Friday, December 30, 2005

Seven Indie Favorites from 2005: Part Seven

Silent Alarm Bloc Party (Vice, March 22) The year 2005 did not start until that day in March when I walked into Reckless Records, went up to the dude behind the counter and asked softly, “Do you have the new Bloc Party?” It was the first album release of 2005 that I marked on my calendar, the first whose teasing singles had shaped into a cohesive feel and resulted in a lecherous anticipation I only experience perhaps two or three times a year. Few of my favorite artists put out anything new in 2005, and so it was a year to gobble up everything novel to my ears, and Bloc Party was the first band I’d never heard of who enraptured me. When I look back at this past twelve-month maelstrom, Silent Alarm stands out as a disc that has carried me throughout the entire year, an effort strong enough to restore my faith in “up-and-coming” outfits and fresh enough to make me reconsider the legitimacy of buzz. I’m not sure what to call these guys. So I’ll say (post) post-punk post-nu new wave pop. Actually I’d just call them indie rock but I don’t want to cause an uproar. But Bloc Party is undeniable simple and straightforward. Perhaps the most innovative thing they’ve done on Silent Alarm is to create punk songs with disco beats. There’s “Banquet,” which I actually heard blaring from a car stereo in Boystown. It’s a track catchy from the opening drum fill and dueling guitar riffs, through the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure and into Gordon Moakes’s ending bass boogie. Despite these upbeat characteristics there’s a melancholy undertone that permeates the entire record. Silent Alarm is for the most part a happy dance album until you really listen to it. On “Banquet” Kele Okereke’s vocals are anguished and dejected, Russell Lissack’s guitar work is minor and hooked with a lamenting counter-melody and sinister wail. “She’s Hearing Voices” opens somewhat torpidly with Okereke’s deep, mysterious voice, but underlying this is the solid rhythm of Matt Tong’s drums, which transforms what would otherwise be a lackluster tune into something anxious and post-punk. Okereke sings, “Feeling rejection, I’ll burn down your house/Tearing down posters, I was never alive.” In a similar vein is “Price of Gas” and its eerie beginning of somber vocals and toggling reverb guitar, and then its stumble into a pop-cheer bridge. Under the chorus is a harmonic keyboard and pulse that makes the idea of Silent Alarm Remixed not so surprising. Even without the luxury of seeing Bloc Party play live you can deem that they’re playing the shit out of these songs. There’s high energy behind the guitar lines, passion in the vocals, and the low-end is on top of the beat, adding eagerness to the sound. The bass of Gordon Moakes and the drums of Matt Tong deserve the real praise for this album. In the sparse “Positive Tension” they create most of the music, with guitar and electronics only serving to create delicate tone changes. “Luno” features Okereke raving (“Where’d you get so cruel/Where do you go/’Cause you’re never here”) and evil guitar echo and scrapes, but it is Tong’s tight, pounding drums that drive the song to maniacal proportions. Even on the more down-tempo tracks he steals the spotlight. On “Pioneers” Okereke’s vocals are aching, the harmonies are mystical and there’s a pleading, desperate break to crush the toughest of hearts. This is all steered by the relentless drums, at first steady and pacing but climaxing into something less predictable and altogether untamed. Moakes functions similarly on “Plans,” which is a soft song that mutates from sadness to hope under the direction of subtle changes in an unyielding bass line. Of course Okereke and Lissack are not easy to overlook. “So Here We Are” is a pretty little tune with a glistening guitar line and Okereke’s beautifully resigned vocals that perfectly match-up timbre and lyrics. “I caught a glimpse,” he sings, “but it’s been forgotten/So here we are again.” Silent Alarm’s only thoroughly upbeat track, “Little Thoughts,” is drenched with melodic hooks, punchy punk guitar (there’s even an old-school, 16-bar guitar break), and a soaring climax charged with brilliant vocals and six-string arpeggios to drive all the power pop girls and boys crazy! Well you know what? I like Bloc Party. They create haunting punk with a deep, bare soundtrack that can be tense or calm at will. But I also enjoy them as a band. They seem likable enough: low-key, attractive, socially conscious but not ad nauseam. They’re British. They put on one of the best shows I saw this past year. So even if Silent Alarm wasn’t as successful as it is, I probably would have snuck it on this list. But luckily for us all, it is. Luckily 2005 became musically exciting fairly early and was able to keep up the pace with new bands and new (old?) sounds. March seems like it was ages ago. Funnily enough, Silent Alarm is still in my CD player. Nine months might be a mere glint for the successful rock world at-large, but for indie rock I think nine months is a sure sign that a band’s on to something. Nine months is four and two-thirds years in Vice Recording years. If Bloc Party continues to lace their mainstream pop appeal with the post-punk flare, the sinister undercurrents and schizophrenic spin prevalent on their debut, then I don’t see why they won’t end up surviving the torrents of their 2005 buzz.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Your Best of 2005

