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Around Hear: February 2010

| February 1, 2010 | 2 Comments

Local Band Reviews

“Break Little Branches,” one of the five tracks on Arboreal by the Chicago/Austin, Texas-based band Box Of Baby Birds, sounds like one of the more introspective and meandering songs by Red Red Meat. The folk-rock offerings, penned by Gary Calhoun James, are delicate compositions that rely on hushed vocals augmented by guitar, keys, and violin. Fleeting moments on “Coins, Letters, Numbers” burst with bass and drums, while other tracks exploring the band’s subtle, understated style. (www.myspace.com/boxofbabybirds)
— Jason Scales

Cavalry is out to prove that straight-up, glam-free rock ‘n’ roll is still alive and kickin’, and on its debut EP, the band makes a pretty strong case. Each of Snake Skins’ seven tracks hits with no-nonsense rock that has the attitude of Rise Against meshed with the accessible melodies of Nickelback (but far less-polished, in the good way). Frontman Collin Patrick delivers his vocals with conviction and authenticity, yet avoids going the screamo route, a welcome change. (www.myspace.com/cavalry)
— Carter Moss

Befitting its collection of talented multi-instrumentalists and collaborative writing process, Crooks And Children‘s music is finely detailed, with lush textures layered in sweeping arrangements of dramatic scope. On its demo for its latest release, Night Is A Good Child, withering vocals take on an otherworldly feel as the passionate emoting resonates against a backdrop of patient drumming, echoing piano tones, and gently strummed guitar in the languorous “Black Cat,” while a detached theatrical air and jaunty thump fuels “Shoefly.” (www.crooksandchildren.com)
— Patrick Conlan

Not to be confused with the psychedelic prog band from the ’70s, Czar is a mutant fusion of brooding, heads-down post-rock, freewheeling, angular noise, and some surprising melodic passages. Vocals are kept to a minimum as its menacing rock morphs from a disjointed and spastic cacophony to a tightly coiled groove with the drop of a jagged chord. You can hear traces of Pelican in the murky, blast-furnace metal of “Depthless Paradise Of Terror” and the epic, billowing ebb and flow of “Above. Below.” (www.myspace.com/czarchicago)
— Patrick Conlan

Dressed For Radio delivers a quartet of three-minute pop tunes with a clean, jaunty, vocal-charged ’80s-esque new wave sound akin to say Elvis Costello or Joe Jackson. While things get a little more interesting when the band tweaks the tempo and strips the lyrics to the basics on “Roll,” one senses slight stumbles in the band’s execution of the changes. (www.myspace.com/dressedforradio)
— David C. Eldredge

Enforcer‘s Classic Chicago Metal is an odds-and-ends compilation of studio tracks and live rehearsal recordings, dating back to hair-metal’s heyday in the mid ’80s. Clearly influenced by the NWOBHM — especially the roaring stomper “Born To Avenge” and the ripping crunch of the galloping “High Treason” — this metal is a throwback to chunky distortion and gleaming solos. Typical for the genre, lyrics focus on the occult, vengeance, and an impending “final conflict,” delivered with fiery passion and expressive falsetto howls. Kudos to Enforcer for keeping the faith all of these years. (www.myspace.com/enforcermusic)
— Patrick Conlan

According to chief writer/multi-instrumentalist Travis Lee Wiggins, the 10 songs collected on ever-evolving musical project Essex Chanel’s Love Is Proximity represents its most accessible album yet, one that “could be played in a Starbucks and sold at the front counter.” Indeed, outside of the Dixie honky-tonk paced opener, Wiggins’ soft vocals against subdued strings and muted horns predominate the remaining songs about, unsurprisingly, love — which, while pleasant enough background music at its best, leaves one fairly indistinguishable from another in a single listening. There are some 30 songs to this cycle of love online, complete with “how to” videos so you can create your own Starbucks at home. (www.essexchanel.com)
— David C. Eldredge

Face Time Police coined the term “pop macchiato” to describe its highly polished music on The Definition Of Deviation. The third disc from Brian and James Serra, it offers a radio-friendly mix of hard rock and rap on “Seashells,” while the aggressive synth beats of “Minute Made” sound destined for the dancefloor. Noted engineer Roger Lian of Masterdisk mastered this otherwise DIY effort, giving it an even more professional allure. (www.facetimepolice.com)
— Terrence Flamm

Wrapped in a handwritten, yellow-lined paper note explaining “He’s a 17 yr. old from Bartlett getting started & would happy to get a review in Around Hear,” the two-song CD from guitarist/songwriter John Ford displays chops, talents, and abilities numerous submissions from others twice his age can only dream of having. Ford’s solid vocals bring an early Ryan Adams to mind; likewise the pop craftsmanship/chord changes of his songs conjure Steve Forbert. Stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks impressive debut! More, please! (zepmanjmf [at] comcast.net)
— David C. Eldredge

