Faronheit | A Chicago Centric Music Blog

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Category: class of 2013 (Page 1 of 2)

Class of 2013: A Look Back


When I first announced the artists that would be part of my Class of 2013, I basically promised that it would be even better than my Class of 2012. You could say that I had high hopes for all of these ten artists, and much to my chagrin, they actually delivered this year. There was plenty of action to be found, and plenty of profiles raised to new heights of popularity and stardom. It’s amazing to think that not only did virtually everyone improve their stature in the music world, but about half of them released full lengths that made my Top 50 Albums of 2013 list, not to mention many others’. In short, I’m exceptionally proud of the work all of these artists did over the last year, and invite you to join me now for a quick recap of what they did across 2013.

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Listmas 2013: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#10-1]


And just like that, we’ve reached the end of our Top 50 Albums countdown journey. It’s been interesting and a whole lot of fun to put together, and I sincerely hope that you’ve enjoyed this and the other Listmas entries that have helped to wrap up 2013 and start 2014. This has extended far later than I wanted it to go, and all the delays are due to a variety of factors that I don’t care to get into, but at this point I’m just glad we made it. Thank you for bearing with me, and I hope we can still be friends after this. In case you missed anything from this year’s Listmas, let me give you a quick rundown and direct links to the many posts that took over the site in December and this early part of January.

Previously on the Top 50 Albums of 2013:
Part I [#50-41]
Part II [#40-31]
Part III [#30-21]
Part IV [#20-11]

The Top 50 Songs of 2013:
Part I [#50-41]
Part II [#40-31]
Part III [#30-21]
Part IV [#20-11]
Part V [#10-1]

So here they are, my Top 10 Albums of 2013. I genuinely love each and every one of the records listed below, and strongly recommend that you give them a listen or buy copies of them should you have the chance. These albums also make up a great snapshot of 2013, featuring a wide variety of music styles and genres that I don’t want to hint at. Just take it all in after the jump, and by all means enjoy to the fullest extent allowed. Thanks! Drumroll please…

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Listmas 2013: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#20-11]


We’ve hit the home stretch, my friends. Time to count your blessings and prepare for the end…of this countdown, which will be coming soon. In the meantime though, here’s the next set of ten albums in this Top 50 Albums of 2013 countdown. In case you missed the first few entries, let me help you out with links to those:
Part I [#50-41]
Part II [#40-31]
Part III [#30-21]

It’s been a lot of fun so far, and there’s a lot more fun still on the way. In today’s set, you’ll find a few psychedelic and experimental pop records, along with small touches of electronica and hip hop. Join me after the jump for #20-11. I hope you enjoy them!

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Listmas 2013: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#50-41]


This is the big one. Welcome to Faronheit’s Top 50 Albums of 2013 countdown! Over the next few days, I’ll be revealing my unveiling the full list, 10 albums at a time. We do this every year, and it’s always an adventure. Things are running just a little bit behind schedule at the moment, as I’d hoped to have this up before Christmas, but I appreciate your patience and promise to have everything posted before the end of the year. Did you happen to catch my Top 50 Songs of 2013 list from earlier this month? In case you missed it, all of those posts can be found simply by clicking this link. While I’m always excited to share tracks with you, as evidenced by the daily Pick Your Poison posts, albums hold a special place in my heart. This site was started with the intention of writing long form album reviews, and unfortunately in 2013 strayed further away from that than ever. A combination of factors, from having a really busy schedule to endless amounts of writing and rewriting to bouts of writer’s block prevented me from cranking out more than a few album reviews each month. It’s something I have a strong desire to get back to however, so that’s going to be a primary goal for 2014. As things stand now, all 50 of the albums in this countdown have short paragraph mini reviews to go along with them, so in a sense I’m packing a year’s worth into just a few entries. I hope you enjoy them, and maybe even discover some great records that you missed from this past year. Let’s get started then, shall we? Follow me after the jump for the first set of ten albums, with #50-41!

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Listmas 2013: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#10-1]

We’ve finally made it to the grand finale of this Top 50 Songs list for 2013. It’s been a wild and fun ride, and I hope you’ve had the chance to go through this full list and discover some songs you may not have heard before. A few shopkeeping notes I’d like to take care of as we wrap this list up. First, next week will mark the beginning of the Top 50 Albums of 2013 list, which is something I promise you won’t want to miss. Secondly, there will be an addendum post that will be up on the site sometime between Christmas and New Year’s which will be called “The Best of the Rest.” In a nutshell, that will contain 50 more songs that I loved from 2013 that failed to make this list, plus a few other small lists dealing with other music-related topics. So call that a Listmas bonus. Lastly, in case you missed any of the other parts of this Top 50 Songs countdown, let me point you in the right direction with some links:

Part I [#50-41]
Part II [#40-31]
Part III [#30-21]
Part IV [#20-11]

A couple of quick stats about the songs featured below. It’s a 50-50 split between male and female vocalists. There is one hip hop track, two tracks by electronica artists, three tracks featuring guest vocalists (if you count David Bowie), and a wbole lot of incredibly addictive hooks. Now if you’ll join me after the jump, here are my 10 favorite songs that appeared on records released in 2013.

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Listmas 2013: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#20-11]


At this point in the Top 50 Songs countdown, we’re getting into the real meat and potatoes of 2013 music. Looking at the choices that were made below and really across the entirety of this list, what surprises me the most is how different it is compared to my Top 50 Albums list (coming next week!). In the past that’s typically not been the case, however those lists were largely drawn up from memory. This year, I decided to keep track of all the notable songs and singles I heard, and there are two Spotify playlists to help prove it. The first playlist covers the first six months of the year, while the second playlist covers the second six months. Most of the songs that appear on this list were also on those playlists. By being proactive and keeping up with the tracks I really loved, it was far easier to decide on my Top 50 Songs. So I sincerely hope you’re enjoying the countdown so far, and the eclectic mix of styles and genres that come along with it. In case you missed the earlier parts of this list, just go straight to these links:
Part I [#50-41]
Part II [#40-31]
Part III [#30-21]

And now let’s get into Part IV. This set of ten tracks features a handful of rock bands, a genuine pop superstar, and light brushes of R&B and synth pop. If you think that’s eclectic, just wait until the final ten songs, which will be up tomorrow! Until then, please enjoy #20-11.

