Monday, December 26, 2011

Dedicated Ears Most Listened To Albums/EP's of 2011

 Over the course of this year I got hooked on post rock, electro pop, Baroque pop and a lot of experimental pop. I had the good fortune to be turned on to a lot of good music, including some on this list suggested by DC from The Waiting Room Radio Show podcast, which I suggest you check out. I am fortunate to be friends with a lot of great musicians and bands and am lucky to know them and see them play. I also want to say thanks to the bands on this list and all bands that have free downloads of their music.  Thanks to you who read this.

1) Tune Yards - W H O K I L L  (Beggars Group USA) Merrill Garbus' move to a label (Beggars USA) did not diminish her inventiveness. The centerpiece of these songs is  her amazing ear for making a melody out of even disparate pieces of sound as on "Riotriot" and "Es-so". It is almost a given just two albums and one ep in that Merrill could make any type of music she desired.

2) Radiohead - King Of Limbs Radiohead releases have varied in their accessibility since OK Computer. This album has something for all Radiohead fans. More relatable songs like "Lotus Flower" and less typical songs like "Feral". Rhythm is centric to King Of Limbs and some of its brightest moments are when the rhythm is right along side the electronic burps and hiccups. At this point you are either in or not with what Radiohead has morphed their sound into. I enjoy it immensely.

    3) Liam Finn - FOMO   (Yep Rock Records) Liam Finn culls sound inspiration from the 50's ("Cold Feet"), and 80's("The Struggle") along with overall production that echoes the 70's. This mixture is held together with Liam's songwriting about girls won and girls lost as well as just boozy good time songs like "Real Late".  This album has a general narrative and I think these songs work really well as an album. One of my top 5 played songs this year was the propulsive "Don't Even Know Your Name".

4) The Juliets - Perfect Season   This Michigan baroque pop quartet is soulfully fronted by Jeremy Freer (piano, guitar vocals). For me it's hard to imagine The Juliets improving on their self titled debut, but they have managed exactly that on Perfect Season. The seamless incorporation of the violin and cello as evidenced on "Fashion" is what sets them apart from others in the baroque pop genre. Throw in the beautiful instrumental track "The Lost Memory" and a smidgen of hip hop and jazz influenced drumming on "G.W.N.L" and you have a complete album.

5) Jump Starts - Ready, Set, Go...    St. Louis duo Justin Johnson (guitar, vocals), and Sarah Ross (drums, vocals) use simplicity in their duo take on 50's pop on tracks like "Long Way Home" and 80's new wave on "Lie In Your Bed". I was fortunate to have Justin send me the original demos a while back and they were good, but this mix is even better. This mix showcases Justin's songwriting and vocals as well as Sarah's loose style drumming that make these song very memorable. They use the simple harmonies well and create clean fun pop songs.

6) The End Of The Ocean -  Pacific.Atlantic  (Future Recordings) Columbus Ohio post rock heavyweights create a sonic landscape on Pacific.Atlantic  that makes this album sound like one beautiful long song with several different movements. From the cinematic "to be buried and discovered again" to the 11 minute slow burn of  "we always think there is going to be more time...", every sound on this album was planned very well.  They are on a great post rock/ambient label called Future Recordings. Check them out.

 7) il abanico - Crossing Colors EP  L.A. via Boston post punk pop band originally from Bogota. Quite the lineage.  I can hear the influence of Central/South American rhythm on "Cold Outside". Another one of my most played tracks of the year is "Keep Calling" with its ridiculously addictive vocals by Juliana Ronderos. The bass line anchors the song. About the only negative was the length. Here's hoping they put out an LP soon. 

8) Wizard Oz - Flower Days  Delicious lo-fi noise pop from Melbourne's  Wizard Oz, about whom there isn't a whole lot of info. I do know that these off kilter songs play a little game trying to hide a catchy melody buried in amongst noise and reverb as on "Horse Tails". Even more experimental is "Wait Up" and the cheery, almost all instrumental "Raiden". This is very catchy stuff that just hides from time to time. Love the looseness of the production on this. 

9) The Black Atlantic - Darkling, I Listen      (Beep! Beep! Back up the Truck) They're back... with another addictive set of songs, this time an EP.  From the sheer scope of the beauty on "The Aftermath (Of This Unfortunate Event)" to the soaring harmonies and interesting percussion on the title track, Geert, Kim, Matthijs , and Simon have made an indelible EP.  It's official release is such that I have only had this since I pre-ordered my vinyl (you can too!) and got the digital DL a few weeks ago.