Sam Hunt - The Windish Agency 1. Death Vessel - Stay Close (Northeast Indie) 2. Why? - Elephant Eyelash (Anticon) 3. Akron/Family / Angels of Light - Akron/Family / Angels of Light 4. VA - Yellow Pills: Prefill (Numero Group) 5. Oneida - The Wedding (Jagjaguwar) 6. Animal Collective - Feels (FatCat) 7. Edith Frost - It's A Game (Drag City) 8. Jose Gonzalez - Veneer (Hidden Agenda) 9. Lavender Diamond - The Cavalry of Light (self-released) 10. MIA - Arular (XL/Interscope) Ron Saemann - RFC reader Top 15 Albums of 2005 1) Lucksmiths-Warmer Corners 2) Shout Out Louds-Howl Howl Gaff Gaff 3) Go! Team-Thunder, Lightning, Strike 4) Clientele-Strange Geometry 5) Bloc Party-Silent Alarm 6) Wolf Parade-Apologies to Queen Mary 7) Gorillaz-Demon Days 8) New Pornagraphers-Twin Cinema 9) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-Clap Your Hands Say Yeah 10) Sufjan Stevens-Illinoise 11) Acid House Kings-Sing Along with the Acid House Kings 12) Boy Least Likely To-The Best Party Ever 13) Teenage Fanclub-Man-made 14) Jose Gonzalez-Veneer 15) Feist-Let it Die Top 20 Singles of 2005 1) Gorillaz-Dare 2) Go!Team-Ladyflash 3) Bloc Party-Like Eating Glass 4) Feist-Mushaboom 5) Boy Least Likely To-Be Gentle with Me 6) M83-Teen Angst 7) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth 8) Architecture in Helsinki-Do the Whirlwind 9) Shout Out Louds-Very Loud 10) Jose Gonzalez-Heartbeats 11) LCD Soundsystem-Tribulations 12) Clientele- My Own Face Inside the TreesMy Own Face Inside The Trees 13) Wolf Parade-Shine a Light 14) Stars-Ageless Beauty 15) Architecture in Helsinki-Do the Whirlwind 16) Franz Ferdinand-Do You Want To 17) Moonbabies-War on Sound 18) New Pornographers-Bleeding Heart Show 19) Lucksmiths-Music Next Door 20) Nic Armstrong-She Changes Like the Weather Top 5 Concerts of 2005 1) Teenage Fanclub, Evan Dando & The Rosebuds @ Double Door on July 27th. 2) Lucksmiths @ Beat Kitchen on May 5th. 3) Luna @ Metro on Feb. 23. 4) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club@Metro on Sept. 27th. 5) HEM @ Schubas on Jan. 21st. Top 5 Old School Albums of the 2005 1) Jesus & Mary Chain-Darklands 2) Zombies-Odessey & Oracle 3) Kinks-Village Green Preservation Society 4) T-Rex-Electric Warrior 5) Love-Forever Changes dj popscum - RFC reader TOP TEN RECORDS 1) M.I.A. – Arular 2) Gorillaz – Demon Days 3) Edan – Beauty and the Beat 4) Lady Sovereign – Vertically Challenged 5) Annie – Anniemal 6) Bloc Party – Silent Alarm 7) V/A – Run the Road 8) Fiery Furnaces – EP 9) Atmosphere – You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having 10) Royksopp – The Understanding

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Your Best of 2005

Emerson Dameron - Dusted Magazine/WLUW radio 1. Sun City Girls - Uncle Jim's Superstars of Greenwich Meantime (Black Velvet Fuckere) 2. Akron/Family - Akron/Family (Young God) 3. Kallikak Family - May 23 2007 (Tell-All) 4. Smog - A River Ain't Too Much to Love (Drag City) 5. Sound Directions - The Funky Side of Life (Stones Throw) 6. Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice - Buck Dharma (5RC) 7. Arizona Amp and Alternator - Arizona Amp and Alternator (Thrill Jockey) 8. Scharpling & Wurster - Hippie Justice (Stereolaffs) 9. Old Time Relijun - 2012 (K) 10. Teotihuacan - s/t (?) Jake Austin - Roctober magazine/Chic-A-Go-Go! Thor "Thor Against The World" (Smog Veil) Quintron "Swamp Tech" (Rhinestone) "One Kiss Can Lead To Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost & Found" (Rhino Records) "Oprah Winfrey Show 20th Anniversary Collection" DVD Box Set (Harpo) Coq Roq "Bob Your Head" (BK) Ponderosa Stomp Music Festival (Knights of the Mau Mau) First few episodes of Rock Star: INXS (ABC) Oscar Brown Jr: Music Is My Life, Politics My Mistress (Directed by donnie l. betts) R. Kelly "Trapped In A Closet 1-12" DVD (BMG) The Juan Maclean "less than human" (DFA) Bruce Adams - Kranky MY TOP 10 NON-KRANKY FAVORITES OF 2005 (in no particular order) 1. Pelican "The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw" (Hydrahead) 2. Murcof "Remembranza" (Leaf) 3. Signaldrift "Girl" (Audraglint) 4. Six Organs of Admittance "School of the Flower" (Drag City) 5. Sunn (((O "Black One" (Southern Lord) 6. Magic Arrows "Sweet Heavenly Angel of Death" (Wobblyhead) 7. Vertonen "Orchid Collider" (C.I.P.) 8. Christina Carter "Human as Guitar" CDR 9. Opeth "Ghost Reveries" (Roadrunner) 10. Nick Butcher "The Complicated Bicycle" (Hometapes)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Your Best of 2005

