Friday, December 20, 2013

Favorite Non-Album Tracks of 2013

Good songs, released in the year of our lawd 2013:

Ducktails - Letter of Intent (the Mark McGuire 'Road Chief Remix')
The feels. The feels! I can't move!

Phoenix - Trying to Be Cool (Breakbot remix)
DJ go-to all year. Works well right before "I Want You Back"

Sufjan Stevens - Take Me
I'm excited for Sisyphus. Serengeti and Son Lux are good for Sufjan's health.

Nils Frahm - You (Teen Daze rework)
Minimalist classical music and minimalist electronic music, making love.

The Range - Promises (edit)
Strap those fuckin' headphones on and fuh. kin. vibe.

Laurel - Blue Blood (demo)
How is this even a demo. Just leave it, it's perfect.

Tycho - Awake
Does this not count since it'll be on an album next year? I don't care!

Sigur Ros - Rafstraumer (Cyril Hahn remix)
I don't want to listen to Sigur Ros anymore, now I want to listen to Cyril Hahn.

Charli XCX - You (Ha Ha Ha) (Goldroom remix)
Get that tired old Gold Panda beat outta here, let Goldroom do it.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't On the Dancefloor) (Chad Valley remix)
The best song on the new Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. album, made even better by Chad Valley.

Poolside - If We Make It
Still a pretty big "if."

Jens Lekman - Olivia and Maddy
Hurricane Sandy grounded Jens Lekman in NYC, but strangers Olivia and Maddy offer a car ride to Boston, so he writes a song about/for them. BEST DUDE.

Miguel - Do You… (Cashmere Cat remix)
Cashmere Cat is my favorite DJ/producer right now.

Rhye - Open (Ryan Hemsworth remix)
You know what? We're ok.

Chela - Romanticise
You're so unsurprised it hurts. Video because look at her.

Chela - Romanticise (Official Music Video) from Chela on Vimeo.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Top 10 Albums of 2013

Hanging gardens run the jewels when you free your mind. Looking for true romance along the way like cupid, deluxe days are gone. We're modern vampires of the city, bankrupt without anything in return.

10. Cut Copy - Free Your Mind
First listen through this album I thought, "this is sex." Sure enough, when I interviewed Ben before Free Your Mind released he confirmed: "It is totally about losing your inhibitions." So whether it's physically letting yourself go to jump and dance around to this psychedelic acid house, or softly kissing a spot you've never touched before, that's what this music is about.
listen: We Are Explorers

9. Charli XCX - True Romance

She played at Schubas this year, a venue she will never play again. This girl does Lady Gaga so much better than Lady Gaga ever did, she paved the way for Lorde to be dark, young, and poppy, and is kinda insanely hot. Her hit of 2013 was disguised as an Icona Pop song, but everything on True Romance is just as compelling, with even more emotion and dynamic songwriting.
listen: What I Like

8. Classixx - Hanging Gardens

Chill out and dance. Does that make sense? It will when you listen to Hanging Gardens. Instead of relying on those ridiculous time cutting build-ups that every ridiculous DJ does, these two guys structured their electronic music like a well-paced Fleetwood Mac single. It's easily my 'summer album' of the year. But, it still sounds pretty chill late into the year too.
listen: Supernature

7. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe
Weird fashion. Dev was hanging out at Rodan when I DJed with Chairlift for my P4K after-party. "Hey, I like your shirt, where'd you get it?" he asked me. Embarrassed, I muttered, "Urban Outfitters." But then I heard his album and Caroline was singing on the first track and, man, everything felt fine. This is like Prince doing Kaputt. And yeah, it's as awesome as that sounds.
listen: Chamakay

6. Mark Mcguire - Along the Way
I feel some sort of pain when this is on. Mark McGuire loops guitars and synthesizers until it's a mountain of sound, with clouds dancing around the peak, and a sun setting slowly behind them. It's ambient, but so engaging. Some of these chord changes make me want to die of sadness. Give me this hyperbole, music this gorgeous can handle it.
listen: In Search of the Miraculous

5. Toro y Moi - Anything in Return
Toro y Moi sounds better live every time I see them. Last time I saw Chaz, he was playing a secret loft party on Halloween. During soundcheck, he asked my wife for a pop song. After some noodling on his keyboard, the band figured out "Baby One More Time," and killed it for her. They were dressed liked the Power Rangers (Chaz was the black ranger...), and, really, proved again how rad Toro y Moi truly is. If you've seen the videos released this year, you already know this. If you listened to Anything in Return, you already know this. Toro y Moi is rad. This is duh.
listen: So Many Details

