Thursday, December 29, 2011

On Warmer Music's Favorite Albums of 2011 [7-1]

So here it is, the end of the list. For a year that started relatively slow, I'm impressed by the quality of music we've ended up seeing from 2011.

It was a tough year and all these albums were created with that context in mind to a greater or lesser degree. It wasn't a year for frivolity but that doesn't mean this is all dour music. Indeed what made most of these records so necessary was their ability to acknowledge life's hardships and take something worthwhile and uplifting away from the experience. With that in mind, enjoy some albums to soundtrack your dancing at the end of the world!

15. Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital
14. Nick Lowe - The Old Magic
13. Le Butcherettes - Sin, Sin, Sin
12. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saint
11. Fountains Of Wayne - Sky Full Of Holes
10. The Roots - Undun
9. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo

8. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Warmer Music's Favorite Albums of 2011 [15-8]

I sometimes can't help but wonder why one would make both a favorite albums and favorite songs list for a given year. There's obviously bound to be a great deal of overlap between the two, why not just combine them?

Without waxing too rhapsodic about the joys of a well-crafted, contextless single or an inseparably extended musical statement, I'd like to humbly submit that there are some artists who shine over three minutes but drag over forty while others might not make songs designed to be heard on shuffle but can use mood, placement and other tools to design brilliant musical collections that demand to be appreciated as whole units.

Therefore it is with great excitement but also extreme modesty that I present my favorite albums of the past year. Bon appetit!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Concert Review - Wilco at The Vic, December 15, 2011

Some days you listen to music because you like it. On other days, you listen to music because you need it. I didn't realize it at the time, but yesterday was one of the latter. It was a day like one that we've all had. You know, rough week, work problems, bad weather, etc. To top it off, my girlfriend was sick, so I had nobly suggested we sit in the balcony rather than try and hug the stage - a suggestion which landed me distressingly close to the rafters in the old theater.

We were at The Vic for something a long time in the making - Wilco's triumphant Chicago return. As part of their "amazing shrinking residency", they had already played the Civic Opera House on Monday and the Riviera on Tuesday and now they were settling into the relative cosy confines where they recorded their 2006 live album, Kicking Television. Not only that, but they were doing it the right way, inviting Chicago scene legends to open each night, which meant that tonight we'd get to see Jon Langford and his band Skull Orchard.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Warmer Music's Favorite Songs of 2011 [10-1]

So here it is, the thrilling conclusion. Although 2011 felt like a little bit of a down year for music compared to 2010, I was surprised by how difficult cutting songs off this list proved to be. It's a testament to the incredibly open and accessible nature of modern technology and media that even a "down" year is so fulled with exciting, interesting, catchy, happy, depressing and otherwise amazing music.

Download On Warmer Music's Favorite Songs Of 2011
[See Tracks 30-21]
30. Cold Rain - Talib Kweli
29. Summer Song - Matt Duncan
28. Baby's Arms - Kurt Vile
27. Holy Holy - Wye Oak
26. Freaks and Geeks - Childish Gambino
25. I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl - Wavves
24. Midnight City - M83
23. Time Is Right - The Feelies
22. Weekend - Smith Westerns
21. Metropolis - Illinois
[See Tracks 20-11]
20. Video Games - Lana Del Ray
19. Shaking Hands - Title Tracks
18. Codeine - Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
17. Never Quite Free - Mountain Goats
16. Pulaski - Drive-By Truckers
15. Waiting For Kirsten - Jens Lekman
14. War's Blazing Disciples - The Eternals
13. The Leibniz Language - Le Butcherettes 
12. Nat Geo (feat. Chris Lee) - G-Side
11. The Summer Place - Fountains of Wayne

Saturday, December 10, 2011

On Warmer Music's Favorite Songs of 2011 [20-11]

Welcome to the second installment of On Warmer Music's favorite songs of this year. Before we get started, first a quick review.

[See Tracks 30-21]
30. Cold Rain - Talib Kweli
29. Summer Song - Matt Duncan
28. Baby's Arms - Kurt Vile
27. Holy Holy - Wye Oak
26. Freaks and Geeks - Childish Gambino
25. I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl - Wavves
24. Midnight City - M83
23. Time Is Right - The Feelies
22. Weekend - Smith Westerns
21. Metropolis - Illinois

And now, on to the next ten!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On Warmer Music's Favorite Songs Of 2011 [30-21]

End of the year lists are stupid. They're arbitrary (really, this is your 27th favorite song, without a doubt?). They're needlessly competitive. They're certainly subject to change (I doubt there's ever been a year whose list I wouldn't have done a major revision of twelve months later). As definitive statements about the year in music go, they're an inexact and certainly somewhat juvenile attempt where even a good list is bound to fail as much as it succeeds.

