Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Record Review: “Something Wicked” by North by North

Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDSomething Wicked by North By North

If the buy local movement has any bearing on the music industry, then it’s fair for Chicagoans to substitute the Black Keys and Jack White with North by North. The local trio’s Ray Bradbury-referencing debut is a double album; two mint-green records split between individual sleeves, in contrast to the gatefold packaging customary for a pair of LPs. Bonus points are awarded for the beautiful artwork, courtesy of guitarist/vocalist Nate Girard, despite the missing detail on the spine. The music itself owes much to the garage rock revival of the early aughts, rarely bending too far out of shape from a pop-songwriting sensibility. It may be garage rock, but this garage is clean. Read the rest of this entry »

Fast Riffs on Fast Food: The Orwells’ Race Against Time

Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Interviews, Punk, Rock No Comments »

By Rob Szypkoorwells_band_photo

On a Thursday evening in March, the green room at the Bowery Ballroom in New York is stuffed with people, but The Orwells, the band of teenage hellraisers from the suburbs of Chicago, stick out like a sore thumb. In one corner, a photographer announces to the bearded or salt-and-pepper-haired managers around him that he needs to step out to meet up with his ex-wife and son, who happen to live right down the street. In the other corner, members of The Orwells discuss Chapstick addiction, and then lead singer Mario Cuomo, aged twenty, shares pictures of longboard baby strollers on his smartphone.

There they are, the young guys. But the five members of The Orwells carry a sense of urgency that belies the number of years they have ahead of them. “Once you’re past twenty-five or something, your time in rock ‘n’ roll, if you haven’t made it then, is kind of up,” guitarist Matt O’Keefe, aged nineteen, says. “If I were twenty-five and I were living off of Wendy’s or McDonald’s, I would be very depressed with my life. But as a nineteen-year-old I couldn’t be more excited about it.” 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 »

Preview: Pony Time/Township

Garage Rock, Indie Rock, Pop Punk, Power Pop, Rock No Comments »
Pony Time 2

Photo: Sarah Creighton


Seattle garage-rock duo Pony Time first popped up on my radar about a year ago when singer/guitarist Luke Beetham was featured in The Stranger’s tongue-in-cheek “Men Who Rock” feature skewering gender stereotypes in music writing. Beetham’s willingness to poke fun at both himself and rock-bro sexism impressed me, and I was equally impressed with Pony Time’s bouncy, buzzy single “Lori + Judy.” As a two-piece, Pony Time manages to use the minimalism to their advantage with short songs that play up Stacy Peck’s pulsing drum work and Beetham’s nasal, sneering vocals, like a Fred Schneider who can actually sing. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Reigning Sound/Beat Kitchen

Garage Rock, Rock No Comments »

reigning soundRECOMMENDED

There’s not so much punk bearing down on Greg Cartwright’s Reigning Sound project. Since its inception in the early aughties, the band’s work has taken a decidedly lower-key feel than his earlier ensemble, the Oblivians. And while that Memphis institution has recently issued a new disc retaining its grimy feel, the songwriter and guitarist seems to have been able to cordon off his more rambunctious leanings. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Oblivians/Empty Bottle

Garage Rock, Punk No Comments »

07.13 Oblivians @ BottleRECOMMENDED

More than anything else, Memphis’ Oblivians are gonna be remembered for fostering a scene. Yeah, there’re some scattershot hits shuffled into the group’s discography, which now comprises four proper studio albums, a handful of low-run curios and some singles. Its latest, “Desperation,” comes off as a more lushly conceived melodic affair than in the past—one on which the spirit of the band’s beneficiaries comes to bear. There’s still an indecipherable amount of distortion on just about every note the dual-guitar act offers, and that Bo Diddley beat remains an important part of the trio’s approach, a cover of the Stones’ “Loving Cup” being an early-album example. “Call the Police” sounds like a rock ‘n’ roll song from Memphis should: Organ dominates the track as the band reels back and shoots off some easy three-chord jam. All of “Desperation” swings, and at some points recalls the group’s album accompanying Mr. Quintron. Newcomers aren’t going to find revelations, though. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Sultan Bathery/Burlington

Garage Rock, Psychedelic No Comments »


There’re so many bands massaging garage and psych tropes into an end product split into two songs, etched on wax and sold for five bucks a pop that there’s not too much reason to keep paying attention. Sure, Thee Oh Sees are going to continue spewing out records that contain at least one choice cut. But there’s still a distinct lack of genuine experimentation within the music. Psych, in its more garagey incarnations, isn’t meant to do much apart from function within a pop structure, obeying the same rules that music on the radio does. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Flying Lotus/Pitchfork Music Festival

Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Garage Rock, Hip-Hop, IDM, Pop, Rock No Comments »


With the Pitchfork Festival looking increasingly like a summertime fleecing as opposed to any sort of grand exposure to new and important music and the digital criticism machine moving its headquarters to Brooklyn, who knows how much longer this shindig will (or should) last. More importantly, how many times a year do Chicago audiences need to see Ty Segall? Apparently, at least once more. Granted, digging up acts like Olivia Tremor Control, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and exposing concert-goers to Olympia’s Milk Music is a worthwhile endeavor, but apart from those folks and A$AP Rocky, standing around hoping not to pass out from a booze-induced coma or heat exhaustion doesn’t seem like a good way to spend a day. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Jack Oblivian/Township

Garage Rock, Rock No Comments »


There are a few figures still kicking around the American underground who can and should rightly be credited as independent artists who can do just about whatever they want outside the major-label system. Over a career that’s spanned several decades, Jack Yarber has recorded in a slew of different genres, turned over garage’s rotting corpse, cranked up some party music and slowly allowed music most would associate with his Southern upbringing to flood new recordings. Beginning with the Compulsive Gamblers, which didn’t garner too much attention during its initial run in the early nineties, Yarber hooked up with Eric Friedl, a Memphis denizen and took along Greg Cartwright (The Reigning Sound) from his then-current ensemble to form the Oblivians. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Redd Kross/Empty Bottle

Festivals, Garage Rock, Hardcore, Pop Punk, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock No Comments »


HoZac’s Blackout Fest returns for another year of unrefined rock ‘n’ roll. And each evening’s headliner represents a different portion of underground weirdness: The weekend’s festivities run the gamut from psychedelia to South Bay hardcore and garage. Davila 666 sound like every other garage band you’ve heard—there are just more dudes in the group than most would find necessary, and the whole thing’s dispensed in Spanish. Read the rest of this entry »