4. Run the Jewels - self-titled
Rap album of the year. El-P and Killer Mike gave me one of my favorite interviews ever this summer, and for me, that goes a long way. I can't stomach joyless music fans or critics (or musicians for that matter). The Run the Jewels guys are completely in love with what they're doing with their lives, and it's goddamn beautiful. So whether they're mocking hip-hop culture, beating up old ladies in music videos, or going hard as motherfuckers on their verses, this is exactly what rap should be. I want a D-Rose 2013 highlight reel on YouTube set to "Get It" ASAP.
listen: Get It

3. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
By far Vampire Weekend's best album, Modern Vampires of the City was surprising in all the right ways. The weird pitch bends in "Ya Hey," the religious themes, and the startlingly catchy choruses--this was all you needed this year really. The critic in me said that this was technically the best album released in 2013, and history might also say so for decades to come. The only thing keeping it at number three for me is a couple other albums that hit me on a deeper and more emotional level. Seriously though, this one is practically flawless.
listen: Step

2. Phoenix - Bankrupt!
2013 was a crazy year for me. Crazy in ways I can't explain. In ways I can't talk about. But this album says everything for me so I don't have to. It's not even Phoenix's best album, but it's the one that hit me precisely when I needed it. I connected with every lyric. And, they put on the best live show I saw this year. Sorry if you don't think that should matter, but it does. I'm not just ranking collections of songs here, but bands as products. In 2013, the Phoenix product was highly valuable for me. I felt confusion when I was with them, eagerness, excitement, wonder, and sadness. If you didn't connect with Bankrupt!, that's okay. But for me, I needed this album. It's not something that I hear when one of these 10 songs comes on, but a pair of eyes that I see. Or it's a taste. Or something in the pit of my stomach. These new memories that I'll have forever, this was the album that was with me when I was making them.
listen: Chloroform

1. Haim - Days Are Gone

Surprised? Yeah, me too. But after turning on Days Are Gone for the hundredth time in less than a month I started to think, "oh, I guess I really like this album." I listened to my heart, and my heart told me that this is the one. It really shouldn't be a surprise either. This is the best pop album I've heard in years. And honestly, I don't care that they're all girls, a family, or whatever. That's fine and all, but what I really care about is the guitar solo during the bridge of "Falling," the quiet vulnerability of "Honey & I," and the Shania Twain meets Amy Grant audacity of "The Wire." Haim found the sweet spot in 2013. For the past few years we've seen artists like Grimes, Destroyer, and Bon Iver take ironic swipes at pop music with a tongue-in-cheek fondness for their subject matter. Haim did grow out of that same soil, but without the irony. This is pure, sincerely emotive pop-rock. The electric guitars are not winking. This is music to love. And, I do.
"Always keep your heart locked tight."
listen: The Wire

Friday, November 08, 2013

Best Music of 2013

I love the teens. And not in a creepy "older guy can't forget high school" way. I mean 2013. Thirteen. The first year of 'the teens.' So much great music happened this year.

It was more difficult than usual, but I finally decided on my 25 favorite albums. So here we go, 15 albums first (25-11), then my top 10 a week later. The only difference this year is that I'm not going to put these first 15 in any sort of numerical order. I listened to all of these albums a lot this year, they're all my favorites:

(Oh, and let me know if you'd like a dropbox of any of these. We're all friends here, right?)

The Range - Nonfiction
I work at the Windish Agency now.
listen: Metal Swing

Holy Ghost! - Dynamics
If you didn't change in 2013, you're already dead.
listen: It Must Be the Weather

Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety
Of course it's a gimmick, who cares, his voice is shot after half a year but now we have this for all time on the internets.
listen: Play By Play

Delorean - APAR
Delorean realized that you don't have to try so hard to dance; just feel what's here.
listen: Dominion

Darkside - Psychic
Patience is rewarded yo.
listen: Golden Arrow

Ryan Hemsworth - Guilt Trips
This guy is a DJ, and he produces this. Dig it.
listen: Ryan Must Be Destroyed

Bibio - Silver Wilkinson
Album closes with the saddest goddamn thing, and I remain haunted.
listen: You Won't Remember

Pacific Air - Stop Talking
Whistle sweet saccharine mouth--toothache too much sugar.
listen: Float

Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe
It's pop music. Nothing else to say.
listen: Gun

Ducktails - The Flower Lane
The song below got my favorite remix of the year, thanks to Mark McGuire. And it's my favorite New York video too.
listen: Letter of Intent

Ejecta - Dominae
Joel Ford and a girl from Neon Indian who likes to get naked.
listen: Afraid of the Dark

After Dark 2
It's so dark in here, and you're wearing pretty clothes and nice make-up.
listen: Desire - Tears From Heaven

Jon Hopkins - Immunity
This is the most beautiful.
listen: Immunity

Postiljonen - Skyer
Saxophone of Sweden, carry me to the winter beach of my dreams.
listen: Atlantis

Superhumanoids - Exhibitionists
"Time won't. Wait for. Either of us. We don't Belong. Never. Better. We both know. It's good that you're gone."
listen: Geri

Friday, October 11, 2013

Chicago Missed Out: Junip in New York

My first day in New York in over seven years was a disorienting one. Navigating solo through the criss-crossing avenues of the Lower East Side, attempting to learn the language of the MTA, and draining my phone's battery with nonstop googlemaps check-ups took up most of my day. Unlike the grid of Chicago, and the childlike ease of the CTA, New York's layout is complex. So what could I do to make myself feel at home in this chaotic, concrete labyrinth? Jose Gonzalez, baby.