Alexandre Mayakovsky - RFC reader 1. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl 2. Delia & Gavin - The Days of Mars 3. Oasis - Don't Believe the Truth 4. Antony & the Johnsons - I am a Bird Now 5. Dead Meadow - Feathers 6. Kanye West - Late Registration 7. M.I.A. - Arular 8. The Juan Maclean - Less Than Human 9. Queens of the Stone Age - Lullabies to Paralyze 10. The Clientele - Strange Geometry Tyler Coates - RFC reader ALBUMS: 1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois 2. Antony and the Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now 3. The Fiery Furnaces - Rehearsing My Choir 4. Belle & Sebastian - Push Barman To Open Old Wounds 5. Broken Social Scene - [self-titled] 6. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow 7. Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock and Roll 8. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema 9. Iron & Wine with Calexico - In The Reins 10. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan SONGS (Not on the previous albums): 1. LCD Soundsystem - "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" (from LCD Sounsystem) 2. Black Lipstick - "B.O.B. F.O.S.S.E." (from Sincerely, Black Lipstick) 3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" (from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) 4. Animal Collective - "Grass" (from Feels) 5. Voxtrot - "The Start of Something" (from Raised By Wolves EP) 6. Iron & Wine - "Jezebel" (from Woman King EP) 7. Feist - "Mushaboom" (from Let It Die) 8. Elliott Smith - "Thirteen" (from Thumbsucker soundtrack) 9. Aimee Mann - "Video" (from The Forgotten Arm) 10. Magnolia Electic Co. - "Werewolves of London" (from Hard To Love A Man EP) SHOWS: 1. Liz Phair w/ Cary Brothers, The Birchmere (Alexandria, Virginia), August 4th. 2. Broken Social Scene w/ Feist, Metro, October 28th. 3. Art Brut w/ The Hot Machines, Schuba's, November 15th. 4. Sufjan Stevens w/ Laura Veirs, Metro, September 16th. 5. Feist w/ Great Lake Swimmers, Schuba's, September 8th. 6. Neko Case w/ The Sadies, Starr Hill (Charlottesville, Virginia), February 16th. 7. Magnolia Electric Co, MACRoCk (Harrisonburg, Virginia), April 2nd. 8. Le Tigre w/ Electrolane, The Vic, August 10th. 9. Black Mountain, MACRoCk (Harrisonburg, Virginia), April 1st. 10. Shout Out Louds w/ The Essex Green and The Sun, Double Door, November 9th.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Your Best of 2005

Bill V - Theft Liable to Prosecution Tier one: Bloc Party, Spoon, New Pornographers Tier two: Wolf Parade, Okkervil River, LCD Soundsystem, The Doves, The Stars, The Decemberists, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and My Morning Jacket. Top Shows: The Arcade Fire, Lollapalooza and The Riv, The Futureheads and The Kaiser Chiefs, both at Double Door. Top Singles: (not in any real order) Sister Jack by Spoon, Engine Driver by The Decemberists, One More Night by The Stars, Tribulations by LCD Soundsystem, Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts by Wolf Parade, Chicago by Sufjan Stevens, This Modern Love by Bloc Party, The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and For Real by Okkervil River. Brian J. (aka "Trintdog") - RFC reader 1. Wolf Parade- Apologies to the Queen Mary 2. New Pornographers- Twin Cinema 3. Greg Dulli- Amber Headlights 4. Supergrass- Road to Rouen 5. The Raveonettes- Pretty in Black 6. Of Montreal- The Sunlandic Twins 7. Broken Social Scene- Broken Social Scene 8. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- Howl 9. Animal Collective- Feels 10. Madonna- Confessions On a Dance Floor

