Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Raw Material: Never Mind CMJ, Get Your Buzz Right Here

Garage Rock, Krautrock, Psych pop, Punk, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Every year from late October to early November I suffer from a condition I call “CMJ Envy.” I spend all my time reading blogs and articles about the burgeoning bands and rising artists taking the stage at New York’s annual CMJ Music Marathon, and I wonder why Chicago can’t have similar events headlining new music. But in fact we do have something as cool; it happens every week in bars and small venues all across the city. But our regular music showcases don’t get nearly the attendance and press attention that big sexy events like CMJ get year after year. Part of that is on us, as live-music fans; we need to make the effort to show up and support local and touring bands before the critical buzz starts. With that in mind, here are some upcoming music events that are not only a good excuse to leave the house in the coming weeks, but also way more interesting than reading other people’s blog posts about the “next big thing.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sabers Unsheathed: Life after The M’s with Josh Chicoine

Alt-Rock, Chamber Pop, Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Indie Rock, Interviews, Pop, Psych pop, Rock 1 Comment »

By Kenneth Preskisabers hi res

The album opens with its own thing, like if Britpop could boogie. Coming from Josh Chicoine, current artistic director and co-founder of CIMMfest, the music is a natural extension of all his previous work. Sabers play pop-rock with an adventurous edge. Sure, it’s pretty and pop-tinged, but so were The M’s, Chicoine’s previous outlet, a group with harmonies so sweet that they won over a whole new audience via an appearance on the big-budget video game MLB2K7, right alongside The Stooges, Nirvana and 311. But “Sic Semper Sabers” is its own thing. The track “Money Eddie” cloaks its charming verses in a sinister swirl of synth and bombastic beats, somewhere between The Beta Band and The Flaming Lips. On “Remedy,” all the flourishes of orchestral instrumentation shine bright courtesy of Max Crawford’s wonderful horn section lifting a wilting refrain to a summer simmer. “Ever Eyeing” has a beautiful build-up where Chicoine’s falsetto meets a handclap crescendo; while “Puppet” has the type of mocking melody that a taunting toddler would issue. Take your pick, Sabers’ debut is full of playful, impactful, well… hits! Okay, maybe not if measured by units sold, but in some alternate version of America (maybe even the one in your own backyard) Josh Chicoine is making compelling music to widespread acclaim. Read the rest of this entry »

Storage Cabinet: Jacco Gardner’s Age of Discovery

Chamber Pop, Pop, Psych pop, Psychedelic No Comments »
Photo: Nick Helderman

Photo: Nick Helderman

By Dave Cantor

Camped out at the Shadow Shoppe, a recording studio doubling as a residence in an industrial area near Amsterdam, Jacco Gardner’s been burrowing into an insular universe.

It’s a place the multi-instrumentalist has been exploring for almost a third of his life. And it’s been fully realized, in musical terms, as “Cabinet of Curiosities,” which Chicago’s Trouble in Mind issued Stateside earlier this year.

With the album’s release, Gardner’s granted listeners access to a collection of vivid “fairytales,” as he calls them, each recorded on his own at the Shoppe, save for the disc’s more complicated drumming. The work’s been cobbled together over the last eight years, drawing from the more baroque moments of sixties pop music. There aren’t any distinct hints of contemporary Europe in Gardner’s songs, and an unknowing listener could easily mistake just about anything “Cabinet” offers as a selection from the first psychedelic era. It’s more than mere retread, though—it’s a twenty-four-year old’s imagination splayed out over twelve tracks. But “Cabinet” would warrant notoriety even if Gardner hadn’t played guitar, bass, keys and a variety of synthesizers.

Despite his ostensible squatting, his homeland Holland has embraced “Cabinet,” sending Gardner on a series of TV appearances and performances at venues that would overwhelm U.S. musicians of comparable popularity over here. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Thee Oh Sees/Empty Bottle

Garage Rock, Krautrock, Noise, Psych pop, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock No Comments »
Photo: Matías Corral

Photo: Matías Corral


Tireless San Francisco rockers Thee Oh Sees took a leisurely approach to touring on their latest album. Released back in April, “Floating Coffin” marks visionary John Dwyer’s twelfth album in ten years. Full of ambition but not hinged on direction, OCS (as the group was originally billed) began as Dwyer’s extracurricular project way back when. Several releases, some name changes, and a few band members later—the current count is five—Thee Oh Sees’ fertility has endured.

Just like on past albums, concept and cadence on “Floating Coffin” have been thrown into the woodchipper and expectorated. Or, imagine a game-show wheel with narrow pegs jutting out along the circumference of its pizza-sliced face, and the labels fuzz rock, psych-folk, psych-pop, garage, punk, noise, children’s songs and Krautrock tapering into the center. The wheel is spun and an excitement of the outcome builds, only there’s no stopping device. The wheel remains perpetually unpredictable. This is how Thee Oh Sees have proven that time, not concept, is all they need to be a truly great band. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: Rough Guide to Psychedelic Brazil

Forró, Prog-rock, Psych pop, Psychedelic, Record Reviews, Rock, World Music No Comments »


When the Beatles, the Stones and The Beach Boys started to spread the seeds of drug-addled psychedelics in the music scene in the late sixties, their influence reached musicians in South America, who reshaped and repurposed the music they heard to make it their own. One of the best-known examples of this is “Tropicalia,” a 1968 album that featured Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Tom Ze and Nara Leao. That disc launched a groundbreaking multimedia movement that resonates to this day. Sadly, there are no tracks from that album on this interesting compilation that brings together both well-known and obscure Brazilian musicians who took on the genre and mixed it with various other sounds. Many of the tracks are rare, like “Sorriso Selvagem,” a 1966 track from The Gentlemen, a northeastern Brazilian band that disappeared without a trace but that included Ze Ramalho, a highly respected artist from that country. Read the rest of this entry »