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Album Review: Haim – Days Are Gone [Columbia/Polydor]



They were bred for this. Well, maybe they were. Somebody ask their parents about that. One thing is for sure though – the three sisters that make up the band Haim have been making music from the very first moment they were able to. It’s certainly no coincidence that each of them plays a different instrument too: Danielle is lead guitar, Este is on bass, and Alana does keyboards/synths. Danielle and Este spent their late teens as part of a cut-and-paste major label band called Valli Girls, where they performed a bunch of songs written by a team of professionals intent on marketing to tweens and teens. Generally disappointed with playing a bunch of songs they didn’t write or necessarily like, the two Haim sisters left the band and went Partridge, complete with mom on lead vocals and dad behind the drum kit. Covers were their specialty, diving into the songbooks of everyone from Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac to Shania Twain and R&B legend Wilson Pickett. Of course it’s tough to make a living as a cover band, let alone a family cover band, and there comes a time in every parent’s life when they need to shove their babies out of the nest and let them try to fly on their own. And so we have Haim in their current incarnation, complete with long-time session drummer Dash Hutton to add percussion into the mix.

The buzz began in early 2012 when the single “Forever” was released as part of a three song EP, which along with some heavily hyped performances at SXSW got them a record deal. Their sound is best classified as a mixture of their influences, largely stemming from their upbringing and cover songs played with their parents. Fleetwood Mac is the name that gets referenced most often, however it’s most apt to say that they’ve got the late 80’s/early 90’s soft pop sound on lock, with dashes of R&B thrown in for good measure. Think Phil Collins and Richard Marx mixed with En Vogue and Kate Bush, and that should give you a decent impression of where they’re coming from. Those names might raise a lot of red flags or conjure bad memories, and there’s the inclination to suspect that they’re really just exploring those genres out of complete irony, however there’s extreme sincerity in every single thing they do. That’s really what sells the listener on the idea and earns the band the right sort of attention and respect in spite of all other factors. The new twists on old familiar sounds are also what make their songs seem very “of the moment.” For example, you could easily say that their latest single “The Wire” is a natural blend of the most classic periods of Shania Twain and The Eagles. Beyond that sonic comparison, the addition of each sister taking their own verse plus those dynamic harmonies really helps to elevate it to a “song of the year”-type status. Make previously strong singles “Falling” and “Forever” your lead-ins, and the start of their debut album Days Are Gone turns into a 1-2-3 knockout punch combo.

Of course it definitely doesn’t end there, in spite of the record’s apparent front-loading. Time and time again, Haim prove that they know their way around a chorus, and that they are happy to exploit or break away from genre conventions whenever it suits their needs. The album’s title track, kicking off the second half of the record, appears to mine a bit from the more urban pop era of Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul, and works out better than you might expect. It’s no wonder the song was co-written by Jessie Ware, who has largely taken over where Jackson and Abdul once reigned. While press materials will tell you that there’s a bit of an R&B influence in Haim’s sound, it doesn’t really show up too often. When it does though, as on “Let Me Go” and “My Song 5,” it adds a deeper layer to what the band is capable of, and makes for some of the most impressive moments on the album. Both songs could be considered an homage to En Vogue, though only “My Song 5” and it’s heavy bass drum/tuba blare truly sets itself apart from the rest of the album. And that’s perfectly fine – most records could use such a great standout. Yet one of the most fascinating things about Days Are Gone is how it manages to unite all of the disparate elements and influences into one cohesive whole of an album. Credit goes to producer du jour Ariel Rechtshaid (Vampire Weekend, Usher) for finding a way to make it work, and to Haim for never sounding anything less than original in spite of obvious nods to the past.

If Days Are Gone has a real weakness, it’s found in the lyrics, which often attempt to turn a breezy melody into something dark and “important.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with wanting to write about serious issues against a lighthearted pop melody – artists do that all the time. Plus, it’s not like half of their songs are about depression, even though a few are about breakups and the fallout afterwards. Then again, “The Wire” is just about the most upbeat and kind song about the ending of a relationship that you’ll find these days. Where the issues emerge are in the words themselves, and not the topics. While the record has its fair share of creative wordplay, a close look at the lyrical content of most songs unveils a pattern of generalizations and bland phrasing that doesn’t hold up so well under scrutiny. All things considered, calling attention to such an issue given what Haim is out to accomplish can be viewed as petty and nitpicky, which is why it might be best to simply sit back, relax and let the melodies and hooks take you away. That is, essentially, what the sisters are doing on their album cover anyways.

Those in search of something different or innovative in a band probably won’t find Haim and Days Are Gone to their liking. What you do get from this record is a collection of strongly composed and confident songs that grab your attention and refuse to let go. Coming straight out of the gate with such excellence and precision is rather impressive, even if these sisters have been playing music since they became old enough to hold instruments in their hands. This is definitely something they’ve been building towards, and for all practical purposes they knock it out of the park.

Haim – The Wire

Haim – Falling

Buy Days Are Gone from Amazon

Album Review: AlunaGeorge – Body Music [Vagrant/Island]



Some artists just really like to make you wait. You’ll hear an incredible single from them one week, a second single six months later, and then the debut full length finally arrives after about two long years of being patient. One of the more recent examples of this can be seen in Purity Ring, who released a couple of songs at the start of 2011 but didn’t get around to an album until a record deal was firmly in place more than a year and a half later. The most recent victims of this extended period of limbo are London duo AlunaGeorge. Aluna Francis and George Reed first got together and unleashed the single “You Know You Like It” in August of 2011, yet after a long period of label negotiations and stopgap singles it took until July 2013 to get their debut Body Music out into the world. There’s that initial wave of relief if you’ve had your patience tested from the beginning, followed by the inevitable question, “Was it really worth the wait?” It’s one thing to be a band like My Bloody Valentine with an established career and heightened expectations that allow you to delay your next album for 20+ years, but when you’re a brand new act without much more than a couple songs attached to your name, time is never on your side no matter how long you want to take perfecting that first big statement.