But oh, how I love them so. Like so many geeky males, I love lists and arbitrary rankings. I love reading other peoples and thinking how wrong they are while simultaneously compiling my own in my head. I love the months of debate such lists can engender. I love stopping to take stock of the somewhat capricious mixture of new music I've listened to in the past twelve months. I love the time-capsule nature of these lists and how they allow us to occasionally step back and see what we've actually done (err, heard) in the past year while we've been busy living life. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Windy City Christmas Holiday - The On Warmer Music 2011 Christmas Mix

I'm an only child. Indeed, the only offspring on one whole side of my family. Needless to say, this meant that Christmas was a holiday that was kind to me while growing up. But even looking beyond the consumptive orgy that went with it, Christmas was a favorite time of mine. The ritualistic nature of the holiday, the anticipation, the changing seasons, all of these things held my imagination as a child, creating warm associations that still tug mercilessly at me every December.

My family had a few old Christmas tapes that my father had made years before I was born for winter drives from Chicago to New Jersey with my mother to visit his family. They were mixtures of hymns, secular standards and a few (relatively) newer holiday pop songs. The juxtaposition of old and new along with the pacing and selection that is a feature of any good mix lent the tapes a timeless quality. Those tapes were Christmas to me as a child.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Covering Our Bases - The Ted Leo Covers Mix

There are some bands or artists that you just grow up with. They're seminal to your musical development and act like cool older siblings, showing you the musical ropes, opening your mind and pointing out other cool things worth checking out along the way. To me, Ted Leo is certainly an artist who fits this bill. Sure, I was waned on the Beatles, cut my teeth on the Clash and first held indie rock's hand with the Pixies, but all those bands were gone before my time and traded in a lot of classic touchstones I'd grown up with. Ted, on the other hand was still hitting his stride as I got into him (even if he was already into his second decade of his career) and thus he came to serve a my guide to a number of musical and intellectual worlds.

Leo's catholic musical taste (no, not in the religious sense), voracious appetite and seemingly natural playing aptitude have mad him a voracious cover-er of songs, such that his number of recorded covers has now topped the quarter-century mark. Along the way he's hit everything from classic rock to dance pop to rap and Top 40. Oh, and soul. And reggae, and folk, and alternative, and... well you get it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the greatest American holiday. Think about it. You get a long weekend, there's very little commercialization, you aren't bombarded with decorations and jingles for months beforehand. In fact, all this day is about is seeing people you care about eating a lot of food, watching football and being happy about it. Could there be a better way to spend a Thursday?

Although Thanksgiving doesn't have the wealth of holiday songs that either Christmas or even Halloween can boast, it does have a few gems floating around which don't get much love, so I thought I'd share a few.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Fred Jones, Pt. 2" - Ben Folds

There are certain times in our lives when we're just perfectly wired to GET music. Times of change and upheaval, times of questioning and times when we're unsure of ourselves leave us vulnerable and searching. We search for answers, for reassurance, for something that can ground us and pop music is an ever-ready, sympathetic companion with whatever answer you want (or hopefully need) to hear.

I don't know much about Ben Folds' personal life, but it seems to me that he must have been in some state of change while writing his debut solo album, Rockin' The Suburbs. If he wasn't, then his characters sure as hell were, with almost every song but the title track featuring people breaking up, moving, giving up, having kids, etc. It was just the sort of album that is almost dangerous to give an eighteen year old kid, wrapped in the narcissistic melancholia of getting ready to go to college. It can lead to prolonged mopeyness, exaggerated attempts at ennui and occasionally a few worthwhile reflections on life. I speak from experience here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Concert Review - tUnE-yArDs at Lincoln Hall, November 9, 2011

If you've seen Merrill Garbus live then you already know what I'm talking about. The woman is a presence, a force to be reckoned with onstage who commands your attention and delivers a performance that is equal parts intimate charm and shock and awe. In a musical landscape saturated with critically-acclaimed touring acts and comeback tours to beat the band, she creates a unique live experience that feels miles away from and above anything else out there.

I knew all this coming into tonight's show, having already seen Garbus fronting tUnE-yArDs during a glorious, sun-dappled Friday afternoon set at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival. It was curiously placed on a side stage, which was packed to the gills by 4PM on a workday and everyone there knew from the first song that it would be a festival highlight. What remained to be seen for me, however, was how that experience would translate to a small club like Lincoln Hall.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Wayback Machine: Naked Raygun - Throb, Throb

Chicago punk never really made a national name for itself. I understand, I don't take it personally. We never had the trendy nihilism of the LA scene, or New York's CGBG's hookups, never mind the authenticity of London punks or the artiness of Manchester. But Chicago did come up with a few corkers in its time, bands that are too often overlooked. Though few have as much love in their heart for band like the Effigies as I, it's hard to argue that Chicago's biggest punk act wasn't Naked Raygun. They once described their sound as "aggressive, melodic, intense, chanty music... bat cave funk, zydeco bop, twist and ground flailer, closet Motown", which probably sums it up as well as anything.

