Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Mac Blackout – “Wandering Spheres”

Last time I left Chicago’s Mac Blackout he was burning a pound or so of ozone through the garage-punk stratosphere round about 2017 but in the interim it seems that Mark McKenzie had swapped out the monicker for a new nombre, Armageddon Experimental Band and began dabbling in free jazz and cacophonic float along the same lay lines. Now he’s back with the name Blackout but the garage has been cleared of the grit but packed full of what Armageddon left behind. The new Blackout blends the experimental bent of AEB’s past few years with a bit more heft on the hammer. The first cut from the upcoming Love Profess blasts out of the barrel with McKenzie swapping his guitatr for sax and letting a sinister swelter take over in place of guitar fury. “Wandering Spheres” sees Blackout piping in a low rumble of synth growl and delicate electric piano to McKenzie’s aching sax workout. This certainly isn’t the Blackout you were expecting, but in a year when the ground shifts on an hourly basis, perhaps its the Blackout we need. The record is out November 27th on Trouble in Mind.



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CB Radio Gorgeous – “Decline”

Chicago’s explosive punks CB Radio Gorgeous knocked out a sweat-soaked cassette on Not Normal a couple of years back and they follow it with a four-shot EP that packs everything that clicks about the band into a short shaker that never lets up. The EP was produced with inspiration from Geza X (Dead Kennedys, Germs, Redd Kross, Black Flag, The Avengers and The Weirdos), seeking to jolt us all back to consciousness again with a West Coast punk breeze. The full EP is breathless and battered, but never ragged but “Decline” in particular puts the bands strengths at the forefront, blending their speed with their heat-sinked hooks. The band’s plucked from the ranks of CCTV, Forced into Femininity, and Negative Scanner but they seem bound to scratch out their own inch with more nods to the Mabuhay Gardens set and Northwest punk belters than their own native streets of Chicago. Get this on the list now and get the volume adjusted to scorch.



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The Lemons

Stumbled across this while writing up labelmates ABC Gum and this is too fun not to dig into deeper. I’d heard a few things over the course of the last five years or so from The Lemons and lumped them in with the usual output from The Memories / Gnar Tapes fam, which is certainly apt. This is something a bit different though. The band’s usual foray into recording is light, childish (in a good way), but also very rough. They don’t strip away the first two qualities, but that roughness fades on At Home. The band gathered up their cadre of friends and recorded a house show of songs with, for and about friends and the vibes simmering off of this are perfect for melting the wintertime doldrum blues that start to settle into the bones and poison the soul in January.

Oddly, for being a live tape, this is as crisp, clear, and warm as The Lemons have ever sounded. Songs seem rehearsed, though the set still has an immediacy that glows off of it in radiant waves. Dogs bark, glasses clink, but the music swims to the front of the speakers like a beacon of hope. In six-part harmony the band works through inside jokes that don’t leave the listener feeling like a stranger and litter them among songs about The Ramones, Johnathan Richman, and childhood TV fixtures. The Richman shoutout feels particularly prescient and this whole set is very in line with his later works that attempted an all-inclusive feel. Split that sensibility with a few Aughts janglers like The Beets, Magic Kids, and, yeah, The Memories as well, and you’re getting the picture. Every song feels like the band would gladly welcome you in and give out a round of hugs, share a beer, and pass out a tambourine if you feel like it. Seems hokey? Maybe, but also in tense times, a little innocent cheer never hurt anyone.




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Tobacco City – “Blue Raspberry”

Low profile Chicago alt-country crooners Tobacco City have been releasing a string of solid singles over the last year and they’ve hit on their best yet with the buttered and bashful “Blue Raspberry.” The track is hung on soft sunset strums and a warm melt of slide guitar. The vocals trade back and forth between Lexi Goddard and Chris Coleslaw like an old Parsons and Harris tune, just a bit more faded and worn in. The a-side is the stunner here, pulling at the lump in your throat to try to stay afloat, but they pair it well with a b-side that gives Goddard the front and center, with some ‘70s sequined backup vocals that maybe try to pull it too far towards the nostalgia train. Still, “Blue Raspberry” is a gem that won’t let go – sighed and swung low, padded out with just the right touch of twang and tape hiss. The band’s just recently opened for Orville Peck in their hometown, so here’s hoping Tobacco City is on their way up.




