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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Covering Our Bases - The Velvet Underground

You shoulda seen 'em then...
Certain bands are so influential that they become touchstones in the history of popular music. There are few better ways of measuring a band's influence than the amount of nods it gets via covers. Since nothing gets On Warmer Music going like a good cover, we'll take some time to look at those bands.

The Velvet Underground are perhaps the classic cult band. Formed by Andy Warhol in 1966 around Lou Reed, they released four classic albums that combined lyrics about deviant sex, hard drug use and arty pretensions with a mixture of vicious noise freakouts and poppy gems. It's been hoarily said that "they didn't sell many albums, but everyone who bought one went on to form a band" but by the last decade they were such a hip influence that Eddie Argos from Art Brut complained that he didn't "want to hear the sound of the Velvet Underground a second time around". That notwithstanding, the Velvets are founding fathers (/mothers) of the very idea of "indie rock" and today we've got some proof.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Wayback Machine: Nada Surf 's Let Go

Today we're introducing a new feature here at On Warmer Music called The Wayback Machine where we take a look back at some part of musical history that bears re-examination. Our first entry concerns New York band Nada Surf's 2002 album, Let Go. Little-heralded at the time, the album reivented the Nada Surf brand, spurring their success throughout the 00's. With a classic rock n' roll creation story and some of the most pointed examinations of big-city life and loneliness since the Dismemberment Plan's Emergency & I, Let Go quietly became one of the best albums of the last decade, even if it missed most of the decade-end lists.

After releasing their buzz-bin debut High/Low (featuring the novelty-hit-that-shall-not-be-named) at the tail end of the "alternative" movement, Nada Surf's follow-up album, The Proximity Effect was released in 1998 to critical and popular acclaim in Europe. Elektra saw no viable US single and asked the band to tinker with the album, releasing a cover of "Why Are You So Mean To Me?" as the lead single. The band eventually said, "enough" and bought back the rights to the album, releasing it to mixed reviews in the States in 2000.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Soundtrack Sampler - Adventureland

Soundtracks are a wonderful thing. There's a bootleg of John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats covering Neutral Milk Hotel's "Two-Headed Boy" where he says "I'm sorry if I screw this up, because I know there's a lot of you out there who are living and dying with this song" and that perfectly sums up what great music has the potential to be. If you truly love certain songs they become the soundtrack to your life - you live and die with them.

The only problem with that is that your life is under-rehearsed, way over budget and full of people who are far less interesting and attractive than those you see on the big screen. Movies are less messy and more satisfying. Good directors know that music is an emotional short-cut, able to short-circuit logic and quickly hack directly into our emotional-response centers. That means that a well-chosen soundtrack can not only open minds to new music but turn a good movie into a great one.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Growin' Up

Childhood is perhaps the most important part of our lives. It structures our expectations and way of seeing the world. They're called formative years for a reason. I mean people don't pay therapists good money to either recapture or escape from those early years for nothing.

Science has also shown that, after smell/taste, sound, specifically music, is the most evocative stimulus for our brains. So it's no wonder that pop music is littered with reminiscences and tales pleasant, painful and sometimes frightening from musicians' salad days. This week we've got six songs for you that manage to give you lovable nostalgia without the treacle, enjoy!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"40 Bucks" - The Hold Steady

"Craig Finn is an Irish poet!"

That was me, talking to (err, yelling at) a friend two years ago. At the time the Hold Steady was in the midst of absolutely destroying a 90 minute set to close out a Chicago block party, which might be the perfect showcase to see these boozy Minnesota-via-Brooklynites who sound like Zeppelin meets the Clash with a little Kerouac thrown in for good measure. Finn is the band's songwriter and he writes dense, intertwining narratives about invented characters that stretch across albums. His songs manage to be both cerebral and visceral and have that ring of vérité that comes from writing out of experience.

The Hold Steady have never been afraid to reserve classic songs for B-Sides or other non-album sources (see: "Girls Like Status" and "You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came With)") and "40 Bucks" is perhaps the ultimate example of this. The song came as a bonus download with the purchase of their 2009 live album, A Positive Rage and has never, to my knowledge, been played live but it's one of those songs that in another, better reality would be a massive radio hit.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Concert Review - Atmosphere at Metro, August 5, 2011

Sean Daley is an endlessly fascinating individual, at least if his rhyming is anything to go by. He spits under the name Slug and, along with his producer Ant, he's been putting out amazingly heartfelt, angry, bitter, tender and insightful records under the name Atmosphere for over a decade. His songs are self-absorbed forays that deal with aging, anger, drinking and failed relationships (family and romantic). He works as a classic unreliable narrator, mixing personal history with three dimensional character studies and second-hand narratives that are never anything less than honest and compelling.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"A Joyous Fuck You" - Wilco's Westerberg Years

