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Around Hear: January 2011

| January 3, 2011 | 0 Comments

Local Band Reviews

Where some faith-based acts shroud their lyrics in metaphor to broaden their appeal, DeKalb’s Fue instead blanket their brooding alt-pop in mystery. The lyrics on the three-song Hallelujah EP make no game of their provenance, though the songcraft from this familial quintet relies on a carefully assembled tension that represents the grey areas of modern faith-based living. The challenge becomes maintaining this pacing over a full album. (www.myspace.com/fueband)
— Steve Forstneger

Usually, a band’s choice of covers explains a lot about where they come from, but in the case of Afflicted Brigade it points where they should go. Soulful and sexy, their take on Al Green’s “Belle” adds muscle without a hint of camp. It also makes the homogenized, Soundgarden-ish grunge in their other material seem like a poor use of their time. (www.myspace.com/afflictedbrigade)
— Steve Forstneger

When Bassel moved to Chicago from Ohio, he immediately entered an environment full of acoustic bands utilizing post-rock textures. His sophomore record, Submerged, opts for safety over risk, and ultimately it pays off. Whether mimicking a ticking clock on “All-Nighter” or exploring space on the Spinanes-ish “Light,” the deliberate pacing reveals thoughtful construction. (www.myspace.com/bassel)
— Steve Forstneger

Beneath Me is at its best when featuring crunchy guitar riffage on its 10-song debut, Wish I Wouldn’t Care. “World I Know” nails it the best (and in a Disturbed kind of way), but lighter metal subgenres aren’t beneath the five-piece either. “Million Miles Away” is all ballad, and polished arena-rock melodies temper the double-bass drums and power chords throughout. (www.beneathme.com)
— Jason Scales

While the release on vinyl of their latest recording, Blue Sky, Raging Sun, might imply that Berry are mired in the past, the music is in fact a mix of classic and contemporary sounds. There’s a psychedelic, late-era Fab Four feel to the kick-off cut, “Out,” with works like “Lonely, Tired” and “Immigrant Hands” providing a significantly more eclectic, modern vibe. Although no single song stands out, all 12 tunes are respectable. (www.berrymeme.com)
— Jeff Berkwits

Prog and post rock are not generally known for their brevity, but Centaurus keeps the music lean and concise on Pulse. There’s a tightly honed crispness in the writing and militant precision in the performances. Fluid, prog-inspired leads flow over taut rhythms in “Untwisting The Chains That Tie,” and a mystical, ethereal ambience infuses the swirling title track. A thick, rumbling foundation in “Seamless Horizon” braces the chiseled guitar attack. Centaurus refrains from flamboyant displays of its technical virtuosity in favor of playing sharply focused instrumentals. (www.myspace.com/centaurusofficial)
— Patrick Conlan

Prolific singer/songwriter Phil Circle returns with two fresh CDs: a 12-tune all-original package and a seven-track EP featuring cover versions of familiar rock anthems. All That I Am finds the musician in a comparatively introspective mood, with highlights including “Waves” and the blues-infused “Halfway Down.” The aptly titled Da Coverz is similarly sensitive, especially the acoustic takes on “In Your Eyes” and “Imagine.” Not every song sparkles, but both collections are consistently expressive and enjoyable. (www.philcircle.com)
— Jeff Berkwits

In naming their label One Shot Records, Da Homebodies underscore their dire, urban circumstances. Using inner-city disadvantages as neither crutch nor soapbox, Vall Miller and Arch Rival confront the contradictions and complications they face daily and spare no one: themselves, their parents’ generation, gold diggers (one of whom faces a brutal comeuppance), and cornerboys. The lo-fi production fails to put the edges on the RZA-style samples and beats, but, with a little luck, they could carve out their own corner of all-too-conscious rap. (www.reverbnation.com/dahomebodies)
— Steve Forstneger

The members of Aaron Fox & The Reliables have been, as the saying goes, “around the block” a few times, so it’s no surprise that the 10 songs on Late Too Soon are solid. Yet the pop-meets-roots rock melodies seem formulaic, with most of the tunes, other than perhaps the obligatory ballad “Falling Fast,” sounding awfully similar. Still, the music is decent and, as the band name implies, thoroughly dependable. (www.aaronfoxband.com)
— Jeff Berkwits

Thanks to I Fight Dragons, the videogame-inspired 8-bit music movement could conceivably turn mainstream. Cool Is Just A Number provides a great bit-pop/pop-rock fusion, smoothly blending Nintendo beeps and bleeps with old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll attitude and instrumentation. “The Faster The Treadmill” is probably the best example, but all seven songs on the EP are refreshing. (www.ifightdragons.com)
— Jeff Berkwits

