Category Archives: Music and Concert Reviews

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!

New Music Review: The Heart Pills

the heart pillsHave you ever heard of tin can folk punk music? No? We didn’t either, until The Heart Pills came calling. Now we can say that we not only know all about it, but we like it. A lot.

The Heart Pills hail from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Which is curious because it’s not a place you might normally associate with folk or punk. Tin cans, maybe.

Nonetheless, they just released their debut album, “To Paul, From Dad 1951″ (named after an inscription on a found book about pirates, on a sailboat, as it were.) That’s kind of an interesting story. But not nearly as interesting as the music.

The punk comes through–in some of the more frenzied songs, and when the vocals start to shake. The folk’s job is to steady the entire album, sometimes overtly and other times deftly hidden. The tin can… that’s the unexpected; the sharp edges, sometimes creepy undertones, and the down-to-earth, unapologetic disposition of the lyrics.

The Heart Pills are different, and damn good. They are one of those bands you know will quickly graduate from the local bars to more prominent venues in music-hungry cities. In August, they arrive in Chicago. We recommend you check them out.

Below are a couple of songs from their new record, and a few upcoming tour dates below that.

Hear more of the album and see a couple of videos on The Heart Pills website.

July 12: House of Rock, Eau Claire, WI
July 26: Wilson Park, Menomonie, WI
August 16: The Reptile Palace, Oshkosh, WI
August 17: TBA, Milwaukee, WI
August 18: Ace Bar, Chicago, IL
August 23: Cause Spirits and Soundbar, Minneapolis, MN
August 24: The Red Carpet, St. Cloud, MN
August 25: Quinlans, Duluth, MN
August 30: Phoenix Park, Eau Claire, WI

Check out Nashville’s Buffalo Clover

Buffalo CloverIf you heard that Buffalo Clover hailed from Nashville, you’d probably expect some country twang when you hit that play button. And you’d be right. Sort of.

What’s most intriguing about Buffalo Clover is its intricate blend of varied sounds and genres that permeate the entirety of their latest release, Low Down Time, often throughout the same track. You’ll hear some blues and jazz–I hear a little Amy Winehouse from time to time–and you’ll hear that familiar twang, too. Some tracks would play nicely at a 1950′s high school prom while “Oklahoma” could fill out several scenes in Dazed and Confused.

Margo Price and her husband and co-writer, Jeremy Ivey, formed the band after meeting in Nashville in 2008. But there’s more than Nashville in Buffalo Clover, even though you never loose of their roots. Confusing? They’re not easy to nail down. What is easy, is to listen to them. It makes us feel quite pleasant.

Below, have a listen to Seek Me Out then go here and listen to Oklahoma. Then all the other nonsense you just read will make more sense.

You can read more about Buffalo Clover on their website.