Friday, December 23, 2005

Seven Indie Favorites from 2005: Part Six

Feels Animal Collective (Fat Cat, October 18) I’m a sucker for inelegance. Something about perfection and grace makes me take up arms. Maybe it’s my low self-esteem, but whatever. I hate beauty. Or, I should say, what I find beautiful is not archetypical. I’m a fan of the awkward, the peculiar, the asymmetrical. I like people who are slightly inept, who share my obliviousness and discomfort. I like to feel that I’m in a place where I’m not the only one who hasn’t a clue. I like to see faults on display like keys to knowledge and individuality. I suppose this is one of the reasons why I am drawn to independent music. I love unpolished sound and sparse production and understatement and rockers who don’t have enough money to cover up their insecurities and inabilities. It’s easy for a band like Wolf Parade or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to flaunt imperfection and ungainliness because they’re newly-formed and because their very nature is to be rough and anxious. What is more difficult is to similarly reveal laxity and deficiencies when you’re a reasonably experienced band whose heart is in down-tempo collage and who relies on intricate sound-layering that normally needs structure and crispness to be successful. On Feels Animal Collective treads further into waters of classic pop; still, their sound remains relatively oblique, and their execution as charmingly clumsy as ever. The more traditional tunes on Feels include the openers “Did You See the Words” and “Grass,” which are “more traditional” in the sense that they contain hooks and melodies and simple chord progressions. But in the case of the former the conventionality is flushed with an emaciated, chaotic noise that never really decides what it wants to be. Conversely, on “Grass” the sound is defined, mimicking cutie sixties pop until it’s jarred by the chorus of syncopated shrieks and cymbal crashes that come from nowhere. This juxtaposition creates a tension that is less dramatic and more beautifully self-conscious. This awkward confusion is further exemplified by “You Should Turn Into Something,” which is understated indie rock, beginning modestly with a flimsy chorus and gradually growing with layers of orchestral electronic noise, yet never reaching a climax and ending inconclusively. But Feels isn’t entirely modest. It contains two epics, the first being “The Purple Bottle,” which is something of a suite with the first half being cute and catchy despite a primal beat and Avey Tare's vocals that are so strained they’re almost painful to listen to. But this only adds to that adorable gawkiness, especially when he sings lyrics like, “It’d make me sick…to kiss you/and I think that I would vomit/but I’ll do that on Monday/I don’t have a work plan.” Through rumbling bass and guitar and sforzando drum beats the tune dramatically transitions into something less frantic, something more messy and intriguing that leaves the impression of a million different sounds that you just can’t discern lurking underneath the surface. The second blockbuster-of-a-tune is the melancholy “Banshee Beat,” which initially lingers translucently and grows subtly with a melodic guitar line and elaborate percussion and vocals climaxing into something as grandiloquent as anything the eighties ever produced. Despite all the sounds layered here, Feels lacks the sterility of other albums released by so-called avant-garde pop artists. Through its ostensibly reckless production it loses minimalist clarity but gains a punk rock spirit. While overall the music is nonlinear and erratic, it maintains rationale and emotion. “Flesh Canoe” is unstructured and unmelodic, with grating guitar, frivolous bits of piano and lifeless vocals that ramble ceaselessly with no direction; however, Animal Collective has much more control of their music then they let on. Through gentle cadences, through dynamic swellings, through youthfully candid lyrics (“Haven’t seen you in a week or three days/though it really bugs me/it’s nice to find new ways to smile.”), the band is able to create more emotion than the conventional band is on a standard pop record. Animal Collective isn‘t afraid to be aesthetically displeasing and disjunctive, as exemplified by the amorphous “The Bees,” but they don’t sacrifice warmth and splendor for the sake of innovation. Paradoxically they are able to encapsulate humble sentiments with ambitious noise. The track is stuffed with various incongruous elements, but each element shimmers to create a haunting ambience that, rather than being complexly structured, is simply unstructured. There doesn’t seem to be any great effort here, or anywhere else on the album, to outwit listeners, to create academic noise that lacks heart; Feels is the mark of a band able to rein in its pedantic capabilities to create heartfelt music that wears its flaws like battle scars.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

All Natural Label Showcase

Friday night, local hip hop collective All Natural, Inc. will be presenting their 3rd annual label showcase at the HotHouse. The show will feature practically the entire All Natural, Inc. roster sans ringleaders Capital D and Tone B. Nimble. Scheduled to perform are Iomos Marad, Daily Plannet, The Pacifics, Primeridian, Eulorhythmics and Mr. Greenweedz. The HotHouse is located downtown in the South Loop at 21 E. Balbo. Show starts at 10pm, admission is $10. For more information on all things All Natural, check out www.allnaturalhiphop.com.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Jay Ryan Book Release Party

Tonight, The Hideout will be hosting a book release party for 100 Posters, 134 Squirrels: A Decade of Hot Dogs, Large Mammals, and Independent Rock: The Handcrafted Art of Jay Ryan. Even if you don't recognize the name, if you've been to any local rock venue within the last 10 years, I almost guarantee you know Ryan's work. If you need to refresh your memory, check out yesterday's extensive article about Ryan in the Sun-Times, or browse through his poster galleries at www.thebirdmachine.com. The book release party starts at 8pm and will also feature readings by Joe Meno and Todd Dills, plus live musical perfromances from Bottomless Pit and PAL. The Hideout is located at 1354 W. Wabansia, near the corner of North and Elston.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

We Want Your Top 10s

The new year is less than two weeks away! Keep those Top 10 lists coming in to rfceditor(at)hotmail.com...we'll start posting them here next Monday. ---------- Robyn has started to count down her "Seven Indie Favorites" of 2005, but RFC also wants to hear your favorites and like last year we'll be posting everyone's lists here at the end of the year. So start digging in your record crates and CD-R spindles to narrow down your 10 bests of 2005 and send them to rfceditor(at)hotmail.com by 12/23/05. Scroll through the RFC archives here and here to check out everyone's Top 10 of 2004

New Releases Tuesday (12/20)