Raygun was one of those punk bands that had something for everyone. Oh wait, no, not something for everyone in that Clash "oh look, they write love songs and dance hits too" kinda way. I mean they had something for every punk niche. They were loud, chanting and angry enough for the hardcore kids, their attitudes towards sex would please the straight-edgers and they were weird and challenging enough for the pretentious punks and students. Not only did they hit all the punk highlights, but these were huge fucking midwestern dudes playing loud, angry music in a way that even pulled in some of your dive-bar hard rock fans. As my grandfather would say, they were the real deal.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wildside - Scott H. Biram

Scott H. Biram. The man Just. Doesn't. Give. A fuck. And it shows. The so-called "Dirty One-Man Band" has been playing scuzzy Americana and bluegrass with a punk fervor and ethos since the mid-nineties, but he won his fame as a solo act with an old-fashioned mic and a hollow-body Gibson. This is a guy who built his reputation by surviving a crash in his truck, then performing from his wheelchair, IV's and all. Most of his music is aggressive and angry and heavily steeped in a Depression-era (and earlier) folk and blues tradition that used music was cheap therapy for life's crushing problems. His albums are mostly filled with tales of loss, desperation, deprivation, in short, the darker side of life.

But sometimes even someone like Scott H. Biram discovers a riff so magical and melancholy that even he can't help but crank it out, pen some fitting lyrics and then get the hell out of the way. When done right, it's a beautiful thing (see, "The Passenger") reminding us that great music is often compelling due to its simplicity. "Wildside" is a perfect example of that, a great intro to Scott H. Biram, even though it sounds little like the rest of his songs. It appeared on his 2009 Bloodshot album, appropriately titled Something's Wrong / Lost Forever and it manages to meld that glass three-quarters empty outlook with a sliver of hope and an series of power chords that would make most ax-men salivate. It's a song of optimism that pessimists can get down to and vice-versa.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Artist Primer: The Oranges Band

Every music snob has at least one, if not a few, bands who never made it big that they'll never get over. It's the band that they keep telling you "should be huge" or is "just like (insert more popular/respected band here), only better." It's an inevitable part of being a devoted music fan, the need to feel that only you can recognize a unique genius that all others either gloss over or never encounter. For me, The Oranges Band fits that model to a "t".

The Oranges Band is primarily the project of lead singer/songwriter Roman Kuebler. It's a Baltimore-based band that draws a lot of water in their hometown but rarely gets out much anymore (as I discovered in college, booking them twice, only to have both tours fall apart). They've been together since 2000 and have seen multiple lineup changes and labels but have managed to put out an amazingly consistent string of albums and EPs in that time that all retain a core sound and sensibility.

The Oranges play a jangly, upbeat, only occasionally experimental brand of pop-punk/indie rock that dooms them to be forever compared with whomever the band du jour in that world is. The Smiths, Guided By Voices, Strokes, Shins and Spoon all pop up as reference points in various reviews and none of those are unfair, but they do the music an injustice. While the DNA of all those bands is in the blood of these songs, Kuebler incorporates elements of laid back 50's innocence and clean production that none of those artists touch on.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Wayback Machine: Bob Dylan - Self-Ttiled

"Folk songs are evasive - the truth about life, and life is more less a lie, but then again that's exactly the way we want it to be." - Bob Dylan
At this point it's almost impossible to know who or what Bob Dylan is or ever was. Mystic, poet, singer, sage, revolutionary, reactionary, wise man, fool, bomb-thrower, bible-thumper, washout and phoenix - all of these are hats that he's worn at one time or another. Often at the same time. Even the ones that contradict the other ones. As a public figure he's forever eluding your grasp, leaving behind brilliant music but no stable essence of who he is.

Standing here, on the far side of Dylan's massive career, knowing the seismic impact he would have on both popular music and American culture as a whole, it's almost impossible to put oneself into the mind of a listener first hearing his debut album in 1962 (not that there were many of them). Before he sang for Martin Luther King and dated Joan Baez, before he wrote anthems that defined a decade, before the drugs and the Beatles and the Pennebaker film, Bob Dylan, nee Robert Zimmerman was just a folk singer, a Minnesota boy with big ideas who played the New York clubs and managed to catch a break. He was signed to Columbia Records by John Hammond who saw his talent and told him "We're gonna bring you in and record you, we'll see what happens."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Pictures From Life's Other Side

This week has finally seen the media start to recognize and give full weight to the protests of economic inequality which started on Wall Street but have spread throughout the nation. Any rational measure would show that most Americans have a lot to be angry about. Currently we enjoy the most unequal distribution of total wealth since 1929. Indeed, the top 23% of Americans control 80% of assets and the richest 400 people in our great land have as much wealth at the poorest 150 million.

What makes this especially galling is how separated the worlds of the haves and the have-nots have become. The current recession (which may have technically ended, but, let's face it, still grasps the throats of most Americans) has pushed tens of millions of families to or over the brink of ruin while leaving those in the upper echelons of society relatively untouched. These separate worlds can be seen in microcosm with trends such as shelters being flooded by abandoned pets while elsewhere organic foods and doggie beds sell like hotcakes.

It is with this in mind that On Warmer Music offers up a six-pack of songs looking at the difficulties of life faced by those on the bottom of the economic ladder. Since honestly, indie (or whatever you wanna call it) music is the realm of a mostly educated (not necessarily a precursor to wealth) and originally well-off (bingo!) audience, it's helpful to remind those who are doing well (or at least getting by) about the realities faced by those a lot, or a little farther down the economic ladder. These are songs that don't preach but merely offer a window into what people suffer through, the solutions are up to you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Concert Review + Pictures - Wild Flag at The Empty Bottle, October 9, 2011

You know a band is special when you just saw them three months ago and you're already geeked to do it again. This is especially true when they've only officially released ten songs. But it was precisely this feeling that gripped me as I walked up Western Avenue to see Wild Flag this past Sunday night. 

