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Around Hear: October 2009

Local Band Reviews

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Add American Draft to Chicago’s instrumental rock pedigree. The band’s second full-length release, the eight-track Hawk On Coachhouse, is like a less frenetic Mastodon minus the vocals. The title track showcases its multi-layered guitar attack, with variations on a soaring/airy riff. Harder-rocking tracks like “Diet Of Worms” and “Tree Of Woe” are at times plodding, faster-paced, and fuzzed-out grunge. The only vocals on the album, provided by a guest in screamcore style, are mercifully brief on “Dragon.” (www.myspace.com/americandraft)
– Jason Scales

While some may feel that the combination of theology and pop music is something less than ideal, it doesn’t have to be. Jennifer Benson‘s six-song demo, displays an appealing voice and equally engaging musicality. For non-Christians it may be a bit grating, but for those of similar faith, it’s unlikely they won’t find something to like here. (www.jenniferbenson.net)
– Dean Ramos

From the head-bobbing “Sugarbabe, Sugarbabe” to the hip-shaking title track, a more thoroughly enjoyable combination of country, blues, rock, and jazz you’re not likely to find anywhere else than on Bluebird & Skoko‘s Trust Your Mojo, Sista. In addition to Rob “Bluebird” Ruggeri’s Southern-by-way-of-the-U.K. drawl, Elena Skoko adds a distinctly feminine and even sultry feel to such songs as “Everyday Life” and “I’m An Angel.” (www.omomworld.com)
– Dean Ramos

While drawing heavily from The Beatles and a lot of generally great ’60s pop on the three-song demo Imagine, sadly, Terry Carroll lacks both The Fab Four’s charm or the ability to make their sound his own the way a band like Oasis do. On the other hand, though, Carroll does emulate the sound quite well; it’s just unfortunate that the line between happy homage and lesser imitation had to be crossed. (www.soundclick.com)
– Dean Ramos

Comasoft‘s seven-cut second outing, The Beautiful Departure, is an infectiously inspired reprise of ’80s-style electro-pop/rock with all sass (and big drums!) of Missing Persons, synthy-hooks of earliest Vince Clark-led Depeche Mode, and vocal sheen of Duran Duran. (www.comasoft.com)
–David C. Eldredge

While the popularity of power pop has waned, there’s no denying the crunchy sweetness of Daemon Familiar‘s Dawn Of The Albatross. Infectiously catchy, with snappy pop hooks and a sugary vocal melody, “Buddha’s Little Helper” will burrow into your memory. Likewise, you’ll find yourself nodding along with “I Hate To See You Go, But,” and the sweet ballad “So Sad” will leave you swooning and smiling. (www.daemonfamiliar.com)
– Patrick Conlan

Andrea Dawn & Jeremy Junkin are two Chicago-based singer/songwriters who learn and play each others’ songs, rather than write together. This makes for tracks with distinct personalities and some pretty tuneful music. Their latest CD, First Try At Goodbye, ranges from funk with horns to move the backside to ballads that move the soul, and remains uniformly well-written and conceived. Much better than your typical, Wrigleyville/overpriced coffeehouse fare, these two deserve a wider audience. (www.andreadawnmusic.com)
– Mike O’Cull

Even for those whose tastes lean as far away from orchestral music as possible, even they should be able to find something to like on George Flynn‘s American City. Although the music here is more reminiscent of the urban cityscapes of such films as Breakfast At Tiffany’s and even the classic noir Kiss Me Deadly, it’s every bit as timeless as it is classic. (www.chicagosound.com)
– Dean Ramos

Matching superstar octogenarian sax player Red Holloway with two-thirds of rising star Deep Blue Organ Trio should be a supernova. Alas, Go Red Go! barely sizzles and mostly fizzles. Sounding as if each musician was recorded separately and barely (if at all) mastered, missed beats abound and rote-by-note playing surrounds. A truly missed opportunity. (www.redholloway.com)
–David C. Eldredge

While Maxwell James hopes to showcase his funky side throughout Don’t Date Musicians, he winds up sounding like nothing more than a white-washed version of the genre injected with ’90s ska flourishes. Tired themes throughout “Trouble In Double Time” and “I Don’t Want To Be Famous” don’t add appeal, but at least there’s robust potential on the No Doubt-tipped “Illinois Blues.” (www.myspace.com/maxwelljamesis1023)
– Andy Argyrakis

Josh & The Empty Pockets pretty much stick to playing fun rock ‘n’ roll on Under The Bed, starting with vocalist/guitarist Josh Solomon’s spirited scat on the opening “Meaningless Words.” “Freedom To Be” is a sarcastic take on politics while “Monsters” glances back at childhood memories in a country & western arrangement. Solomon also offers the homespun romantic ballads,”Beautiful To Me” and “You’re The One.” (www.myspace.com/joshandtheemptypockets)
– Terrence Flamm