     10) dusthoney - lipstick chorale   ( On her Jamendo page, dusthoney claims she has made this album by "scattered 'i don't know how to record things' piano improv". I think she's pulling our leg. On "japanese justice" she infuses middle eastern sound break beats with other electronic textures to create a addictive loop. The pretty nature of "forget the sun" gives way to a dissonant trudge of "gunflower". At times I forget I am listening to electronic music and get drawn into the atmosphere of these songs.

   11) Paper Dolls - Sparks   Baroque pop from St. Louis fronted by Jenn Malzone. I'm not sure they could open with a more catchy piano riff than on album opener "Middle Class Fashion" which cedes to a hell of a hook. The experimental vocals on "First Draft" add a really nice touch. This is muscular baroque pop. The time shifts help keep the sound moving and unpredictable.

   12) Lupe de Lupe - Recreio EP   (Fórceps Discos)   Hailing from Belo Horizonte and playing a mixture of noisy shoe gaze on "Brejo das Almas" and including Brazilian music influence rock on "A Escrava Isaura", Lupe de Lupe move about these sounds creating a chameleon of an album. I love the immediacy of the simple production and no overdubbing, making for a glorious raw sound.

  13) Parts and Labor -  Constant Future    Math rock vets offer up what appears to be their last album for a while. This album went back to their roots but with cleaner production than the early albums. There are a lot of headphones and speakers that are happy for that.

  14)  Shy - Shy   California shoe-gaze grunge band that delivers big guitars, dreamy vocals and a 90's centered sound that will make you miss those times but be thankful for this album. Check out the guitar brakes on "Shift". So good. It's only four songs but they get to the point quickly.

    15)  Big Blood - Big Blood and The Wicked Hex (donttrusttheruin)  Superb dark folk by Colleen Kinsella and Caleb Mulkerin. Her wail is very affecting and the way the bass loosely slinks just adds to the darker nature of these songs. "Run" is pretty entrancing. You can download 12 of their releases for free on their Free Music Archive page.

16) Syd Lane - Solstice   Prolific (60 tracks since 2009) Irish songstress Syd Lane originally went by the name Loaded Whispers, and so began my affection for her music. Solstice features dreamy songs like "This Invert Reality" that speak of the summer with their brightness. The gauzy goodness of "The Moon and The Liar" is my favorite track on here, replete with angelic harmonies. These songs are a mix of alt country, 60's folk, and shoe gaze.

      17) Dodos - No Color    (Frenchkiss Records) Merging tribal rhythms and indie pop, the Dodo's stand out again on their second album, No Color.   The David Byrne inspired "Don't Try To Hide It" is my top track on here.

  18) Various Artists - Voy a Explotar Soundtrack  (Club Fonograma) This soundtrack is for a Mexican film. It's got quite a back story you can check out at the link above. I had already downloaded the likes of Jovenes y Sexys and Carlos Reyes. This soundtrack is deep with great songs and is a free download on Free Music Archive.

   19) Twilight Singers - Dynamite Steps    (Sub Pop) Greg Dulli and company never disappoint. Dulli's howl and the tight band move in and out of sounds and tempos. "Last Night In Town" is the quintessential Twilight Singers song. Feels like I am at home when listening to it. Dulli and band deliver their grinding wailing stamp on "On The Corner". 

   20) Northernists - Mama and the Loerie EP   This EP marks the second really good ep in a row for Toronto folk band The Northernists. Their songs reside in a beautiful dream like state with harp, cello and beautiful vocals by Hannah Strauss. The title track is nothing short of amazing, so beautiful. 

 21) Declan de Barra - Fragments, Footprints and the Forgotten  Ireland native and L.A. resident who has a resonant, low pitched voice that delivers these folk songs and reminds me in the best way of Johnny Cash and Nick Cave. The straight forward storytelling on "Sunrise" is quite convincing, especially as he raises the pitch of his voice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dedicated Ears 2011 Most Listened To Chicago Albums/EP

Three years in with this blog, as well as birthing  Dedicated Ears Legal Album/EP List (on which you can find many of the albums below), I consider myself quite lucky. Lucky to have a wife who encouraged me to start this blog in the first place as well as work with me to get me to a lot of shows. Lucky to have met such great artists and humble people as are on this list, as well as countless others. Having friends like August from Novo and  Rebecca from Betta. It's pretty amazing how this big organism that is Chicago music works together for a daily purpose. Thanks to all of the musicians who have sent me music, as well as those who had their music up for free that I randomly ran into. Thanks to all the invites I got for shows, both the ones attended as well as the ones received daily that I can't attend because my job is stay at home dad to 3 monkeys under 5 years old. In the end it's all about the music and I am probably aware of maybe 10% of the music made in this city.  So my hat's off to all of you who make music!