Ryan Adams - 29 (Lost Highway) Third album of the year from the most prolific artist in alt country, if not all of music. 29 is a concept record of sorts, each song represents a different year of Adams' life in his twenties. The 'Fork gives it a 6.8, which is a big improvement from the lashing he got for his Rock n' Roll record that registered a paltry 2.9 on the Pitchfork scale.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Seven Indie Favorites from 2005: Part Five

A Certain Trigger Maximo Park (Warp, May 31) I like to think that some years back, a group of raw, sweaty lads from Newcastle sat around their local pub on a night snowy and dead, and they came up with outlandish, frivolous plans to create meaning in their dull little lives, like going into real estate, or robbing banks, or buying a dilapidated school bus and driving it across Europe while singing American trucker songs. But then, in that moment of sheer genius that arrives just before becoming completely rat-arsed, one of them came up with a plan to conquer a scene he saw dying out even as its revival was in infancy. He stood and said, Mates, this is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna build a band to fucking get the world off. We’ll wear tailored suits and tread in post punk but we’re not gonna drown. We’re gonna pound out immortal, visceral rock tunes and wrap them in catchy pop that tossers have spent so long ignoring, they’ve forgotten that it’s what makes punk so fucking great. We’re not gonna be sexy class, we’re gonna be classy sex. We’re gonna be the rockers that break through the thick, lame line of mods that have taken over the world. We’re gonna sing about fucked-up relationships, about being lonely and angry, but we’re not gonna whimper, we’re gonna scream and let it all out. We’re gonna be a goddamned rock band. We’re gonna be Robyn’s flippin wet dream. Four hundred and ten. That’s the magic number. 410. According to WinAmp and iTunes, this is, collectively, how many times I’ve listened to the songs on A Certain Trigger. So I’ll make a clarification now. This album is appearing as “Part Five,” but I never claimed these picks were being posted in any sort of ranking order. In fact, I’m a little concerned that people will think I actually like Illinois or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah better than A Certain Trigger. Jesus Criminey, people. Four hundred and ten! The reason it’s only appearing now is because I had to work up the nerve to criticize it. But not surprisingly, the album holds up well under scrutiny. On “Apply Some Pressure,” the best-crafted rock tune of the past year, simple guitar riffs and pressing vocals don’t swirl through repetitive cycles but leap among the revolving platforms of Tom English’s intricate, shifting drum patterns that create a solid, yet offbeat and anxious foundation. The band meanders through various soundscapes, builds chaotically to a climax only to arrive explosively back at the opening verse. “Limassol” has a synth pop opening that quickly morphs into Maximo Park’s classic sound. There are tempo changes and minor transitions, a hectic break that falls seamlessly back into place. You never really know how a Maximo Park song is going to end, but it often will utilize this nonstructure that pulls in multiple directions yet always ends satisfactorily. On the more relaxed “Going Missing,” Paul Smith ends and begins with his steady, slightly cockney voice singing, “I sleep with my hands across my chest/and I dream of you with someone else.” It’s a typical Maximo Park lyric; these are songs about lost and missed love, about jealousy and desperation and lust; however, unlike most other tortured acts around these days, this group refuses to shroud itself in dark tones and dank resonance. Their characteristic sound is major and open, and so when Smith sings, “I’m going missing for a little while/I’ve got nothing left to lose” the resultant temper is not resigned but resilient. Smith’s voice itself is a solid entity that he can blend smoothly into the surrounding instrumentation or else unleash to rise powerfully above all else as beautiful desperation. On the power pop anthem “The Coast is Always Changing,” he takes on the persona of a young, tormented lover who chants, “I am young and I am lost” as anguished as any seventies hooligan. But Maximo Park isn’t entirely categorized, and sometimes this punk angst transforms into a new wave repression. “Once, A Glimpse” opens with understated vocals entombed in dark guitar lines and erie, glistening keyboard, but Smith can’t contain himself for long, and during the punchy chorus he erupts with wrenching, frenetic vocals, only to return schizophrenically to the subdued verse. “I Want You to Stay” has a more skeletal sound, lacking the thick guitar chords and instead utilizing gloomy, distorted bass and light guitar arpeggio. The song is driven by a Brit pop beat and Lukas Wooller’s teasing keyboard that builds to apexes that don’t arrive until the end when the guitars and vocals fill out. The keys are equally important on “Graffiti,” in which organ and guitar chord progressions emanate with the soaring, glorious peaks of Brit rock a la The Charlatans, only to descend into a somber, lashing break to do Jarvis Cocker proud. With a lesser band all of these shifts would come off horribly incongruous, but on one album Maximo Park can rip out the two-minute guitar spree “The Night I Lost My Head” and the five-minute electro-pop “Acrobat,” and still not lose any sense of solidity. Of all the impressive debuts released this year, Maximo Park’s A Certain Trigger is the best evidence I’ve seen of a band that’s got it together, a band that knows exactly what it’s doing and that is going to be around for some time. They’ve taken everything we love about new wave and Brit pop and have mashed it into a neat parcel of timeless punk rock that’s poppy yet complexly structured. Each song is focused and perfected to the tautness of bubblegum pop; however, ever-changing rhythm configurations and sound arrangements makes for music that has all the impulsiveness of raunchy R&B. So I guess, basically, what we have with A Certain Trigger is the culmination of the forty-year progression of worthwhile rock ’n’ roll. What we have with Maximo Park is an intelligent outfit that knows how to package itself for the average consumer. Why a band like this isn’t blasting out of every car stereo of every pasty white kid in the Western World is beyond me. Four hundred and ten!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Action Figure Party

Don't forget...tonight is also the grand unveiling party for the limited edition set of Coctails action figures. The event takes place at the Rotofugi toy store at 1953 W. Chicago Ave and even includes a rare live in-store performance from the band. Plus, if your very own Archer Prewitt action figure isn't enough collectible fun for you, Rotofugi is promising even more Coctails goodies at the party:

We'll have the new Coctails figure set from Presspop available for purchase along with the new Coctails 10" from Presspop entitled "Let's Enjoy." Other goodies available will be a fine silver and black Coctails tee, a beautiful little book by Presspop that collects a bunch of the Coctails imagery/posters/promo items over the years and a handy-dandy Coctails Totebag, also all made by Presspop. Come, hang out, listen to some music, and get the whole band to sign your new Coctails merch!

Indie Music Video Fest

Tonight, Locale Events will be presenting the Chicago leg of the Indie Music Video Festival at Subterranean. Boasting 40 music videos from around the world, the IMVF screening will be split into two parts during the night. From 7-9pm, videos will be screened in Subterranean’s first floor lounge. Part 2 will take place upstairs and will also feature live performances from 4 different bands. A few of the notable featured in the videos include The Decemberists, Album Leaf, Guitar Wolf and Xiu Xiu. Subterranean is located at 2011 W. North Ave., admission to the festival is $10

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

BAM! The 97 best of 2005

Today at 11am, WOXY.com kicks off their annual "97 Best Of" countdown of the top modern rock albums of the year. For added drama, this year's countdown will actually be spread out over two days; with the first half running today from 11a-3p and the second half concluding during the same time on Thursday. Also, for the first time this year, the countdown will be available on-demand via archived audio for two weeks after it airs. Place your wages and post your top 10 predictions in the comments section.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

New Releases Tuesday (12/13)

Various Artists - All Tomorrow's Parties 3.1 (ATP) Compilation featuring performers from the 2003 All Tomorrow's festival curated by Matt Groening. Of course, everyone knows Groening as the creator of The Simpsons, but before he hit animation gold he was a music critic for the L.A. Reader. Needless to say, Groening knows a thing or two about the history of rock and he compiled an excellent line-up of artists including Iggy and the Stooges, Sonic Youth, Spoon, Modest Mouse and Elliott Smith. No actual live performances from the festival here, but you do get Thurston Moore and Co. tearing through a hot rendition of The Simpsons theme. Beck - Guerolito (Interscope) Remixed version of Beck's 2005 release, Guero; features retooled tracks from the likes of Air, Boards of Canada, Diplo, El-P and "the king" Ad Rock. Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Ramblin' Man (V2) 4 song EP previewing the forthcoming full-length collaboration between the former Belle & Sebastian siren and the former lead singer of the Screaming Trees.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Live Pics - Lady Sovereign@Empty Bottle 12/6/05

Thanks to dj popscum for forwarding pics from last Tuesday's Lady Sovereign show at The Empty Bottle. Check out the complete set here in the RFC Live Photo Archive. I wasn't able to make the show myself, but word on the street was that the S-O-V was a bit off her game and didn't get the crowd moving nearly as much she did at her North American debut at Sonotheque this summer. Anybody else check out the show? Post your thoughts below.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Seven Indie Favorites from 2005: Part Four