I had work the next morning and the doors weren't even until 9:30 pm, which meant that by all rights I should have been at least mildly annoyed. However, I kept thinking back to July when I'd seen this band slay a street festival of thousands. Tonight they were playing The Empty Bottle, an incredible venue with the shaggy ambiance and capacity of an overgrown basement show. The thought of squeezing all that energy into such a small space was giddying.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Album Review: Ratsliveonnoevilstar [EP] - Annie Clark

Last night I saw St. Vincent. It was, let me be clear, a great show. It reminded me of seeing the National play Metro in 2007 while touring off of Boxer, in that it was clear that this is a band bound for bigger things and larger venues. The light show alone was epic enough to say "yeah, I'm not gonna be playing small clubs forever, so enjoy it while you can."*

Although Annie Clark looked as good as ever, she was sporting a whole new backing band who put an entirely different spin on her live act than the last two times I saw her touring off Actor. Gone was the sax, in were dual keyboards for both bass and texture. She played mostly new songs, but her takes on older material, especially "Your Lips Are Red" showed just how important her bands are in shaping her sonic vision. All her music is sewn together with darkly erotic undertones, but the frame changes album to album, from the sixties pop-inspired Marry Me to the technicolor soundscapes of Actor and on to Strange Mercy's electronic menace.

Clark's musical shapeshifting isn't a recent trend, in fact it can be first observed in a 2003 EP she released as a music student at Berklee College. She chose the palindromic title Ratesliveonnoevilstar for this modest recording of three songs that feature her on a guitar along with a jazz bassist and drummer. The session offers insight into Clark's musical background with a looser, pop-jazz sound that continues to pop up in various songs throughout her work as St. Vincent. Not only that, but you can hear her development as a songwriter, with songs just as dark and quirky as her later work but with less polish and more suggestion.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Sweet Pop, Hold The Saccharin

I went to another wedding this weekend. Besides (hopefully) good company, free food and free booze, dancing is always my favorite part of the wedding celebration. As a large, ill-coordinated white boy, I've come to accept that I am not anywhere close to a good dancer. But at weddings, with an alcoholically-lowered self-consciousness, I'm much more likely to not only dance but to dance uninhibitedly. Admittedly this mostly consists of me singing along and moving my body just enough to please my date, but it's a system that works.

This weekend was no exception, I started dancing to the initial crowd-pleasing oldies ("Shout", "The Twist", etc.) and thoroughly enjoyed embarrassing myself for about a half-hour before taking a break. I intended to keep going but upon my return I decided to wait for a song I didn't hate before jumping in (because, frankly, if I don't have a certain baseline enthusiasm for the song, my dancing quickly becomes a sad sight indeed). However, I was disheartened as the DJ started taking requests and the offerings went from Lynyrd Skynyrd bad (just once, I want to hear "Southrern Man" at a wedding!) to Black-Eyed Peas (and other shitty Top 40) worse. By the time "A Kiss With A Fist" came on, I had officially given up on the evening, save for a slow dance.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Concert Review - Fucked Up/Wavves At Logan Square Auditorium, September 30, 2011

It was windy last night as I was walking to the Logan Square Auditorium. And I mean windy. As I strolled past the turn of the century two-stories north of Fullerton, I could hear the leaves constant rustling as background noise that reminded me of the recently-departed cicadas but sounded more like the wash of surf crashing far away. It was the first time I'd had the headspace to really notice the end of summer and beginning of the chilly onslaught that is Chicago from October through April.

After arriving and getting my ticket torn, I was given the most thorough pat-down I've recieved since forgetting to remove hair gel from my suitcase before going to O'Hare, which made me smile. Cleary the Empty Bottle and the show's other promoters were taking no chances with a hardcore crowd.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Unhappy" - OutKast

Music is one of life's great mood regulators. When you're feeling good, music affirms you and when things are going well it alternately helps you wallow or find strength. This has been a tough week with minor illness personally, major health problems in my family and more things to do than time to do them in. Oh, and it's been cold and rainy all week. It's precisely this type of week upon which the foundation of modern popular music - the blues - was built. However, straight-up bluesmen are scarcer these days than scientists at a Rick Perry rally. Rock has mostly left its 12-bar roots behind for garage-y power chords and genre hopping while modern R&B is heavy on "R" with no time for po-faced done-me-wrong tales of woe. So in the 21st century we're left to take our solace where we can find it and for my money, there are few better modern blues songs than Big Boi's 2003 cut, "Unhappy".

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Covering Our Bases - The Beatles (Pt. 1)

I grew up on the Beatles. I'm one of those people. Terri Hemmert's Breakfast With The Beatles was the soundtrack driving to church every Sunday of my childhood. I have strong opinions on the Capitol stereo mixes and the remastered albums of 2009, I believe that all groups of four can be divided into Johns, Pauls, Georges and Ringos and I believe that the Beatles, if not invented, at least popularized and and helped define the modern rock band. From the expectation of constant exploration to the redefinitional self-titled album to the drug influences to the folk period to the... well everything, the Beatles template has defined rock as we know it. And you know what, I'm incredibly happy for that. Their musicianship, restlessness, reverence for tradition, humor and songwriting abilities have never been fully matched and are about the best legacy that rock could ask for.