The Jacobson Organ serves up basic hard rock with an occasional nod to grunge or the blues on its fourth CD, Feed. There’s a live performance vibe to these midtempo, guitar-based songs, from the feedback that opens “Get Me Some” to the amusing musicians’ banter on “Jack’s Pet Snake.” Emmet Austin’s raw vocals add to the trio’s no-frills appeal. (www.yotjo.com)
— Terrence Flamm

The pixilated cover photo and lowercase typeset of what should be an all-caps bandname don’t begin to describe the offbeat appeal of The JLDJ‘s Darkness And Light. A 25-track tour de force sung like Leonard Cohen in his bathroom mirror (sometimes a good thing), it’s easy to get locked into the sonic template without ever knowing where it’ll go next. Granted, this alternating monotony/tension can be exhausting (especially when presented unconventionally), but Darkness is a welcome jolt in an endless feed of soundalike bands. (nrrecco@fastmail.fm)
— Steve Forstneger

Indie-rock supergroup Like Pioneers combines members of Bound Stems, Narrator, Chin Up Chin Up, and Vacations to form the hearty long player Piecemeal. The results take bits and pieces of each band with a spontaneous feel that finds “English Garden” galloping with dreamy pop guitars over sunny harmonies, “Polkadot” simmering with Hammond B3 grooves, and “Crab Candy” building with baroque pop pleasantries, followed by chaotic bursts of instrumental energy. (www.likepioneers.com)
— Andy Argyrakis

Nathaniel Matthew creates compelling music on his Songs Written On Recycled Cotton Pulp for the most part by using only an acoustic guitar and his voice. His inventive strumming includes slide guitar on “Baby Blue (I Jus Do)” as well as the delicate notes of “Outside Of Eden.” Matthew’s a vocal chameleon who comes across as authentic whether he’s working in blues, folk, or easy listening. (www.nathanielmatthew.com)
— Terrence Flamm

The Maybenauts hit all the right notes on the Big Bang EP, from the irresistible, high-speed pop of “Girlfight” and “My Head Is A Bomb,” to the more intricate “Blue Line.” “Not Aware,” a heartfelt look at unrequited love, features an ambitious vocal arrangement by lead singer/keyboardist Leilani Frey, bassist Ellie Maybe, and guitarist Vee Sonnets. Drummer Emily Austin keeps the beat on this fun, well-crafted effort. (www.maybenauts.com)
— Terrence Flamm

From the vintage equipment used to record the music to the primal rock sound, Signs & Signifiers from JD McPherson is a delightful blast from the past. It’s easy to imagine the stripped-down strains of tunes like “North Side Gal” and “Dimes For Nickels” crackling from an AM radio circa 1957. Despite the nostalgic tone, almost all of the 12 tracks are original, proving one can revel in the past and still come away with something fresh. (www.hi-stylerecords.com)
— Jeff Berkwits

Alternative country and classic rock intersect at a curious crossroads throughout Nomad PlanetsYou’re Never Lost Until You Panic. The rootsy collection recalls Son Volt at its most accessible crossed with Tom Petty at his down and dirtiest, as impressive instrumental proficiency permeates original dust kickers like “Happiness” and “Whenever The Wind Blows,” plus an ingenious alt-country rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” (www.myspace.com/nomadplanets)
— Andy Argyrakis

The five-song, eponymous debut from 1 Machine is a rollicking, high-intensity effort thematically about love and liberty. “Freedom Flies,” using layered acoustic and electric guitars and reverberated vocals, has an undeniable U2 sound. Most tracks are full-tilt, in an accessible, pop rock way, with “Forever Friend” the most orchestrated due to its extended saxophone highlights. (www.myspace.com/onemachinemusic)
— Jason Scales

A casual listen to Paskey‘s What Goes Up digital album (and fifth release overall) creates the impression that David Paskey takes the same approach on every track. Further exploration reveals variations, from the new wave fun of “She Hates Rock ‘N’ Roll” to the funkier “Brobucks.” It’s Paskey’s persistent use of hushed, layered vocals that makes his music feel repetitive. “It’s Over Man, Let Her Go” is edgier, but Paskey should try more singing styles to keep things fresh. (www.listentopaskey.com)
— Terrence Flamm

A rainbow-colored pastiche of styles combine in a freewheeling, schizophrenic manner making Pox‘s Borgnine an oddly intriguing listen. A jazzy arrangement spiced with introspective lyrics make the languid “Hamfist” a stark contrast against the metallic prog-fusion of “Wilford” and the acoustic, country-inflected “99 Cents To Die.” “Iridium” and “Why Trains Crash” tumble through kaleidoscopic mist, shimmering like light sparkling in fractured glass. Borgnine is surrealistic, and stumbling at times, but eventually rewards the open-minded listener interested in experimental rock. (www.myspace.com/poxfin)
— Patrick Conlan