At their core, AlunaGeorge are essentially a nostalgia act with a modern-day twist. Both Francis and Reed grew up in the ’90s, and are now taking the pop and R&B stylings from their formative years and warping them ever so slightly for a modern audience. But that’s been a cycle for a long time now, and the popularity of these acts is often dependent on what the cultural zeitgeist happens to be at the time. Perhaps AlunaGeorge were right to wait a couple years before releasing Body Music, since their sound is much more in vogue now than it was when they first started. Still, you’ve also got to think that any group that displays the sort of talent that they do on their debut would attract attention no matter when it was released.

One of the odder things about Body Music is it’s opening track “Outlines.” The song itself isn’t odd or even bad by any means, but its placement is what’s striking about it. It’s a slow and rather emotional ballad in a spot typically reserved for an energetic hook-filled track that engages with the listener and provides incentive to keep going. After all, in R&B the blues always gets second billing next to rhythm. In this case though, rhythm arrives on track two thanks to the bouncy beats and memorable chorus of their very first single, “You Know You Like It.” The album quickly shifts into overdrive by backing that up with two more insanely good singles in “Attracting Flies” and “Your Drums, Your Love.” In fact, one of the biggest problems this record has is an overabundance of bouncy, fun and catchy tracks. With so many hooks and dynamic moments, it becomes difficult to let anything sink in because the next thing hits just as hard. But while it can feel like one whitewashed groove after another, particularly towards the end of the record, perhaps that lends it some great replay value. In that sense, you can learn to better appreciate the racing “Lost and Found” or the helium-synth on “Just A Touch.”

While the idea of giving fans the most for their money (and long wait) might make sense to a degree, Body Music actually suffers due to a little bit of overindulgence and bloating. At 14 tracks and just over 50 minutes, you wind up worn down and have to drag yourself through those last 10 minutes. There is nothing particularly worthwhile or great about the ballad “Friends to Lovers,” and the “bonus track” cover of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” serves mainly as a reminder of how well done the original version is. Both could have been chopped off the album like a diseased limb, and we would have been better off for it. Yet other than that relatively minor issue of excess, there’s not a whole lot else wrong with the album. Francis and Reed both prove their worth and have rendered a slick (occasionally to a fault) debut that’s almost exactly what you’d want from them. The problem with giving people what they want though is that an increased set of expectations goes along with it. They stick to the formula and prove to be especially adept with it, but next time had better include some innovation, experimentation and a general evolution beyond where they’re currently at. It’s only through that approach that they’ll be able to prove themselves to be more than just a momentary flash in the pan.

Buy Body Music from Amazon

Stream 90 second clips of the entire album after the jump!

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Lollapalooza 2013: Saturday Recap


After what was a pleasant and somewhat inspiring first day of Lollapalooza, Saturday was supposed to be the “big one.” When single day tickets went on sale a few months ago, Saturday was the first to sell out, and almost immediately. What was its biggest selling point? Mumford & Sons, probably. And maybe a little help from The Lumineers. I had a feeling the crowds were going to be huge for both bands, and I only moderately like them, so naturally I avoided going anywhere near that stage. I felt almost rewarded as a result. Of course the entire day was rewarding, even though I got a later start than I was hoping for or anticipated. The extra time I took to sleep in really helped me make it through the day, I think. As a reminder, though service is all but nonexistent in Grant Park this weekend, I am doing my best to live tweet about every act that I see. If I don’t do it during the day, I catch up at the end of the night. Just so you know for reference purposes. Anyways, here’s a short bit about the things I saw on Saturday.

My day started with Charles Bradley. He’s widely regarded as a soul legend, and his set showed that in spades. I could hear the horns blaring and his powerful wail well outside the walls of Grant Park, and for a minute I thought I’d accidentally stumbled into Chicago’s world famous Blues Fest instead. Even though he’s getting up there in age, Bradley commanded the crowd with his strong presence and even broke out a dance move or two. It may be a long way from his early days as a James Brown impersonator, but at some point in time there will hopefully be a Charles Bradley impersonator just making his way up the ladder to legendary status as well.

As I started to walk across the field to the stage just behind me for Matt & Kim, I ran into problems. Specifically, I hit a wall of people. The crowd stretched back extremely far at the Petrillo stage, so far that I couldn’t see the stage from my vantage point and couldn’t hear the band too well either. Whenever I run into that situation, as I did with Imagine Dragons on Friday, I figure there’s no point in watching or listening if I can’t watch and can barely listen. So I wandered over to Ellie Goulding’s stage about 30 minutes before her set was scheduled to start. I could kind of hear Matt & Kim from there, and enjoyed renditions of “Cameras” and “Let’s Go”, mixed with bits and pieces of some interesting and odd covers.

I think Ellie Goulding is one of the most talented mainstream pop acts today, and her energetic set had the huge crowd going totally nuts. I was packed in tighter than any other spot I’ve been in all weekend, and everyone around me was jumping up and down, singing along, clapping, and other things you do at an overly enthusiastic pop show. For her part, Goulding kept the mood light and upbeat, and she certainly sounded great. She covered Elton John’s “Your Song” at one point, and it actually felt both earnest and earned.

I’ve seen Unknown Mortal Orchestra one time before, and it was an okay set. At a certain point last time I thought it started to wear thin and get a little boring, so my expectations were lower when venturing in for a second round. The crowd turned out to be one of the lighter ones of the day, primarily because there was a lot going on at all the other stages. But the band made the most of their time and actually impressed me with a bouncy, pleasant and rather psychedelic set that was really strong on technical chops. Maybe it’s the fact that they released their second album and the new songs are working better for me, or playing a lot more live shows has made them a much stronger band overall, but whatever it is it’s working. The extended outro to “Ffunny Ffrends” featured a rather great guitar solo from frontman Ruban Nielson, and left the crowd in a great mood.

A few records and a few hundred live performances under their belts, Foals know exactly what they’re doing, and how to achieve results with a crowd. Their set builds slowly and steadily, an energetic instrumental one minute, a ballad with a soaring chorus the next, and a heavy rock cut after that. They covered all their bases, and though they dispatched one of their best songs “My Number” early on in their set (which drew a great dance party in the crowd), it was “Inhaler” that finally was the knockout punch. It was the perfect introduction to Foals if you’re not very familiar with their music, or had never seen them live before. The list of new converts at that show has to be pretty huge.