1) Dastardly - May You Never...    Fronted by Gabe Liebowitz, this band has more than a little honky-tonk kick-ass in them. Be it classic cartoon imagery in "Villain" or a humorously self-deprecating song like "Exercise In Self Loathing", Dastardly makes both the lyrics and the instrumentation a fun ride. They WILL make you change your mind about what you think is honky-tonk or country. Gabe's wavering vocals when harmonizing with Sarah Morgan is as good as it gets. You can almost see the tumble weeds blowing by you as you listen to "Traffic", a perfect closer for this album.

  2) Jennifer Hall - In This  Jen Hall exploded on the Chicago music scene this year. Her jazzy "Green and Blue" shows an assured voice and an innate ability to translate her emotions.  The wittily written "Like I Lie You" showcases Jen's ability to really deliver some notes from her heels. That's when the true magic moments appear. She is backed by a very good band and In This establishes them as a force.

 3)  The Bears Of Blue River - Dames    Channeling 50's Doo-wop pop with some kind of excellence are Gavin Wilkinson and The Bears Of Blue River. There is an overall laid-back vocal styling between Gavin and Margaret Alexandra Gard on songs like "Cry Baby". "Blue River" is my favorite. The band has such a full sound on this album. They play off one another really well. You can't help but smile while listening to these songs.

  4) Collages - Maya  Jesse Bustamante is Collages and makes electronic psych-pop music. You've got a good mix of pop-oriented songs like "Circle", and more experimental fare such as "Hemadeus". The reggae-tinged, trippy "Like A Paternal Tree" is my favorite track on this album and has a really nice break in it 2/3 of the way through the song before it builds again. There is some nice attention to composition on this album.  

 5)  Mutts - Pray For Rain  Mike Maimone's voice is front and center on this album, which explores some new ground for these gods of the bottom end.  The growl of "Fool" is Mutts' classic sound and the more experimental "Save Us" is a doomed call from the apocalypse if I've ever heard one. It's nice to see Mike and this really tight band exploring new territory.  "Done Again" is my favorite track, which finds the guys using a little restraint and some really nice percussion. That fade toward the end and the subsequent buildup is magical.

6) Tom Schraeder - Egoiste  If there is one thing I've learned this year, it's don't call Tom a singer-songwriter. Also, he has a disdain for the band Muse. And he just happened to make an album that sounds like it may be a computer constructed album, but it wasn't done that way. "Be Well" is my favorite here and sounds as if it were remixed, only it wasn't. These songs are a departure from Tom's already cool sound. He seems very confident with the switch. 

 7) Save The Clocktower - Carousel  From the  electronic tones of "Drip" to the rock of "You've Got Me" to "Trapped Noise" (which splits the two genres), Jimmy Shenk and company have created some catchy songs. "Far Apart" is my favorite. The mixture of programmed drums and electric guitars make for a bright sound, while the melody suckers you in.

   8) Paper Thick Walls - A Thousand Novels  Eric Michaels and Kate Schell have created a confident bunch of pop songs that cover quite a bit of ground musically. The standout track for me is the beautiful "NyQuil", which features simultaneous dual lead vocals in a throwback to 70's FM radio staples. The introduction of the strings on this song is really nice.

   9) Greg Gibbs - The Lights  How could something so simple be so good? Listen to The Lights and find out. From the acoustic wonder "To Come Undone" to the bouncy, electric-charged "Wasted Plans", this album is full of songs that will be in your head for days after you listen to them. The flashes of electronica, as on "Orwellian Soccer Blues", give this album another dimension. It's amazing to think Greg does this on the side and doesn't play out (his day job is owner of Chicago Bagel Authority restaurants).

  10) Vortis - Things Won't Get Better   Punk done well is always fun times in my book. L. Calvano, J. DeRogatis, C. Martiniano, and T. Tavano play hard-charging punk with an industrial influence.  Definitely check out the 1 min 27 sec wonder of  "Hate Our Condition". This is punk as I remember it, you know, before Green Day.

   11) Yay! Conifers - Mt. Pilchuck Comprised of Lüke and Miranda Rae, who met in college and now are teamed up in Portland making some sweet electro-pop. Miranda's voice works really well with  Lüke's electronic arrangements. "Buy Local" has quite a few musical shifts and is my favorite on this ep.