Junip's self-titled 2013 album is quietly one of the year's best. Gonzalez's soothing voice is complemented by a band that could swing between backing up Norah Jones or Thom Yorke, holding the steadiest rhythm you've ever heard. But the show-stealer is Gonzalez. Seeing him sling an acoustic guitar over his shoulder is an exciting sight. Because we know what he's capable of doing with that machine. I wouldn't be surprised if a few fascists keeled over by the end of the show last night.

This was actually my first time at a concert in New York, and I think the only surprising/unsurprising thing for me was how diverse the crowd appeared to be. Old men in suits, potential b-boys, and white college kids made up just a small portion of the demographics in the sold-out Le Poisson Rouge. I wondered for a moment, "what are you people doing here?" Until Gonzalez brought me back to reality with "Walking Lightly." The song is so gorgeously simple, repeating the verse "We're all walking lightly / we're all walking lightly / let this moment last / could be gone so fast / keep walking lightly." Amidst all the chaos, the diversity, and the confusion, this song rings a universally recognizable and reassuring bell. We're here, and it doesn't matter why or what or how. We're here. All of us.

Junip, and Jose Gonzalez especially, has a blatantly dark edge. His music is about life and death, dread and fear. Yet in all of it, Gonzalez's calm delivery settles any existential anxieties and quells all despair. He accomplishes this seemingly without effort, but it's the result of masterful musicianship and dutiful artistry. Gonzalez's solo records highlight his virtuosic guitar playing abilities, and Junip reveals what he can do as songwriter and composer. As a writer and player, Jose Gonzalez's sensibility for balance makes him a rare talent in music today.

A highlight of the evening came at the encore, when the full band played one of his songs from In Our Nature. "Down the Line" is his anthem. Yes, we know what he did with The Knife's "Heartbeats," and he may be better remembered for Junip in the long run, but that outro of "don't let the darkness eat you up" is comparable to hearing The Beach Boys singing about "going surfing." "Down the Line" is quintessential Jose Gonzalez--ominously invigorating.

Leaving home and pursuing change can be frightening, but we never really do it alone. As I was leaving Le Poisson Rouge last night, Ben Stiller held the door for me as he shook his head back and forth whispering, "amazing... amazing." At first I thought about giving him the "hey you're Ben Stiller" nod, but then, realizing how right he was, gave him the "yeah, it was amazing" nod. He nodded back.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

My Lolla


I’m supposed to complain about how corporate-driven Lollapalooza is. I’m supposed to hate it and love Riot Fest. I shouldn’t have as much fun as I do every year, but whatever, I do have fun and honestly that’s all that really matters at Lollapalooza. Seriously, that’s it. So here’s the schedule that I think would yield the highest fun return.


IO Echo
Bud Light

I caught this band at SXSW, but only a song. I think they deserve my attention for a full set this time around.

Icona Pop
Lake Shore

Don’t you want to see everybody go crazy for “I Love It”? I sure do.

Jessie Ware

If anything will class up this fest, it’s Jessie Ware.

Pacific Air

This is my buzz band of the fest. They seem to have the pop sensibility of Coldplay without sounding like a rip-off. Throw in some whistling and synth swells, it’s some of the catchier stuff at the fest all weekend.

New Order
Red Bull Sound Select

Does this count as a nostalgia trip? Whatever, I’ll dance around to “Bizarre Love Triangle,” I don’t care.

Hot Chip
Lake Shore

Just coming from New Order, the dancing shoes will be worn in and this should be the indie dance party of the weekend.

Nine Inch Nails
Bud Light

I’m secretly hoping for a live play-through of “The Social Network” soundtrack.


The Grove

My rule: always start the day with something electronic.

Charles Bradley
Bud Light

There are only a couple chances to get my funk on at Lolla this year, so Charles Bradley is can’t-miss.

The Grove

These girls toured with Vampire Weekend already, and hit the road with Phoenix next. I’m eager to see what all the hype is about.

Ellie Goulding
Bud Light

One of the few pop stars at Lolla I feel comfortable showing my face at, because “Anything Could Happen.”

