All posts tagged: Chicago

EP REVIEW: Matthew Morgan, ‘Empathy for Inanimate Objects’

There’s something significant about a poignant, significant troubadour who leaves his heart on the table and bares his soul without reserve. The kind of voice and talent that’s hardly born, let alone heralded, these days. Chicago’s Matthew Morgan, a fellow native Midwesterner (and Ohioan), channels his visceral storytelling abilities and penchant for crafting heart-rending, soul-soaked melodies into his new six-song EP, Empathy for Inanimate Objects. Beginning with the easy-flowing, soft-spoken, melancholy “Songs Like These,” Morgan’s vocals hearken back to influences like Neil Young and Nick Drake, yet sounds right in the vein of modern bards like the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. His cover of Sam & Dave’s hit “Hold On, I’m Coming” is in second position and gets a backwoods makeover that, while indistinguishable from the original arrangement, contains a sense of urgency and danger, which makes it a stellar reimagining. The melodiously unpretentious “SticksNStones” tells of longing set against a slight backbeat, while “Lost at Sea” juxtaposes the same theme against weeping strings and a bit more desperation (“I need you to believe in me / for …

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Review: Elephant Rifle – “Ivory”

This record begins with the uncontrolled wailing of guitar feedback and squalor, later joined by the gasps of a dying piano. And that’s a good place to start. Because, then, it kicks you in the goddamn teeth. Turn it up! Turn it up! “Bone Voyage,” Elephant Rifle’s entry in Noise-Punk Single of the Year, explodes like so many nail-tinged grenades in every direction, the guitar and drums barbed-wired together in rapid-fire syncopation before the former breaks into a screeching hellfire roar. Then, the singer starts to let loose, some bark reminiscent of early 80s hardcore, maybe, and, for a second, you could swear he’s harmonizing … with the Fucking. Distorted. Electric. Guitar. This band is not messing around, folks. On Ivory, the Reno, NV band’s latest offering, out this month via Humaniterrorist, the hits and bruises keep mounting from there. “Red Shirts” seems like an exercise in tom rolls and muddy vocals, until the cacophony drops a dime halfway through the proceedings and then suddenly stops Stops STOPS on the damn thing again Again AGAIN …

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30 years later, ‘We Are The World’ album still stinks

“We Are The World,” the charity single to end all charity singles (except it didn’t), was recorded 30 years ago this week. It was an instant sensation when it was released that March, but less well-remembered is the “We Are The World” album, which followed in April. One reason for that could be that it’s horrible. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating slightly — but it certainly wasn’t good, at least not most of it. Since I’m willing to bet that even those of us who threw ourselves behind the movement to end famine in Africa — primarily by buying “We Are The World” and watching Live Aid on MTV — haven’t spun it in decades, I thought the 30th anniversary would be a good excuse for me to revisit it track-by-track, so you don’t have to. It’s worth noting that the tracks actually appear in a different order on the album than they’re listed on the cover, which indicates the degree of attention given to this money-grab for starving people. Which is a good reason to …

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Last Things Last: A Rachel Grimes Profile

Rachel Grimes knew how to play the piano before she learned to walk. “My dad and grandmother played, so I was always sitting beside them following along, watching and listening in wonder at how they could make that magic,” the composer/pianist told me recently from the home she and her husband, educator Alec Johnson, share in the rustic countryside north of Louisville. “I took piano lessons, but mostly played by ear, movie and TV themes. I got a little more serious about classical music in middle school, though I was never interested in competitions. When I was 15, I was working part-time in the record department of a book-store and joined a rock band formed by the music department manager.” A decade later, in the mid ‘90s, Grimes gained wide-spread notoriety beyond her native Louisville by fronting a ground-breaking chamber ensemble that bore her name but was minted without her in mind. She’s been busy ever since, and now plans to release her second solo outing, a collection of chamber ensemble and piano music tentatively …

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INTERVIEW: Chris Besinger of STNNNG

Let’s try, okay, to be objective for a moment. STNNNG, a Minneapolis art-punk quintet with its heart on its sleeve and a roar in its throat, is the best thing to come out of Minnesota since Todd Trainer. There; eat it up. The band’s debut, Dignified Sissy, which is now in 10th anniversary territory, was blistering and brilliant stuff, a bombastic and invigorating statement of purpose. It demonstrated, with razor-cutting precision, that the band members didn’t embrace guitar squalor, brain-scratching lyrics, and off-kilter time signatures so much as they bounced around them. Wild stuff. Find it. Every few years a gem has followed, cementing the excitement. 2013 brought us Empire Inward, the group’s first outing with indie iconoclast and engineering superstar Steve Albini working the board. They’ve never sounded so good. Popdose recently got the chance to sit down with Chris Besinger, the band’s vocalist, to set straight the record. What follows is a black-box recording transcript of that conversation. POPDOSE: Hi, Chris. STNNNG: Hi, Justin. POPDOSE: So, you just returned from touring Europe? STNNNG: …

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ALBUM REVIEW: Nonagon – The Last Hydronaut

It’s hard to write about Nonagon, a Chicago-rooted band whose latest pocket full of cuts and volts is a 12-inch EP titled The Last Hydronaut, without using words like blistering or conjuring up images of what a caged animal sounds like after it’s been poked and prodded, jabbed and jabbered at, then let loose. For good reason — this modest little trio, which recently joined NYC’s The Austerity Program to launch Controlled Burn Records, is a mean son-of-a-bitch and has the chops to prove it. And the latest EP only firms up the resume. Let’s delineate all of the whallop and punch of Hydronaut’s six songs, even if that would be sucking some of the life out of it. Well, have at it. “Razing All Boats” rages, “The Pfister” paces nervously and explodes, and “King Corky” shows that there’s texture to the blade. On the second side, “Elvis” plods and hammers, “Affinity Fraud” scorches the skin, and the closing “Hydronauts” punches you in the face but shows hints of emotive regret at doing so. And …

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ALBUM REVIEW: Ezra Furman, “The Year Of No Returning”

This Chicago native makes his solo debut on Bar/None with The Year Of No Returning; a fine effort that immediately made me smile.  This is a darkly funny album, intended or not.  The lyrics are wry and biting and the structure of the songs tend to offset the themes to successful effect.  If I may make a comparison, Furman delivers these songs as a cross between a pissed-off Freedy Johnston or a charmingly funny Alex Chilton.  But make no mistake – the bile is there; it’s just masked in melody.  “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” opens the album with an angry, strident strumming acoustic guitar and subtle sleigh bells for percussion; “American Soul” has some of the best, twistedly humorous lyrics I’ve heard in a while (“I’m a Jew through and through and now I’m about to write you a bible…”).  “Sinking Slow” is a disconnected but effectively lush ballad with piano and strings that suddenly snaps into a Beach Boys-like refrain; “That’s When It Hit Me”, the album’s standout made me think of a …

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Popdose Giveaway: Win Tickets To See Chicago In Cleveland

For Chicago, to borrow from the Beatles and call it a “long and winding road” doesn’t even begin to detail the complicated history of the self-described “rock and roll band with horns.” By their own admission (as recently discussed in a documentary about their 2011 tour), there have been a number of lineup changes in the group over the years. But the core of the band — originals Robert Lamm (keys and vocals), James Pankow (trombone), Lee Loughnane (trumpet) and Walter Parazaider (woodwinds) has been in place for more than 45 years. In that time, they’ve toured every year, often in the summertime with a show that in recent years has focused on examining their expansive catalog of hits in addition to some deep album tracks that are spiked in for the diehards. (And they’re currently working on a new album, so there’s the slightest of slight chances that you might get to hear a preview of some of that new material during the summer shows.) They’ll be out on the road once again this …

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The Matt ‘N’ Jeff Radio Hour, Episode 17: Danny Seraphine

In the rock milieu, drummers are hardly ever famous in their own right; unless you happen to sing while you’re swinging the sticks, like Phil Collins or Don Henley (or, around Popdose, Andy Sturmer), it’s exceedingly unlikely that the garden-variety fan will ever have any idea who you are (or notice when you’re fired). Just ask Danny Seraphine, who co-founded the pioneering “rock band with horns” Chicago in 1967 and held down its rhythm section until 1990 — then had to watch from the outside while the band’s ever-dwindling core of original members hit the sheds every summer with a growing cast of replacements. For Seraphine — who told his side of the Chicago story in his memoir, Street Player — his painful divorce from the band he helped start was enough to send him into a musical hibernation that, for awhile, seemed to be permanent. But the drums never stopped calling him, and in 2006, he surprised longtime fans with California Transit Authority (CTA for short), a cheekily named collective dedicated to fulfilling the …

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The Popdose Interview: Kevin Eubanks

