Tag Archives: chicago music

Arclight brings a dreamy debut to summer’s end

Arclight is a new Chicago band that just released it’s first EP and is starting to air it out around town. Recently they played Schuba’s, which is always a good sign for the future of a new band.

Arclight is Amith Bokka (vox/guitar/keys), Jim Tashjian (guitar), Charles Williams (vox/bass), and Pete Tashjian (drums). The official description is “Alternative Rock.” But I think that’s a bit too boxy for what they really are.

That sound is… dreamy. Relaxing, sometimes, and a bit unsettling at others. Remember when the mid to late 90’s produced those peaceful yet dark tones—like The Smashing Pumpkins’ overlooked album, Adore? Arclight makes me think of those days. A little psychedelic, a little pop, and a bunch of deep undertones that weave together to make song transitions often indistinguishable. I mean that in a good way.

You’ll hear the peaceful part in “Songbird”, embedded below. Dig into the EP and you’ll come across “Jester” which ventures into more sinister territory (but with a redeeming finish). What I’m really excited about for Arclight is the direction they are going. It’s not typical of what we’ve been hearing lately.

Overall, it’s a very promising debut for Arclight, and a welcome curveball to the Chicago music scene. I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow. You can see them August 27 at the Estate block party, 1177 N Elston Ave.

Minor Moon’s debut—welcome to Chicago, new friends

What’s wrong with a little Americana? Some honest folk and roll?
What’s wrong with something relatively simple—strong hooks, great lyrics and heartfelt vocals?
What’s wrong with all of this coming from Boston and landing in Chicago?

Absolutely nothing—that’s what’s wrong with all of that.

A Whisper, A Shout is the debut album from Minor Moon, a project led by Samuel Cantor.
(Hear a song below.)

Cantor clearly understands his craft. He’s writing with earned wisdom. Singing with a voice powerful but reserved. And best of all, he’s put everything into it—that comes through in spades. This is a fantastic debut record. The kind that grabs your attention and promises a bright future.

A Whisper, A Shout has a steadiness to it. A heart-on-the-sleeve feel. Even as a first time listener, it sounds familiar and down-to-earth. These are things that endear musicians to Chicago.

OK, the association game: I hear Band of Horses (Minor Moon’s harmonies are strong). A little Widespread Panic (maybe it’s the vocals). And a smattering of music I’ve heard in bars in North Carolina (I consider that a very good compliment).

Appropriately titled, the album winds its way through quiet, tense meditation to find something stirring—sometimes a shrieking guitar, or rousing vocals—oftentimes in the same song. Sound uneven? Perhaps, at times. That being said, I imagine it plays out beautifully live. And you’ll have your chance on April 7, at Elbo Room. So check it out.

Listen to one of our favorite songs below, and hear more on the Minor Moon website.
A couple other favorite tracks are Futon, and Catch and Release Pt. 1.

Welcome to Chicago, boys!

Chaz Hearne and The Legend of Core Dynamo—bluegrass, folk and comic book heroes

After stints with a folk duo, then a bluegrass group, Chaz Hearne decided to go the solo route. And it’s a good thing, because he doesn’t seem to quite fit either of those categories, although his style is extending the boundaries of both.

If that sounds a bit confusing, consider the premise of his debut solo effort, straight from the source himself: “The Legend of Core Dynamo is a political album that tackles some heavy subject matter through the lens of folk songs and comic book characters. Core Dynamo is supposed to stand for an incorruptible leader but people have lost faith in authority.” (It’s appropriate now to mention that Hearne wrote the album while living in Chicago…)

As it turns out, the music is not confusing nor corrupt. It is, however, unconventional. Hearne is learned in guitar, banjo and piano and you will hear all three wielded to great effect, along with vocals that are easy to rally behind.

As far as the tracks go, the song Core Dynamo unmistakably evokes a 60’s/70’s folk movement, while The Legend is neither folk nor bluegrass and includes an anthem-like rock guitar solo. One brings more of the traditional bluegrass feel but, again, leans into something different. Bigger. (There’s even a little Grateful Dead in there.)

Disjointed? Perhaps a little. Hearne seems to be at his best when pushing his folk and bluegrass roots to the edges, without crossing over completely. But ultimately, The Legend of Core Dynamo is everything a solo album should be—a one-of-a-kind composition built on one’s myriad of experiences and influences. And it’s really good.

Click to listen to The Legend of Core Dynamo, and you can catch Chaz Hearne live at Uncommon Ground on October 1. Here’s his website.

Signal-to-Noise: All-in and No Fear

Michael Downing did something most of us daydream about before going back to typing, turning a wrench, or foaming a latte. He quit his day job to put it all on the line for his music, a solo act called Signal-to-Noise. He shut himself in his Chicago apartment to compose, record and produce his first album, I Won’t Let the World Become a Prison.

“Signal-to-Noise is a reminder to live in the present, look inwards, turn down the noise, and find your signal,” says Downing on his website. As an artist with a wide range, that’s pretty much exactly what he’s doing.

I Won’t Let the World Become a Prison is a search in progress. Self-described as “electro-rock/dream-pop”, Downing layers instruments and his own vocals to create an album that can be soothing one minute and unsettling the next. Sometimes simultaneously. A good example of this is a stretch on the album in songs 4-6—Avenall, Biologic, and Night Owl—a small journey that explores both dream states and anxious energy.

What Downing delivers with I Won’t Let the World Become a Prison deserves our admiration. But, as I’m sure Downing would tell you himself, the music is what matters. There is serious talent on this album—both in pure instrumental skill and composition. We would not be surprised to see Downing’s music get greater attention in the months to come. And any band would be wise to consider an attempt to pry him away from the solo scene.

We love a meticulous musical exploration. Have a listen below. The full album is now available on iTunes, and you can also see an acoustic Signal-to-Noise set on Saturday, May 9 at Chicago Bagel Authority at 6 PM.

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.”