Getting high and setting the results to tape has worked in so many different instances that Dinosaur Jr.’s sometimes basser Lou Barlow must have had some idea he was embarking on a lasting project back in the eighties when he started issuing work under the name Sebadoh. Being removed from the Dinos only forced the songwriter to focus his bewildered efforts on his then-newer work. The creepy narrative found on “Little Man” from “The Freed Man” album summons a similar vibe as the Velvet’s “The Gift,” apart from the fact that only the latter offers anything in the way of musical ingenuity. Read the rest of this entry »
Maybe it matters how fast or slow a band plays. And maybe some intellectual reasoning behind it all makes the impulse to work in those tempos interesting. But Codeine feels like another band fondly remembered for what it meant to fans during the trio’s run during the early nineties rather than for any significant contributions to underground rock. Sure, bands and genre names crop up in the wake of the New York ensemble’s dissolution, but that doesn’t make the music too much more gripping. The pervasive downer aesthetic scrawled all over Codeine’s pair of long-players is charming in a dingy thrift-store kind of way. Read the rest of this entry »
Reframing the career Nada Surf’s survived usually goes something like this: The band had a hit, got screwed over by the recording industry, hooked up with independent labels and began issuing its strongest work. Well, that’s an appealing narrative and as accurate as anything else one might read about the New York trio. But what’s interesting about Nada Surf’s music, its perspective and how it’s all been understood by the broader culture is that the ensemble’s brief above-ground success gets tossed aside. Read the rest of this entry »
Tied to grunge in perpetuity, Seattle and the Northwest still deal in a wealth of revved-up pop music angled at punk updates. Detached from all recent Sub Pop singer-songwriter nonsense and faux-cowboy rock, the Briefs arrived around the turn of the millennium to dispense punk’s properly composed sucrose. After a few albums, the last couple on BYO, the band took a break. Pretty quickly, though, any given weekend night the Cute Lepers, a group headed by Brief’s honcho Steve E. Nix, might be found running through sets at the Comet or some other local dive. A handful of singles followed, and less than three years after the Briefs called it a day (temporarily?), “Can’t Stand Modern Music” was released.
The aural distance between the Lepers and the group that spawned it seems minimal at best. Over the course of the newer ensemble’s first album, though, a wider range of spunky Brit rock crops up; “Prove It” could pretty easily be passed off as an Elvis Costello outtake dating to 1977. “Adventure Time,” released this past spring, finds the Lepers embracing a larger ensemble sound with the inclusion of piano and sax. Read the rest of this entry »
Ditching Chicago a few decades back probably wasn’t the worst idea the Dwarves ever came up with. Relocating to the Bay Area, singer Blag Dahlia, guitarist HeWhoCanNotBeNamed, and their rock solid rhythm section found a part of the country a bit less resistant to being attired in outrageous gear while performing live. Leaving the Midwest, though, also found the band eschewing some of its more garagey inclinations. Read the rest of this entry »
Raucous and harmlessly brash, Portland’s The Thermals make the type of catchy, three-piece punk rock that had been conspicuously absent until their 2006 breakthrough “The Body, The Blood, The Machine” brought them widespread appeal. When a lot of bands used the studio to layer an infinite amount of tracks onto each mix, The Thermals reduced indie rock to its core of guitar-bass-drums-distortion, unleashing a scathing anti-Christian rant in the process. The band’s 2009 record, “Now We Can See,” unveiled a new polished pop attack, mixing downhearted lyrics, told from the point of view of a reminiscing corpse, with catchy, shout-out-loud choruses, fueled by bright guitar riffs. Lead singer Hutch Harris has a partially playful element to his voice–despite the frequently pissed-off lyrical material, his attempts at shouting will never come across as menacing, but the sincerity evident in each note will earn a listener’s respect nonetheless. (Andy Seifert)
July 5, 6:30pm, Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, Michigan and Randolph, (312)742-1168. Free.