12) Teenage Rage - the original teenage rage!  The tribe that is Teenage Rage have made a raw sounding gem of an album that reminds you of the 50's for sure. From the turbulent but sweet "tragiccowboy", with Will on vocals, to the prettily sung "oh teenager" by Emme, these songs have a common tone and yet they are different. My favorite is "Windmills", with Will delivering a slice-of-life subject for this song he sings.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Juliets - Perfect Season (album review)

The Juliets are:
Jeremy Freer - Piano, Guitar, Vocals
Sarah Myers - Violin, Vocals
Kaylan Mitchell - Cello
Ashton Hopkins - Bass
Jacklyn Phillips - Drums

After the Juliets self titled debut album landed in my most listened to albums last year, I eagerly awaited the release of their follow up, Perfect Season. I had the good fortune to book them for a show at The Chopin (video below), see them play some of the songs they were working on for Perfect Season, and talk with the band. It was great to talk to Jeremy about his influences (Motown) as well as see that he had a big picture view for the band and knew how he wanted to get the band to that place. As far as their sound goes the Juliets are able to blend elements of rock, soul, indie and baroque that all add up to a sound that can only be claimed by them.

Where their self-titled debut was tight and sounded as if they had made it all at once in one massive great session, Perfect Season has an array sounds on it and finds them experimenting with their instruments, as opposed to incorporating other sounds and instruments. Some nuanced turns of the strings are played incredibly capably by Sarah Myers (violin) and Kaylan Mitchell (cello),  as evidenced on the song "A Perfect Season".  The way they fill the background from the middle to the end of the song is not something you would describe by proclaiming "yes there are strings in there". But the effect on the listener is a rich sound that is accentuated by Jeremy Freer's swooning vocals, light falsetto, and just the right amount of guitar played by Jeremy as well.

The pop punch of "Heart In Heart" is a rollicking track that easily could have been on their first album, although slightly different with the drumming of Jacklyn Phillips, replete with loose marching snare rolls and nice jazz touches as well.  Jacklyn just joined the band (didn't play on their first album), and to see her  play live was happily surprising due to the way she mixed more traditional rock and hip hop drumming together. Who would have thought?

"The Lost Memory" is a bit of a change up for the band, and a welcomed one at that with waltz timed instrumentals and contributions from the whole band. Hell, if they put out a whole album of this I would really enjoy it.

"You Found Me Out" finds Jeremy's falsetto and piano interplay being accentuated by Ashton Hopkins bass line almost as a call and response. Add short burst of strings and this is a delicious pop nugget that leads you to bob you head with the rhythm.

With as well as Jeremy can write a pop hook and marry it to his piano playing, the one thing that might not scream out at you is the arrangements of these songs. It goes without saying that all the members of this band contribute and do it well. The Juliets have incorporated the strings so well that they sound seamless amongst the sounds of rock music. Add some hip hop drum flavor and Perfect Season  is a singular sounding album that you won't be able to stop listening to. I know my wife and I haven't as we listen to this every few days since it came out. This album will be on my most listened to wrap up in a few weeks. The band has this album as a "name your price 0 minimum download". So help them out with some dough if you are able, but above all share their bandcamp link if you like it like I do.

Here's the video for The Juliets  performing "Loon" the opening track of Perfect Season. (Dedicated Ears Showcase at Chopin Theatre Chicago on June 19 2010.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mutts CD Release, Glittermouse EP Release, Sleepy Kitty and Hemmingbirds Thur Dec 1 Subterranean

Thanks to August at Novo and to Mutts for the invite. This was a loud fun show full of energy and the house was pretty full and very energetic .  Sleepy Kitty's  indie blues pop  sound was pretty catchy and a band you should check out. Glittermouse also released an ep and played a really nice se as they played a brand of prog indie music that was driven by 3 guitars. you should check out their  ep series that they released this year. Hemmingbirds never disappoints and played a few songs from the new album they are working on. They seem to get tighter and tighter. Always enjoy talking with them. Finally Mutts closed out the show playing a bunch of songs from the new album due out very soon. The album is really good and adds some new sound elements to the Mutts musical oeuvre. I will be doing a review very soon. Always a good time talking with Mike and the band. You can buy a vinyl of his new album, info is on his FB page. There are always so many musicians at Mutts shows and it's fun to talk to all of them. Unfortunately I don't have the best memory, and beer doesn't help matters. So hi to all of them. It was a great time and I would suggest seeing all of these bands.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Goldroom - "All Thumbs" video !!!

