Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Spins: Surpassing Singer-Songwriters Little Dave Merriman and Daniel Knox

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Prog-rock, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »

cover copy
By Robert Rodi

It’s hard to imagine it now, but a mere fifty years ago there were very few singer-songwriters beyond the folk milieu. Bob Dylan was still a relatively new phenomenon, and he not only owned the genre, he pretty much was the genre. These days, of course, you can’t swing a dead cat without thwacking half a dozen guitar-slinging bards (while Dylan, go figure, is covering Sinatra). On any given night, in clubs and pubs across America, countless brave-hearted balladeers climb atop stools and compete for the attention of the congenitally inattentive. And people say stand-up comedy is rough; try breaking through the noise of a bar in full clamor when you’re warbling about your last big breakup.

But, here’s the thing: a lot of these troubadours are pretty freaking fine. And in Chicago, I’m happy to report, we’ve got more than our fair share of them. A pair of recent releases prove my point: they’re both melodically original and lyrically ingenious, yet each one is a standout original.

Little Dave Merriman has long been a fixture on the scene, chiefly as a guitarist and vocalist for The Arrivals. “Odd Bird” is his first solo album—and when I say solo, I’m being almost entirely literal. He not only wrote all the tunes, he plays nearly every instrument as well. And these aren’t breathy, spare arrangements either; they’re full-throttle rock-band material—the better to support Merriman’s raggedly bravura, another-whiskey-will-kill-me-but-so-what vocals. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: The Best of 2014? Possibly Yet to Come

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Holiday Music, Indie Rock, Interviews, Live Reviews, Metal, Prog-rock, R&B, Rock, Shoegaze, Soul, Space Pop No Comments »

Forgotten Species

By Keidra Chaney

Here we are at the end of the year, and while most music journalists will inflict their top-ten bands/albums/live shows of 2014 lists on their readers, I’ve decided to spare you. There’s still enough time, after all, to catch the best show of the year, or even check out a new band or album that might be your favorite. There have been two or three times that my favorite concert of a given year took place during the last six weeks on the calendar (I’m looking at you, St Vincent!). This is especially true with the holidays approaching; Chicago is fond of its Christmas and pre-New Year’s live music showcases and events. Either way, there’s still a lot going on in the city when it comes to live music. Here are a few standouts.

The Empty Bottle (1035 North Western) is all up in Christmas this month, with a whole slew of Christmas and Christmas-ish events to celebrate the holiday. On December 12, they’re throwing their second annual Bottle Hop to raise money for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It’s an old-school rock ‘n’ roll/soul/R&B shindig, which makes it a perfect opportunity to dress kinda fancy. The lineup includes badass throwback soul band The Congregation (on the verge of very big things, I predict), fifties rockers The Tenders and western swing outfit The Chandelier Swingers. The show is $10 and starts at 9pm.

A week later, on December 19, space-y collaboration Quarter Mile Thunder throws a “Xmas psych party” (which also doubles as an album release party) with the Record Low. The following night features holiday-themed Chicago supergroup Snow Angels (comprising members of Mannequin Men, Johnny and The Limelites, Vee Dee and Automatic Stinging Machines), who reconvene for their annual holiday performance; they say it’s been twelve years since they started.

If that’s too much live music for you, the Bottle also hosts a pair of lunch-hour events in time for Christmas shopping: a poster sale on December 14 and a pop-up holiday market on December 20. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Goblin/Metro

Experimental, Prog-rock No Comments »

10.13 Goblin @ MetroIf there’re folks who sit down and listen to a Goblin album from beginning to end, bless ’em. For the most part, the Italian prog ensemble trucks in truncated soundtrack stuffs best suited to murder scenes and creeping ghouls. Hooking up with the culty Dario Argento for his best-known works, the band earned acclaim in its own country immediately, seeping out slowly into the rest of the world’s consciousness as the director’s “Suspiria” became requisite viewing for film enthusiasts. Thing is, when listening to the soundtrack as a whole, quick transitions meant to signal something visual are left flailing on their own—“Black Forest” and its jazz-cum-rock guitar jam included. No doubt, these dudes shred, but if shredding is all it took for a performer to be enticing, we’d all be psyched for some new Yngwie Malmsteen (Sorry, Yngwie.). Read the rest of this entry »

Persistent Vision: Psychedelic Progenitor Dave Brock Breezes in with Hawkwind

Experimental, Prog-rock, Psychedelic, Rock No Comments »
Dave Law_hawkwind1

Photo: Dave Law

By Dave Cantor

Maybe there are better known and better respected heavy psych bands out there, but none with as persistent a vision as Britain’s Hawkwind.

The ensemble has counted dozens of participants, with guitarist and songwriter Dave Brock being the most constant stimulus to recording and touring since 1969. Despite the frequent turnover, Hawkwind has attached itself to a sound equal parts komische and UK psychedelia. Other bands continue to mine the troupe’s approach for inspiration, but Brock and company remain a singular entity among festival freaks and would-be psychedelic cultists.

