Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Speedy Ortiz/Empty Bottle

Alt-Rock, Indie Rock No Comments »


With plenty of nods to Pavement and other nineties alt-rock greats, the Massachusetts four-piece Speedy Ortiz stakes out its own territory on the merit of its whip-smart lyrics and eschewing of self-seriousness. The band self-identifies as part of the “snack rock” genre, and the quartet’s LiveJournal (the very existence of which is a bit offbeat) documents their life on the road with each post featuring a “pup of the day.” Put together, this might be the perfect setup for an eye-roll, if not for Sadie Dupuis’ knack for poetic songwriting and Speedy Ortiz’s gleefully wandering arrangements heavy on distortion but anchored by catchy, knotty hooks. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The War on Drugs/Metro

Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »


The road is an elegant, shimmering place—always free and steady and pretty—in the hands of The War on Drugs. Gloss is a good sound for lead man Adam Granduciel, whose evocations of Springsteen offer a yearning that’s often absent in his previous work behind Kurt Vile, the zen-master of indie rock, as one of his backing band, the Violators. We are drifting and capable of pain throughout “Lost in the Dream,” the outfit’s latest LP. It is an assurance that a certain type of barn-burner still exists; that the Rust Belt is still packed border-to-border full of romantics who can’t aim their heart the right way; who smolder away against the weight of dead hopes. The album chugs along with the urge to blaze through the threshers of time and humanity, insistent in its sincere attention to the perfectly emotional guitar solo—the antidote to any moment. An insane optimism; my favorite kind of schmaltz. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Clearance/Empty Bottle

Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »


Easy tunes at an easy tempo for Chicago’s Clearance draws clear comparisons to Sebadoh and Pavement, a carefree joy spread over the four (and a half) tracks that comprise their debut seven-inch. Equal parts melodic and nostalgic, “Dixie Motel Two-Step” announces the arrival of a band with little regard for overt rockism, guitar solos kept at a minimum, chunky chords slathered atop rumbling rhythms, an effortless effort if there ever was one. Which isn’t to deny the craft of these young men; it takes a certain cool calm demeanor for Mike Bellis to deliver lines like “I heard you been hung up on the wrong advice / but if it don’t work once, make sure you do it twice,” and not cop to the wry sense of self cultivated by an entire generation of lo-fi indie loyalists. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Los Campesinos!/Metro

Indie Rock, Pop, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »


“No Blues,” the deceptively-titled fourth album from Welsh sextet Los Campesinos!, is actually bursting with blues: there’s tons of death here, double-shots of depression and lines about wearing a dude’s head like a hood. No blues? Whatever you say.

The first album by Los Campesinos!, “Hold On Now, Youngster” (2008), was as energetic as a puppy and about half as dark. With manic hooks, bedroom synths, and the sugary call-and-response vocal pairing of Gareth and Aleksandra Campesinos!, the album was arguably the last great twee record of the aughts. Try and listen to “Death to Los Campesinos!” or “You! Me! Dancing!”–two indie-pop classics, by now–without actually dancing. Go on. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Tim Kinsella sings the songs of Marvin Tate by LeRoy Bach featuring Angel Olsen”

Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Record Reviews, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Tim Kinsella helms Joan of Arc, LeRoy Bach was with Wilco at their creative peak, Angel Olsen is on the cusp of indie stardom, but Marvin Tate? Who is Marvin Tate? The man responsible for writing each of these thirteen songs is the least known of the otherwise reputable quartet. Somewhere in the cracks between his race-exploring appearance on “This American Life,” his freakness embrace on Def Poetry, and his semi-regular outings as bandleader of early Funkadelic infused D-Settlement, Marvin Tate is too many things to distill. To be sure, he’s a Chicagoan, just like everyone else on this release, save Olsen who has fled the city to foster a career in the ascendant. Apart from Tate’s stated résumé, his work has yet to break the art world open, but such is the fate of the self-proclaimed poet. Where Tate disregards rhyming in verse, he favors the brutality of truth, which sits well with Kinsella. Read the rest of this entry »