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Self-released) This album isn’t really that good. But I think that’s something we’ve all known since our first listen back in the summer. Oh, how Clap Your Hands Say Yeah [CYHSY] is such torture for we who strive to be cutting-edge by shunning the self-same hip underground affections that make us cutting-edge. Do we hate CYHSY because they’re popular (well, popular in our little corner of the world) and they’re unoriginal and they’re somewhat annoying and they lack the use of sampling and electronic ambient loops and chamber strings, or do we love them because they’re unoriginal and they’re “annoying” (you say annoying, I say honest) and their lack of sampling and electronic ambient loops and chamber strings guarantees that our elitist friends won’t like them, and so in our love we’ll make popular so popular again that it becomes unpopular and therefore those who love the popular will be more exclusive than the elitists. And that will be us. Unless everyone has this idea. Does Pitchfork like this album? Fuck. They gave it 9.0. I think I’ve just criticized myself out of existence. I digress. The real issue here is that, if for no other reason, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah should be on everyone’s top ten (or seven) indie list by default. This album’s sold 40,000 copies without a label. Before a few months ago CYHSY had no distributor and were sealing and stamping all of these puppies themselves. Their popularity spread rapidly through word-of-mouth and internet relays, which most people fantasize is how all independent artists rise but this is definitely not the case. For a band to reach this level of success without label-supported promotion, without a big-name producer and without a song on a television commercial is a rare feat indeed. These days indie has become a Zen plateau rather than a definitive production quality; In 2005 CYHSY emerged as a good kick in the pants to all of those who don product placement in the name of independent-can-never-be-what-it-was. But do I only like this album by default? Not really. There’s a fun mesh of sounds here that fit together strangely yet not disjunctively. And yes, bandleader Alec Ounsworth can deny all he wants that he is consciously influenced by particular artists, the fact remains that even if only subconsciously, CYHSY is a product of New Order and Talking Heads and The Who and even Bob Dylan. Maybe because he doesn’t realize he’s picked up all of these various influences, Ounsworth makes no effort to disguise them and the result is not a smooth, spicy blend, but a rough, accidentally exotic gallimaufry stew like the one grandpa used to make when grandma was out playing bingo. They’re just so weird. And not in a bizarre, revolutionary, experimental, post-blah blah blah way. They’re weird in a retarded way. I feel bad for laughing but sometimes I just have to. The album opens with the carny organ of “Clap Your Hands!” and Ounsworth talk-singing nonsense like some sideshow emcee atop his soapbox. On most tunes he sounds like a whiny but eloquent drunk, except on “Gimme Some Salt” when he makes an attempt at lazy sass that may or may not be earnest. This uncertainty is part of what makes this album amusing; either CYHSY is so oblivious to its absurdity, or so conscious of it, that we want to be in on the joke and play along. This isn’t to say that the album is laughable; indeed there are qualities to it that are so understated that they shine. While Ounsworth’s voice is neurotic, its unpolished quality has the capability, like on the bleak jangle “In This Home on Ice,” to ring out in an childlike weep. The tune carries traces of social criticism: “Should I trust all the rust that’s on TV/I guess with some distaste I disagree/With quite a fashionable dispassion for/ the dispossessed under-stressed/gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme.” This gravity is not rare on the disc. Underneath the fuzz bass and happy keys and jam band harmonica, “Heavy Metal” is a song of loss and confusion that’s not poetic but nonetheless genuine. “This Tidal Wave of Young Blood” is an anti-war song more successful than any somber, straightforward homily released this year. The tune is sarcastic, but not in an overbearing way; Ounsworth sings, “We are men who stay alive/Who send your children away now/We are calling from a tower/Expressing what must be/Everyone’s opinion.” The message is disguised in the cheerful acoustic guitar romp, the electric guitar line, sparse and distant like an eighties ballad, and Ounsworth’s robotic voice. And just so we won’t think CYHSY has gone sober and didactic in the end, the song and album ends with one of its dumbest stunts: Ounsworth repeating the words “child stars” continuously for forty-seven seconds and then ending on the cliché, “with their sex, and drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.” With a mix of earnestness and kitsch the album lacks any feeling of being contrived. Mostly it’s dark little dance tunes, like “The Skin Off My Yellow Country Teeth,” which sounds like sedated eighties pop, and “Is This Love?” whose fluttering keyboards and chaotic chorus is British invasion meets prog punk meets classic indie rock. These fellows draw from so many different areas that they can’t be labeled as copiers of one act, or one scene. And they’re off key just enough that, even though their sound is derivative from all these other places, it’s deliciously jarring and attention-grabbing. So I doubt that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is going to revolutionize the modern music scene; however, there’s definitely potential for them to grow as a band and stretch the limits of artistic lunacy. Apparently Ounsworth wrote most of the tracks before the band was even together, so it will be interesting to hear what the next effort sounds like with the input of the other members and with even more layers of influence. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is I think really just a peak at Clap Your Hands Say Yeah; it’s an audacious bud that in a year or so we’ll either forget accidentally or remember pompously. Either way, in 2005, it’s made its mark.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Stream the Wizard

Chicago's only free form radio station, WZRD-FM (aka "The Wizard"), has boldly stepped into the 21st century with a live streaming simulcast on the Internet. If you're out of range of their mighty 100-watt signal at 88.3 FM, you can now tune in to the Wizard via your computer at: www.wzrdchicago.com As I've said here before, WZRD is probably the best keep secret in Chicago radio and their stauch no-frills and no-ego approach is a refreshing oasis on today's radio dial. If you've never been able to listen to WZRD before, definintely give it a listen on-line sometime. For the latest info from the Wizard, check out their MySpace page at www.myspace.com/wzrd

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Guerolito Listening Party

Tomorrow night(12/8), the Museum of Contemporary Photography will be presenting a listening party for the upcoming Beck remix album, Guerolito. Stop by to hear a sneak preview of sliced and diced Guero tracks from the likes of Air, Boards of Canada, Diplo, El-P and "the king" Ad Rock. While there have been reports of the record being delayed until January in the UK, it appears that domestic fans should still be able to pick it up Guerolito as originally planned next Tuesday, the 13th. The listening party lasts from 6-8pm, the Museum of Contemporary Photography is located at 600 S Michigan Ave. For more info, call 312-663-5554. (via flavorpill)

New Releases Tuesday (12/6)