The National
Red Bull Sound Select

I know exactly what I’m going to get at a National show, so I’ll go get it.

Supreme Cuts

Chicago’s very own producers of gloomy hip-hop beats, Supreme Cuts could catch fire at any second. After “Yeezus,” ears are ready for this darkly arresting music for occult meetings. It’s not witchy, it’s ominous. Postal Service will sound like Matt & Kim after Supreme Cuts’ set.

The Postal Service
Bud Light

A nostalgia trip is inevitable at Lollapalooza, might as well take this one, right?



Our own local Animal Collective.

The Orwells
The Grove

One of the many young rock bands in Chicago who love distorted guitars. They’ll have fun.

Wild Belle
Lake Shore

The jazzy sax of NOMO, a sultry female vocalist, and reggae. Yeah, man.

Wild Nothing
Red Bull Sound Select

One of my favorite singles of 2013 is “A Dancing Shell,” which gives me reason enough to check out Wild Nothing’s set.

The Grove

A band I’m skeptical of, but will form my final opinion on after I see them live.

Tegan and Sara
Red Bull Sound Select

Mostly because I’ve never seen Tegan and Sara, I want to see if they’re still playing “Walking With A Ghost.”

The Grove

DIIV played my favorite show at SXSW, but have since been acting curmudgeonly. I’ll be at this one just to see if there’s an on-stage meltdown.

Major Lazer

Because “Bubble Butt.” Duh.

Bud Light

Easily my most anticipated show of the fest. I’m giddy like a kid on Christmas Eve just thinking about bringing a sweaty, disgusting, dirty Lollapalooza weekend to a climax with a nighttime set outside in Chicago with one of the best bands in the world. They can play anything they want, new songs or old, and I’ll be singing along to every one of them. But I sure hope they end with “Long Distance Call.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Andy and His Grandmother"

Writing about comedy can be a drag. To analyze a joke is to demystify it, taking away any suspension of disbelief created by the comedian. Reviewing a routine always ends up feeling awkward or curmudgeonly. But this is why Andy Kaufman is the ideal comedian to ponder and write about. He wants us to ask, "what is going on? Is this funny? Why is this funny? Is this really happening? ...Wha!?" If we don't over-think Andy Kaufman, we did it wrong.

Andy and His Grandmother, the first and only Andy Kaufman album, was condensed into LP length from 82 hours of raw micro-cassette tape by Vernon Chatham. Featuring narration from Bill Hader, the comedy is confusing from start to finish. In other words, it's pure Kaufman.

Highlights include candid conversations with his grandmother as well as his groupies. These recordings sound very real, as in, these aren't skits. But how can we tell? When we hear an escalating phone argument between a couple of Andy's lovers, is anyone acting? If they are, they're pretty great actors. But then the question remains, what's so funny about an argument? If it's real, why does that warrant a track on a comedy album?

Andy Kaufman's philosophy of comedy was meta before there was meta. He's so self-aware of his wolf-crying that he's able to pull pranks without straining his conscience. It's a shame that this will be his only album, because the 'theatre-of-the-mind' aspect of audio suits Andy's style perfectly. If Tim and Eric did a rendition The War of the Worlds, it might go something like Andy and His Grandmother. The most heavily produced track on the album, "Sleep Comedy," actually sounds like a Tim and Eric skit (recorded 30 years before Awesome Show Great Job existed), with weird looped gibberish and encounters with Federico Fellini to boot.

One of the most compelling moments comes when Andy is talking on the phone with his friend about the concept for the album. He records this phone conversation, and they actually talk about how the album will be about fucking with people's heads. Now why would he record that? It's almost like he actually forgot that his recorder was on. It fucks with my head so hard, not only because of the mobius strip of a comedy act but because of what they start talking about after. It turns into a conversation about how the prank could go so far as to faking the death of Andy Kaufman. At this point, I'm listening and actually thinking to myself, "wait... is it a prank? Is Andy going to show up in conjunction with the release of this album?" He actually got me. Andy Kaufman got me. And I loved it. I laughed at myself. Which is probably exactly what he wanted.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Dylan Missed Out: The Octopus Project

by Ellie Julier


The first time I caught wind of Austin’s most beloved indie-experimental-electronic-happiness band was three years ago when I snuck a peek at an incoming text on my boyfriend’s phone, from his best friend.

“Octopus Project outside at Waterloo. Get here now.”

A few months later I saw them for the first time, somewhere on the Eastside that’s now probably a condo, on a raised circular stage underneath a white tent, the frenetic and dreamy multimedia accompaniment projected on the ceiling. I made a new friend and our curiosity took us around and around the stage together, feeling the sounds change. I don’t think my heels had ever bounced up and down so much. I don’t think I had ever witnessed anything like it.