Even with an affinity for several late ’70s/early ’80s rockers, the female-fronted Joyfocus is decidedly current with its alternative-rock explorations throughout Cyber Suburban Electro Rock Circus. Like a modern-day Eurythmics, the group deftly combines synth-pop with stadium rock and even breathes fresh life into that act’s “Here Comes The Rain Again.” (www.myspace.com/joyfocus)
– Andy Argyrakis

It’s slightly alarming how relaxed Lady Parasyte sounds with the world burning down around her. On the Sirens EP, punishing, industrial synth lines pound her in the back like pistons while melting feedback howls and a black-metal-influenced backing vocalist forebode the apocalypse. “I just can’t find the words!” she rants at one point, apparently getting a feel for the situation. The lo-fi, bedroom-style production suggests she’s not in any imminent danger yet, but given more high-tech equipment we’ll be the ones in for quite a shock. (www.ladyparasyte.com)
– Steve Forstneger

Much has been made of the musical genes of The Lava Brothers (their grandfather was “Batman” composer Neal Hefti), but Waking Birds Will Harmonize shows little direct evidence of that jazzy DNA. All 13 soft-pop songs swoop and soar, with a rich rock beat driving “Where Is The Rose” and gorgeous vocal harmonies guiding “Fly.” The three siblings’ musical style is quite different from their gramps’, but it’s clear the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. (www.thelavabrothers.com)
– Jeff Berkwits

Lulls are generally longer than 11 minutes, but that’s all Chicago’s A Lull has on its debut EP, Ice Cream Bones (Lujo). Mixed with the help of Aloha, the four-song release hints at the post-rock playbook via elliptical patterns and Sea And Cake vocals, though there’s a tension under the Northwest-side band that says if the members are just stirring their coffee cups, they’re doing so furiously. (www.alull.com)
– Steve Forstneger

Chicago-born Elliot Matsu discovered his calling to rock ‘n’ roll at age 10. After taking the “non-traditional” route to becoming a rock musician (studying piano at Suzuki, getting a masters in entertainment at NYU), Matsu finally hooked up with a friend who started a label and signed him. This sophomore effort, The Value Of Power, does display the value of a good musical education, but it also displays the limits. While Matsu’s songwriting his solid and his vocals are pure, he’s nowhere near rock stardom. He sounds like Michael Buble trying to front a bar band – and nobody’s fooled. (www.elliotmatsu.net)
– Carter Moss

Veteran keyboardist Eric Michaels has toured with well-known musicians, but on Somethin’ Blue, he’s the frontman for the Eric Michaels Organ Trio. The CD, which offers an entertaining mix of standards and originals, features Michaels on lead vocals as well on as the Hammond organ. His fluid rendition of Miles Davis’ classic “Milestones” is particularly impressive, while his own “Satisfied Tonight” evokes the energetic fun of the Brian Setzer Band. (www.ericmichaelsorgantrio.com)
– Terrence Flamm

Peacekeeper comes across as a sort of country & western-oriented version of Crosby, Stills & Nash or The Grateful Dead on its debut, Fireworks, thanks to some strong melodies and tight harmony vocals. “Dirty Road” is an easy-going travelogue while “Don’t Hold Me” rocks harder. Peacekeeper also does well with the old-time, bluesy romance of “Lonely Waltz” and “Is This Love?” (www.myspace.com/peacekeeperband)
– Terrence Flamm

Aspic Tines constructs an alternative persona and exploits that character for his unorthodox musical adventures. Crypto-Superzeit! International features European electro-disco and Tines’ carnival-esque vocals detailing his interstellar journeys and madcap discoveries. There’s an abundance of self-conscious irreverence – “H.I.C.” is a disturbing blend of Dead Kennedys and Erasure – but “Music Of The Spheres” is a legitimate tune, paying respectful homage to Depeche Mode while still basting in Tines’ off-beat humor. (www.myspace.com/aspictines)
– Patrick Conlan

Vee Dee‘s Public Mental Health System is a massive double LP that finds us struggling to cope with the chaos of modernity. This is an ambitious, wild collection of raucous rock songs boiling over with wiry guitars, blistering harmonic distortion, and impassioned vocals. “Glimpses Of Another World” is a surging blast of feedback and riffing, while “Teens O.D.” and “Out Of My Skin” are fiery, spastic numbers that spiral out of control. (www.criminaliq.com)
– Patrick Conlan

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