Long distance relationships can work. Goldfish And His Friends, a six-song EP, is the impressive result of collaboration between two cross-country musicians recording under the moniker Princess Dinosaur. Alternative-rock orchestrations, not unlike Band Of Horses, cause shoegazing reverie on “Steamy Dreamz.” Earnest vocal melodies and layers of instrumentation provide a rich backdrop on all tracks, taking an especially psychedelic, Flaming Lips-like trip on “Electricity.” (www.myspace.com/princessdinosaur)
— Jason Scales

How can you not love a lyric that rhymes “Ferris wheel glow” with “Mies van der Rohe”? That’s one of the many clever turns of phrase within the title track to West Of The Lake, the first solo effort from Brent Puls. All five cuts are delightful, and although the artist has over the years toiled in hip-hop and glam, it seems with this folk-pop effort he’s melodically and emotionally found his voice. (www.brentpuls.com)
— Jeff Berkwits

Primarily instrumental, Push use a lack of vocals to deliver one of the more promising local releases in the past year. A Naive Push To Escapism doesn’t roll off the tongue as a title, but the propulsive, post-rock mix of vibes and intuitive percussion feels effortless. When “frontman” Jon Scarpelli does open his mouth, the elegiac and Blue Nile-esque “The Crawl” becomes the anti-crescendo, and turns the album inside-out. (www.myspace.com/naivepush)
— Steve Forstneger

Vocalist/guitarist Justin Gillam plays the role of a rural storyteller and philosopher on Rigor Vitae‘s self-titled debut. His craggy voice borders on spoken word, while the band plays appealing country & western arrangements featuring pedal steel and cello. “Up Here” is one of the better toe-tappers on the CD, while on the bluesy “Hauler,” a guy longs to escape the frustrations of his job by becoming a garbage truck driver. (www.myspace/rigorvitae)
— Terrence Flamm

The Mason Jennings-penned title track unfortunately reveals These Open Roads‘ flaws. Haroula Rose, aided by Saddle Creek stalwart Andy LeMaster, Azure Ray’s Orenda Fink, and localboy Sad Brad Smith, spends her debut ironing and re-ironing lonesome, folksy melodies, but can’t get them to sit as sharply as Jennings’. LeMaster’s winsome production feels wasted in that regard: all dressed up and nowhere to go. (www.haroularose.com)
— Steve Forstneger

Though he blends gospel, country, and R&B, Ben Sage is not your traditional Americana folk artist. Over a sprawling 17 tracks, Sage mingles woodsy love songs (“Dialin’ For My Darlin'”) and religious praises (“With God”) with quirky, country-inflected folk (“You Make Me Feel Like John Wayne”) and poppy acoustic anthems (“Sun Power Me”). There’s a light-hearted irreverence that borders on parody at times, but there’s also genuinely skilled musicianship and colorful stories sprinkled throughout Plenty Of Gold. (www.lovebensage.com)
— Patrick Conlan

Two-thirds of the way through Archaeologist, singer/songwriter/accordionist/guitarist Ami Saraiya drops her upper-register cabaret flapper/Mata Hari/gypsy cabaret guise for lower-register, straightforward rock growler “Memphis Train,” abruptly turns 180 degrees into a somnambulant “Lullaby Song,” and then careens into (Native American?) “Intaha Ho Gayee” before finally sliding back into cabaret vamp for the CD’s two closers. A bit all over the place and hard to put one’s finger on, but the piano in the final cut is in definite need of tuning. (www.amisaraiya.com)
— David C. Eldredge

Billing itself these days as “insurgent pop” may conjure up images of Lucinda Williams during her radio days, but the female-fronted Scale Model actually evokes the darker side of the ’80s crossed with the more modern tones of MGMT on the Set Me Free E.P. The title track is sure to sit well with fans of the above thanks to its icy guitars and meaty basslines, while “Kindness” unveils a sensitive side to the band that’s just as alluring. (www.myspace.com/scalemodel)
— Andy Argyrakis

Scouts Honor‘s Buried (Thinker Thought) is a rip-roaring album of sludgy blues and angular post-punk. Incendiary, inspiring lyrics burn through the fist-pumping assault of “Arise,” and punctuate the gritty riffs and jittery tension of “Men Of Money.” A swelling, cathartic release bursts free when Jared Grabb lets his lungs loose on “Sweating Through Our Days,” and you’ll get lost in the mesmerizing drone as Scouts Honor repeat a single riff on an unlisted track for nearly 30 minutes to close the album. (www.scouts-honor.net)
— Patrick Conlan