It is with this in mind that On Warmer Music presents its first batch of Beatles covers. It is done adivisedly, given the fact that every shitty band since 1964 has, at some point or another, banged out a Beatles cover. These are songs that add something to the original, show us something new about the artist or otherwise stand out in some way. Enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Concert Recap/Pictures - The Hideout Block Party

Another year, another Hideout Block Party come and gone. This year's iteration, in celebration of the venue's 15th anniversary, garnered more media attention than usual as people used to the opportunity to take stock of how a former dive bar became the physical and spiritual home for Chicago artists of all music stripes.

After attending the sold-out festival, I can tell you it felt like a coming-out party for the Hideout, with thousands packing an old parking lot to hear music curated by a bar that looks like your parents' basement and doesn't even hold 200. It was a resounding success, highlighted by Mavis Staple's triumphant sunset performance in front of a rapturous audience. But this was still the kind of festival where you could catch Jon Langford hanging around in the crowd during White Mystery's set or go say hi to the Eternals' Damon Lock or Alex White after they got off stage. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Album Review: An Argument With Myself [EP] - Jens Lekman

How did I miss Jens Lekman? I mean, I've had autumnal favorite "Maple Leaves" on my mp3 player for at least a couple of years and I'd been hearing his name even before then. I have a few friends who are big fans and every description I ever heard of him seemed promising. Yet until just a few weeks ago, I'd never heard more than one song by the man. It's not like I was slacking or wasting my time, there's just more good music out there in the world than even a dedicated enthusiast can possibly process.

In a world where almost any song or information is available at our fingertips and three bloggers and a webzine have already loved, gotten bored with and rediscovered every new band before you hear about them, it's easy to lose sight of the joy of discovery that makes loving music so rewarding. Between the scads of new groups who all sound so interesting when I hear about them and the seminal bands that I never knew I'd missed out on hearing, I have an ever-expanding pile of music that I know I should listen to that I never quite seem to have enough time to get around to. Occasionally I find it impossible to listen to something new without drifting away in thought about what else I need to remember to listen to.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Concert Preview - The Hideout Block Party

Of all Chicago's varied and wonderful concert venues, none can quite match the ramshackle charm of The Hideout. From its amazing artist in residence, to its impromptu Black Eyed Peas cover shows to its Wednesday night soup for the hungry, this is a venue that does nothing the usual way but always gives you a unique experience. When I consulted a neighborhood map to determine its exact location, I found it listed in an area called "industrial corridor" and I couldn't think of a more accurate desctpiton if I tried. The bar itself is a tiny thing, tucked away on an industrial strip of Wabansia just east of the river, located near a series of loading docks, a Home Depot and, of course, a garbage truck marshaling area for The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation.

It is in this parking lot, where the trash-haulers usually sit, that The Hideout hosts its (mostly) annual Block Party. My first visits to the Block Party have been for label celebrations, namely the legendary Chicago punk/noise providers Touch and Go in 2006 and alt-country (and beyond) Bloodshot Records in 2009. After a hiatus last September, Hideout is back running their own show this year and have settled on a lineup not only packed with the cream of local talent but, tellingly, filled with regulars who've played the bar more than their fair share over the years. The party is this Saturday and I've been looking forward to it for over month now, here's a quick look at what you can expect if you decide to end your outdoor concert season with a bang in a garbage truck lot this weekend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Three Button Hand Me Down" - The Faces

I've reached that point in my life. It's not a strictly "good" or "bad" thing, but it's definitely happening. You don't imagine that it's gonna happen to people your age, at least not in large numbers, and yet all of a sudden, there it is, happening all around you. I'm referring of course, to the time in your life when all your friends start getting married. Besides being besieged with nuptial news via social network, I've already seen two high school friends tie the knot and am a week away from seeing a couple of friends from college do the same.

At times like this, it's hard not think about the important things in life, like clothing. If you're a man who shares my mindset then you know that weddings are nothing more than crude negotiations between hosts and guests that go as follows, "OK, you dress up for three hours and tell my wife how beautiful she looks and I'll provide bottomless booze and restaurant-quality food to soak it up." As someone whose long abhorred the discomfort and ridiculous airs that are involved in putting on pinstriped wool and a dangling triangle of silk to go to a suburban hotel ballroom, I have to say that I've actually been coming around the the joys of a well-tailored suit for such occasions.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Album Review: Self-Titled - Wild Flag

I love the new Wild Flag album. I love many things about it: its chops, its messiness, it sense of fun, its immediate timelessness. In fact, I even love this album for what it hasn't done, which is to say become an icon of ghettoized "girls rock".