Good friends in Nashville based The Goldroom have a new video for their song "All Thumbs". The song is off their new album The Surrounding Hours, you can see my review of that cool album HERE. The video was shot by Ernie Gray. It's a very solid looking video that was cut well. I enjoy it quite a bit. Linked below is the Bandcamp link you can purchase their album at.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The GoldRoom - The Surrounding Hours (LadyLovelyLabel)

Hailing from Nashville , The GoldRoom play a brand of indie rock that is reminiscent of early 90's Sacramento scene (Deftones) that featured off kilter guitar driven rock with ambient leanings. Also in the mix is the melodic sense of Dave Grohl.  There are some nice dissonant touches like on "New Drifter" that give these songs some depth and leaves a rough around the edges sound that I think pays off in spades.  Wish more bands would leave some of those rough touches in as I think they convey what it must be like to see the band live. "All Thumbs" is a  funk fueled track that would make Living Colour proud. "My Darling" is an instrumental track that is most progressive sounding of the bunch that does a slow smolder throughout.  I have had this album on repeat for a while now and it most likely will appear on my year end list. Maybe I can sponsor them on a bill when they come play here!

The GoldRoom are Shane Ball, Darin Ledford, Kevin Torbett and  Joey Campbell. They gig out quite a bit in the Nashville area see them live!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jennifer Hall - In This (album review, Lincoln Hall show review, Schubas album release show preview)

So this post has been a while in coming. I have had medical issues that precluded me from doing any reviews the way I wanted. Now it has grown to a super post with an album review, show review of Jennifer Hall's  show at Lincoln Hall a few weeks ago and a preview of her album release show on Sat. Sept.3rd at Schubas.

 Chicago's Jennifer Hall's debut album In This is a soulfully sung collection of songs that touch on everything from torch song with "Green and Blue" to straight ahead indie rock of "When We Were Good". Though the sound varies the constant of the album is Jennifer's heart felt vocals.  In many ways Jennifer reminds me of Lissie with their gritty vocal delivery about every day life. Jennifer does this on  "Like I Lie To You" where she laments and accosts, 'touch me like I wish you could... sing to me empty words like I lie to you let's go on pretending...go on fuck the truth.' That's about as succinct as vocals can get. I love it! My favorite track on In This is "Wash Away" which showcases Jennifer's range from whisper quiet to full out blues blast. There is an honesty in her songs and the way that she delivers them the makes her stand out from many who sing the same types of songs. No big strings flourishes or unnecessary sounds. Just a really tight band a pretty nice synergy between band and Jennifer on  tracks like "Too Busy Dreaming" which also features some nice harmonies. You can pre-order by clicking on her Bandcamp link above and ordering In This there. She will also be selling vinyl of the album as well.

My wife and I caught her show a few weeks ago at Lincoln Hall and her stage banter had an ease that was a joy to watch. The night's highest point was her high notes that make you amazed such a big sound came from someone her size.  Her band was tight and the overall sound was something to behold. I suggest you go see Jennifer Hall's 21 and over release show  is at Schubas  next Sat 9/3 and will also have Ben Joseph and The Mathematics, as well as Matthew Santos on the bill.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lizard Kisses - Hirono (Beko DSL)

Usually I don't review singles. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my Creative Commons obsession.  The "Hirono" single by New York lo-fi pop music outfit  Lizard Kisses is an exceptional case. The band is Marc Merza and Corey Siegler who make intimate pop songs. In this single's three songs are the kind of lazy gauzy pop songs that are a perfect pace for the extremely hot Summer days. This single is innovative in that can be played turned label down and the played on a record player. Have you ever heard of such a thing? I haven't.  Below is the Youtube video showing how the single plays on a record player. This is on the very cool Beko DSL which releases some damn fine music and features these singles every Monday. It really nice to see them getting some exposure off the heels on Sleeping In, an album you'll want to check out, which is a name your price download on their bandcamp. If you do download for free, think about purchasing the Beko single or a handmade by Marc and Corey cover cd copy of Sleeping In.  This single is innovative and features three pop songs you'll want to listen to. Thanks to Marc and Cory for a copy of the single.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tune Yards - W H O K I L L ( 4AD )

W H O K I L L finds the wildly imaginative Merrill Garbus yet again utilizing African rhythms to drive these songs that are a perfect mix of pop, jazz, blues and an outsized amount of soul. The things that were most exciting about Tune -Yards   Bird-Brains are still present; the sparse production that let the soul of these songs breathe, a mixture of self recorded samples, and Merrill's voice without effects.  The centerpiece of these songs is  her amazing ear for making a melody out of even disparate sounds pieces of sound as on "Riotriot" and "Es-so". It is almost a given just two albums and one ep that Merrill could make any type of music she desired.

"Gangsta" starts and stops time and again and is accented by some nice jazz fills on bass and the crazy sax all make for a loud great mess.

 "Powa" is 100% raw Merrill. "Your heart, inside, it rocks me like a lullaby" she oozes. (video below)

The beautiful cascade of vocals on "Bizness" (the first single and a free mp3 download) gives way to Merrill's signature insistent pleading vocal style. There are some direct jazz touches in the vocals that then usher in the nice sax runs. "I'm the victim yeah, don't take my life away, don't take my life away".