Modern day Wilco is an industry unto itself. It's got everything from a sandwich shop to themed mittens to action figures. Also, they make music. The current incarnation of the band with Mikael Jorgenson, Pat Sansone, Glen Kotche and Nels Cline joining founding members John Stirrat and Jeff Tweedy has become known for it's impressive skill, passion and professionalism. That last word is key. Wilco's most recent albums have been immaculate and its concerts are love letters to fans where the audience can help choose setlists which are always strong on breadth and depth and are generally at least two hours long.

Those nattering naybobs of negativism who decry the so-called "dad rock" (though I reject the term on principle and merit) of today's Wilco still have much they can take from the band. During the mid-to-late 90's, especially the time touring around Being There, Wilco was a rock band in the mold of midwestern alternative OG's, The Replacements. Seemingly a second away from careening off the cliff at any minute, this incarnation of the ever-shapeshifting band took the classic ingredients of youth, pressure, talent and booze to create angry, sometimes-alienating but always compelling rock n' roll.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Album Review: Cocaine 80s - The Pursuit [EP]

Well, it's Friday again and nothing says "oh God, please let it be the weekend, sweet Jesus yes!" like some some first rate hip-hop, amirite?

About a month ago I was perusing the interwebs when I stumbled on a brief article from The Ministry of Hip that mentioned something about Common and No I.D. back together making music before moving on to something about the Kaiser Chiefs (really?). This floored me because these two guys are collectively responsible for much of the great hip-hop that has come out of Chicago in the past two decades. Both formative influences on everyone's favorite genius/douche/punching bag Kanye West, in their own way each helped create Chicago's distinctive soul-sampling, conscious hip-hop sound since used by MCs such as Lupe Fiasco & Rhymefest.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack - Summery Songs From Summer Albums

As I might have mentioned before, summer in Chicago is a brief and glorious thing and I love it all the more for that. Unlike in the sunbelt, Chicagoans never put harsh winter too far out of our minds and thus treasure our summers all them more. We find ways to move every possible activity we can out-of-doors and pack all the sun we can into about three-and-a-half months. When you combine that "make hay while the sun shines" attitude with increased sunlight,  it's no wonder that summer days can still seem almost endless with possibility.

With that in mind, this six-pack isn't just a summer mix, it's an ode to whole albums that celebrate the season. In a month it'll be Labor Day, so for God's sake people, we've gotta spin this stuff while we can!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Album Review: Sky Full of Holes - Fountains of Wayne

Fountains of Wayne aren't cool. They're not sexy, they're not edgy, lord knows they're not hip. Their love of pop isn't drenched in enough feedback or ironic distance to appeal to the arty crowd and their love of pop isn't synthesized enough to get them onto Top 40. But for people who love classic pop songcraft in whatever form it takes this group is a treasure. They made their biggest splash aping the Cars but they're just as at home with Rick Nelson. Songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collinwood just need a hook and they're off. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Stiff Little Fingers - Silver Lining

Well it appears that the elected representatives of America WILL be able to work each other just enough to pass a mostly symbolic measure that will keep our economy being detonated like a careless appendage on the 4th of July. Throughout the debt debate, I was consistently amazed at just how far to the right political discourse has moved in recent years. I don't think that most Americans really want to punish the poor and ask nothing of the rich, but goddamn does the other side do a better job getting heard.

So where do I go at times like these? Ironically enough, to the UK of the late 1970s. The Stiff Little Fingers have often been called "the Irish version of the Clash." I, for one, consider that a compliment. SLF could rock just as hard as their British idols on any given night and they even pulled off a nifty reggae cover when needed, so the comparisons are not unfounded. Writing in 1981 the boys from Belfast penned a perfect soundtrack our status quo.

Monday, August 1, 2011

When The Month Changes Numbers It's Time To Go

Life goes faster as you get older, it's a fact. I'm not too young to realize that if I'm already starting to feel this way, aging will not be as much like becoming a fine wine as I've been led me too believe. So besides saying "Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit" as soon as I wake up (as a friend's grandmother once taught me long ago), I also try to mark the turning of calendar pages with a song that helps me put the loss of another 30 days into perspective.

Tonight's entry is from Leslie Feist, a singer probably know best for her irresistable, but sadly over-exposed 2007 single "1, 2, 3, 4", but this song is from a half-decade earlier, before she joined Broken Social Scene or released her own debut album.