Spin Control: This is a Knife

DJ, Pop, Psych pop No Comments »

Watch out Chicago: Aussies are invading our city. In the past month, Chicago has been inundated with incredible Down Under acts including Midnight Juggernauts, Cut Copy and The Presets. Australia’s psyche-pop scene has been around for years, but for some reason the time is ripe for these bands to explode worldwide. Chums Kim Moyle and Julian Hamilton (who uncannily sounds like Paul Banks and Tom Smith from Editors) comprise Presets. The guys released the disco/dance debut, “Beams,” in 2005 and just followed it up with ‘Apocalypso,’ which exudes ethereal moments of gloom and doom and expansive dancey tracks such as the contagious single “This Boy’s In Love.” Influences range from Vangelis, Pet Shop Boys and Nirvana, but think Interpol-meets-The-Knife-meets-Culture Club.

“The set is like a DJ set in parts with the songs all mixed together,” Moyle says. “We have remixed some older songs so they have a new flavor and the energy is always sky-high. If you come to our show, you must be prepared to go crazy.” Describing its sound as “demented pop,” no wonder there’s chaos at shows. Increasing their popularity, Presets songs have been remixed by a pedigree of hot remix artists including Lifelike, Digitalism and Cut Copy. An entire remix album entitled “Resets” came out in 2006. “Apocalypso” takes the band’s signature sound to the next level.

“We just tried to make it sound more refined, more unified and generally better,” says Moyle. “That’s not to say the old album is no good, but we did try to push it a little bit. But, we never ever try too hard.” The record reached number one on the Australian charts, solidifying the duo’s newfound success. The classically trained Moyle and Hamilton are highly collaborative. “Neither of us have the last say in anything—we both have a high respect for each other, and we keep each other in check,” Hamilton remarks. “I’m happy to say I can definitely hear both of us really clearly in every song.”

The guys will be touring for the next couple of months, so new material probably won’t be on the horizon. “By the time we finished ‘Apocalypso,’ we both felt like we were only just hitting our strides as composers again,” Hamilton says. “It’s always that way though—just when it felt like we were getting back into the rhythm of writing, we finish the record and we’re back on the road again.” (Garin Pirnia)

The Presets play with Walter Meego, Comasoft and DJ Jordan Z at Abbey Pub, 3420 West Grace, (773)478-4408, on May 30 at 9pm. $15.

Copy Cats: Australia’s Cut Copy in full “Colours”

Electronic/Dance, Psych pop No Comments »

By Garin Pirnia

When the year-end accolades come out, Cut Copy’s sophomore record, “In Ghost Colours,” will most likely appear on a multitude of best-of lists. More aligned with psyche-pop than straight-up pop, the Australian trio wax nostalgic and cite influences Tangerine Dream, ELO’s “The Time” and Krautrock. Upon listening, aural flavor crystals explode as the record sounds vintage, yet completely ingenious. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: RJD2, Dalek, Happy Chichester

Hip-Hop, Pop, Psych pop No Comments »

I am not super crazy about RJD2’s last new albums, but I am glad he made them. After revitalizing the stale instrumental hip-hop genre with his 2002 debut, “Dead Ringer,” the Ohio native began moving away from the sound first with 2004’s “Since We Last Spoke” and 2007’s complete departure, “The Third Hand.” The drums still knock, but the soul samples and rappers have been replaced by a loungy, 1960s pop-psych sound and RJD2’s own light-as-air vocals, which are somewhat of an acquired taste, a taste admittedly I have yet to acquire (“The Third Hand” is also available as an instrumental). Early in his career, RJD2 was often compared to DJ Shadow. That comparison still rings true, as both artists have now delved into an original sound, hard to describe and hard to pigeonhole. Even if RJD2 falls short of making a truly great record from start to finish, he has succeeded in crafting something new, and I have a feeling RJD2 has not yet produced his masterpiece. (Michael Hirtzer)
Friday, April 18 at Abbey Pub

Review: Caribou, Fuck Buttons

Psych pop, Rock No Comments »

Dan Snaith’s glorious Caribou (formerly Manitoba) offered the winning “Andorra” (Merge) late last summer, a glowing collection of Beach Boys-inspired psych pop that later on the record transforms into a heavenly electronic instrumental parade. Snaith sings more than usual on this affair (at least during the first half), and the record benefits, as opener “Melody Day” and, later, “She’s the One,” are two of the best songs the percussionist—and math wizard—has put to tape. The pulsing live experience will have you reeling. Helping out tonight is the much-buzzed Fuck Buttons, duo Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power’s alarming noise-rock experiment. Their debut album, “Street Horrrsing,” is a wall of fuzz and noise and distorted, indecipherable vocal howling. The result? A beautifully hypnotic electro-revolution of the mind. A nightmare journey down the empty, echoing halls of a long-abandoned asylum. An after-hours creepy crawl. The last sound before rapture. (Tom Lynch)

Caribou and Fuck Buttons play April 11 at Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, at 7pm & 10pm. $10-$12.

Verge Overkill: A scorecard of sorts to review what happened to the bands from last year’s list (Rock City Ten Chicago Musical Artists on the Verge)

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Metal, Pop, Psych pop, Soul No Comments »

By Tom Lynch

The 1900s
Last fall the band released its full-length debut, “Cold & Kind,” to wildly enthusiastic reviews.

Baby Teeth
“The Simp,” Baby Teeth’s record from 2007, was a bit of a disappointment, at least compared to the goofy, but smart, debut that was 2005’s “The Baby Teeth Album.”
Read the rest of this entry »