I took Hexadecagon home over Christmas to play on the good speakers. Wrapping presents to the rollicking gait of “Glass Jungle,” my brother ran in to stand in the doorway and bob his head, his notice of approval.

“Mm. Yeah. That’s what I call a bass roll.”

My Mom stopped in, cocked her head to the side.

“Is that a theremin?”

Two years later and that same champion of Mom waited in line with me and my friends for an hour-plus to see them play the tiny Swan Dive stage, enduring Red River trailer food, a grating opening band, and standing on bad knees only for the mighty foursome to keep blowing out the pathetic soundsystem four or five times. (No one was mad. You can’t be mad at The Octopus Project.)
Last fall, with a sore heart and nothing else to do, I joined my best girlfriend to see Passion Pit at The Backyard at Bee Cave. While hordes of bros yammered under their backwards baseball caps, The Octopus Project courageously played on, happily, brightly, authentically, perhaps doing it all for me because I didn’t feel like I could.

So when, on Saturday night at The Mohawk at the release party for their fifth album, Fever Forms, Josh Lambert thanked everyone for being there to celebrate with his best friends and bandmates, and thanked everyone again, I experienced a bit of the stupefaction you feel when your best friend thanks you for being at his wedding or something. What? Of course! Are you crazy? Thank YOU. Of course we’re here. We’re here because you’re here! Because we are here. Because you are here!

This was such a party, such a celebration of a gem of a band that has been together for over 14 years. I mean, the place was literally toilet papered. The parents of Josh and Yvonne Lambert, Toto Miranda, and Ryan Figg cheerfully sold merch out of the booth (“Go meet our parents and guess which ones belong to whom!”) People cheered for anything and everything, when Yvonne smiled her gracious smile, when she swung the Moog theremin around 45 degrees. Cheer crowd!

And rightly they should, because this is an incredible band. The gleeful frenzy of their music, most of it instrumental, matches the 100 mile per hour slideshow of color, images, and vintage video projected on octagonal scrims, which matches the full-bodied heart and focus poured into their live performance. That sounds like a lot, and it is, and it is great. Their comfort working together on stage as they switch instruments, even in the middle of songs, borders on choreographed dance. It’s enrapturing. Yvonne, the muse, her graceful, rigid focus at the helm of the theremin, glides to pick up her next instrument the moment she cuts off the wavelengths. The boys coyly wear wholesome white button downs and skinny black ties but throw their whole bodies into making “Porno Disaster” sound as deviously hot as its title.

But it’s their relentless playfulness, gratitude, and commitment to positivity and comradery that makes The Octopus Project a dear favorite. Life-sized cartoon cutouts of ghosts with mouths open in a rar flanked the stage, with the primary colored octopus mascot at the center like a one-eyed beacon to outer space. Have you ever seen people moshing because they’re excessively, overwhelmingly happy? I think they played “Truck” because they knew that this would happen. My crappy Vine video will never do it justice. And Toto has asked that next time, we all snap instead of clap together. Could we do that? Could we just do that for him? Cheer crowd.

So, I really don’t know why they thanked us. It feels really meaningful and at the same time really silly when friends thank each other, doesn’t it? I hope they know how proud Austin is to have them as our own. Josh admitted that Fever Forms is their favorite album ever. Everyone who’s heard it already says it’s their best ever. Maybe we all really love it because they really love it. Whatever, who knows, I’m going to go crank “Whitby” and dance in my underwear with my imaginary martian cartoon blob-friends, because that’s what you do when you’re in love.

Monday, July 01, 2013

You Missed Out: Jamaican Queens

I actually missed out on Jamaican Queens twice this weekend. On Friday they played at the Logan Square Auditorium with Tobacco and Cave, and yesterday they played at the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. But tonight they headlined a show at the Whistler. And I didn't miss out. But you did.

I'm not sure who to compare these guys to. My first instinct is Of Montreal, but that instinct is way off. My friend leaned over to me during their set and told me that they sounded like ELO, but he was pretty drunk. My wife said the singer gave off some Yoni vibes, but there isn't any hip-hop going on in Jamaican Queens. Animal Collective? Not as unlistenable. Maybe they have their own thing going. That would be pretty cool, right?

It's always a good sign when you look at the three guys on stage and wonder, "where are those other two players at? How do they sound this massive?" The Whistler is a small venue for a band like this, but I have a feeling they would do well with a festival crowd. So, even though I loved their energy, I think I did miss out by not seeing them with a larger audience.

The singer let us know that he had been drunk since 2pm, but I'm not sure I believed him. His voice sounded great. He hit the high highs and the low lows all night, like a Freddie Mercury singing The Knife. He also kept telling the sound guy to turn up the treble on the electronic drum pad. "That should be obnoxiously loud. It's not loud enough until it makes people walk out." Nobody walked out, but it did get pretty loud. We were all pretty into our tearing eardrums, especially during "Kids Get Away," which might be the best music video I've seen this year.