This was the fifth or sixth time I’ve seen The National perform live, and with each new experience I’m treated to what feels like an improved version of the band I saw the previous time. At this point I think they’ve been around long enough and know each other well enough to truly click on stage, even in a festival setting that doesn’t work as well with their particular brand of nuance. Frontman Matt Berninger is certainly working the stage a lot more, breaking away from his perpetual stance behind a mic stand to hang out on the sides for a few minutes. Some tricks, like Berninger running into the crowd during “Mr. November,” are long-time band staples, but they’re highlights that continue to thrill, so why stop? The new material sounds great, and the crowd was very receptive through it all. Certainly one of the day’s highlights.

After all the turmoil that hit the scheduling at The Grove stage on Saturday, what with Azealia Banks being forced to cancel due to vocal chord problems and Death Grips refusing to show up for whatever reason, the band Haim got either a really good or a really bad deal depending on how you look at it. The printed version of the schedule has them going on stage around 3:30 up against Matt & Kim, Court Yard Hounds and Local Natives. Not exactly bad bands to be up against. Their actual set time wound up being at 7:15, which was more prime time, but up against Kendrick Lamar and The Lumineers. So it wasn’t too surprising that the crowd for Haim wasn’t massive, though it was pretty decent sized overall. The three sisters played material off their EP and some new songs from their forthcoming debut album. Overall their set was a whole lot of fun, that includes the highly amusing sisterly stage banter. All of them also proved to be incredibly talented musicians, and a couple of small jam sessions they had included some face-melting guitar solos and wild bass work. I saw the band perform again at an aftershow a few hours later, and they were even better. I’ll have a report on that later. Be on the lookout, Haim is going to be huge.

With the sea of people over at Mumford & Sons, it was nice to simply stroll up to a close spot for The Postal Service. As Ben Gibbard had said in a tweet earlier in the day, their Lollapalooza set and their subsequent Sunday night aftershow would be their final two shows ever, so in my logic, why would you miss that. It helps I love their one record Give Up to the point where I’ve got every lyric memorized. A lot of people do, apparently, because the entire set was like one massive sing-along. The only time the crowd stopped singing was when they played some of the b-sides and previously unreleased material that appeared on the deluxe 10th anniversary reissue of the album. Overall the arrangements were very similar to what they sounded like on record, though they were made a little more buoyant and full at times which was nice. There were extended versions of some hits, particularly “Such Great Heights” and the closer “Brand New Colony.” A cover of Beat Happening’s “Our Secret” was a nice additional treat. Jenny Lewis was in many ways a jack of all trades during the show, playing a number of different instruments in addition to her supporting vocals role. Gibbard was his typical self, upbeat and honest, and he seemed to really appreciate how much this band and their one record means to so many people. This might be the official end to The Postal Service, but I can’t express how happy it made me to finally see it performed live. I’ll take them over Mumford & Sons any day of the week.

Lollapalooza 2013: Preview Guide


Welcome to the official Lollapalooza 2013 Preview Guide! In this post, you’ll find an hour-by-hour breakdown of all the bands you won’t want to miss during each of the three days at Lollapalooza this year. Whether you’re an experienced Lolla attendee or a newbie showing up in Grant Park for the first time this year, there’s probably no chance you’re familiar with every single artist that’s part of the lineup. This guide is intended to help. Maybe you’d just like to familiarize yourself with the artists by listening to them. I understand that logic as well. Find something that suits your tastes, and then go see that artist, even if you’re not necessarily very familiar with their catalogue. Allow me to provide some assistance in that aspect. Here are Spotify playlists for Friday, Saturday and Sunday so you can let your ears make some decisions. All of those three playlists are organized by musical genre, to help everything flow just a little smoother in case you want to give the whole thing a listen. Moving past the sonics and into the nuts and bolts of the lineup, after the jump are my thoughts on what you should see each hour during each day of Lollapalooza 2013. Please note that I’ve restricted myself to one and only one artist during each hour of each day. There are some tough conflicts I’ve been forced to make decisions on, and in some cases you might want to do split sets and see half of one and half of another. Have a look at the full schedule here for all of those details, and keep in mind that things are so spread out it takes at least 10-15 minutes to walk from one side of Grant Park to the other. Plan accordingly. I do think that if you follow the game plan that I’ve set out for you below, you’re guaranteed to have a great time at Lollapalooza this year. Without further ado, here’s my preview guide to Lollapalooza 2013!

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Album Review: Savages – Silence Yourself [Matador/Pop Noire]



Before you read any of this, do me a favor: Take a close look at this photo. Notice any similarities between the people depicted? If you don’t, I suspect you’re blind. On the left is Jehenny Beth, singer for the band Savages. On the right is Ian Curtis, singer for the band Joy Division. Two different genders and two completely different people, however they could potentially be fraternal twins. Sure, Curtis died more than four years before Beth was born (under the name Camille Berthomier), but if you believe in reincarnation perhaps this connection is much deeper than skin deep. Joy Division was an all-male post-punk band from England that became well-known for their dark focus and intensity, particularly on stage. Savages are an all-female post-punk band from England that’s becoming more and more well-known for their dark focus and intensity, particularly on stage. In terms of label dealings, Joy Division signed with RCA, only to later buy out their contract because they were unhappy with how things were going. Despite Curtis calling Factory Records founder Tony Wilson “a fucking cunt” to his face and then repeatedly insulting him on stage one night, the band would eventually sign to Factory, a label best known for letting its artists do whatever they wanted and splitting all profits 50-50. Savages view record labels as evil, but a necessary evil. With Beth still entangled in label dealings from her last band with boyfriend Johnny Hostile, she pushed the idea of not signing to a label until their debut album was finished. Ultimately Silence Yourself is being distributed via Matador Records, in conjunction with Beth and Hostile’s own small imprint Pop Noire. “I believe artists make their own success,” Beth said after signing to Matador. “No record labels are my heroes today.” I don’t doubt that Curtis would have said something dramatically similar were he alive to survey the music scene in today’s digital age. There’s a rebellious, wild and angry spirit that runs through both of their world views, if you can define a person via their interview quotes. But what does all of this mean? A pessimist might view the similarities between bands as a series of coincidences that amount to nothing. An optimist could call this the second coming and the rise of a new band set to change the musical landscape once more for the better. Let’s just hope this new story doesn’t end the way the earlier one did.