I love the fact that a group comprised of former members of musically and intellectually uncompromising bands like Sleater-Kinney, Helium and the Minders has been routinely called a "supergroup" by the national media. I love that this hasn't prompted a series of navel-gazing articles about "girls in indie rock." I love that this record has come out the same year as albums by women like Leslie Feist, Annie Clark and Merril Gerbus who were weaned on the kind of punk that SK and Helium made but have now been able to expand that sensibility across genres and audiences to great acclaim. I love that I've been hearing about an album of great music made by women rather than a great girl rock album.

On Warmer Music's Fall 2011 Mixtape

You might have noticed from previous posts, that I sometimes worry about life moving too fast. It's so easy to get caught up in your job or politics or tv shows or family problems or whatever your poison is that I often feel like I'll look up and it'll be a month later than I remember. Music, along with beer and sports are passions of mine that also help keep me grounded in time and space. With Chicago's unseasonably cold weather since Labor Day wreaking havoc on my circadian rhythms, it was only a matter of time before I made a seasonal mix. As I write, it is before the autumnal equinox but I can also see the leaves outside my window just starting to lose their color and feel a cold breeze blowing, so I figure I'm safe in posting this.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Johnny Appleseed" - Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros

Transmission of ideas has always been something that's interested me. As a history major, I'm attuned to how the spread of concepts, the course, speed and mechanism of their journey alter both global and personal history. Writing about music also brings up this idea, because, it is by its very nature at attempt to spread both musical content and analysis. You do it because you're passionate enough about something that you feel compelled to share your opinions and passions (and also self-important enough to think they might appeal to anyone).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Album Review: Strange Mercy - St. Vincent

My first introduction to the new St. Vincent album (I hadn't yet memorized the name) came during this year's Pitchfork Music Festival in the form of a video that was repeated ad nauseum between sets on the festival's jumbotron. The ad featured a series of attractive women looking into the camera and earnestly spouting rote breakup cliches created to spare the male ego. After a series of these, Annie Clark finally appears and looks directly into the camera and without hesitance or dissembling says:
It was an incredibly effective spot. As every review of her by a male writer has attested, Clark is very attractive woman and her lure is drawn from more than just her looks. Annie Clark has a cold, clear-eyed strength that radiates out of her person and music which adds to her magnetic attractiveness just as much as her looks. Both her playing and her lyrics prove that she's the kind of girl who can kick your ass and make him like it. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Best Of A.V. Undercover

You'll never find a bigger sucker for covers than Your Narrator, so when my beloved, Onion AV Club announced last year that it was starting a series commissioning covers of classic and "new classic" songs, I couldn't have been happier. The premise was even bolstered by the fact that they would all be covered in a room in the AV Club's Chicago offices that was decorated as one of the greatest flags in the world

The rules for this contest were a little odd - there was a list of songs and bands would be invited to pick a song to cover from an ever-shrinking list, meaning that there were more than a few odd fits. The results of the first round were successful enough that a second round of covers was commissioned this year, which concludes today with the Fruit Bats' cover of "The Other Woman". Overall, the results were mixed, there were some faithful and nice takes, a few workmanlike covers and a few more that just missed the mark - wildly. And to be fair, a lot of times covers that are great fun live when you just wanna dance, fall flat on a computer screen when you have the original a click away.

But there were enough amazing moments to make the project worthwhile and today i bring the top six, countdown-style. You can watch the videos and download the songs after the jump.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Back To School

I never know how to feel around this time of year. On the one hand I love summer and all the freedom represented therein with emotion deep and abiding. On the other hand, by the time early September hits, the cool air, pennant races and lure of Captial Brewery's Autumnal Fire are pretty tough to resist. Of course, when you're a kid there's always on big tie-breaker - school. Even as an admitted geek, I never really looked forward to hitting the hallowed halls (before college, of course, that's a whole 'nother can of worms) every year.

Since, let's be honest here, many rock bands start off as nothing more than a way to be loud, get chicks and voice adolescent complaints with distorted guitars, the canon is filled with screeds about compulsory education. Obviously, as someone who works in education, my position has now somewhat changed. I still say that there a fundamental understanding of alienation of industrialized education and bureaucratic thinking that any teacher can take to heart. Besides, I think we all know that the pain that is high school has been the catalyst of many a great band. So here it is, you're back to school six-pack, enjoy!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Album Review: The Whole Love - Wilco

"It's no fun getting old."

That pearl of wisdom was one that my Nana always loved to trot out when I was a kid. It seemed like a weighty statement then (certainly a complaint above my pay grade) but I always responded in the same way, "Yeah, but it beats the alternative."

Wilco is getting old and I don't say that as an insult, but as a statement of fact. The band members are all solidly in their forties and they've gone from upstarts to innovators to elder statesmen. I have no problem with stability, but it does raise some interesting questions for a band that was long-known for shape-shifting between every album and always staying one step ahead of its audience.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Desperate" - Rogue Wave

Like every other bearded white male my age writing about music, Nick Hornby was one of the people who first turned me on to the idea of writing about music. Sure, High Fidelity got me hooked but it was a first printing of his Songbook, complete with CD, given to me by a friend of my father's that really turned me on. In it, he has an essay about the difficulty of being a Rod Stewart fan, going from The Faces to good solo work to the crime against music (taste?) that is "If You Think I'm Sexy". At the time I didn't really process what Hornby was talking about. I was just getting into music and I started with the big names: The Beatles, Bod Dylan, the Pixies, The Clash. These were icons who seemed to be bottomless fonts of musical genius. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack (Pt. 2) - Marriage Is When We Admit Our Parents Were Right

I can't believe it! I can't believe we're here at Labor Day weekend already! When one of my best friends asked me to be his best man some 18 months ago I was honored and couldn't do anything but accept. Now that the time to live up to that is almost here, though, I'm increasingly incredulous that all that time has passed. This isn't the first friend I've had get married, but it is the first one from my far early childhood and I can't help but get a little soppy about it.