Ambient jazz in the Israeli tradition is an acquired taste to say the least, but when it comes to Marbin‘s self-titled release, there’s no denying the duo’s musical capabilities. Dani Rabin’s guitar and Danny Markovich’s smooth saxophones complement one another no matter the listener’s cultural background, though the pair’s ultra-chill instrumentals could insight drowsiness outside of a meditative atmosphere. (www.myspace.com/marbinmusic)
— Andy Argyrakis

Men Who Listen serve up an extremely well-produced 12-song debut that runs the gamut of rock styles: from the fun, fast, tongue-in-cheeky “I Hate Tom Cruise” and the honky-tonkin’ “My Baby’s The Bartenda,” to the Led Zep-esque chorded “(Dead & Buried) In Your Love” and prog-esque ballad closer “Forever.” Proof of the production savvy is found where the band wisely double-tracks the plain-spoken vocals and its crisp sound throughout, making for a solid intro. (www.myspace.com/menwholisten)
— David C. Eldredge

Denis Pesh grew up in Russia, but after arriving in America in 1993 and immediately falling in love with both music and English, he began writing music. Fast-forward to 2009 and his debut LP Promise, whose main problem is that each track begins with so much promise (simple melodies plunked out on piano or acoustic guitar), but by the time the the harmonies devolve into an odd ’70s folk b-side kickin. Pesh is obviously influenced by Dylan, but something is definitely lost in the translation. (www.denispesh.com)
— Carter Moss

Featuring members of Freshwater Collins and Decibully, Will Phalen & The Stereo Addicts are a local supergroup of sorts. But the folk-doused acoustic rockers demonstrate complete cohesion rather than a haphazardly assembled one-off throughout Middle West, which ranges between the rootsy flavors of Son Volt, Robbie Fulks, or Neil Young during a stripped-down Farm Aid Set. (www.myspace.com/willphalenandthestereoaddicts)
— Andy Argyrakis

Three-piece power poppers The Rikters provides an instant throwback to the glory days of Elvis Costello & The Attractions or Smoking Popes, while also channeling the witty appeal of Ben Folds throughout its self-titled, full-length debut. The group’s heavy on hooks and charging guitar action throughout “Give Me Tonight” and “All My Life,” while providing some laid-back garage rock on “Take Time,” suggesting there’s no reason why the band can’t follow in the Popes’ steps. (www.myspace.com/therikters)
— Andy Argyrakis

Everything moves at a leisurely pace on singer/guitarist Rob Scallon‘s 16-song The Ride Home. He showcases his intricate strumming on instrumentals like “Regret” and “Everyway Is North,” but his talky vocal style weighs several of the other tracks down. “Run On Sentences” and the title track have enough pep to interest indie-rock fans, but some listeners might find themselves nodding off before The Ride Home is over. (www.myspace.com/ robscallon)
— Terrence Flamm

Though his wife’s untimely death led Eric Behrenfeld to curtail his career as a longtime blues sideman, it also led to the launch of Tiki Cowboys, an innovative solo project that blends, as the name implies, country and Polynesian influences. A Taste Of Tiki is the title of his first ukulele-powered EP, which showcases four delectable ditties including the infectious “Tiki Lady” and the bittersweet “My Little Song.” It’s a fleeting yet altogether pleasurable polyphonic pupu platter. (www.tikicowboys.com)
— Jeff Berkwits

Chicago-based Stanley Ross (moniker for Nicholas Meiers & his band) did all you can ask for on a sophomore release: start with what worked on the debut, and evolve. Intact on Here With Me is the signature Stanley Ross alt-rock sound, sure to please college students everywhere. And this time around, the band learns to really let loose once in awhile (“Lasso” and “Untitled #94”) and channel its inner Queens Of The Stone Age. (www.stanleyross.com)
— Carter Moss

Unplugged guitars and folk vocals put Them Damn Kids somewhere among a modern-day James Taylor, Jim Croce, or Cat Stevens. However, Arm Yourself With Perspicacity lacks the songwriting chops and practically perfect melodies that made any of those tunesmiths famous, suggesting the otherwise acoustically inviting environment needs a provocative facelift. (www.myspace.com/themdamnkids)
— Andy Argyrakis

There’s an intentional retro vibe to the self-titled, three-song EP from The Ton, a duo with one foot firmly planted in ’90s industrial and the other in ’80s new wave. “Wires” is ruggedly rhythmic, with “Lies” providing a somewhat more refined but equally forceful aura. Only “Games” is seriously flawed, suffering from a mediocre vocal performance. Overall it’s a decent though not terribly memorable sampler. (www.myspace.com/wearetheton)
— Jeff Berkwits

Category: Around Hear, Columns, Monthly

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  1. Nick says:

    (thanks for the Stanley Ross review)

  2. Baron says:

    Finally, after six years since A Taste Of Tiki, I am happy to say that there is a new Tiki Cowboys album available!

    The new album is called “Island Dreams”, and the CD is available at the Tiki Cowboys website.

    -Baron

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