Cadien Lake James, singer-guitarist with the young Chicago garage rock band Twin Peaks, wasn’t joking last week when he tweeted: “Does anyone have a wheelchair I can adopt for pitchfork? Holla atcha boy.” Playing the first set of Pitchfork’s second day under glaring sunlight on the Green Stage, James rolled out onto the stage in a wheelchair, with one of his legs in a cast. But his apparent injury didn’t hamper Twin Peaks from rocking with its usual rambunctious energy. James’ bandmates hopped around, layering riffs on top of riffs as they played a couple of songs from their debut EP, “Sunken,” and a bunch from their forthcoming LP, “Wild Onion.” The fans gathered in front of the barricade, shook their arms in the air, ready to mosh despite the early hour. (Robert Loerzel)
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »