Friday, December 20, 2013

On Warmer Music's 10 Favorite Concerts Of 2013

So I might have mentioned in a previous post how this year I started getting more than a little overwhelmed by the whole treadmill aspect of music writing. Though it can be hard to maintain that childlike joy at music when you're constantly having mp3s and deadlines dumped down your throat, the good news is that the same is harder to say about live performance. Sure, I don't get the same giddy feeling the whole day of a concert the way I did when I was in high school and, sure, it's a little easier to dismiss the mediocre opening bands that are sure to come your way without a second thought. 

But for me going to concerts has become like attending church or baseball games. You do it so often in your life that some of new apple shininess will inevitably wear off. But the deeper rituals make it even more rewarding to come back to. Being surrounded by people looking to lose themselves in sound and emotion is, when done properly, an act of communion with ourselves and each other. And, like baseball or even mass, there's always the possibility of something truly spectacular happening that will never happen again. No matter how many shows you've seen that week or how many times you've seen a great band, there's always the possibility that you'll find a few moments where everyone in a room transcends the everyday and loses themselves in something communal and life-affirming.

Fortunately for me, 2013 had more than a few of those moments and, if you'll permit me, I'd like to ramble off a few of the better ones for you.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

To Heck With Ole Santa Claus - The On Warmer Music 2013 Christmas Mix

Well it's been quite the year here at OWM and though I have (more or less) retained my health, hearth and loved ones, it's still been somewhat of a let down. A year of wheels spinning and frustration. And, perhaps not surprisingly, those feelings are leaking their way into this mix.

It's a more downbeat collection of Christmas songs, which is fortunate because Christmas is a holiday that can actually take some sadness and melancholy and downright knife-twisting heartbreak (just wait till your hear the end of "Rudy"). To achieve that, I've gone with a lot of early country tunes which manage to combine sweet and sad in perfect proportion.

The man in the beard plays a big role in this year's mix and things don't always go well for him. People want to hit him with snowballs, shoot him with water guns, pull the beards off his mall-bound helpers and blackmail him for plutonium. Perhaps it's that broke, late twentysomething realization that, as a grownup, Santa is gone forever but so it goes.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"Nelson Mandela" - The Specials

Music can be dangerous for an overly-idealistic, bookwormy teenager. There's something about the adolescent swirl of hormones that makes one painfully (or is it wonderfully) susceptible that all the answers to life can be found in a truly great song.

Before I ever touched a beer or knew what weed smelled like, I would spend many a long high school evening getting absolutely blitzed on music.

Punk was the most effective delivery vehicle for the combination of righteously angry idea and amphetaminic effective music that would flood my body with the rage, indignation and misguided zeal of a teenage radical.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Citronella Serenades - The On Warmer Music 2013 Summer Mix

Photo By bandoodie
In my ongoing education called “life”, last summer taught me a few lessons about that season we call summer. Having been raised mostly in the centrally aired rooms of suburbia, I appreciated summer’s heart with the unspoken assumption that, when it became overbearing, I could always retire to a nicely chilled environment to lounge and slumber in comfort. My first full summer without the convenience of AC was an unusually chilly one, which fed my hubris about my body’s ability to deal with prolonged heat. Then came summer 2012 which, like the machinations of fate in a Greek tragedy, brought me abruptly back in contact with my own fallibility.

Days were spent baking next to box fans that circulated furnace-ready air in a pitiful attempt to provide an illusion of coolness. Nights were spent trying to sleep whilst sweating through my sheets. It's hard to describe just how dispiriting to wake up from a night of unrestful slumber to find oneself already soaked in a sweat that you know will be your constant companion all day, save for a few mercifully cool showers. Also, it's hard to over-emphasize just how satisfying it is to step into one of a few cool showers on a sweltering summer day.

This year I finally broke down and accepted an excess window unit from a friend, but I've determined to only use it on truly uncomfortable nights. There's something satisfying about getting to know the heat and sun. About living with a raised body temperature for a few months. Around this time of year I often feel like a solar camel, soaking in heat now so I can draw on that feeling in six months when I'm stamping my feet at a cold bus stop and cursing myself for forgetting my gloves.

So here we are again, Chicago, sweaty-but-happy and overwhelmed by street fests and cookouts. May this celebration of summer society keep you warm until next year!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Concert Review: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Schubas, June 24, 2013

It had been a long time for me and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. I first fell in love with the band when they played my college in spring 2006. Their debut album had just been re-released by Polyvinyl and they'd had a song featured on The OC, back when that was still a thing (I'll admit it, I wouldn't mind more Rachel Bilson). That wave of buzz steered me towards Broom, a record whose warmth and intimacy have given it a longevity that other mid-00's flavor-of-the-month bands have lacked (OK, that first Clap Your Hands Say Yeah record holds up alright but when was the last time you played any Tapes N' Tapes?).

Although I've dutifully checked out songs from their following albums, I never quite gave them the honest chance they deserved. You know how it goes, you get busy, your eyes start wandering, life happens. Then I was given an opportunity to interview them a few weeks ago, which gave the excuse to ramble through their catalog with new purpose. I ended up falling in love all over again and when they offered me a spot on the guest list for a show and Schubas, I jumped at the chance.