Comparing Seafarer to Arctic Monkeys or Jonathan Fire Eater doesn’t seem out of line, especially because their perfectly good-boy indie rock has a tendency to fly off the handle. Despite being one of its shorter tracks, “The Yeti” forms Hiding Places‘ centerpiece: an outstretched, languid conversation that forgets to take its meds and reacts accordingly. The tactic pays off on “The Archipelago,” a release lever that drains into and eventually marries “Functional.” (www.myspace.com/seafarerchicago)
— Steve Forstneger

Shark Matter portray their sound as “tongue-bitingly restrained and self-indulgent.” Well, they’re half right. Among the seven tunes on Chum Bucket, “Times For The Changelings” is a passable jam, but the remaining numbers are all more exercises in hedonism than harmony. As for the first part of their description, there’s definitely controlled frenzy within their blues-punk performance: what’s missing is maturity. (www.sharkmatter.net)
— Jeff Berkwits

Terry Carroll is clearly a big Beatles fan, even going so far as naming his Silverbeat project with the Fab Four’s previous moniker The Silver Beats in mind. Unfortunately, the tracks throughout Outside The Casbah lean closer to a British Invasion cover band still trying to work out the kinks, with the leader’s voice coming across like a weathered Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits, as opposed to his primary idols. (www.youbloom2009.com/web/silverbeat)
— Andy Argyrakis

Sitticus is a capable blues/jam rock band that shows its chops on a 10-song self-titled CD. “Haven’t Done A Thing To You” is classic blues — no frills. “Railroad Tracks” adds funk to the formula, and “We’ll Feel It All Soon” slows down the tempo a tad for a Black Crowes sound. “We Retread” is the least derivative, and therefore most original-sounding track, with pulsating guitar effects and introspective lyrics. (www.sitticusband.com)
— Jason Scales

Most people listening to The Solo Experience‘s demo would guess it was recorded by two drunks in a basement. Actually, these eight-plus minutes of distorted guitar, bad singing, and phenomenally unfunny bits are the work of long-time musicians Eric Kmiec and Doug Karo. Karo has written for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien.” According to their press release, The Solo Experience was, “pooped out in an afternoon.” Why? Why? A thousand times, why? (rockofficerecords@yahoo.com)
— Terrence Flamm

South-Siders Soul Pollution are fighting to keep epic rock alive and well. The band’s three-track EP finds them channeling Queensryche (track 1), Tool (track 2), and Soundgarden/Alter Bridge (track 3). Of course, Soul Pollution has a long way to go musically to reach the level of these bands, but they at least have strong, soaring melodic vocals, driving rhythms, and above-average hooks, which isn’t a bad place to start. (www.myspace.com/soulpollution)
— Carter Moss

There’s a Marc Bolan-like quaver that dominates The Syllable Section‘s Linear Views, though that’s where the comparisons to T. Rex end. Using junk-shop electronics and twee instrumentation to elucidate nagging eccentricities, Matthew Marquardt and Brian Green present pop music in their own vision and often in ways that seem for their ears only. Melodies form only as conveyances to get from one point in a song to the next, passing like ad hoc freeways over the shimmering scenery below. (www.myspace.com/thesyllablesection)
— Steve Forstneger

As Chicago alt-rockers TV Set further their career, their influences reach farther back. On their latest disc, Farewell (their final release?), the band have their feet firmly planted in Joy Division’s catalog. The dark, synth-laden hooks and barely melodic fuzzy vocals create a sound that lands on the musical spectrum somewhere between retro and relevant. No strong singles emerge, but the disc actually makes a lot of sense if listened to with Shuffle off. (www.myspace.com/tvsetchicago)
— Carter Moss

Hailing from Chicago by way of Nashville, Welcome To Ashley‘s second effort, Beyond The Pale, shows the power-pop quartet’s musical maturity continuing to evolve. The band moves seamlessly between British garage rock (Arctic Monkeys), midwestern power-pop (The Replacements), and ’80s alt-pop (The Smiths). WTA still has a long journey ahead, but so far, their music is a trip worth taking. (www.myspace.com/welcometoashley)
— Carter Moss

There is nothing really standard about the debut offering from Young Jesus. A live, organic sound in the indie/emo tradition pervades the six-song Late Night Standards EP with “October” the most fully-engaging track. The band effectively takes its time building the emotion on “Where We’ll All Go To Dance” with jangling guitars and chiming cymbals, but also knows how to pick up the pace on “Every Smoker Needs A Mini Bar.” (www.myspace.com/youngjesusband)
— Jason Scales

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