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Around Hear: December 2010

| December 1, 2010

Local Band Reviews

You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado to appreciate the bubbly fluidity of cascading notes that percolate through the sultry, hopeful vibe of “Until Tomorrow Comes.” That’s the exuberant skill of Pharez Whitted, trumpeter extraordinaire. He casually saunters between elegant and energetic on Transient Journey, conjuring a serene placidity in the smoky groove of the title track and a feverish, honest yearning in “Sunset On The Gaza.” (
– Patrick Conlan

It takes unwavering discipline to dive into something as distinct as early Sunny Day Real Estate and not come out sounding remotely emo. On End Of An Era, Carta Marina emerge without a unique identity, though their integrity remains intact. The band prod and probe, following each step forward with two off to the side for perspective and reassessment. Organic use of harmonica and pedal steel creates wider spaces in already enveloping gaps, and it’s when they explore those that they’re at their best. (
– Kevin Keegan

Christian Collin‘s third self-released CD, Live Blues At Billy’s, delivers precisely what the title promises, capturing able axeman Collin’s 2009 set (with his usual side band Molasses stripped down to bass-drum duo this time out) in performance at this venerable Wisconsin venue. While no new ground is broken (which admittedly is kind of hard when mining R&B and blues these days) there’s no denying Collin’s fingers know their way up and down a guitar neck and his voice is more than up to the challenge posed by the menu of both covers and originals. Apparently, Collin enjoys steady gigs at Billy’s and this recording is testament to the following this one-time Detroit native-turned-Chicagoan has generated throughout the northern Midwest as well. (
– David C. Eldredge

Taking bits of Crowded House’s Neil Finn and Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook, John Condron & The Benefit show no shortage of melodic sensibilities throughout their fourth long player, Eleventh Hour Grace. Though the lyrics don’t possess either of those influences’ wit and sophistication, the group provide considerable depth, namely with the cheeky “Tea Party Stomp” and “Minutes To Hours.” (
– Andy Argyrakis

With trashy riffs and a nihilistic, sleazy rock clattering behind them, it’s not without self-awareness that The Dirty Rooks proclaim “I will not be here again!” on Sugar Mama. Devouring the weary redemption-seeking of Exile-era Stones and embracing the hollow morality of Guns N’ Roses’ “It’s So Easy,” the band might travel well-worn territory but do so dragging their boots in the gutter. When the ideas begin to dry up (they stoop to crib a popular BTO riff), the Rooks’ remarkable studio energy siphons enough stolen gas to see the album out. (
– Steve Forstneger

On Asylum, their fifth full-length release, Chicago nu-metal poster boys Disturbed are still rocking their tried-and-true formula: Dave Draiman’s signature husky-yet-melodic growls over a layer of thick crunchy guitar hooks. The band sing about their usual themes (angst and atheistic spirituality), and they include yet another hard-rock cover of an ’80s classic (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) as a bonus track. At least Disturbed are not fading back over time – but they’re not really moving forward, either. (
– Carter Moss

A Chicago transplant in L.A., Open Mike Eagle is hoping to emerge from underground hip-hop to make some national noise. His debut LP, Unapologetic Art Rap, uses 15 tracks to showcase the MC’s artsy rap stylings. While his flow is silky smooth and his lyrics are above-average intelligence, his beats are over-simplified and some tracks sound more like spoken word than actual rap. Mike proves he can hold a mic, but now he needs to prove he can produce memorable music. (
– Carter Moss

Curtis Evans makes the mistake of opening Life With The Buffalo with the painfully slow title track. Things pick up nicely from there, as Evans reveals himself to be an appealing, gravel-voiced singer/songwriter who spins tales in a John Prine sort of vein. There are a few more slow tunes along the way, but Evans impresses on the melodic and energetic tracks. (
– Terrence Flamm

Humboldt Lagoon‘s self-titled debut impresses with its range – from rock to jazz to psychedelic pop – and songwriting sophistication. Largely the effort of writer and performer Erik LaVergne, the mix of styles isn’t haphazard, but rather well-executed. “Holy City” and “Playa Langosta” are especially good tracks among the 11: the former for its harder-edged guitar work and vocals, and the latter for its delicate and atmospheric instrumental approach. (
– Jason Scales