To be perfectly clear though, Savages are not Joy Division, even if my first listen to Silence Yourself felt strangely similar to the first time I listened to Unknown Pleasures. That is to say, it felt like a door to an entirely new world of music had just been opened up. Unlike back in the late ’70s and early ’80s however, this sort of post-punk sound isn’t new or novel anymore. In fact, it’s downright out of style at the moment. Of course this is the sort of band that revels in contradiction and doing whatever the fuck they want without a care if it’s in style or out of style. As such, listening to their record can feel a bit like playing a “spot the influence” game. The Joy Division (and similarly Gang of Four) is there thanks to the extremely present and dominating work of bassist Ayse Hassan. Siouxsie and the Banshees comparisons run abound because Beth’s vocals often resemble that of Siouxie Sioux’s, though in more modern terms you can pick up on some early PJ Harvey or Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs when she escalates to a higher and more shriek-filled range. Gemma Thompson’s piercing and rusty chainsaw-sounding guitar work fondly recalls bands like Public Image Ltd, Bauhaus and Converge, while the incredible aggression through which Fay Milton attacks her drum kit draws power from krautrock like Faust and Can, with a bit of Sleater-Kinney era Janet Weiss thrown in for good measure. Savages sound at least a little bit like all of these bands, yet they still manage to break free and expose a sound that feels intense and unique as you’re listening to it. Such a quality is so rare in music these days it can easily give one the impression that this band is out to save rock and roll. They certainly play like it, and though it shines through the record, their raw nerve and extreme ferocity on stage are what they’ve built their reputation on. Simply put, Savages live up to their name.

Silence Yourself starts in an interesting fashion, with audio from the 1977 John Cassavetes film Opening Night. The scene in question is a crucial one, and comes about 50 minutes into the film. In it, the lead character of actress Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) sits down for a rather informal meeting at the apartment of the woman who wrote the script for the play she’s appearing in. This older, wiser writer Sarah (Joan Blondell) begins their conversation after some pleasantries by asking the actress how old she is. The actress dodges the question repeatedly and never gives an official answer, yet insists that she’s having trouble connecting to the part that’s been written for her because the character is so much older than her actual age. Of course the audio for the intro to the song “Shut Up” and the rest of the album gets cut off before the actual point of the scene is reached, leaving the lingering question of age hanging in the air. Yet lest you be confused, age is not the point of the scene, nor does it have anything to do with Savages’ music. No, the point is about fighting against perceptions and allowing for enough fluidity to maintain your own versatility. As Myrtle says a minute later in the same scene, “Once you’re convincing in a part, the audience accepts you as that.” Her concern is that once she plays this older woman character, she’ll be forever fixed in the minds of audiences as a senior citizen and it will change her career trajectory in the wrong direction. Similarly, Savages refuse to be easily categorized or boxed in. They’re about outward rebellion and an innate desire to turn the music world on its head. Thanks to the primal, uncompromising brutality of this debut album, they’ve done exactly that. At times it’s enough to shake you to your very core.

Just reading the band’s song titles like “Shut Up,” “No Face” and “Hit Me” can go a long way towards telling you what to expect from the Silence Yourself listening experience. And boy, “experience” is the right word to use, considering the physicality that blindly attacks you at every turn. As “I Am Here” creeps along down the dimly lit hallways of your mind, the chorus suddenly comes at you like a punch to the gut in a momentary flash of rage. These spikes in noise and aggression come to a head in the final minute of the track, when the intensity finally builds to a release point and Beth howls the song title over and over like a mantra as the pace gets faster and the noise louder. By the end there is no doubt that she has in fact arrived and made her presence known. If a close listen with good headphones doesn’t give you goosebumps, perhaps you should check your pulse. A very similar set-up and execution happens on the single “Husbands.” In that case all the band members steamroll ahead at full speed the entire time, only taking a momentary respite in the chorus as Beth moves from a whisper to a shriek while once again repeating the song title. The effective point of it in this case is to destroy the meaning of a word that many equate with marriage, love, family and security by creating a true nightmare scenario. It’s equally easy to believe that the track “Hit Me” is all about the horrors of domestic violence were you to only think of the lyrics and not the context behind them. The 100 second beating this song will give to your ears (it was recorded entirely live in the studio, by the way) was actually written from the perspective of porn star Belladonna, about a violent scene she agreed to take part in for the sake of sex, art and masochism. “I took a beating tonight / And that was the best I ever had,” she sings, consciously aware of the choice and refusing to play the victim. Provocative and button-pushing as the subject matter might seem, it’s not the point Savages are trying to make with their music. The ultimate goal is liberation and empowerment, even if that means crossing the lines of physical and psychological pain to achieve it. Sometimes it’s the only way we can learn and grow.

The emotions on Silence Yourself finally reach their true breaking point at two spots on the album, both of which wrap up their respective sides of the LP. It’s equally interesting to know that they’re also the songs that break from an attack dog-like format and attempt to truly inject the record with something more thoughtful and progressive. While the haunting and moody instrumental “Dead Nature” might be considered by some to be the singular throwaway track sitting at the center of the album, its actual purpose is to serve as a cooler and buffer before the onslaught of the second half begins. Call it the musical eye of a hurricane and an opportunity to take a breather. The true moment of power hits two minutes before that though, on “Waiting for a Sign.” That 5.5 minute dirge is perhaps the most terrifying white knuckle ride on an album full of them, even as it avoids the immediacy and hooks of everything else. As it plods along led by Hassan’s rumbling bass and Beth’s manic vocal, the final two minutes of this ballad are handed off to Thompson, who takes the old Beatles adage “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” literally, only in this case there’s nothing gentle about it. Thompson’s guitar is crying buckets of tears, and in turn squeezes our ears so tightly it’s difficult not to connect with that and break down right along with it. While the album’s closing ballad “Marshall Dear” doesn’t quite elicit the same strong emotional reaction as other tracks, it is important to the overall record because of what it introduces. Considering the blitz attack that most of Savages’ music so far subscribes to, it’s easy to predict that their sound has a limited shelf life that might stay viable for another couple albums at best. What’s hinted at on the final track is a continued evolution of the band as they incorporate more instruments such as piano and clarinet. In addition to being an incredible singer Beth is also a classically trained pianist. Though that skill is used rather sparingly here, it hints at a larger vision and destiny at play for a band that likely won’t take their own advice and silence themselves any time soon.

