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Around Hear: March 2010

| March 1, 2010

Local Band Reviews

Hailing from Chicago, blues trio The Black Oil Brothers‘ sound is 100-percent pure Mississippi. The band’s debut, Long Way From The Delta, actually sounds like it was recorded right in the heart of it, with soul-stirring blues from start to finish. Don’t let their youth fool you: these guys are well-versed in their blues history, and have captured the sound perfectly from the harmonica solos and smooth harmonies, to the dueling acoustics and mandolins, right down to the old-school story-telling lyrics. (
— Carter Moss

The three-song Blue Balls is a hard-rocking new effort from the trio About Nothin’, with a title track that’s a ribald tale of a pirate who goes by that name. The grunge-flavored “Way Back” hits a bit closer to home, as a White Sox hat-wearing South Sider contends with hookers and panhandlers on his way to the liquor store. “One First Class Big Hurry” evokes Henry Rollins with its muscular arrangement. (
— Terrence Flamm

Should they ever get hold of a copy, Hollywood music supervisors would have a field day with Where We Begin, the latest CD from Absentstar. Cuts like “Ready When You Are” and “At The Seams” are perfect for adding audio oomph to those emotional relationship moments TV and movie directors love to fashion. Listening to all 10 indie-pop tunes in a single sitting can get a mite maudlin, yet taken in two- or three-track doses the melodies are brilliantly sentimental. (
— Jeff Berkwits

Cold Water Mystic is a first-rate party band, with the 14 tracks on Cooler By The Lake backing up this claim. It’s easy to forget that the reggae-infused rock isn’t coming from Long Beach or the Caribbean, but from landlocked Brookfield. The band nails the Sublime-light vibe throughout, even getting funky, a la Red Hot Chili Peppers, on “Tip Your Cup” and “Funk Yeah.” (
— Jason Scales

Transporting the club into your living room, DJ Leebo‘s Adventures In Structures Chaoz — The House Soundtraxs Volume 2 is an electrifying slice of pulsating house and techno, overflowing with throbbing rhythms and tingling electronic accents. Huge, heart-heaving house beats, faux hand claps, and tumbling, squishy electric squiggles pound with insistent clarity in “The Donjon,” and Leebo guides a celestial tour in “Hartimes” as glitchy blips and beeps, backed with rolling, cut-up beats launch us into the stratosphere. (
— Patrick Conlan

Singer/songwriter Sue Fink presents 12 polished songs on her third full-length, Thoughts At An Intersection. A variety of pleasant, easy-listening pop styles (from jazzy to country) are explored — all meant to highlight her gentle and at times vulnerable vocals. A host of talented musicians, providing everything from cello to piano, assist her in realizing her wistful, humorous, and serious observations about life. (
— Jason Scales

For simple, straight-forward pop, look no further than Gidgets Ga Ga. Opening strong with “Beki,” the broodier, more introspective “The Sorry Song,” and the bouncy handclapper “The Bomb,” The Big Bong Fiasco does, however, suffer from an overall homogeny after awhile, especially on a disc that’s 18 tracks long. That said, TBBF is as enjoyable of a pop record as you’re likely to hear. (
— Dean Ramos

Conservationist/biologist Aldo Leopold is the muse behind the 18-song Great Possessions, a virtuosic folk-rock manifesto for tree huggers from The Giving Tree Band. A host of acoustic instruments — including banjo, fiddle, glockenspiel, and harmonium — creates a warm, organic aesthetic. Fun facts: the album was created with “100-percent solar energy” at the Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and 10 trees were planted for every 1,000 units sold to offset the pollution caused by shipping. Thankfully, the songwriting and musicianship is as solid as the environmentalism. (
— Jason Scales

An undeniably catchy mix of metal and pop punk, Gypsyfly can without a doubt “rawk!” with the best of them, which is readily apparent on “You’re Gonna Get It” and the closing number, “The Day Night Ended.” However, this hybrid of genres doesn’t work for every track on Silver Or Lead. Ballads like “Don’t Worry” as well as the guitar-driven “Play With Fire” are just a couple of examples where the contrasts in musical ideologies are hardly a perfect match. (
— Dean Ramos

Diane Marie Kloba pursues a more avant-garde sound on her latest solo effort, For You, Stranger, than she did as a member of The Silent Workers. At times, her spoken, childlike vocals and spacy arrangements get too cutesy as on the title track, but the sparse “For Inventors” has an intimate charm. “Skurf,” a spooky, guitar-driven instrumental adds a bit of fun, and “Keepable (Drum Experiment)” is an engaging indie-rock tune. (
— Terrence Flamm

Oddball rockers Let’s Get Out Of This Terrible Sandwich Shop are officially going out of business! Blame the economy or the band’s highly inaccessible sound, but after five years of playing pubs (and sandwich shops?) in the city, they are calling it quits, and releasing Everything Must Go! as a farewell gift — a collection of demos, live versions, and other random stuff. At least they are going out like they started: leaving fans slightly entertained and thoroughly confused. (
— Carter Moss