Wormfood has definitely been one of the most underrated releases of 2013 so far, but if Jamaican Queens keep playing these wild shows they'll get some momentum before the year end lists come in. They only played for about 30 minutes, and it didn't come close to feeling like enough. I guess at a free Whistler show this is acceptable, especially with those cocktails. Oh god, those cocktails. I didn't miss out.

Friday, June 28, 2013

You Missed Out: Twin Peaks

The Chicago Reader's annual "Best Of" party happened at Smart Bar and Metro tonight. I was there, but only because of my wife, Jaclyn. She received an invite in her work email at the Lincoln Park Zoo. I was her +1. This was the first time I've ever been her +1 at the Metro. I can't even count how many times she's been mine over the past 10 years, so I guess this was a special night.

It was weird to see my usual friends and colleagues throughout the evening, because most of them were meeting my wife for the first time. "Wow! I've been wondering if you were real!" marveled Kim, someone I figured I'd see there. We talked about her new job at the Huffington Post, then she introduced us to Leor Galil. He was nice, made a lot of eye contact. Jaclyn kept up with the music journalists, swapping stories about the Hanson brothers and bands that sing about pizza.

It's all about pizza.

After the party at Smart Bar, we all went up to the Metro to check out Chicago's latest buzz band, Twin Peaks. I don't think any of the guys in this band are over 21, so none of them were able to drink the free Shiner Bocks before their set. But they didn't need to. These boys are as energetic a live band I've seen in years. I want them to play with Magic Milk, immediately. At one point during the show, a little mosh pit broke out at the front of the stage. Brady leaned over to me (a lot of my friends and colleagues were there, ok?) to tell me, "that's The Orwells!" "Wha?" "The kids that started the mosh pit, it was The Orwells!" Another Chicago band of kids under 21. Apparently they share such a strong underage-rocker bond with Twin Peaks that they'll mosh at their show by themselves. Why does this city care so much about teenage garage-rockers this year? I don't know. But who cares, because it makes me want to eat pizza.

After Twin Peaks' set, I watched the singer of Todayshits walk to the back of the venue. Todayshits has this awesome song about Tombstone pizza.

I told Jaclyn that we should get Bacci's. We saw Kim again on our way out, mentioned that we wanted pizza. Kim said, "I always want pizza." Jaclyn remembered that Wampire projected a spinning pizza throughout their entire set when we saw them open for Foxygen at Lincoln Hall.

Once outside the Metro, we walked past the Twin Peaks boys. They were hanging out with their friends under the marquee, exactly where they should be. As we continued down the sidewalk towards Addison, we noticed Wrigley Field. We've been going to concerts at the Metro since we were teenagers, and we both noted that we never cared to ever look up at Wrigley Field when we were on our way to a Metro show. The venue is less than a block away from Wrigley, but we never cared about the Cubs. We cared about Chevelle and Alkaline Trio. We were always looking at the west side of Clark, never the east.

We skipped under the red line up to the entrance of Bacci's. The sign was still above the door, but the lights inside were off. We walked around the corner and found another slice place, but it wasn't as good. I told Jaclyn, "Yknow, this was a fun night... But I don't understand why the Reader didn't invite me." My wife laughed at my conceit. I decided then that I would write a blog post about being her +1.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Don't Miss Out: Eleanor Friedberger

I always wondered which sibling was the weird one, Eleanor or Matthew Friedberger. During the Fiery Furnaces days, I always figured it was Eleanor. She had that voice. Nobody sounds like Eleanor Friedberger. And I don't mean just other female vocalists, I mean nobody, period. I loved the Fiery Furnaces for that. That androgynous delivery of hers complimented their kooky experimental pop like Captain Beefheart is complimented by his Magic Band. So she had to be the weird one, right?

Now that I've heard a couple solo records from both siblings, it appears that Eleanor has pulled a fast one on me. I wouldn't be surprised to hear her solo stuff playing in a Starbucks. It's starkly different that her work in The Fiery Furnaces, unquestionably more accessible and pop-oriented. I'm surprised, but thrilled. These are her Leslie Feist days, and I think it's the best thing that could have happened to her.

She still has her unique voice, but her new material lets her focus on songwriting as a craft, rather than attempting musical expression as an abstract art. Her 2013, Personal Record, is loaded with delightfully clever wordplay, so much that she even found herself tongue-tied at her in-store appearance at Reckless this afternoon. She only played about seven songs, but she stammered to a halt in half of them, forgetting the order and rhyme of her own lyrics. With a red-faced Bob Dylan on the shelf behind her, matching her outfit perfectly, he looked like he was thinking, "come on, Eleanor, you can do it." Her lyrics are the sort you want to steal for a facebook status update, but you never do out of respect for her. One of my favorite lines from the new album is, "You've given me everything I ever wanted. I want to be scared, and I want to be haunted." I literally stood up and cheered when I heard that.