Video: Savages – Shut Up
Audio Stream: Savages – She Will

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Album Review: Little Green Cars – Absolute Zero [Glassnote]



Little Green Cars have that intangible quality talent scouts will tell you can only be described as “IT.” When someone has “IT,” they are undoubtedly destined for stardom. Indeed, this Irish five-piece band of 20-year-olds have crafted a debut album Absolute Zero that feels big and expansive and full of everything that seems to be popular in rock music today. Look at bands like The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and Mumford & Sons – they’ve all got a very similar, folk-strewn sound to them, replete with male-female vocal interplay and gorgeous harmonies that can send chills up your spine if heard at just the right moment. They’ve also got big, memorable choruses that are often easy and fun to sing along with whether you’re driving around town or in the crowd at a show. Little Green Cars have all these qualities and deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those other, much more popular bands. Why they’ve yet to truly permeate the worlds of the masses perhaps best called neo-folk fanatics remains a mystery. As with most new artists, perhaps their time will be six months or a year from now, giving them a little bit of time to gather momentum before skyrocketing to the upper echelons. When the band embarked on their short U.S. headlining tour earlier this spring, they played small venues with low ticket prices. In Chicago they were going to play the 250 capacity Schubas, but thanks to some radio support and a $5 ticket price, demand was high enough that the show got moved to the 500 capacity Lincoln Hall. Strangely enough, the radio support for the band stopped immediately after they drove out of town. Apparently the station was only playing their song “The John Wayne” to sell tickets and nothing more, which also suggests they felt the song or the band weren’t good enough to leave in regular rotation. They’ll be returning to Chicago for Lollapalooza, where they’ve got a placement 2/3rds of the way down the lineup but are slated to play the same day as The Lumineers and Mumford like it’s kismet. Perhaps by the time August arrives, so will their moment to truly shine.

But let’s dive into the record itself and the strengths and weaknesses that can be found within. As with just about every band, you want to put your best foot forward and suck as many people into your record straight from the very first note. That probably explains why the single “Harper Lee” kicks off Absolute Zero. When the track begins, it’s just an acoustic guitar and Steve Appleby’s voice as he sings the line, “Like a crash I wait for the impact.” When the verse ends and the chorus enters, so does that impact. The full band comes in and charges ahead full speed with effortlessly harmonized “oohs” and a rather impressive lyrical hook. “There’s a gun in the attic, let me go grab it / I’d blow holes in my soul just so you could look past it,” Appleby effuses with the rest of the band in harmony backing him up. For those that don’t know, the song title is also the name of the famed author of To Kill A Mockingbird, and the while the lyrics have nothing to do with that on the surface, they do reflect a loss of innocence and the fight against becoming a responsible adult, which happen to parallel the themes found within the book. The ability to showcase such depth and creativity in a song that’s so anthemic and stadium-ready is a sign of Little Green Cars’ strength as a band and their desire to raise the discourse in mainstream folk today.

Those massive and memorable sing-along choruses mixed with strong lyrics are all over Absolute Zero, even taking a relatively mid-tempo track like “Angel Owl” and providing just the surge needed to keep it from falling into throwaway territory. Credit Markus Drav’s work as producer as key to this record’s success, because his previous jobs with Arcade Fire, Coldplay and Mumford & Sons have proven he knows how to make a big record that will inspire millions. If it weren’t for the intense harmonies, it’d be easy to suspect that the pounding piano and crashing cymbals of “Big Red Dragon” might have been pulled straight from a Keane or Coldplay record, which would be a strike against the band if it didn’t sound so good on them. In fact, the only real misstep on the entire album comes right at it’s center with the track “Red and Blue.” It sounds like it comes from a completely different band, straight down to the synths and AutoTune, both of which don’t appear anywhere else on the record. Arguably you could call it an attempt to pull off some sort of Bon Iver-esque ballad circa the Blood Bank EP era (see “Woods”), but that was 2009 and what worked then doesn’t always work today. A lot has changed in music over the last four years, believe it or not. Then throw in the fact that every single member of Little Green Cars has the voice of an angel, and it seems downright idiotic to let a machine process those vocals into something more inhuman and robotic. Why the band wanted to try such an odd approach and why they felt it fit in with the rest of the album remains a bit of a mystery.

It’s worth mentioning that Faye O’Rourke is the co-lead singer of Little Green Cars, and the three tracks on Absolute Zero where she takes over are some of the album’s strongest moments. She gives off a very Florence + the Machine vibe on “My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me,” a track that starts with some gospel choir-like chanting of the song’s title but then allows her to belt out the chorus to the rafters. “This love’s killing me, but I want it to,” she wails, drawing the delicate line between pain and passion. O’Rourke chooses to play the long game on “Please,” starting out in aching ballad formation before transitioning to a surging and confident rock song at the end. Her versatility as a vocalist and her whipsmart songwriting would be quite impressive in most bands, but not so much in this band because it’s so chock-full of talent. That said, it’s a shame Little Green Cars played it so safe on this debut record, because they have the potential to be so much more than an Irish folk band that sounds like a whole bunch of other, more popular folk bands. At the very least, they prove that the same genre that’s brought us Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers still has a little bit of room left in it for people who know what they’re doing and can elevate a sound that grows more stale by the minute.

Little Green Cars – Harper Lee

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Album Review: Rhye – Woman [Republic / Innovative Leisure / Loma Vista]



Rhye is a group born out of mystery. The duo purposely tries to fall deep into the crevice of the unknown, choosing to let their music speak for itself rather than tossing out names and faces and back stories. Leave everything as simple and clear-cut as possible, and create your own bond with these songs. Of course, in today’s technology-heavy era, remaining anonymous isn’t something you can do for long, which is probably why a couple months before the March release of their album Woman, things started to come into focus. Rhye is Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal, two guys that met in Denmark when working with the Copenhagen-based group Quadron. They became fast friends, but didn’t actually pursue a project together until they both found themselves living in Los Angeles for varying reasons. The primary cause of Hannibal’s relocation from Denmark was a woman, while Milosh is a Toronto native who went to L.A. to try and help his solo music career take flight. For two musicians who had some previous pedigree working as solo artists or in other groups, it’s fascinating that Rhye was suddenly the thing that earned them both quite a bit more attention than they were otherwise used to. It only took a couple singles (“Open” and “The Fall”) released in 2012 to get people talking and naturally curious about who was behind them. The very sensual music videos for both singles and an EP released last fall continued to build anticipation for their debut full length as well.