The Mowtown girl group beauty of "Doorstep" finds Merrill taking old soul to a very new and fresh place.  "Well I try so hard to be a peaceful loving woman , I believe that love and understanding were the way, oh but how many gone before you listen to the cries, with my dead heart, how do I find my way through the truth and all the lies". So she writes some very deep lyrics at times.

I would dare anyone to listen to "You Yes You" (video below) and try not to dance. The loop effects on this track are especially nice.

This album has so many different sound textures and feelings because that's how Merrill writes her songs. You can feel exactly what she is feeling. It's amazing to think she could actually grow the sounds of Bird-Brains and still retain the individuality. On top of being a wildly talented songwriter and posessing an ear that many do not, she is in control of the whole process and has created a masterpiece of an album.  To date this is my most listened to album for the year and it's well deserved. I can never just listen one track.

 I was lucky enough to interview Merrill at the Chopin Theatre in Chicago off her tour of Bird-Brains. She was totally unassuming and accommodating. The gentle soul she sings about being in her music is the person who she is in person.  Also she performed a few songs that she was working on for W H O K I L L so I will post a few of those. See her live at all costs, it will be one of the best shows you will see. She is totally invested live. Thanks again to Merrill and Carolyn at 4AD for the interview.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jump Starts - Ready, Set, Go

The ever talented singer song-writer Justin Johnson (Pretty Little Empire) is at it again with his new project, Jump Starts. He is joined by Sarah Ross (Paper Dolls) who plays drums, claps and sings. By deductive reasoning this should be a great album. Pretty Little Empire have made my most listened to albums of the last 2 years and Paper Dolls recently released an album I had on repeat, I loved it so much. Well, this album is every bit as good as I would have guessed.  Ready, Set Go hearkens back to the 1950's and pays an astute homage to the likes of Buddy Holley and Eddie Cochran. Justin and Sarah add touches of Americana and even a bit of 80's pop sensibility with the way the chorus is repeated as Justin sings the lead over it to make these sparkling pop songs that feature unconventional structures at times. 

The vocal mix on "It's Not Over" is stellar and showcases Justin's ease with melody.  The 50's influenced "Can You Help Me" call and response vocals with Justin's earnest pleading lends a level of urgency to the boy aching about a girl sentiment.  "Come Home Come Home" would probably be the radio lead single from this collection of songs. Just the right vocal mix coupled with the little jazz shuffle of Sarah's on drums.

Sarah's loose sounding percussion is the perfect counterpoint to Justin's precise songwriting and tight melodies. I am fortunate to have heard some of these songs in their original form as i-phone demos Justin made with the phone in the bathroom sink. In this Jump Starts form these songs manage to vary by the song structure as well as an ever changing way that Justin and or Sarah sing the choruses. The production is kept sparse and puts a spotlight on the ridiculously talented melodic ears of Justin. I saw Jump Starts play in St. Louis a few months ago and they were every bit addictive live as on Ready Set Go. Justin and Sarah will have a album release show this Sat June 18th at Jefferson Warehouse (St. Louis) with a really cool band Blood Pony (their last show as a band).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Paper Thick Walls - A Thousand Novels

Paper Thick Walls are Eric Michaels - vocals, guitar, motif / Kate Schell - vocals, piano, trumpet / Roger Sherman- upright bass, Andrew Sabo- drums / Jacques René - fiddle, mandolin, guitar

Chicago's Paper Thick Walls play an indie brand of folk that is colored with the indie pop goings on in Canada as well as the more traditional folk elements of acoustic guitar, and the always cool upright bass. Eric and Kate sing songs about life that are sometimes point and counterpoint and at other times an agreement between the two on their debut album,  A Thousand Novels.

 The somber beauty of the strings on the track "NyQuil" coupled with Eric and Kate's emotive vocals make this my favorite track on this very strong album. The nice little melody underneath is in no hurry, and adds to laid back feel of this song.

"Desolate Place" feature quite a few bells to the great effect of making the song sound distant. This goes nicely with the lyrics. The music box player at the end of the song is a nice touch and a great way to wind down such a moody song.
The he said she said nature of songwriting doesn't always come off as good as it does on A Thousand Novels. Eric and Kate make for very compelling vocalists and have assemble a very strong band to back those beautiful songs. Go see them play these songs live on May 6th at Hideout for their record release show .