And this is why I opted for the acoustic set this afternoon instead of the full band show tonight at the Empty Bottle. I would definitely encourage anyone to go to the show of course, but Eleanor Friedberger is a songwriter now, not an art-rock star. Her stripped down songs easily engage a crowd with just her voice and her guitar. But I'm sure it's breathtaking to hear what she can build around her songs when she has a capable band behind her. Catch her while she's still playing the Empty Bottle, because it could only be a matter of time before she's headlining Ravinia.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Best Music 2013 (Midterm)

I don't rank at this point, and I couldn't if I wanted to. Come November, I don't know how I'll decide a "number one". But for now, a little mid-year listicle. 2013 has been incredible for new music. Maybe my favorite year since... um... ever? Ok I don't know about that, but I am obsessed with all 15 of these albums. One line for each:

Phoenix - Bankrupt!

The glorious and turbulent emotions of the changing seasons, grow younger towards death.

Toro y Moi - Anything in Return

All the swag and insecurities of Jaleel White, set to music.

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

The biggest indie band in the world lives up to their hype without abandoning any weirdness.

Charli XCX - True Romance

Impenetrable art and dumb accessibility, the former co-opting the latter.

Classixx - Hanging Gardens

Nu-disco summer jams for the morning, afternoon, and evening, with guest vocals from Active Child and Kisses.

Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety

The most challenging permutation of the indie-R&B fad yet is also the most thrilling.

Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Every sub-genre and generation of rock and roll manifest in one band, on all the drugs.

A$AP Rocky - Live. Love. ASAP.

This is the rapper who gave Skrillex a chance, and got the best out of Drake and 2 Chainz.

Bibio - Silver Wilkinson

A quiet Bibio album with few vocals, but when his voice does surface over the hum and buzz the lyrics are achingly melancholy.

Ducktails - The Flower Lane

Real Estate's Matthew Mondanile takes cues from his full-time band as well as Destroyer's Kaputt, resulting in spacey soft rock.

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience

Extended tracks of pure pop and R&B with production that plunges the jaw to the floor.

Kisses - Kids in LA

Lovey-dovey 80s synth-pop with bigger hooks and warmer vocals.

Kurt Vile - Wakin' On A Pretty Daze

"Wakin' On A Pretty Daze," aka: phenomimes and psychomimes.

Shout Out Louds - Optica

Somber Swedish pop-songs, poignantly pleasant.

Wild Belle - Isles

Reggae-indie-rock (yeah, for real) performed by a hot Chicago babe and her older bro.

Monday, April 22, 2013

You Missed Out: Chad Valley

I saw Chad Valley at Schubas a few months. Hugo told me during a pre-show interview that he was dealing with a sore throat, an ailment he admits he deals with all the time. Since his live show is basically just his voice, this was troubling to hear. At that show, he still sounded strong on stage, all by himself with his keyboard and midi controller. Last night, his voice sounded strong again, but he admitted halfway through his set to again feeling sick. When it came time for an encore, he passed on it. Disappointing. So disappointing. Maybe he really is putting his voice through too much up there.

I hope he can toughen up those pipes before his next major tour, because he has one of the best voices in the business. I want to hear as many live songs as he can handle.

Other than playing too short a set, there weren't many low points for the chillwave-going-R&B indie kid from Oxford. Even with a backup vocalist to help him with some harmonies, it was a significantly more laid back set this time out. The highlight was "Evening Surrender," a "we're gonna make sweet love later tonight" ballad from his Young Hunger full-length. On the recorded track, El Perro Del Mar provides the sexy. The smoke machine seemed a bit much during opener Ghost Beach, but the steamy residue was perfect for at least this moment.

A word about those openers real quick. Chandeliers kicked the night off with their analog electro-rock. This is one of Chicago's best local bands today, and they're being rewarded for it by playing a Tuesday night residency all next month at the Hideout. If you haven't seen them live yet, May is your chance. Their recorded material doesn't do their live show justice.

Ghost Beach was stadium-ready pop-rock. I've never seen so many lights and smoke on the Schubas stage before. It was jarring at first, but I really did appreciate it. Their melodies are as cheesy if not cheesier than a late-90s alternative band like the New Radicals or Sugar Ray. But that's just the changing of the tide in 2013. It's been a few years coming thanks to pop acts like Robyn and Free Energy going all-in, and now Charli XCX, but pop and indie are interchangeable now. The weird thing (and the interesting thing) about this trend is that we can decide whether we want to enjoy it ironically, or earnestly. And the cool thing is that it'll work either way.