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Bill MacKay – “Birds of May”

Bill MacKay has been a singular voice in folk for the better part of two decades and a staple of Chicago’s vibrant traditions, though he’s often sounded like he’s been dropped from the UK fresh off a Bert Jansch session. His latest LP, Fountain Fire is one of his strongest to date, a grey-skied folk journey into the heart of humanity. As he embarks on a run of dates, which include some key Hudson Valley hits for those of you’re in my area (Huichicha, Tubby’s, The Half Moon), he’s released a video for the standout track “Birds of May.” The visuals are understated but that lets the music shine through, humble and stately. If you get a chance hop on over to a show – he’s touring with fellow Drag City stabler Mike Donovan, so there’s just that much more incentive.

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Plastic Crimewave Syndicate

Its been a little while since a Plastic Crimewave project barreled down the halls of Raven, but Krakow and co. were always instrumental in the development of the site. Back when Steve was rolling with Plastic Crimewave Sound, the band contributed to the site’s first compilation. Now the Sound has crumbled and the Syndicate has risen, but the same thread of acid-scratched psychedelia remains. Massacre of the Celestials opens with a yowl of guitar and a veneer of fuzz caked on so thick its hard to wade through the wreckage. Those guitars find their way through though, streaking sickness all over the inflammatory opener “Bound to Seek.’ From there the band dives into the murk, digging their sound deep into a puddle of sludge-psych that’s heavy, leaden and loud as hell.

There’s power in that porridge of sound still and the Plastic Crimewave that barrels out of it crests and demolishes all that stands in its path. Add in a squirm of sax, some spaced-phasing that knocks the mind into astral projection, and the record chomps down some Hawkwind vitamins with the best of ‘em. What I’ve always loved about Krakow’s brand of psychedelic soup is that he’s never even thought twice about pushing it too far. Effects? Double down until you can barely see the light from the haze. Guitar scorch? Make it hurt. Make it third degree. The songs tie together under a banner of excess, but in general its like wading through a surrealist stew that’s sticky, mossy, murky, and humid enough to bring on a fevered froth. Whether you’ve been following the choose-your-own psychedelic adventure with Krakow from the beginning, lapsed and returned, or just toeing in now Massacre is as good as any a place to start. Jump in an swim in the deep end of delirium with them and don’t just try not to think as the temporal shift hits its stride.



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Lucille Furs

Chicago’s beat/psych revivalists Lucille Furs send their ’60-dripped pop on export for their latest album, getting a release from French Magazine and boutique label Requiem Pour Un Twister. The pairing seems like a perfect fit. While Chicago’s got a thriving garage scene, there’s something about their lush, starry-eyed pop that seems like it must come from somewhere other than the heartland. The exact mix here shifts like a kaleidoscope and remains a bit hard to pin, but it seems like they might have tripped through London on their way to meet up label heads in Paris. Other than the strong twinge of British Invasion kicking through, the band rifles through a half-stack of your favorite psych-pop touchpoints – swooning over Blossom Toes, Billy Nicholls, and The Pretty Things with some more high-minded harmonies that dip into Nuggets fodder like The World of Oz, Mortimer, and anything connected to Curt Boettcher.

Yet the strongest wafts seem to come from their penchant for dragging all these bits through the silken brambles of Jacques Dutronc and Serge Gainsbourg. These overtones make the Francophile connection all the more understandable. They share both artists’ love for the deeper blades of grass, wrapping their pop in swirls of sound that envelop in verdant tones. That doesn’t leave them swimming in symphonics though, like Dutronc, they know when to swing and when to swoon and they tend towards the former over the bulk of Another Land. The band’s definitely grinding up the past to mix their paint, but rather than recontextualizing it like Temples or Morgan Delt, they’re often painting masters in shifted hues. That’s not to say that their referential tendencies haven’t produced an album that’s a fun ride all the way through. There’s a lot of tip-of-the-tongue, back-of-the-mind moments but the band’s accomplished enough to make their pastiche play perfectly.




