Category Archives: Recent Posts

Mumford & Sons’s Ballsy Career Move

One way bands explode on the music scene and sell millions of records is to spearhead an entire genre at the right time. Take Mumford & Sons–they’ve made countryside rocking bluegrass hot, and themselves a big pile of money.

Then the bandwagon gets heavy, slow, and plodding. The idyllic countryside becomes a chic marketing strategy (looking at you, Lumineers) and the music becomes a little less pure, a little more annoying–almost insulting. If not careful, the spearhead becomes dead weight.

So how do you stop from becoming a punchline? If you’re Mumford & Sons, you plunge the spearhead deep into the shriveling heart of the genre itself. You parody yourselves and every quality people will eventually hate you for–the down-home posture; the banjo shredding; the brotherly harmonies; the emotional orgasm of every song. And you do it with a music video featuring some of the most likable actors of your target demographic.

You might think this would be band suicide. And I guess that’s possible. But a preemptive strike such as this forces you to take a side. It places a decision at your feet–whether you will remain a fan of the music (and the band) for what is, not just when it is. It’s a decision that Mumford & Sons knows damn well you’d make anyway, eventually. Only now, it’s on their terms. They just took control of their own fate.

My decision is made. Long live Mumford.

Long Islands, Happenstance, and The Burning of Rome

While walking to a show at Lincoln Hall, we come across a chalkboard sign outside Lilly’s, on Lincoln Avenue. “$5 Long Island Ice Teas”, it reads. Inside there’s a band playing loudly. And no cover charge. The perfect detour.

So there we are—four guys who instantly (and significantly) elevate the median age of said establishment, sipping Long Islands and taking in a new band before our planned show.

AguilarThe Burning of Rome, from San Diego, is playing in front of no more than 20 people in the bar (it was an impromptu gig, as they were returning from Summerfest) and all of them are transfixed—us included—along with front man Adam Traub’s girlfriend’s mother, who is gleefully boarding the band for the night. “They’re such nice guys!” she tells me.

Without that tidbit, “nice guys” is about the last thing you would say in a game of word association with The Burning of Rome. With an album titled Death-pop (which includes the song Norman Bates) “frightening” might be more fitting. I imagine any self-respecting right-winger would call them “threatening.” They are gloomy and aggressive. Keyboards are pounded. Guitars are shredded properly—upright, on top of amps, in the crowd, on the ground, and on the sides of walls (pictured), thanks to the extremely entertaining Joe Aguilar.

I hear flecks of Black Sabbath (and Black Flag), early Soundgarden, and Bowie, along with a slurry of Devo, The Gorillaz, and the circus… not a band, but the actual circus. Above all, this is a talented group that plays with explosive passion. Unbridled, but not out of control. Definitely all-out entertaining. Passersby kept poking their heads in the door, and I kept willing them in—wondering how in the world you could hear such a thing and not stop in for a few minutes. And that’s not the Long Islands talking.

We chatted with the band after the show. So while I could see their music becoming a target of the next ill-advised crusade to protect the youth of America, they really are nice guys, and a lady. Honest.

Take a few spins, below.
By the way, the intended show was Rogue Wave. My review of that: “meh.”

Chicago Bands at Lollapalooza, 2013

by Brynn J. Alexander

Although Lollapalooza has brought musicians and fans from all over the world to Grant Park since 2005, a surprisingly small number of those musicians actually hail from Chicago. Now that this year’s lineup for the festival has been announced, it turns out there are six acts from Chicago, and with a range of genres from hip-hop to indie to experimental rock, there’s something here for everyone.

Need Lollapalooza tickets?

Wild Belle is brother-and-sister due Elliot and Natalie Bergman. They grew up in Chicago, and will be playing songs from their debut album, Isles, at Lollapalooza this year. Their music is a mixture of indie rock with touches of ska and even jazz.

 

Barely out of high school after graduating early, The Orwells are set to explode this year, already getting attention from MTV and Pitchfork. With several EPs and a full-length album already released, they have plenty of material to entertain audiences this summer.