Perhaps the main reason Rhye has gotten so much attention since they first emerged is due to the right combination of Milosh’s vocals and ’90s R&B-style minimalist instrumentals that are very “of the moment” thanks to artists like Frank Ocean and Miguel. This is sexy music for a large collection of people who are really starting to experience their own sexual awakening. The xx have played a major role in bringing such sensuality in music to the forefront, and Rhye’s record Woman plays to that crowd perfectly with unabashed intimacy and pure, love-spiked intention. It wouldn’t work nearly as well if Milosh didn’t have the voice of an angel that’s so syrupy and smooth you might mistake it for female if you knew nothing about the duo. Comparisons to Sade have been rampant, and they’d be a lot more difficult to accept if they weren’t so spot-on. That basic androgyny has probably helped with the band’s success more than anyone realizes, because it makes the songs that much more malleable to the human ear – you’re free to interpret how these songs apply to you and your own life without gender bias getting in the way. If a guy wants to imagine a girl is singing a song like “Verse” to him or vice versa, nothing is too much of a stretch and the less you know going in the easier such things become. The lyrics are never gender specific either, nor are they sexually explicit, which only serves to fuel your own imagination to help fill in the blanks as you see best. In a case such as this, the vagaries are commendable. All you really need to enjoy this record is the capacity to love another human being, and that accounts for about 99.9% of the population.

Not that 99.9% of the population is going to engage with and get sucked into Woman. It’s not a perfect record, and there are a couple small misfires amid the excellence. “One of Those Summer Days” pretty much comes as advertised, however its beautiful and hazy drift feels out of place on an album that often has a slight groove going for it. Somehow for those 4.5 minutes everything just stops and you can envision yourself laying out by the pool on a warm, clear day as the sunlight shimmers brightly off the water. There’s no structure or hook to the track, and the saxophone solo that pops up feels just a touch softcore porn soundtrack in nature. In other words, it’s all surface beauty with no depth or substance behind it. The title track, which is saved for last, has a similar aesthetic to it. Milosh repeats the title over and over again in different tonal fluctuations and syllabic stretches while a slow and simplistic synth melody holds steadfast. Horns and strings attempt to resuscitate the staid concept, but ultimately don’t do enough to make it worth the time and effort put in.

Still, eight out of the album’s ten tracks are top notch, and a few like “The Fall,” “Open,” “Last Dance” and “Major Minor Love” get even better the more you listen to them. There’s something truly special about this record, and it’s an indefinable quality that only really grabs hold of you in the quieter or more intimate moments of your life. Put on some headphones and really focus on how these songs are being created with such spare arrangements, and you’ll quickly find yourself wrapped inside Woman‘s tender embrace. Better yet, make it the soundtrack to your next make out session and witness how effective it can be at setting the right mood. Rhye is a truly talented band with two truly talented auteurs inspired by the love permeating their own lives. It’d make you jealous of such intense passion if the songs themselves weren’t excellent companions even on a lonely night without someone to hold you close. We don’t need to know who the people are behind them, just that they’ll be there for us no matter what our desires might be. It’d be nice if more records had that quality within them.

Rhye – Open

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Show Review: Rhye [Schubas; Chicago; 4/11/13]


“To make tonight’s show a more intimate experience, the artist has asked that you refrain from taking photos, talking or opening and closing the venue doors during the performance. We will also be closing the bar at the back of the venue in the next few minutes for the same reason, so please purchase any drinks you might want during the show now. Thank you.” That was the announcement made shortly before Rhye took the stage on a rainy Thursday night in April at Schubas. In case you hadn’t heard the message, there were also signs posted all over the venue that said “The artist requests no photos during tonight’s performance.” As such, there is/are no photo(s) accompanying this show review. Ironically, there are very few photos of the duo known as Rhye in existence, live or otherwise. They’re a band somewhat built on mystery, at least in the sense that they’d rather let the music speak for itself rather than bombard you with other associations to attach to it. For their live performance, the last thing you should have been doing was staring at the stage through the screen of your smartphone. That creates an invisible wall between the artist and the audience member. The goal is to devote your full attention to what’s coming out of the speakers, and it’s similarly distracting if you run to the restroom, chat with a friend or go order more drinks. Rhye make intimate, bedroom music that’s earned plenty of comparisons to Sade and The xx, and it’s difficult to achieve the intended effect if your head is somehwhere else.

So from my vantage point towards the front of the venue, everyone complied with the band’s instructions (except that one guy standing next to me, who snapped a very quick photo during the final song). Was the show better as a result? I’d say absolutely. As much as I try to respect and give all my attention to the stage, most shows I snap a few photos and might grab a drink mid-set if I’m close to the bar. With a hushed room and nobody standing in front of me with their phone or digital camera in the air, I didn’t get annoyed a single time during the full 50 minute set, which is an accomplishment. Much more accomplished however was what happened on stage. The lights were set to a minimum level, to the point where an exit sign next to the stage was the brightest thing in the room, and there were lit candles everywhere from atop amps to the stage floor. It was a wonder nobody kicked one over. Rhye is the duo of Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal, but in a live setting it’s only Milosh with five backing musicians because Hannibal doesn’t tour. It made for a fascinating set up, primarily because the songs on the band’s debut album Woman are so minimalist in their construction. To have six people on stage for that ultimately meant expanding what was already there. That wound up applying to not only the overall sound, but the length of the compositions as well. “Last Dance” got a fun little trombone solo thrown in during the bridge that not only got the crowd riled up, but the rest of the band too. Milosh signaled his keyboard player to keep playing at the end of “Major Minor Love,” which he did for a bit while the rest of the band looked on amused. The strings and drums each got their own times to shine during the bridge of “Open” as well, really hammering home the point Milosh made between songs mid-set: that hearing extended or different takes on songs you’re familiar with brings them to life in new and interesting ways. It keeps the audience and the band on their toes, which is really what you want out of every live show.

