workers aching for a better life, Iraq War vets, and incurable romantics. “Bound For Glory” is an energetic blast of horns and guitars while “Symphony In The City” and “A Long Haul” are melodic, acoustic-based tunes. ( Appearing: August 29th at Irish Oak in Chicago.
– Terrence Flamm

Once again performing as The Weightlifters, Adam McLaughlin returns with his second solo effort, O My Stars, showcasing his bright, buoyant indie pop. The catchiest cut is far and away the radio-ready “Belle Of The Wrecking Ball,” which provides a fun, sing-along chorus. Still, all seven songs are commendable, displaying a host of venerable influences ranging from Elliott Smith and Matthew Sweet to Teenage Fanclub and The Apples In Stereo. (
– Jeff Berkwits

Whut‘s debut album title, Through It All, We Stand Tall, harkens to a hardcore lineage of positive attitude, but its thrashy hardcore hybrid is menacingly confrontational. Barreling through an unrelenting onslaught, Whut tears through six tracks in just over 14 minutes, fashioning cranked-up, bloody guitars and throat-shredding vocals into nimble, gripping bludgeons. Every single cut here is a glass-splintering scorcher, but the destructive blast of “Uphill Battle” is the standout, as it threatens to blow the scalp off your screaming skull. ( Appearing: August 15th at The Mutiny in Chicago.
– Patrick Conlan

Willowfair is not your average indie-pop band. Comprising a husband/wife duo on piano/vocals and twin sisters on violin/cello, the Aurora-based quartet doesn’t try to write sing-along lyrics or infectious melodies. Rather, the band is content to envelop you with its stream of intricately intimate compositions. While obvious Over The Rhine comparisons can be made, Ryan Bibza’s dark, tortured vocals definitely come from the Thom Yorke school of singing. The Lie Within may leave you depressed at times, even sleepy (when it slows down too much), but it will most certainly leave you touched. (
– Carter Moss

Category: Around Hear, Columns, Monthly

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