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.

If you're looking for the sprawling eclecticism of Kid Catastrophe, I'm sorry to inform you that this is not your album. Similarly, it lacks the concise, hit-driven punch of What The Hell Do I Know? Lemonade Stand is, as its length and title suggest, a modest effort that is rewarding within its own narrow world. Out are the banjo-driven freakouts, in are mid-tempo country pop songs inflected with electronic flourishes, along with some lo-fi meanderings and brief asides. It's a rural album that announces clearly and strongly from the start that it has no intention of leaving Bucks Country, PA. 

This rural feeling is quickly established in the album's sole banjo driven track, the lazy "Tractor Show" which evokes the joys and sadness of life in a small town. "Just meet me at the bar, 'cause I'll be there at noon" Arch sings, "a beer is like my life, you'll see it empty soon." The rest of the song consists of the protagonist trying to drunkenly stumble home without getting into trouble. It may seem harmless enough but the ending kiss-off "I'll see you in hell / at the tractor show" reveals the frustration below the surface.

"Metropolis" continues the anti-urban thread as Arch begs his woman to be with him instead of fleeing to a big city; "if only you'd see how perfect it'd be instead of needing a metropolis." But what makes this track isn't so much the lyrics as the production. It starts out with a harmonica and drum track that brings to mind the Travelling Wilburys and gets you tapping your feet before... wait a minute... is that harmonica or is it synthesizer? The harmonica and synth weave in and out so expertly throughout that they become hard to distinguish and before you know it you're wondering why country has been so reluctant to adopt electronics.

Other standouts include "Artillery" which combines the piano lament that Illinois has perfected on "A Missing Piece" and "What Can I Do For You" with an... accordian? Keyboard? Something wonderfully bottom-heavy at least, which brings the song together. "Mountain" is lyrically straightforward, but recalls the burbling bounce of "She's So Funny." Meanwhile, "Two Track Lovesong" is not as lo-fi as its title suggests but it does meld muddy drums with plain and pretty acoustic strumming to create perhaps the prettiest moment on the album.

There's also still some experimentalism bubbling under the surface, especially in the album's interludes. There are three songs here under 2:00 that appear to be mostly excuses for the band to fuck around and try something new, even if it doesn't go anywhere. "Feel" starts as a funky near-instrumental that turns into a tune that makes you wish it didn't end after 1:44 while "Posture" similarly reeks of an unfinished song that could have been more. "Phone Messages" recalls Sonic Youth's "Providence" with a little less hiss and a few more calls, although I still can't tell what the hell they're saying.

The album closes with three sleepy songs that all shine in their own way. "Echo Bella Three" again takes the formula of simple lyrics repeated over a shifting a sonic landscape. Closer "Shoot The Moon" melds echoey piano and a simple drum pattern to create a lightly creepy late night feeling. But it's the penultimate track "Wagon" that really shines with a patented Illinois acoustic pattern over trippy synth bursts. As Arch sings about aging and longing over this simple but plaintive backing you can't help but tapping your foot and smiling at yet another memorable ditty from Illinois.

After spending a half-hour with this album you're not totally satisfied. Not because you didn't get your money's worth but because you know that you're still waiting for their blockbuster album that will make the music world pay attention. Lemonade Stand reminds me of nothing so much as a hip-hop mixtape. It's got amazing high points a few interesting detours and maybe a few dead-ends. But after you're done listening to it, you're ready for the full album. Any band that can leave me wanting more like Illinois can is sure doing their job right in my book.

In case you weren't completely sold, here's a video of yet another new Illinois song, performed live, featuring adorable children.


Artillery - Illinois
Metropolis - Illinois
Wagon - Illinois

Buy the damn thing!


  1. I like your attempt at a nickname, however they reside from 'Bucks County.' Throw that "s" on there and you are golden!