Don't worry, I'm gonna save all the really mushy stuff for the folks that are already liquor'd up at the reception but I do have a few things to say. Marriage is an embattled and increasingly territorial institution in America that seems to be more the butt of jokes than an object of appreciation. But I will say this. Marriage is, ultimately the glue society rests on. Don't believe me? Think to yourself how many people you know who were products of divorce, separation and unhappy marriages and think of how many of them would wan the same for their kid. Commitment, perseverance and genuine love may not be the easiest sells but they're timeless human needs that will outlast all our self-centered asses. So here's to love, marriage and those who can make that work with all the joy implied therein! 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack (Pt. 1) - When A Man Takes A Wife It's Like Going To Jail For Life

When I was growing up my nana had a saying, "take your time friend of mine" that I soon adopted and used as my own for years. It wasn't until I was nearly out of college that she told me the beginning of the saying - "when a man takes a wife, it's like going to jail for life, take your time, friend of mine." An interesting twist, but also one from a bygone era, one where divorce was rare and adolescence didn't stretch across one's twenties.

I tell this tale because this weekend I'm heading down to St. Louis for the wedding of one of my closest childhood friends. As I've been sweating over writing my toast, I've been listening to wedding songs to get me in the mood. Of course, not all of them are really the best way to prepare to celebrate love and I wanted to get them out of my system early. Today I'm sending you six songs guarenteed to sour you on marriage before giving you the good stuff tomorrow with six love songs so heart-melting they'll have you flying to Vegas for a quickie wedding with the next good-looking guy/girl who walks by. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Album Review: Lemonade Stand - Illinois

I've been informed that Lemonade Stand is less an album than a group of remastered Demos. So take my mixtape analogy to heart and look out for a proper album later this year in 2012!

So here we are. Illinois (the band) has released what Billy Bragg called "the difficult third album" (or close enough to it, if you include What The Hell Do I Know?). If you didn't know about it, well don't blame yourself, neither did I and that's saying something considering the degree of my Illinois fandom combined with my propensity to scour the 'nets for music news. But sometime in late July, the boys from Bucks Country let loose another album upon the world and, never fear, On Warmer Music is here to review it!

Illinois frustrates me because they seem hell-bent on minimizing their impact and level of success and Lemonade Stand continues in that tradition. This is a band that can craft a hook or a bassline as well as anyone in indie rock yet they rarely tour, do press or, god forbid, promote their new album. Indeed, the latest full-length was streamed over a month ago on their soundcloud and released for download only very recently with no physical copies to be had. Even the description "full length" is pushing it, as the album stretches a mere 30 minutes. Yet despite all that, once you actually get to the music, it becomes hard to hold a grudge because you realize that you're one of the few people in on the delightful secret that is this band.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Artist Primer: Illinois

Illinois (the band) has stolen many an hour of my youth away from me. Were it not for them I might have never fallen down the music blog rabbit hole and spent endless hours on Hype Machine. It was summer 2007 and I read somewhere about this buzzy group called Illinois who had just released an EP. I streamed whatever song was on the site I was reading and I liked it, so I (being a poor college student) decided to cobble together what I could from the EP using nothing but mp3 blogs. I got the EP, loved it and went out of my way to catch their ridiculous 12:30pm set at Lollaplooza that year and a love affair was born. Not only did I have a new band but that day started me reading music blogs that have changed how I discover music.

Illinois is the kind of band that drove me to write a blog in the first place. They're one of those groups that every time I listen to one of their albums, at some point I'll turn to whomever I'm with and say "why aren't these guys like, fucking HUGE?" I mean even the twenty-five review a week machine that is Pitchfork declined to review their debut album, why? So this week On Warmer Music will start with a two-part Illinois extravaganza. First, a brief primer on who the hell these guys are and what they've been up to so far to get you caught up. Then, on Tuesday I'll be reviewing their new album, Lemonade Stand. So sit back, relax and strap it down, you're in for a treat.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Gone Drinkin' (Pt. 1)

Thanks Onion!
Wellsir, today's the day everyone dreams about. It's a glorious late summer afternoon and I'm off to the Midwest Brewers Festival in beautiful Plainfield, Illinois! Although, I'm genuinely excited to sample beers from across the region and the country because I'm one of those poor benighted beer geeks you've all seen stroking their beards down at the local microbrewery, I figured it was a good time to indulge in a little irresponsibility as well.