Thanks to August and the fine people's as Novo Enetertainment for the heads up on this album.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Yellow Ostrich at Andrew Rafacz Gallery April 5 2011

(Yellow Ostrich's set up)

The Andrew Rafacz Gallery turned out to be a cool place to see a show.  I got to check the art on display before watching Yellow Ostrich play. The sound was good and there was a good turnout of fans to see them play. Their sound live was much more raw and immediate than on their albums.  Alex and the guys agreed an interview with me which is posted below. They were very accessible to everyone who attended, even though this was the tail end of their tour.  The rhythm section Jon on bass and Michael on drums sparkled with their jazz influenced playing on the "WHALE" which is on their newest album The Mistress and first appeared on their Wild Comfort release. They utilized some loops for those awesome harmonies as well as live vocals that reminded me of seeing Merrill from Tune Yards do the same thing.  The guys played new songs "Doubter" and "Marathon Runner. I am looking forward to see how those are recorded! Also of note were the sublime 3 part harmonies on "Mary".  I highly suggest you get the myriad of releases by Yellow Ostrich, which can be found on their Bandcamp as well as ordering their vinyl as well.  Thanks again to Alex, Jon, and Michael for the interview and invite. Also, to Tom Williams their manager.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yellow Ostrich at Andrew Rafacz Gallery (835 W Washington Blvd) tonight April 5 at 8pm

Yellow Ostrich play Chicago tonight at Andrew Rafacz Gallery (835 W Washington Blvd) show starts at 8 PM! I first heard a few songs from the bands Morgan Freeman EP on the ever present The Waiting Room Radio Show, thanks C. I have been hooked ever since.  The group started as a solo project for band The Chairs' member Alex Schaaf who the moved Yellow Ostrich from his home in Wisconsin to N.Y. Also in the group now are Michael Tapper and Jon Natchez.  Their style is a swirl of lo-fi indie goodness that is marked by interesting percussion and must hear vocal compositions. Their latest full length, The Mistress is exclusively available at emusic. The rest of the bands catalog of music can be fond at their bandcamp page as a name your price zero minimum download. I am really excited to see this show and hopefully do an interview with the guys.  Come on by the gallery tonight!

The next stop on their tour is tomorrow :
04-06-11 @ Beachland Tavern - Cleveland, OH

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    The Ragtones, Hemmingbirds, Mendelssohn, Shy Technology at Lincoln Hall March 16 2011

     Thanks again to Betta Promotions and Yoo Soo from the Hemmingbirds for the invite to the show.  This show is the tightest I've heard the Hemmingbirds. They have both quiet and loud portions that bookend one another, so this is sometimes a problem at some venues to get the right balance.  Lincoln Hall got the sound right.  A real treat were the quality of the harmonies and they showed them off a bit on their brief cover of The Beach Boys, "Wouldn't It Be Nice".  Also they played two new original songs, one of which had a bit of a blues feel to it, and the other was mostly acoustic. I look forward to hearing more new songs. The crowd was just as impressed as I was and cheered loudly for the band.

    Also of note to me was Medelssohn, whose free download album is below, I didn't get a chance to post it before . They had a full compliment that featured uke, mandolin, banjo and trumpet among the many instruments that were played. To be hones, their live show sound stood out to me more than the album.  There's is something about seeing certain instruments live that really sound different then when they are in a mix on an album. They had a bit of a jam band feel at times and had a communal feel to their overall sound. So download the album then see them live around Chicago.

    It was nice seeing and talking to Mike Maimone who will be playing an acoustic piano set at Reggie's soon. I will have a post on my fb page for that.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Save The Clocktower - Carousel

    Carousel is a seamless mix of electronic and traditional instruments that is complimented nicely by the post rock styled vocals. Chicago based   Save The Clocktower is Greg Newton on drums/ vocals, Sean Paras on guitar/ vocals, and Jimmy Shenk on keyboards. The sound is rooted in electronic and uses traditional instruments as accents.

    "Drip" is a nice groove oriented track that pulls more heavily from the electronic elements and is more of a dance track.

    The pop wave sounds of "Taped Noise" feature some nice choices on the vocal mix that mimics the shimmery sound of the song.

    "Take Me There" is my favorite track on Carousel and hearkens to 80's new wave mashed up with modern electronica which is all anchored by a strong melody.

    If you enjoy new wave and post punk like I do, then you enjoy this album.  There are some nice touches with where the vocals are put in the mix that make the melodies that much stronger. 

    You can buy Carousel here :  Keep an eye out for Save the Clocktower playing out in Chicago.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Ami Saraiya, Julie Meckler, Jared Bartman Thur March 10 Schubas

    With a crowd full of rowdy fans who showed up to support these acts, Julie Meckler and band took the stage. Her music drew from island rhythms, folk, and 90's indie guitar. This transplant from France, now based in Chicago, sang a song in French that sounded beautiful.  I have a soft spot for French pop music. Some highlights were the raucous crowd, multitasking band members and some nice sounding mallets on drums, always a favorite of mine. There was some nice atmospheric guitar on some of the songs including the David Bowie cover, though I forget which song it was. The bass player said he told a "conceptual joke", which I thought was funny.