Not everything about Rhye’s set worked. It felt like there was a key misstep relatively early in the set during “The Fall,” one of the band’s key singles and most upbeat tracks. What could have turned into a small dance party instead stumbled when the tempo of the song purposely slowed to a crawl for its midsection. Basically, one minute there was a good groove going, the next it was a stoic ballad, and the next the crowd was hit with smelling salts as the pace returned to normal. Why such a choice was made is a mystery, though it’s likely for the same reasons the extended jam sessions on other tracks happened. Everything else, including “3 Days,” “Shed Some Blood” and “Hunger,” were perfectly situated in the set and sounded fantastic. Because they’ve only got one album, things started to get a bit dicey towards the end. There was no opening band, which also helped give everyone the feeling like there should be so much more to go. Alas, after about 40 minutes Milosh candidly apologized to the crowd as they cheered for more, explaining that they were out of songs and were going to have to wrap things up without an encore. Technically speaking he was wrong, because the band never played “One of Those Summer Days” or the title track “Woman,” but to be fair those are also the slowest and weakest tracks on the debut album. They closed things out with the song “It’s Over,” which is actually a song off of Milosh’s 2006 solo record Meme, which I’m sure most if not all of the crowd hadn’t heard before. It was a perfectly lovely ballad, but also felt a little out of place and lacking the pure beauty and charm that the Rhye tracks have going for them.

For a show that was so restrictive/demanding in its requests for audience behavior, it’d be easy to think that you weren’t allowed to have any fun or that it might be difficult to have fun given the circumstances. It really was the band’s candor and Milosh’s moderately comedic banter between songs that put everyone more at ease and helped turn the show from stoic intimacy to playful intimacy. If you ask me, that’s the best kind of intimacy. And that voice! There were audible gasps from the crowd the moment Milosh first started to sing, because it seemed so unlikely that the voice you hear on the record could be replicated with such ease. He made it all look and sound pretty effortless, and beyond that the rest of the band would occasionally add five-part harmonies that made perfect use of the venue, the atmosphere and the quiet, attentive crowd. It’s hard to believe that this band can sound so great and so professional when they’ve only played a handful of live shows in their existence. With any luck, there will be hundreds more to come, complete with fans who understand that even music’s most intimate moments can be charming and great when performed live so long as you’re respectful and attentive of the material.

Buy Rhye’s debut album Woman from Amazon

Set List
Verse
3 Days
The Fall
Shed Some Blood
Last Dance
Major Minor Love
Open
Hunger
It’s Over (Milosh cover)

Album Review: La Big Vic – Cold War [Underwater Peoples]



Let’s start by throwing out the book on La Big Vic. That is to say, forget what you know or think you know about this band. If you already know little or nothing about them, so much the better. Their debut album, 2011’s Actually, didn’t receive that much attention, and perhaps that’s part of the reason why they chose to release a remixed version of it later that same year. You could say it speaks to their indecisiveness, that they’d act so quickly as if to say, “If you didn’t like that first version, here’s a different one we hope you’ll like better.” They are George Lucas, endlessly tweaking the Star Wars films until they’re nearly unrecognizable from their first form. It’ll be interesting to see if the band takes that same remix tactic with their sophomore album Cold War. It’s an interesting and different record from their first one to be sure, and it speaks better to their individual backgrounds while also bringing more focus and better pop structures to the forefront. Their first record and its remixed companion weren’t bad by any means, but they feel starkly different compared to how La Big Vic sounds today. You could say they’re looking for and are getting a fresh start.

La Big Vic is a trio made up of producer and multi-instrumentalist Toshio Masuda, synth guru and composer Peter Pearson and violinist and singer Emilie Friedlander. Before coming to America, Masuda was a member of a boy band and produced hip hop records and commercials. Pearson had some training as an apprentice to one of Pink Floyd’s live producers, and Friedlander was a music blogger and editor of the former Pitchfork offshoot Altered Zones. Their very disparate backgrounds ultimately wind up being a huge asset to their overall sound, as they pull from such a grand chasm of influences that range from electronica to jazz to psychedelia to synth-pop. Such a conglomeration doesn’t work on paper, which is why actually hearing it makes it seem that much more impressive of a feat. On Cold War nothing sounds too bizarre either, and you might actually say the final product is one part Zero 7 and one part Kaputt from Destroyer.

There’s a strong beat that flows like an undercurrent through many of the songs, lending them an almost trip-hop sort of vibe with a few unique twists along the way. Moments like the opening title track or Avalanches-esque vocal sampling in “Save the Ocean” reach a great head-bopping, toe-tapping groove, but also place themselves underneath a grey cloud that is threatening rain the entire time. That sense of unease and dread permeates most of these instrumentals only adds to their strange charm. Friedlander’s vocals aren’t any help either, jumping from a throaty moan to some sky-high falsetto cries of ecstasy that make you question whether or not such reactions are earned given how they bounce all over the place like a rubber ball in a small space. On “Emilie Say’s” she goes from an almost inhuman vocal high-pitched effect at the beginning to cascading through multiple octaves and eventually creating harmonies via multiple overdubs. In one sense it’s remarkably impressive, while on the other it lacks a certain degree of emotional investment. It’s easy to argue that inability to connect emotionally hurts your enjoyment of the final product, but it can just as easily be argued that such abstract ambiguity is purposeful to go along with the lyrics.

If there’s one real takeaway that Cold War offers up, it’s the remarkable clarity of intention that shines through almost every song. For a band that was built on flights of fancy and strange avenues of experimentation, this new album is strikingly straightforward, with big melodies and addictive hooks. The ease at which “All That Heaven Allows” or “Ave B” become stuck-in-your-head staples is impressive and would have been utterly unthinkable from La Big Vic two years ago. And while both of those tracks have a rather relaxed vibe to them, you’re also treated to ’80s synth pop dance tracks like “Nuclear Bomb” and “Cave Man” to twist things up in a fun and different way. In other words, this album has enough variety and experimentation on it to satisfy those in search of such elements while also placating anyone who wants something bigger, bolder and more commercially accessible. The band wants to have their cake and eat it too, and while the album might not quite be that first true masterpiece of 2013, it comes pretty damn close. The record also goes a long way to make sure that once you’ve heard it, you won’t ever forget this band again.

La Big Vic – All That Heaven Allows
La Big Vic – Ave B

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