With that in mind, this Six-Pack is a musical celebration of that blessed inebriation with six songs about the (beer) bottle and why we love (and hate) it so. I've called this Part 1 because something tells me that this will be too rich a vein to mine only once. So as the Poles say, "Napijmy się! Lepiej być znanym pijakiem, niż anonimowym alkoholikiem!" ("Let's drink! It's better to be a famous drunk than an anonymous alcoholic!")

Friday, August 26, 2011

In Case You Missed It: Be Your Own Pet - Get Awkward

Friday is always a cause for celebration in my book, especially when it's a Friday that precedes what's sure to be a great Saturday (but more on that tomorrow). I was listening to JEFF The Brotherhood's Blue Album wannabe jam, "Hey Friend", trying to get in the Friday mood, when I realized that no band better epitomized the fun, caffeinated, fuck-all feeling I aim for when I leave work each Friday than Jake Orall's previous band, Be Your Own Pet.

Be Your Own Pet was a gloriously snotty four-piece formed by a group of teenagers from Nashville in 2003. Jake formed the band with his brother Jamin on drums, and semetic dreamboat Jonas Stein on the six-string, but it wasn't until they met classmate Jemina Pearl that they found their heart and soul. They were everything a punk band should be, they were underaged, overamped, noisy, spastic, juvenile, catchy as hell and occasionally insightful despite their own best efforts. They released their self-titled debut in 2006 and were no longer a band by late summer 2008 but today we're gonna look at their swan song, 2008's Get Awkward.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Concert Review - Langhorne Slim at Lincoln Hall, August 24th 2011

All Music Guide describes Langhorne Slim as "a one man mixuture of The Cramps, Beck's early indie work... and the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou" and I guess that description's as accurate as any. Slim anchors his songwriting in the well-worn, love songs n' rave ups territory to be sure. But he throws enough curveballs and heartfelt passion into his songs that I found myself hopping on the #74 bus on a Wednesday night to catch him at Schubas' larger sister-venue, Lincoln Hall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Nightswimming" - R.E.M.

I always feel conflicted towards the end of summer. No matter how hot or long, I'm always loathe to say goodbye to another year's worth of warmth. Even though autumn holds the promise of color and cool, we all know that we're still inevitably a little closer to the dark and cold. R.E.M. captured this feeling perfectly in Automatic For The People's penultimate track, "Nightswimming." Pitchfork recently crowned it the 73rd best song of the 90's (obviously) and it's no wonder, as it shows the band at their money-down best.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our Concert Could Be Your Life

Elvis Costello never said that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture", despite what you may have heard. I'm glad too, because although many of music's joys are ineffable, that's no reason not to try to put them into words. Michael Azerrad knows this better than most people, as the author of Our Band Could Be Your Life, the seminal history of the "post-punk" or "alternative" or "D.I.Y." or "whatever name you care to give it" movement of brash, independent and unfiltered music that bubbled up around the country during the 1980's before jumping the charts in 1992 (to very mixed results).

The subtitle of Azerrad's book is "Scenes From The American Indie Underground" and it's not unfair to say that the bands chronicled in this book functionally started the musical genre that is now ubiquitously and unhelpfully referred to as "indie rock." Of the 13 bands profiled only one, Sonic Youth is still going. A few such as Mission of Burma, Big Black, the Butthole Surfers and even the Replacements have reformed (although the latter was a two song, studio-only affair). But the influence they project onto the scene today is almost incalculable.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy National Radio Day, Here's A Mix!

Poles who speak English have an oddly charming way of turning phrases. I think it's the combination of the nation's famed "poetic soul" and the almost-familiarity of a second tongue. One of the things I enjoyed most when I lived in Poland was people's habit of describing things as "something terrible, but also something wonderful".

I couldn't think of a better description of radio than "something terrible, but also something wonderful" for music. The radio has exposed millions to mind-altering music and turned many a group of hopeful teens into prophets with an audience of millions. At the same time, radio has also always been a great homogenizer, sanitizer and censor of music, a trend that grows ever worse with Clear Channel playlists increasingly dominating the commercial dial.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Love Beach Music

The other night I was speeding down the Dan Ryan, feeling great. The sweetly moist post rain breeze disheveled my hair as I threw my head back, grinned at my girlfriend and yelled joyously "I feel like I'm in South Carolina!"

Perhaps I should explain.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Music: Souljunky - Here and Now [EP]

One of the problems with being a music-lover in the internet age is that there is bottomless well of fantastic music that's always literally right at your fingertips. Souljunky is a new Chicago band that demonstrates that principle aptly (full disclosure, Your Narrator is a friend of one of the band members). The group is four guys who work regular jobs and have full lives but also decided to get together and record some absolutely unbeatable pop rock in their free time.

The result is their debut EP, Here and Now which is twenty minutes of sweet musical escapism that you can get right now, for free. What a time to be alive! The group is based around songwriters Chris Hess and John Mott who have played alongside midwestern icons such as Jay Bennett and the Bodeans. They're joined by John Vander Weit and Grant Niebergall holding down the rhythm section. It's a classic pop four piece with guitar, bass, drums and keyboards that gives this group of songs a bouncy, airy feel that would fit right in alongside the New Pornographers or the Heavenly States on a mixtape.