    Next up was Peoria's Jared Bartman (who played accordion), had a full band that featured Gabe from the band dastardly, on drums. Gabe skills impressed. Jared sang in his unique style and had the crowd eating out of his hands. The last song he did, his voice only, was really effective.  I'm pretty excited Jared plays Chicago as often as he does. Keep an eye out because Jared has a new 7" coming out soon.

    Lastly Ami Saraiya and her other 6 members of her band The Outcome, took the stage. I hadn't seen the full line-up which gave such a full sound. The power of Ami and Courtney and Shirley was something to behold. Ami played accordion and was joined by upright bass, violin. It always cool to see Ami play a stripped down set, and then play a full blown sound experience like this show! Congrats to Ami and The Outcome, as this was their EP release show.

    It was well attended and the crowd was lively, as well they should be  because all three acts were really good. I saw my friend Aaron Hui as well as some of the good folks from Dastardly and so many other musicians who filled the crowd. Again a big thanks to Ami for inviting me out.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    The Ragtones , Hemmingbirds, Mendelssohn, Shy Technology Lincoln Hall Wed March 16

    This is a Betta Promotions show (their shows always seem great don't they?) featuring some really cool bands.  I am a huge Hemmingbirds fan. Their album Death Wave was my 2nd most listened to album of last year.  Yoo Soo and Tim from Hemmingbirds were gracious enough to sit for an interview with me braving my 3 yr old and 2 year old.  Watch below.  I have only seen Hemmingbirds play so this will be a great chance to see The Ragtones, Mendelssohn, and Shy Technology.  Check their music out and the see them do it live this Wednesday at Lincoln Hall! Only $8 for 4 bands.  It's an 18 and over show. Come on out and support some great bands.  Follow the bandcamp player for Death Wave below to a name your price, $0 minimum (FREE if you so chose).

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Dastardly, The Dirty Feathers, The Bears Of Blue River, and Milano at Reggies this Saturday

    In my flu fueled craziness I thought this show was last weekend and I would miss it. Turns out it's this Sat. March 5 which starts at 7:00 PM at Reggie's Rock Club (2109 S State). It doesn't get any better than this line up. The entrance is FREE and the fine cowgals and cowpokes in Dastardly are asking for donations to help cover the cost of the impending trip to SXSW, a wee little festival in the fine city of Austin. Gabe and the band play all sorts of free show, as well as have handed out cd's for free in the past, so here is your chance to say thanks you. Not to mention the kick ass show that will  both Dastardly and Bears put on, how can you miss this one? I will be there to chronicle the debauchery. I have heard some good things as well about Dirty Feathers and Milano. Below are some videos of what the show could be, but better because there will be liquor and Gabe telling stories.

    Also look for Dastardly to play WGN 9 mid day news cast this FRIDAY. I know I will!

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Paper Dolls - Sparks (2011)

    Paper Dolls are:
    Jenn Malzone - songwriter, keyboards
    Cathie Degler - cello
    Brad Vaughn - bass
    Sarah Ross - drums

    Sarah and Cathie saw the original line-up of the band disband just as they were finishing their first album.  So they reformed in this configuration and got to work. The result of that labor is Sparks, which is a mix of the original line-up's darker material (gothic) and the pop sensibility of the current band.   The mixture of chamber and goth makes theirs a sound I haven't heard in a band from St. Louis before, and their interesting arrangements make them stand out.

    "Middle Class Fashion" has a simple and undeniable little piano riff that runs throughout the song, while Cathie's cello and Brad's bass spar back and forth at the bottom end. The clipped nature of Jenn's vocals play along with the piano. Some small bursts of layered vocals are thrown in here and there, and the way that all of these elements figure into the arrangement is a nice change from the norm.

    "First Draft" features more jazz influences as well as flourishes of weepy cello that make for an opulent vibe. I really like the staccato nature of Jenn's vocals and the piano that plays off that. That may be the bands signature sound, and what an enjoyable one to hear.

    The unconventional song structures help Paper Dolls carve a unique sound. There is quite a bit of growth as a band from their first band line-up and this current line-up.  Sparks is the type of release that will have a significant influence on budding songstresses in an already burgeoning St. Louis music scene.

    Download Sparks for $5 at their thesixtyone page. They have cd's available at their upcoming shows March 11 at Wash U, and March 26 at Lemmons w/ Blood Pony. I will be doing a review of the Blood Pony album as well, so that would be a great show to see.