Erik Hall, who performs under In Tall Buildings, can be a little too quiet on his self-titled debut, and it’s hard not to lose patience with the nine-minute dirge, “Flemishing.” Mostly though, In Tall Buildings succeeds with layered vocals, intricate guitar strumming, and strong melodies. The catchy indie pop of “Walking Man” and “The Way To The Monster’s Lair” are by far the best songs here. (
– Terrence Flamm

The Interiors have always had an abundance of snappy power and pop, but on Teeth, there’s a new dynamic. Sumptuous rhythmic interplay that incorporates Afrobeat and jazzy syncopation braces bubbling bass and breezy melodies. Bright, jangly guitars and hushed vocals percolate through the workingman ode “Sam’s Holiday” and Chase Duncan’s smoky, Southern drawl complements the snarling guitar fuzz in “I Will Wait For You.” (
– Patrick Conlan

Christian Larsen‘s cool, cinematic electronic compositions have grown in both complexity and melodic immediacy over the course of four albums, and his latest batch on Departure sparkles with shimmering intensity and lyrical grace. Although this effort is more subdued – lacking the charged guitar crunch and dramatic impulses that punctuated previous albums – “Fragile Fire” and “Glass Ocean” still sing with lush, sweeping textures and the beautifully cultured details. (
– Patrick Conlan

Don’t let the crap band name dissuade you from checking out Man The Mighty‘s latest EP, Beneath The Skin. Playing soaring, hard-charging anthems that pack plenty of kick and radio-friendly sheen, MTM is positioned for commercial success. Featuring thick, crunchy riffs, driving rhythms, and a passionate vocal performance courtesy of Derrick Smith, “Sick” and “Over You” should find favor with fans of Tool or A Perfect Circle, and the sinister, moody undercurrent flowing through the album provides depth and complexity to “Tear Me Down.” (
– Patrick Conlan

Based on his bio, Mission Man sounds like a real mensch. Unfortunately, being a great guy doesn’t translate to creating great music. The 15 rap tunes on 31 Hours Til What? are simply dull. Now and again a passable number surfaces, such as “What Hip Hop Means To Me,” but based on the interminably monotonic performance for most listeners the answer to the recording’s quizzical title will seem like “The End Of This CD.” (
– Jeff Berkwits

More Mudhoney than Mooney Suzuki, Soft Targets push their sloppy garage rock like they stole it and don’t give a fuck. Above The Arctic Circle wears its early-’90s stylistic contrivances like a faded T-shirt, indifferent to how ratty it looks or how much of its smell sneaks in. The band’s take-it-or-leave-it approach keeps it from waffling on the modernize-it fence, and the absence of Jesus Christ poses reminds us that there were bits of the Seattle movement worth returning to. (
– Steve Forstneger

There’s no risk to see if Suns can stack up to the players’ previous gig as Downtown Records act Wax On Radio, simply because the group is giving away its double EP The Howl And The Many/Close Calls In The U.S. Space Program on Myspace. Across either listening experience, the group makes a successful transition, sounding like a stripped-down Arcade Fire where a diverse instrument pool (mandolin, harmonium, glockenspiel, clarinet) collides with cacophony. (
– Andy Argyrakis

The rigidity with which Three Finger Pour stick to classic rock/pop tropes demands that this trio reconsider their bandname, though the EP title Time Spent is pretty accurate. The band lovingly recreate radio rock as they remember it, whether invoking The Drifters in the power-poppy “If You Want To” or nodding to late-’70s Springsteen on a couple tracks. Complying with a strict A/B/A/B rhyme scheme takes precedence over what’s actually being sung, but so does having fun over vain ambition. (
– Steve Forstneger

The Willing have been obsessed with creating harmony vocals since coming together back in the 1970s. The band reunite for Unfinished Business, with five of the six members taking turns at the mic. The obvious role model for easy-going songs like the autobiographical “Ultima Thule” is Crosby, Stills, & Nash, but The Willing rock a little harder on “Mary Anne’s On Fire” and “Only Love Can Change The World.” (
– Terrence Flamm

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