Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Matthew Sweet/SPACE

Power Pop, Rock No Comments »


Matthew Sweet is best known for his 1991 album “Girlfriend,” that personifies a moment in nineties power pop. It still holds up in its lyrical candor and equally straightforward instrumentals that could be a textbook example of what you might hear on college radio in the early nineties. “Girlfriend” is an excellent album to revisit in its lack of pretense and general catchiness, plus the guy can really shred.

Sweet’s most recent album, “Modern Art,” maintains the angry sweetness established in “Girlfriend,” but shows more experimenting in layers and volumes, introducing previously unexplored nods toward psychedelia and folk. While this album is slightly more complicated than his previous releases, it’s still an easy listen that grows as it becomes more familiar. 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 »

Record Review: “I Hate Music” by Superchunk

Indie Rock, Pop Punk, Power Pop, Rock No Comments »


It might seem weird for Superchunk, an influential indie rock band that has released nine revered albums in twenty-four years, to title their tenth record “I Hate Music,” but time will do that. You grow older, problems get more complicated and a trip to the record store no longer really solves them.

“I hate music,” Mac McCaughan sings on the lead single, “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo.” “What is it worth? It can’t bring you back to this earth.”

If that sounds excessively pessimistic, don’t worry. In a breezy thirty-eight minutes, Superchunk delivers the catchy hooks and clever lines that have made them so great since their brilliant 1990 self-titled debut. But the band’s unique magic has always rested in their ability to blend upbeat, high-energy indie rock with down-in-the-dumps lyrics, and that duality is even more pronounced on their newest effort. Everyone in the band is growing older, well into their forties, turning this into an affair about aging. What sets this effort apart from similar works is the way the wintry theme is set to music that rocks with the rushing exuberance of youth. Read the rest of this entry »

Work-A-Day World: Punk-Power-Pop Pioneer Paul Collins Gets The Beat Back

Power Pop, Punk No Comments »

By Dave Cantor

“I was from New York, so I was a real hustler,” Paul Collins says of his past, wrangling shows for The Nerves, a West Coast pop ensemble equally indebted to sixties rock and the nascent punk scene’s jittery energy. “And I’m still a hustler.”

Collins hasn’t dealt with major label executives or high-powered promotion folks during much of his career. He didn’t while drumming in The Nerves and only needed to do so for a brief time as frontman for The Beat. So maintaining a tenacious attitude while continuing to figure out how to book international tours for his sundry projects has become a necessity. He’s had ample practice. Read the rest of this entry »

Material re-Issue: International Pop Overthrow books a reunion of the band that started it all

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Power Pop 1 Comment »

Material re-Issue: Phil Angotti, Mike Zelenko, Ted Ansani/Photo: Dennis Polkow

By Dennis Polkow

For the first time since International Pop Overthrow began back in 1998, the music festival will feature the first-ever reunion of the very group whose iconic 1991 album that the festival took its name from: Material Issue.

It has been twenty years since the Chicago power-pop trio released “International Pop Overthrow,” which was re-released on April 5 on Hip-O Select as a twentieth-anniversary edition. In addition to a remastered version of the original album and a booklet of rare photos and a lengthy band retrospective and appreciation, also included are six of the eight non-album tracks that appeared on the 1991 promo-only disc “Eleven Supersonic Hit Explosions,” the 1988 track “Sixteen Tambourines” and the unreleased “The Girl With the Saddest Eyes.” Bonus tracks include Material Issue covers of songs by Sweet (”Blockbuster”), Thin Lizzy (”Cowboy Song”) and Simon & Garfunkel (“The Boxer”).

The IPO music festival, which began two years after the 1996 suicide of Material Issue frontman Jim Ellison that abruptly ended the band, could scarcely have foreseen actually booking a reunion of surviving members bassist and vocalist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko. The duo are reuniting as Material re-Issue for an April 23 one-time-only live performance of the complete “International Pop Overthrow” album with singer-guitarist and Ellison friend Phil Angotti.

“I didn’t play the drums for an entire year after Jim died,” says Zelenko, preparing for a band rehearsal at a Wicker Park music store. “It was such a shock, and it took me about five years to really come to terms with it. The band had been together for ten years, we had come of age together. In those last days, I spent a lot of time with Jim, and knew that he was down, but still, you don’t expect something like this.” Ansani agrees. “Yes, the band had its ups and downs, disagreements and fights, like any band does, but so what? We would have recovered.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The New Pornographers

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When Carl Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar and the Canadian power-pop heroes The New Pornographers released their last album, the subdued, moody “Challengers,” the common quote among critics was “it’s a grower,” as in one of those albums that require multiple listens, preferably on vinyl with a solitary candle lit. Well, it’s been eight months, and “Challengers” should have suitably “grown” on you by now, as it’s easily their most introspective, most challenging (no pun intended) group of songs to date, with numerous memorable ballads (“Go Places,” “The Spirit of Giving,” “Unguided”) to complement their blazing, Spanish techno-heavy catalogue. The stylistic change in “Challengers” ultimately represents an effort to capture long-term artistic success, to avoid being a one-trick pony, no matter how freaking awesome that one trick was. You can’t make the same album over and over again and expect to be successful…unless you’re AC/DC. (Andy Seifert)
Sunday, April 20 at Riviera Theatre

Preview: The Lemonheads

Power Pop No Comments »


Last year, The Lemonheads came back with a punk-legend lineup, a louder sound and a new home alongside power-pop brethren at Vagrant Records. This eighth Lemonheads installation isn’t the stuff you branded onto mixtapes in your adolescence; it’s much, much louder. How loud is it? Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis plays on two tracks—it’s that loud. This tour features Bill Stevenson, the seminal drummer behind the Descendents and Black Flag, beating the hell out of the skins while Descendents bassist Karl Alvarez keeps the rhythm going. Both musicians played on the self-titled Vagrant release, but didn’t join Dando on the road for the ten-month tour that followed. Having the studio musicians on board this time around means that the double shows at the Double Door are not to be missed. If that’s not enough to get excited about, Dando recently announced that a new album is on the way, along with a reissue of 1992’s “It’s a Shame About Ray,” hopefully an indication that the Lemonheads are back for good. (K. Tighe)

Tuesday, December 11 at Double Door