Category Archives: Music and Concert Reviews

The Gnar Wave Rangers Bringing it to The Abbey Pub

Looking for a band to see in Chicago this weekend? The Gnar Wave Rangers will play Abbey Pub this Saturday. And you should gather up a couple friends with open minds and a thirsty disposition, and go see them.

Admittedly, we know very little of The Gnar Wave Rangers aside from two facts: “Gnar” means “Get Nasty and Rich”; and judging by the lineup, these guys are happy to poke fun of themselves and you, too.

Johnny Swoon-VØX
Spicey Mang-BA$$
Butterscotch Bill-DRUM$
Gnat Riddler-GU!TAR

The sound is a melting pot of punk, low-fi rock, and funk. Allow me to use a few tracks from their new release, #GetNastyAndRich, as examples.

Crazy 4 Ur Luv reminds me of the delightful and melodic wackiness of Frank Zappa.
Moon Snake is an all-out scream fest.
Freddy Free Me evokes the sounds of your favorite Brit punk.
There is a Light channels The Editors and Psychedelic Furs.

And that’s all within the front half of the new album.

To sum it up, The Gnar Wave Rangers are eclectic, they’re going to f@#% s#!$ up at The Abbey, and you’re going to have fun.

You can listen to #GetNastyAndRich here.

Buy tickets to the show here.

The Random Kids: Delightfully Different

Paul Leo and Evan Munz are The Random Kids—two 23-year-old guys from Oak Park who are damn determined to do it independently. They wrote, recorded, and produced their latest album, Dire Dire Docks, all on their own. (They got some help with the album cover but we won’t hold that against them.)

Dire, Dire Docks plays out like a band exploring their favorite styles of music without being overly concerned about landing on one particular sound. And as a fully independent outfit, why the hell not? While it might sometimes lead to a lack of cohesion (trying really hard not to use ‘random’ here), that’s easily overshadowed by the sheer enjoyable nature of the songs. The Random Kids give off an undeniably pleasant, breezy vibe—perfect for your bluetooth beer cooler at the backyard barbecue.

But where are the comparisons, you say? OK, fine.

Throughout the album you’re going to hear some Local Natives. Sometimes the songs dip into Beach Boys territory. If you’re looking for some retro 80’s sounds, you’re going to get them from time to time. And some of the more playful tracks remind us a little of… The Monkees. Not exactly what you’d expect to come out of the Chicago suburbs, Yale, and Indiana University, eh? But hey—when were fulfilled expectations ever all that fun anyway? Dire, Dire Docks is fun—plain and not so simple. Even if you can’t put your finger on it, The Random Kids have something going on here.

Have a listen to the album below. A few of our early favorite tracks are “Five Itty Bitty Secrets” and “Swingin’ in the Breeze.”
It’s also available as a free download, here.

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.”

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.

You Can See The Music!

Certain music can make you feel a certain way. I suppose it’s why we find ourselves attracted to solemn music when we are blue, and upbeat music when we are happy. You might listen to some music to stay in a good mood, or switch it up to get yourself out of a foul mood.

But what if you could actually see how music makes you feel?

That’s the idea behind eMusic’s Aura project, according to eMusic Editor-in-Chief J. Edward Keyes.

“We started thinking about those ideas, and how certain albums have real emotional resonance,” says Keyes. “So the next natural step became, how can we do this in the real world, to show the connection we all have and the reaction we all have to music?”

Electromusical Energy Visualizer

Clockwise, from top-left: Lower Dens, Beach House, Iceage, A$AP Rocky

The solution: Step into the eMusic Electromusical Energy Visualizer (recently showcased at Chicago’s Pitchfork music festival), place your hands on the device, strap on some headphones, and start listening. Then you get a visualization of how that music is making you feel.

Believe it or not, there’s science behind it. The sensors on your hands pick up the electrical vibrations and fluctuations in your body while you listen to the music. Then the aura cameras translate those pulses and reflect it to you, photo-booth style. You can see mine, on the right.

So what did I learn? I like hip hop (specifically A$AP Rocky), because it makes me feel courageous and happy. Beach House, predictably, makes me feel peaceful, while Lower Dens brings out my magical and passionate sides. Copenhagen’s hottest punk band, Iceage, makes me feel ambitious and … loving?

I must say, it was extremely interesting to see and I found the results made rather good sense. So what does Keyes hope will come of all this?

“The idea is just to reinforce that eMusic is a site for people who love music, and develop strong connections with music. I really feel like we’re moving toward a time when music becomes so transient. We have a lot of cool applications for music, but I feel like it lessens that deep strong connection that a lot of us have with it.

J. Edward Keyes

J. Edward Keyes

“When I was a teenager, you saved your allowance and you bought that one record. You played it and fell in love with it and knew every corner of it. I get a little sad as I feel like we move past that, and music is just a switch you turn on and off.

“One of the things that we want to try to do is bring that back. To say: This should be an important thing. that you have a reaction and a response to, and it becomes a part of who you are.”

We love everything about eMusic’s Aura Project. Anything that helps us grow that deep appreciation–love, actually–for music is A-OK in our book. Head over to the eMusic Aura Project and experience something for yourself. You might be surprised by what you find!