Artists like Chad Valley are taking those TRL-era travesties and creating something worthwhile with what music fans long regarded as trash. At the very least, it demands listeners let their guards down and at least make an attempt to enjoy something without prejudice. The pretentious rockists are a dying breed in the 20-teens, and music is in a better place for it. Today, just listen to whatever moves you--whether it's experimental Chicago kraut rock, or Taylor Swift. Whatever works.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Twelfth Night / Thirteenth Night

If you live in Chicago, there's a good chance that you took a Second City improv class at some point. Who didn't, right? We (by "we" of course I mean us writers, musicians, actors, artists, servers, bartenders, baristas, DJs, dog-walkers, post-college-whatever-the-hell-we're-doing-in-Chicago-stillers) live here, so we have to take advantage of our comedy scene. Improv is one of our city's proudest pastimes. SNL is still handpicking them from here, iO still splits our sides, and The Onion brought their headquarters back from that overrated city of New York. We are the comedy city, and if you were at the Metropolis Coffee warehouse on Monday night, this would've been even more obvious.

published at Heave Media

This free event celebrated Shakespeare, Chicago style. It was BYOB, with a pinata, free shots of Koval whiskey, the rich aromas of freshly ground coffee, and free pork rinds. And this was all before the shows even started. Just another Monday night in Chicago I guess.

The first troupe, the Back Room Shakespeare Project, performed Twelfth Night, a comedy I had not seen before. Real quick, full disclosure, I am not a Shakespeare scholar. Not even close, really. I enjoyed Taming of the Shrew back in high school, but it's been a few years since I've read or seen anything by old Bill. All I hoped for on this night was that I wouldn't hear some cheap joke about something "to be or not to be" or a Montague/Capulet rift. Thankfully, these troupes weren't lazy.

Surrounded by burlap sacks of coffee beans, the actors embraced Shakespeare's comedy with equal parts irreverence and homage. Cross-dressing, star-crossed lovers played their roles with postmodern self-awareness and broken modern English. Busting down fourth walls was a part of the fun, with the actors delivering their immortal lines like some weird mix between Patrick Stewart at Steppenwolf and your drunken roommate complaining about the latest episode of Project Runway. The story held true to Shakespeare's original version, a wild comedy of errors that ends happily with love and kisses. But the next show took Shakespeare's other dramatic mask and made a giddy mockery of that frowny face.

The Improvised Shakespeare Company has been going for a few years now,  and this was my first time seeing them. I know, it's taken me way too long. I know. But you were all totally right. This is the smartest, quickest, most jaw-droppingly hilarious improv group you'll see in this city. If Ross Bryant isn't rich and famous in a few years, well, never mind, he will be. But for now these guys are ours, the pride and joy of Chicago. On Monday they improvised a direct sequel to Back Room's rendition of Twelfth Night entitled, "Thirteenth Night: Tax Nightier" (the "Tax Nightier" part came from an audience suggestion to start the show. I suppose because it was April 15th... tax day. Except... night. so... nightier. Anyway.). The all-male cast makes up limericks in matters of seconds, none of which ever fall flat. As they steadily build a plot, the archetypes of Shakespeare are magnified into what eventually becomes a surreal dreamworld of androgyny, incest, revenge, heartbreak, and tragedy. It's stunning to watch it all come together.

I'm not giving anything away here, but "everybody's gonna die!" even the taxman who came to Malvolio's party to collect the annual debts, greeted by a pile of corpses and a guilt-ridden antagonist holding a knife at his own chest. How does it all come to this classic Shakespearean end? Pure improv. That's what makes this troupe so remarkable. And writing about it does no good. This was visceral lucidity. The one request the actors made at the beginning of the show was to not record any video. They reminded us that this was the debut performance of Thirteenth Night, but also the final performance as well. It was an event that only we would experience for this brief moment. We had this one chance to laugh at it, so nearly 200 of us did just that.

Luckily, the Improvised Shakespeare Company still performs every Friday night at iO. Shakespeare buffs and philistines alike can marvel at this insanely talented troupe's take on the bard every weekend. But Monday night was special. It was a night to celebrate Shakespeare, local coffee, rainy tax days, and Chicago's best and brightest in improv comedy. Why celebrate all those different things at the same time? Because, it's improv in Chicago and the first rule is always say "yes, and." Thanks again, Del Close. Whether we're in the midst of some bizarre comedy or a painful tragedy, we're only in the moment for a little while, until we're on to the next moment. And we'll say "yes, and" to whatever that one is too. If those Second City classes taught us anything, it's this. And so we laugh and have fun even on a tax day, even on a Monday, even when it's rainy. This is just our scene around here.