 

Chance the Rapper will certainly be one of the crowd favorites this year, as the young artist is making waves through the hip-hop world after being laughed at by his teachers and told that his music would never amount to anything. Chance has already toured with noted acts such as Childish Gambino, and has released several singles to national acclaim.

 

Fans of concept rock will want to catch Makeshift Prodigy when they play Lollapalooza this year. The Chicago-based band specializes in intense, story-driven songs, with a strong emphasis on the visual aspects of their performance.

 

Relative veterans Smith Westerns are back this festival season with a third album on the way, and will be rocking crowds this summer at Lolla with their special mixture of Brit-influenced glam rock. Their shows are always high-energy, and local fans will be glad to see them where they belong, on a big stage.

 

Last but certainly not least, Supreme Cuts will take the stage with their own flavor of hip-hop-influenced EDM and experimental electronica. Describing their sound as “apocalyptic cloud rap,” this duo will appeal to a wide array of electronic music fans, whether you’re into hip-hop or not.

Jenny Dragon: Chicago’s Gypsy-Jazz, Folk-ish Band

Jenny Dragon recorded their debut album, A Fair Souvenir, at Hi-Style Recording Studio in Chicago on vintage gear dating from the 1940s-1960s. Plenty of information alone to give it a full spin, in my book. But I’ll give you more reasons.

All native Chicagoans, they are not. Just one. And maybe that’s why the blues are just a newt’s eye in the brew. No, The Dragons come from all over the place–California, Virginia, Kansas City, Iowa. The singing duo of Jodi Jean Amble and Sarah Goldstein started in college, in Wisconsin, back in 1997. They formed a sister-like bond. Now, a remarkable part of Jenny Dragon’s story continues down that path–and you can read more about it here. And today, they’ve settled in our fair city. But let’s get back to that brew, yes?

jenny dragon chicago band1 part bossa nova.
2 parts gypsy-jazz.
1 part latin, 1 part blues.
2 parts folk
1 part doo-wop.
A pinch of hula (you’ll find it)

Shake it up and you get a self-described “heavy whimsy”. And unlike most selfies (does that work in this context?), it’s pretty accurate. Take, for example, the heavy subject of America’s history with nuclear testing (heavy), and write some lyrics then put it to a song that’s a little sultry, a little

Jenny Dragon is a new band, but they are not newbies. They are a coming together of veteran musicians. So you get a sophisticated sound that’s not real easy to pin down. When we asked guitarist Brian Sharpe about how they arrived in this unique place, he said, “I think our natural individual musical inclinations and aesthetic started leading us in this direction and we didn’t fight it.” Right. On. Would love to see these guys at the Green Mill on a non-shushing night.

It’s that time to turn it over to you. Bend an ear on “Boom Boom”, below. It’s the whimsical atomic bomb song. And hear more at the Jenny Dragon website.

New Chicago Record Release: Two Star

Here in Chicago, it’s sometimes best to immerse yourself in long, dark winters. To embrace them, rather than fight it. Kind of like the process of getting over a breakup. And that’s where bands like Death Cab, Bright Eyes, The Postal Service, and Chicago’s Two Star—who just released their debut album Lover, Our Lips Have Left Us—come to help get us through.

Two Star is Justen Hamilton (Guitar/Vocals); Steve Smith (Drums); George Watt (Bass); and Vlad Shapochnikov (Keyboard/Vocals). They are unmistakably power pop, and have learned plenty from their predecessors, as all good students do. The hooks are deep and the transitions sharp, while layered vocals and wavy lyrics string a common thread throughout the album.

Get a sense of Two Star by listening to “His & Hers”, below. A couple of elements you’ll hear that you’re not likely to find in most power pop compositions… accordion, and a church organ. And it’s not at all out of place. The rest will be a familiar call to cozy fires and warm memories of spring (or that gal or guy who left you out in the cold).

If you like what you hear, be sure to check out Two Star at Beat Kitchen on Feb. 2, as their record release tour continues. And you can hear the rest of Lover, Our Lips Have Left Us here. Good luck this winter, Chicago.