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Lucille Furs – “Paint Euphrosyne Blue”

Chicago’s Lucille Furs trade in a meticulous vision of psych-pop, tied up in twills and doused in Marcus Keef’s saturated colors. Like many before them, they hold a reverent flame for the ‘60s, but they’re taking a lusher approach than many, as evidenced by the title track from their upcoming album Another Land, a ringing swinger that’s a testament to how they ended up with the equally psychedelic French label Requiem Pour Un Twister. For the album’s second single they continue their trip back through the ether, this time peeking out of the haze just a bit for a hip-slung shaker that’s basking in the sunshine with a carefree shuffle and a handful of tangerine harmonies and helium hung organ lines. The band’s been echoing The Black Hollies, Allah-Las and The Soundcarriers in the past, but here they add a touch of The Strange Boys and The Weakends to the mix. If its dreary where you’re hunkered, this little blast from Lucille Furs ought to brighten your day.



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Glad Rags – “Alamo”

Chicago chamber-psych orchestra Glad Rags shove the disjointed post-punk of The Talking Heads through a cosmic wormhole, chugging with sweat-stained rhythms and horns one minute and spreading the spacey synths like butter the next. “Alamo’s” not a lyrical wunderkind but it rides repetition without hammering their hooks to death. The song is snaking with a neon and rubber weirdness that makes it hard to get a hand around, but they’re definitely onto something. The backup vocals shift from flashes of ’70 Who to Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson vamping up the parties down Athens’ way. The band are throwing a lot in the pan with this one but its all coming out of the oven just fine in the end.



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Ryley Walker

The curse of making an album that’s hailed as great is that it haunts your career, rearing its head wherever you go, always an accolade and an albatross at the same time. In the wake of Primrose Green Ryley Walker was lofted up as the heir to knotted folk’s throne, though it always seemed that he had no interest in resting there for any length of time. That album’s follow-up, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, was a looser bar-rock exploration that was summarily panned for not sounding enough like its predecessor, for not settling onto the throne. It was an unfair assessment met with some frustration by the artist, and rightfully so. With Deafman Glance Walker firmly asserts that genre is an exercise and not a defining characteristic of an artist. He shirks once and for all the shadow of Primrose and leaves us with his darkest, most complex and delicately shaded album yet.

There’s hardly a trace of folk proper on Deafman, though it perhaps shows up most prominently in Telluride Speed with its woven plucks and autumnal flute. As with the majority of Walker’s works on the album, though, the simple bliss is shot through with bent jazz markers and frustrated electric runs. As the album progresses, Walker pushes a notion of texture over melody and the album begins to color in like an abstract painting with dark, furious patches in one corner and gorgeous, light swipes on the opposite edge. Don’t let that imply that the record has an improvisational nature, far from it. Like the best abstracts the seemingly jarred elements are planned and structured to look haphazard, but without the forethought the juxtapositions would never land.

Walker recorded the album in Chicago and has referenced the city’s sounds as an influence, one that can indeed be felt in the margins of Deafman Glance – the soul of a poet squeezed through the equations of Tortoise or Gastr del Sol. Lyrically, Walker’s still sitting in the corner of the bar, though this time there’s more whiskey and solitude than good laughs and cheap beer. The album is certainly ruminating in its heart, absorbed in itself for better or worse. With Deafman Glance, however, Walker has knocked out an album that’s as visceral and tactile as his early works are ephemeral and airy. This is a true step forward, and while there are certainly no hooks that are going to keep nudging you back, the innate desire to stare at Walker’s void and discern the depths is rather addictive.




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