Celestial Celebration: Ken Camden on Kranky’s Twentieth

Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop No Comments »
Ken Camden

Ken Camden

By Kenneth Preski

Kranky is the most high-profile, under the radar record label that calls Chicago home. For the past twenty years, founder Joel Leoschke has fostered a stable of uncompromising, unpretentious artists whose work may have gone unreleased were it not for his uncanny knack for curation. The thread drawing together outfits as disparate as Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid has united musicians worldwide under one umbrella: part ambient, part electronic, part black earth rock ‘n’ roll. And “Black Earth” might be the best description available for the abstract sound Leoschke is after. As the title of local quartet Implodes’ full-length debut suggests, there’s an engrossing mysticism at work in much of the Kranky repertoire. The solo recordings of Implodes’ guitarist Ken Camden echoes this boundless energy, but even he is quick to acknowledge the fleeting nature of his alchemy, and his hesitancy to share it.

“I’ve always been making recordings at home and stuff, but I’m kinda bashful and wasn’t about to slip [Leoschke] a tape or anything.”

Cajoling artists of this ilk is an elusive art form, something Leoschke has perfected. Somehow he’s managed to cater to the cagey, artists wise enough to avoid making a deal when they needn’t, musicians hungry for harmony on a cosmic scale rather than the fleeting fame offered by superficial scenesters. Art of this kind often has a unique origin story. Read the rest of this entry »

New Horse: Tim Midyett of Silkworm Breaks in Bottomless Pit

Blues, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, Post-punk, Rock No Comments »
Clockwise from Left: Andy Cohen, Tim Midyett, Brian Orchard, Chris Manfrin

Clockwise from left: Andy Cohen, Tim Midyett, Brian Orchard, and Chris Manfrin.

By Kenneth Preski

“The only reason Bottomless Pit exists is because Michael died.”

From the impetus for creativity in the face of insularity, to the soft underbelly of Steve Albini’s legacy, a conversation with Tim Midyett eight years since his hiatus from interviews offers a remarkable entry point for insight into contemporary American artistic expression; though it is clear that the discussion about his post-Silkworm work with Bottomless Pit can only begin one way, and that’s by confronting the death of former bandmate Michael Dahlquist. A few months shy of his fortieth birthday, Silkworm drummer Dahlquist was one of three musicians killed while idling at an intersection in Skokie. Their vehicle was struck by a Ford Mustang traveling 90mph down West Dempster around noon on a Thursday, the wheel helmed by a suicidal twenty-three-year-old woman. Her only injury was a broken ankle. She was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, later reduced to reckless homicide by reason of insanity. She spent four years in prison for the crime.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say about that, but I had a lot to say about it, and I wanted it to be real specific, and exactly the way I wanted to say it. All that stuff came out in our records.” 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: Jenny Hval/Empty Bottle

Experimental, Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »


For all the heady continental philosophy references to Hegel and Foucault that pervade Jenny Hval’s latest effort, “Innocence Is Kinky,” nothing strikes the listener more than how beautifully she can sing about watching internet pornography. Yet the shock of her subject matter is undercut by the complexity of her musical arrangements, handled here by PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, a compelling mix of Hval’s vocal delicacy cut up by her guitar’s angular aggression. Though the LP’s ambition is unparalleled in the genre, make no mistake: the album at hand remains firmly indie-rock oriented. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Riot Fest/Humboldt Park

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Emo, Festivals, Hardcore, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Pop Punk, Punk, Rap, Rock No Comments »


Thirteen concurrent thoughts that afflict the bystander of a bus advertisement featuring this year’s Riot Fest lineup: I had no idea The Replacements got back together. Can you imagine how many kids will be singing along to Fall Out Boy and Blink-182? Can you imagine how many of their parents will be singing along to the Violent Femmes? Even without Kim Deal, I don’t think I can see the Pixies enough. What I wouldn’t do to see Debbie Harry duet with Danzig. It’s possible that Guided By Voices have written enough songs for at least one to appeal to every single person on the planet. Flavor Flav of Public Enemy may be the greatest reality television star who ever lived. One of the two Black Flag reunion bands is playing, and so is X, making this one of the best punk shows of the year. If you substitute Brand New and Taking Back Sunday in their place, the same can be said about emo. In fact, local pop punk bands popular in the 1990s are so well represented by the likes of Screeching Weasel, Smoking Popes, The Broadways and The Lawrence Arms, as to lend the festival an air of well-honed sophistication. Read the rest of this entry »