Hawkwind’s 1975 “Warrior on the Edge of Time” is ready for re-release after spending nearly a decade out of print. While the band’s only chart success came several years earlier, on a track helmed by future Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, “Warrior” exudes sci-fi weirdness and wild riffing tantamount to anything Sabbath was capable of. Maybe all the supplemental electronics were a bit much at the time of its release, but the up-and-down sprint of “Opa-Loka” should be heavy enough for anyone with a reserved appreciation for synthesizers. 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 »

Preview: Frankie Rose/Township

Garage Rock, Prog-rock No Comments »


Successes in a vast array of the new millennium’s bigger garage groups only emboldened drummer-turned-frontwoman Frankie Rose. Her 2010 solo outing skirted around the periphery of the genre she’s most associated with, as tunes like “Must Be Nice” sound like it should be decaying on the b-side of a late-sixties single in your parent’s basement. Working with the same music on so many different projects, though, must have become tiresome. Rose’s new disc, “Interstellar,” discards her past, leaving sixteenth-note floor tom beats behind. There’s a difference between sounding cool and sounding icy. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Battles/Lincoln Hall

Prog-rock No Comments »


There’s an act—Captured! By Robots—in which a principal player built a few robots to perform musical gestures. Instead of the end result approaching the magnificence of robots playing robotic-sounding rock tunes, it’s just a punk derivation. Battles, a New York City ensemble wheedled down to three members since Tyondai Braxton’s departure, actually sounds like robots composing and enacting those writings. Instead of a cold “2001” feel to the proceedings, the band peppers its mechanical-sounding works with a repetitious smattering of vocals, which in the past were contributed by band members.

While the group’s forthcoming “Gloss Drop” (Warp Records) was recorded with Braxton in tow, he jumped shipped near its completion. Forced to reassess not just the tracks which were laid down, but Battles as a whole, the remaining members opted to rework the songs they’d set to tape and invite a handful of vocalists to fill in any spaces vacated by Braxton’s wide-reaching musicianship. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Moldover/Darkroom

Chicago Artists, DJ, Electro, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, House, Industrial, Metal, Noise, Prog-rock, Punk, Techno No Comments »


Simultaneously garnering props from music industry hotshots and technology aficionados, Moldover’s 2009 debut album was more than an Internet flashpoint, it fostered the growth of a paradigm shift in live electronic stage acts: controllerism. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a dysfunctional MacBook, Moldover’s work catapults the stoic, laptop-based events of years past into a new era of rockstar idolatry, with the software controller in the driver’s seat. An unmistakable rock influence pervades his musical efforts, which deftly run the gamut from rapid, techno-fused breakbeats to glitch-inspired funk. Moldover will be supported by the DJ skills of Chicago favorites Striz, Magpie and Duke Shin. (John Alex Colón)

March 11 at Darkroom, 2210 West Chicago, 9pm, free before 10pm, $6 after.

Preview: Deerhoof/Bottom Lounge

Prog-rock, Psychedelic No Comments »

Photo: Richard Saunier


While the title of Deerhoof’s latest album, “Deerhoof Vs. Evil,” seems a little bombastic, even overreaching, after more than fifteen years of making a living selling a skewed songbook that would challenge even the coolest of cool dads to sit still for a listen, maybe they’re worthy of it. The San Francisco quartet, which combines toy-pop and prog-rock with an ear for the psychedelic, is probably most easily recognized by the affect-less trilling of Tokyo native Satomi Matsuzaki. The record definitely marks the gradual mellowing of the group’s oeuvre, and yet, for that, a more rich complexion of musical style’s at play. In the track “Secret Mobilization” alone, a beefy roadhouse-rock guitar line pairs off against a kind of motorik, cool-jazz cowbell and featherweight electric organ before running into a clean guitar chik-a-chik suggesting disco. The group gets major credit for deliberately leaking the entire album, a track at a time, via various online outlets in the run-up to its release, a gesture of confidence in an era of transparent music marketing. And while the album won’t topple any dictatorial regimes (unless we’ve greatly misjudged the sources of revolution in Egypt), there is a certain kind of evil in the blandness of mainstream indie fare which Deerhoof’s intransigent songwriting valiantly defies. (David Wicik)

February 15 at Bottom Lounge, 1375 West Lake, (312)666-6775, 8pm. $15. 17+.

Preview: Ours

Prog-rock No Comments »

When a band finds itself stumped, frustrated and unable to reached its desired artistic apex, there’s only one reasonable solution: call Rick Rubin. The legendary bearded guru of meditation and nap-taking was ready to go when asked to produce Ours’ fourth full-length, “Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy).” This time around, the New Jersey prog-rockers delivered an album destined to convince a lot of people they’re from British Isles. Melodrama and layers of strings are heaped on like a U2 ballad (not to mention the Edge’s signature delay-filled guitar timbre), while frontman Jimmy Gnecco quite blatantly channels “Bends”-era Thom Yorke when singing lines like, “Life doesn’t have any meaning, everything’s a joke.” Rubin usually either brings out the best or the worst in a band, but “Mercy …,” sonically unblemished but disappointingly derivative, defies that trend. (Andy Seifert)
Monday, June 9 at Martyrs