Friday, June 7, 2013

"Our Happiness Is Guarenteed" - Quasi

Hello, old friend. It's been a while, hasn't it? 

Today's song comes from a band that I'm ashamed to realize that I've yet to write about - Quasi. Comprised of Janet Weiss (who you probably know from Sleater-Kinney and/or Wild Flag) and her husband Sam Coomes, the group was originally conceived as a drums and keyboards (and etc.) duo in the mid-'90s, with an occasional bassist added in since then. Although I first discovered them at the Hideout/Touch & Go Block Party in 2006 touring off of When The Going Gets Dark, their favorite album of mine (and of many others) is probably 1997's Featuring "Birds"Quasi has never been a "feel-good" band, always keen to expose the darker side of life, politics, the universe and everything and their best song exposes just how skilled they are at turning pessimism into insightful, energizing music.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Album Review: Four Records That Have Gotten Me Through Spring

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, each and every one of my days on this earth remains finite in its capacity. That means that, despite my best efforts, I simply do not have time to tell people about all the great music that I'm lucky enough to find myself being exposed to these days. After watching the White Sox blow a tremendously winnable game this Sunday I decided that that, in an effort to cheer myself up, I should finally start working my way through  the backlog of great albums that have been figuratively been piling up on my iPod with nary a drop of digital ink expended on them.

With genuine spring finally starting to take hold here in Chicago, I hope that everyone will be spending a little extra time in the sunshine in the coming weeks. There's nothing that aids the euphoria of nice weather after a stubbornly long winter than aural accompaniment. With that in mind, I humbly submit the following four records to help you make the most of your only-slightly premature sunbathing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Vinyl Vacation: "Sooth Me" - The Sims Twins

Record Store Day is fast approaching and though the event has started to take more than a little flack of late, as a relative vinyl neophyte, I thought it might provide me with a handy excuse to talk about some of my own recent acquisitions and, wax rhapsodic about, well, wax.

I'm the kind of guy who approaches life like a kid in a candy store, which has its ups and downs. Although I love trying to sample everything life has to offer (because, let's face it, life kicks fucking ass), actually attempting to sample EVERYTHING life has to offer is also kind of insane. Add to that my decision to try to write about many of those things I just can't get enough of and I often find myself perilously falling into "The Busy Trap" wherein the pursuit of things I love becomes a stress creating end unto itself.

This is especially dangerous for a music writer as there's not only always infinity great new music coming out but there's also way more stuff that you should have already listened to popping up on your radar every day. Many's the night where a simple thought like "you know, I can't believe I only have three Superchunk albums" ends with me on the other side of an internet wormhole with six more hours of music on my iPod that I'll never have time to listen to.

It's times like this that I've been walking over to my stereo and throwing on "Soothe Me". Everything about acts as salve to the over-connected soul.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

On Warmer Music's Travel Mix: Side B - Let's Get Out Of This Country

There are some songs that you read the title of, hear for the first time and say "there's a mix there." I remembering buying Rogue Wave's first album in fall 2007 (at B-Sides in Madison, WI I might add, one of my all-time favorite record stores) and having just such an experience. I was trudging across the Rock River on one of those disgusting November mornings that makes you question why anyone ever bothers and listening to Out Of The Shadow when "Postage Stamp World" started playing. Its dry acoustic guitar and warm production immediately made life seem a little more bearable. When Zack Rogue started singing about "this postage s-stamp world" and the pedal steel kicked in, I was in another place. Soon I would leave for a semester abroad and my Postage Stamp World Mix would be my companion the whole time, providing aural comfort and stability throughout my travels. When I'm ready for some platinum-grade nostalgia these days, I give it a spin.

Camera Obscura's "Let's Get Out Of This Country" is another song that was dying to be a mix from the second I heard it. Dreamy pop, more escapism, it was destined to soundtrack great travels, either mental or physical. Along with it, I threw together a little bit of globe trotting, from a Bob Dylan song about a country that no longer exists (and that he wrote on a bet) to one of Big Star's loveliest little throwaways to one of the best Jonathon Richman/Modern Lovers songs of all-time, even if it is an instrumental. Ted Leo & the boys make such powerful get-off-your ass and move music, they had to be in here twice as well. I hope you have as much fun in these songs as I did.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On Warmer Music's Travel Mix - Side A: Maps & Legends

Spring will arrive Chicago. I promise it will get here.

I get a lot of crap from my friends for my unrepentant winter-boosterism and fairly so, but everyone knows that the best part of a good Midwestern winter is how much sweeter it makes the spring.

There's something so completely and utterly-joyful about the first warm, sunny day after a long winter. When the grass is still brown and the trees bare but the air tells you that better things are coming. If there were a way to bottle the feeling of walking around in a tee shirt for the first time, it would be the hottest thing since sliced crack.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Artist Primer: Project Film

I could tell from the first listen that Project Film is the kind of band I could love. You see, I have a weakness for a certain kind of indie rock band that they play to with a vengeance. It’s a sound that I associate with the mid-‘00s, a sort of mid-fi, mid-tempo rock with inventive, guitars that tread that careful line between shimmery and spikey, maybe with some acoustic strumming and keys thrown in for good measure.