Mountaintop removal is a process that involves the mining of a summit of a mountain through the use of heavy-duty explosives. The debris left over from the explosions is collected and dumped into the neighboring valleys, which has substantial environmental consequences. The method has been highly criticized over the years, and musicians Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore, both from Kentucky (MTR is prevalent in the Appalachians), have teamed up and made a record to bring attention to the controversial practice; “Dear Companion,” out on Sub Pop, is a thrilling chamber-folk album that deftly blends cellist Sollee’s intricate technique and guitarist/vocalist Moore’s singer-songwriter peacefulness. Opening track “Something Somewhere Sometime” is a stunner—two harmonizing male voices and an upbeat approach lead to one of the best songs of this young year. Other inclusions impress as well, like the devastating “Sweet Marie” and the lovely, brief acoustic-guitar instrumental “Wilson Creek.” “Dear Companion” is a breeze and a delight. (Tom Lynch)
Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore play March 13 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, (773)525-2508, at 10pm. $12.
The idea of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” charabanc bus traveling through the world’s strange and beautiful lands and meeting wildly idiosyncratic characters (not to mention John and George as the tour guides) was always an appealing concept to me. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what that “Magical Mystery Tour” movie was even about (Ringo’s aunt?), but it sure as hell wasn’t magical. Maybe that’s why I liked “Sea Lion,” the 2008 sophomore record from New Zealand’s The Ruby Suns, an album that at least halfway embodied the spirit of curiosity for some of the world’s quirky places and cultures. Persistent usage of distortion effects, a rickety acoustic guitar and other weird auxiliary percussion plant “Sea Lion” firmly in psych-pop territory, but along the way Ryan McPhun pens sonic odes to the places he’s visited: the Kenyan plains, the monasteries of Thailand, the mountains of New Zealand. Like many of its tribalism-influenced brethrens, The Ruby Suns can delve into sessions of boring self-indulgence, mostly involving one too many repetitions of the same melody, but those moments are too infrequent to completely dismiss the giddy joy from rest of the album. Roll up! (Andy Seifert)
October 19 at Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, (312)929-2022, at 8pm. $15.
Those who say Weezer’s 1996 record “Pinkerton” laid the groundwork for what emo was to become don’t give enough credit to Sunny Day Real Estate’s 1994 Sub Pop debut, “Diary”—the most perfectly titled record of the genre—which truly set in motion the spinning wheel of eyeliner and tear-soaked sleeves. What’s easily forgettable now is that back in the mid-nineties, “emo” wasn’t quite the derogatory term yet, and “Diary,” being the classic record that it is, still holds up as an accomplished rock record, with deep and meaty distorted guitars ravaging their way through a tornado led by Jeremy Enigk’s youthful, genuine vocals. (Both the debut and the band’s “LP2” have been re-released with bonus tracks.) The band tours now with its original lineup—Sunny Day first broke up in the middle of recording its second record—which will help remind everyone that this band essentially started a genre on an impossibly high note. That it’s been all downhill from there is hardly Sunny Day Real Estate’s fault. (Tom Lynch)
Sunny Day Real Estate plays September 24 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, (773)549-0203, at 8pm. $27.
Occasionally, bands that demand no more than a morsel of attention can be a welcoming change-up to your typical high-octane or overtly experimental indie band. Such is the appeal of Seattle-based indie-folk act Fruit Bats, headed by Eric Johnson, its only constant member, who seems more concerned with relieving my stress from a hard day’s work than creating transcendent art. On the band’s newest album, “The Ruminant Band,” Johnson and company effortlessly groove from one walking-tempo seventies-style folk-rock tune to the next, barely challenging your mind to do anything but nod along as they emulate a more southern-sounding version of The Shins. With Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-esque harmonies and a steel guitar tone that belongs in heaven, Fruit Bats have created the epitome of modern, easygoing folk, an album that shuns glory, content to be just utterly listenable. Nothing wrong with that. (Andy Seifert)
September 20-21 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, (773)525-2508, at 7pm. $12-$14.