As we close up shop on 2006, let’s look at what the year gave us, taught us and promised us for the future.
It’s become abundantly clear that Chicago has positioned itself as an indie-rock mecca for all summertime touring acts, with the highly successful Intonation Festival and Pitchfork Music Festival coming into their own, as well as Lollapalooza expanding to a daunting three-days, with more than a hundred acts. The great Touch & Go turned 25 with perhaps this summer’s best festival, which featured reunions of Big Black and Scratch Acid, along with memorable performances by Shellac, Ted Leo and Killdozer. The Tuten’s reign at Hideout turned 10 on the same weekend. Flameshovel Records has made its mark as the emerging Midwest record label, and Thrill Jockey had its hands on one of this year’s all around best records, Califone’s “Roots & Crowns,” as did Drag City with Joanna Newsom’s “Ys.”
The M’s kicked off the year with “Future Women,” the band’s follow-up to its self-titled collection EPs, and made good on that assembly’s promise—the Beatlesesque pop, never overwritten or unnecessarily complex, fills the gap between pure pop oblivion and garage-rock gruffness with gripping results, the three vocalists sparring in lovable rhythm. Likewise, Bang! Bang! offered “Decked Out,” another vamping of sexed-up party punk that’ll make you hit the dancefloor. I have a feeling that the three-piece’s brand of rock ‘n’ roll ass-kicking won’t get old or wear thin anytime soon.
Baby Teeth assisted in lightening the mood with the lo-fi “For the Heathers” EP—the upcoming full-length “The Simp” expands on the soulful rock, but adding a bit more depth. Vocalist and songwriter Abraham Levitan’s emotive release is at a contagious high. The Changes finally decided on a label —Drama Club Records—for “Today is Tonight,” as the band injected some previously released tracks (like the live delight “When I Wake”) with the new. The record takes some time to brew, but has ultimately turned into a highlight of all the local releases from the year, an eighties-pop-inspired love letter, Morrissey-like in swagger and, dare I say, Weezeresque in innocent charm. “On a String,” the second track from the album, is beautiful.
Catfish Haven and Magnolia Record Co. released similar bluesy, countrified acoustic records of downtrodden disenchantment with “Tell Me” and “Fading Trails,” respectfully. Jason Molina’s MRC, a bit more uncompromising in its despondency, continues Molina’s respected career as a top-notch songwriter and Catfish Haven’s ability to sound as if its from the sixties and still unlike anything you’ve heard is impressive and, in it’s soul, stupefying.
The 1900s arrived with the “Plume Delivery” EP and bundles and bundles of critical attention—the Velvet Underground- and Zombies-inspired sixties pop is completely infectious and inescapable (expect a full-length sometime next year, and a February residence at Schubas). Similarly, Office supplied us with “Q & A,” a delectable piece of indie-pop sweetness, fine-tuned and focused.
Bound Stems released what could be the best Chicago record of the year in “Appreciation Night,” for multiple reasons—the complex and daringly ambitious elements of the near-perfect songwriting is matched with an unrivaled recorded dedication to the city, with sound bites taken from all over the sidewalks, train stations and rock venues. On the record, Chicago is a hovering personality, an unwavering beacon. Chin Up Chin Up triumphantly returned with the gorgeous and superb “This Harness Can’t Ride Anything,” another (and successful) attempt by the band to develop further with its math-rock roots and blend into an entirely new realm of intricate and hopeful song-crafting and storytelling.
There is no end in sight for OK Go’s choreographed-dance music videos nor underachieving pop radio hits, especially if they keep getting nominated for Grammys and have their songs in Nike commercials, so I suppose it’s time to just get used to it.
The Kinsellas were hard at work (when aren’t they?) as, together, Mike and Tim put out a new Joan of Arc album in the perfectly titled “Eventually, All at Once.” Tim’s Make Believe offered its best yet in “Of Course,” a vivaciously violent and aggressive record of masterful guitar work and Kinsella’s sometimes-spastic howl and often-mumbled rant. It’ll make you sweat. With Owen’s “At Home with Owen,” Mike delivered what could be his finest effort, an honest and heartfelt string of acoustic-based songs of love lost, found, understood and feared. His increasingly intricate guitar playing, as impressive as ever, says it all.
Rise Against continued its quest to take over the world with “The Sufferer and the Witness,” a gut-punch concoction of hardcore and devilishly clever punk rock, equipped with the hit single, the ever-catchy “Ready to Fall.” Don’t be fooled by the gloss—Rise Against’s power lies in its talent, its unfettered execution and its passion.
Passion, of course, is the link between them all.