Kevin Eubanks is a guy that you’re probably most familiar with because of his 15 year stint as the bandleader for Jay Leno and the Tonight Show and that’s okay. But there’s so much more to know about Kevin Eubanks as a complete artist. For one, he’s a big fan of Swedish heavy metal. We’ll be honest — we didn’t know that either. It’s just one of many things that came up in conversation as we were discussing The Messenger, which is the latest solo release from Eubanks, available in stores now. The Messenger  finds the guitarist branching out and as he says “I didn’t want to be as concerned with the ‘jazz sound’ as much, I wanted to let out a little bit more of what I’ve been musically exposed to. Joined by members of his quartet, the album also features a guest appearance from Alvin Chea of Take 6, something that was a personal thrill for Eubanks who has been a longtime fan of the group. But The Messenger also has a family …

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You’re Dead to Us…Hit Songs By Older Adults, Made for Older Adults

A new series in which we look at once common curiosities of pop culture that don’t exist anymore, be it because of changing tastes, the fragmentation of culture, or merely the fickle nature of fads. My first memories of pop music are around 1981, 1982, age three or so. That dovetailed with the time my parents’ reached that point that most parents reach—when they stop actively paying attention to and keeping up with current pop music. Thus, American pop music began with “Islands in the Stream” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” for me, and ended with “Islands in the Stream” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” for my parents. Since then it’s been nothing but The Big Chill soundtrack and church music. This conscious shift into ignorance or semi-ignorance of current chart hits has happened to me, too. I’ve got a kid and a job and a novel I’m never going to finish to tackle, so there’s less time for music. Every day for a few hours while I work I take some time to listen …

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Short Attention Span Oscars: 11 Mini Movie Music Video Classics

I haven’t seen ANY of this year’s slew of “Best Picture” nominees. Besides the high price of tickets and parking, I simply can’t sit still while today’s over-indulged directors take up to THREE hours tell their freaking stories. All great movies share the same basic structure. Hero. Goal. Antagonist. Conflict. Love Interest. Setbacks. Resolution. Boom. Done. Story told. Viewer satisfied. Now let me hit the can to liberate those 64 ounces of Diet Pepsi. In the good olde days, you didn’t need a Sundance pass to see quality short films;  you could laze on your couch through an endlessly looping festival of 3-4 minute mini-movies on the MTV. For anyone under 30, MTV is a deceased cable channel that was dedicated to music in the same way The Learning Channel — TLC — was about education and BRAVO was for the fine arts. Today’s MTV is a reality-addled zombie that claimed its carcass. Granted most music videos then and now were simply band performance pieces, a bunch of non-sensical but very cool images, or wealth boasting in …

We aren't all that crazy about the logo design on the album cover, either.

World’s Worst Songs: “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago

Wait, what? Chicago’s third single, “25 or 6 to 4,” was released in the summer of 1970, and it is flat awesome. It proves just how hard a horn band can rock, and it makes supposed bad-asses like Van Halen sound like pussies. Sixteen years later, under the influence of heaven knows what, the band and producer David Foster decided to update “25 or 6 to 4” for a new generation on the album Chicago 18, but the result was one of the World’s Worst Songs. The reason couldn’t be simpler: the new “25 or 6 to 4” has absolutely none of what made the original so great. New lead singer Jason Scheff is not particularly offensive on it, but he’s neither Terry Kath nor Peter Cetera, either. Foster chose to bury the iconic horn section in an ocean of drum machines and other then-cutting-edge electronics. If you’ve ever hammered the gas pedal in an underpowered car and been frustrated when the thing refuses to speed up, you’ll understand what it’s like to listen to …

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Download Now: Cole DeGenova “Lovely Generation”

  To say the shit’s about to get funky up in here is an understatement. “Lovely Generation” is a deep album cut from Another Country, the second album from Chicago neo soul singer Cole DeGenova. Backed by his powerful band, The Peoples Republic, DeGenova gets his groove on, channeling early Prince and latter-era Justin Timberlake (back when that lad used to make music). I’ve had this track on heavy rotation since October; it’s a designated power hitter on my workout, party and wake-up playlists. Cole DeGenova – Lovely Generation (to download: PC right click/save as • MAC option/click) And this isn’t even the single! “Those Kids” has an equally stellar groove and should be a big hit at radio once the blog buzz gives way to airplay. The mighty WXRT in Chicago is already a supporter. DeGenova recently gigged around Europe and sang back-up at a Lupe Fiasco show in New York. He has played a wide variety of concerts, alongside or opening for such diverse artists as Kurt Elling, Patricia Barber, The Alabama Shakes, …