Despite haunting tracks like “Hudson River Teenage Blues,” the “Don’t Go Back To Rockville” feel of the title cut, and the jazzy “Golden Record,” there’s ultimately something rather cold and un-emotive about this Lost Cartographers record. There’s a noticeable lack of passion that even makes the otherwise sweet and heartfelt “Love In the Morning” a rather uneventful listen. Still, the instrumentation and the variety of influences they’ve chosen to incorporate suggest promise. (
— Dean Ramos

With Good Advice, The Negligents nail that minimally rugged garage-rock sound to a T. This trio, led by vocalist/bassist Ken Negligent, hold an unmistakable youthful intensity but at the same time don’t come off as immature. Just check the standout single “Matter No More,” where Negligents kick things off by saying, “They say the salad days are coming back/I think I’m old enough to know better than that.” Consider this grown-up garage material. (
— Max Herman

Although catchy and sweet on such tracks as opener “Without Without” and bouncy and endearing on “Linda,” Roxy Swain‘s New Love Designers unfortunately can come off a bit bland and generic as well, especially on “Duo Jet” and “Spread Eagle” when guitarist Tom Valenzano takes over vocal duties. On the other hand, though, much of New Love Designers seems tailored for adult alternative radio, an arena where the band would undoubtedly find the most success. (
— Dean Ramos

Soft Speaker‘s seven-track Conditions is a solid collection of rock songs that convey an organic warmth. Finely orchestrated acoustic instruments provide this sound, with an occasional switch in vocalists to match the mood. “Barbershop Quintet” uses breathy vocals over a more melancholy tone, with “Mercury Park” — the opening track — increasing the tempo and energy in vocals and instrumentation. Closer “The Great Brick Mosque And I” breaks from the aforementioned aesthetic, instead relying on synth tracks and machine-like percussion. (
— Jason Scales

Not to be confused with the band of the same name from Tallahassee, Chicago’s Soft Targets is trekking forward with its third album, Don’t Put Out. Here, these songs are distinguished by oft-serious subject matter delivered with light-headed personality (“When The Apocalypse Comes”). Paired with its upbeat, lo-fi guitar-driven output and you get a non-depressing look at modern times. (
— Max Herman

Performing as Super 8 Bit Brothers, Tub Ring’s Rob Kleiner and Kevin Gibson proudly let their geek flag fly on Brawl, their full-length debut. Whether reminiscing about a classic Atari console via “2600 Refugee” or declaring “Goodbye Cruel World (Of Warcraft),” the pair melds decent melodies and smart lyrics with vintage, video-game-inspired electronic sounds. Not all of the disc’s 15 songs are entirely engaging, but enough make the grade to ensure a buoyant bit-pop journey. (
— Jeff Berkwits

It’s not every day that a highly-lauded jazz pianist decides to take a detour to go start a rock band, but that’s exactly the story behind recent NIU grad Samuel Wyatt. The piano-based pop-rock on his debut, Welcome To America (recorded under the moniker Wyatt), certainly highlights his skills on the ivory, and the intelligent lyrics prove his potential as a bonafide songwriter. Wyatt’s debut is both fun and thoughtful, and might just be the perfect slap in the face to anyone who questioned his career choice. (
— Carter Moss

Every critic should be so lucky to review an EP as absolutely pleasure-inducing as The YearbooksHave A Great Summer. While taking cues from such 2000s stalwarts as Death Cab For Cutie and The Strokes, the quintet aren’t content with merely aping those who came before. Instead, it seems as if they’re carving their own niche by crafting some of the finest indie pop/rock Chicago has probably heard in quite some time. (
— Dean Ramos

Category: Around Hear, Columns, Monthly

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Comments (11)

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  1. I’m not sure why, but it’s seems some on the around hear staff has black balled me. I have sent you many cds in the past year, and the review I receved was unfairly knocked my music. Now it seems you will not even write about “SilverBeat”. If you don’t like my music thats fine. just tell me so. I just hope that you are being real about what you do.

    Terry Carroll

  2. JIMMY CHINZ says:

    TELL ME SOMETHING? maybe you lost it again???
    “To all my friends” Jimmy

  3. Tom says:

    The Black Oil Brothers put on a great show, especially their “electric” show in Indianapolis this weekend. Great review!

  4. Shae Vimias says:

    The Black Oil Brothers put on a great live show. If you get a chance to see them, do it!

  5. Norma Stitz says:

    I saw the Black Oil Brothers in Indy last weekend and they put on a great show.

  6. Around Hear Super Fan says:

    Great reviews- Keep it up! I agree with you guys about the Black Oil Brothers, smooth cats and great music. I saw them last summer and they had the crowd going. Great work!

  7. Paul says:

    Great job once again team.
    COLD WATER MYSTIC is also one hell of a live show. Its not often you see the performers souls on the sleeves anymore.

  8. kevin says:

    sounds like someone from the black oil brothers told their fans to leave a comment…

    but it worked. I’ll go check them out now.

  9. How does a artist receive a write up that some one really listens to. They wrote about my music, but didn’t listen to much at all.

  10. Joe Martina says:

    Mr. Ramos,

    Thank you very much for the kind words you wrote in your review of my country release The More Things Change.

    I would just like to point out that my name is JOE Martina, not John.

    Be well

    Joe Martina