Project Film, is comprised of singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Sam McAllister with the assistance of Megan Frestedt (the two also run the band's label, Tandem Records) hit that sweet spot perfectly with their first album, 2010’s Chicago. I love the fact that McAllister apparently recorded the whole thing in his Chicago apartment, save for Frestedt’s vocals because there is a warmth, intimacy and slightly ramshackle quality to whole affair which that origin story would account for perfectly. It was good timing for me because this record worked its way into heavy rotation for me this January and February and it’s great hibernation rock. As a product of Minneapolis and Chicago, McAllister knows a thing or two about surviving a Midwestern winter and it’s no coincidence that a group of songs he holed up in his apartment to creates sound really good while holed up in one’s apartment.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Artist Primer: Sleepy Kitty

You might remember me writing about Sleepy Kitty last summer after being blown away by their mesmerizing but under-attended performance on a slab of sun baked concrete at the Electric Petting Zoo. I chatted with both drummer Evan Sult and singer/guitarist Paige Brubeck who were nice enough to slip me a copy of their album, Infinity City. At the time I made a mental note to write about it once I'd fully digested it. Well, it's eight months later and now I'm finally making good on that promise. It's my goal to use the month of March to buckle down and put digital ink to digital paper about some of the many great local bands I haven't yet found time to sing the praises of and I couldn't think of a better place to start.

Technically, Sleepy Kitty is really more of a St. Louis band, by way of Chicago by way of New York. And even more technically  they're a "graphic arts and music project,"   No matter, I'll take any connection, no matter how tenuous to lay claim to this duo on behalf of my city. They're the kind of band who you feel like could be way bigger if they cared half as much about self-promotion and "making it" as they do about the artists and communities that they're connected to. For example, upon starting this article I checked in with the group and, despite following them on Twitter and Facebook saw that they'd snuck a new album out this fall and played Chicago multiple times without my knowing! Saddened by the missed opportunities but excited for some new tunes, I quickly downloaded the songs and got to writing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February Made Me Shiver

February is, generally speaking, a rough month for me. I mean, it's a rough month for most people, especially those living in a northern climate where it's a time associated with frozen snot, fasting and those particularly blightful chunks of snow turned to ice turned to mud repository that cling stubbornly to life far longer than anyone wants them to. It's a time of introspection and self-assessment that goes part-in-parcel with the long nights, broken resolutions and guilty Lenten vows, which is rough enough. On top of that, February is, personally-speaking, a lull in my work year that makes liquid assets depressingly scarce.

And here I am again, another year, still chugging away, in a place not to dissimilar to where I was twelve months ago - is it unfair to feel a bit depressed?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Six Song Six-Pack - The Musical Coup D'Etat

I hate Bluetooth. And YouTube. And smartphones. 

This will come as no surprise to those who know me but let me reassure them that this isn't one of my usual high-minded, technology-is-forever-altering-humans-attention-span style rants. This time I'm being far more narcissistic.

You see, my college glory days took place at the perfect time for an opinionated music fan such as myself. It was when mp3 players became ubiquitous (by which I mean that I had one - I rarely own a technology before it's already become ubiquitous) but before people always had one with them via their smartphones. This was also before most stereos could be wirelessly connected with such music players or with YouTube, aka the free world's free music library.

Back in those halcyon days of yore, most parties were reliant on whatever actual music libraries were available via computer or mp3 or other headphone jack technology. As you know, most sane people don't lug their iPods around for a Saturday night of partying. Therein lay my advantage.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Winter In My Bones - On Warmer Music's Winter Mix

I've been waiting over a year to post this mix but, since early 2011's Snowtorious B.I.G., it seems that Chicago has been cursed with snowless, unseasonable warmth through out the period that used to be "winter." Unlike many Chicagoans who are all too happy to ditch their parkas and shovels, I've always loved the winter. As a child of the Midwest, I revel in the seasonal differences. Just like I revel in summer's warmth and sunshine, I need winter's grey and darkness. I like being forced to stay inside, I like having to brace myself to leave the house. I like the enforced humility that comes with a big Chicago storm or bitter chill, one that reminds us that we're all at the mercy of a larger universe.

Friday, January 11, 2013

On Warmer Music's Favorite Albums of 2012 [7-1]

Well, better late than never, right? As always, life has kept me busier than I could have possibly imagined this past year and, given that I'm posting this eleven days into the new year, 2013 looks to be no different. Although there was a lot of great music this year, my two favorite albums were from local artists who meant a lot to me not just as a music fan but as a writer who was blessed with the opportunity to write about each of them - a lot. Until next year music fans!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On Warmer Music's Favorite Albums of 2012 [15-8]

And so it is - my favorite albums of the year. 2012 was not just a great year for music, but it was one where I listened to far more records than I ever had before. It was honestly, a bit overwhelming just trying to process everything, but I guess such is the life of anyone trying to cover music in the age of total information. I could have easily doubled this list without having to forfeit too much quality, which is saying something given that I fucking work during the day! Either way, you were great 2012, here's what you sounded like to me.