Cocteau Twins - Lullabies To Violaine: Singles And Extended Plays 1982-1996 Limited Edition 4-CD box set collecting greatest hits and rarities from the Scottish dream pop group. New York Dolls - All Dolled Up [DVD] This feature length documentary captures the band during early performances in New York at Kenny's Castaways and Max's Kansas City, then follows the Dolls on their tour of the west coast, including footage from the Whisky A Go Go, the Real Don Steele Show, Rodney Bingenheimer's E Club and much more. -Amazon.com Sonic Youth - Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisiminimui (SYR) The sixth edition of the SYR series is a live recording of the April 12, 2003 benefit concert held at and for The Anthology Film Archives, the international center for the preservation, study, and exhibition of avant-garde and independent cinema. The event, which raised money for the Archives and celebrated the life and work of avant-garde film maker Stan Brakhage, featured Sonic Youth providing an improvised instrumental collaboration with silent Brakhage's films. The band performed with drummer/percussionist Tim Barnes (Essex Green, Jukeboxer, Silver Jews). Part of the proceeds of this CD will again benefit the Anthology Film Archives. -Amazon.com

Monday, December 05, 2005

We want your Top 10s

The new year is less than two weeks away! Keep those Top 10 lists coming in to rfceditor(at)hotmail.com...we'll start posting them here next Monday. ---------- Robyn has started to count down her "Seven Indie Favorites" of 2005, but RFC also wants to hear your favorites and like last year we'll be posting everyone's lists here at the end of the year. So start digging in your record crates and CD-R spindles to narrow down your 10 bests of 2005 and send them to rfceditor(at)hotmail.com by 12/23/05. Scroll through the RFC archives here and here to check out everyone's Top 10 of 2004

Friday, December 02, 2005

Seven Indie Favorites from 2005: Part Three

Illinois / Sufjan Stevens (Asthmatic Kitty, July 5) Remember that party we were at? Yeah, well, let’s go back and change the smoking jackets into pea coats, the pleather sofas into your older brother’s hand-me-down futon and the martinis into PBR. Then we’ll invite some wimpy boys who’ve reclaimed their traditional, righter-than-left beliefs as traits to bolster their sincerity, and then we’ll turn into the girls that fall in love with them despite our devout faith in faithlessness, in socialist anarchism and casual sex. And during our perennially nerdy music discussion we’ll stumble across the concept album, and we’ll say how we love that we’ve returned to a time when people aren’t afraid of cohesive themes and characters and reprises and fifty-four word-long song titles, and how we wish more artists weren’t afraid to be as eccentric as we are. And someone should shout, “SUFJAN Stevens!!” and we’ll all raise our PBR in salute. On Illinois Sufjan Stevens has found a perfect balance between gorgeous earnestness and impish pokes at Illinois, at music, at the concept album and the people who love and hate them. As a rule concept albums are contrived and pretentious, and I’m sure a lot of people hear a six second song entitled “One last ‘Whoo-hoo!’ for the Pullman”--literally one whoo-hoo--and they groan, but I tend to be a soul that finds such tomfoolery pleasantly amusing. Or, at least on Illinois I find them amusing. I also find it amusing that some people are pissed off because this album isn’t truly about Illinois. Mostly it’s namedropping and random folklore references that could be substituted for anything that happened in any other state. So really it isn’t a successful concept album. I don’t really care what kind of album this is. I grew up on three minute pop tunes and commercial breaks that shortened my attention span, and so it’s impossible for me to consider anything more than the sum of its parts. Sure there’s a half-minute non-song entitled “In This Temple as in the Hearts of Man for Whom He Saved the Earth” and sure “The Seer’s Tower” might possibly be the worst song I’ve heard all year, but I can concede these to an artist’s necessary egocentricity and move on to the chipper “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders.” That’s what god created the skip button for isn’t it? I could say that Illinois is pretty and leave it at that, but then I wouldn’t be telling you anything you hadn’t already realized. The opener, “Concerning the UFO Sighting near Highland, Illinois” consists of the minor, gentle swelling of piano and flute under Stevens singing in his reticent voice about aliens as if invoking the muses for his imminent odyssey. And who would’ve thought that John Wayne Gacy could be the inspiration for one of the most beautiful songs released this year? On “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” bass, piano, and guitar are at once cooperative and at odds with one another; above this augmented, hollow harmonies create an urgent, ethereal tension. Stevens ends with, “And in my best behavior/I am really just like him/Look beneath the floorboards/For the secrets I have hid,” an unexpected allegory that makes up for anything saccharine he tries to push on us later. And there is sugar galore on this album; Sufjan Stevens is a sad pop poster boy, with his boyish good looks, reticent voice and propensity for melancholy melodies. “Casimir Pulaski Day” is a simple song whose innocence matches the quality of Stevens’s voice. In austere two-part harmony he tells the story of a boy trying to make sense of his girlfriend’s imminent death. The song could easily turn into a sorry and didactic Christian attempt to explain god’s mysterious ways; instead Stevens has no answers, no words of comfort, just the complications, the resignation to the fact that “He takes and He takes and He takes.” One way in which Stevens is able to rise above the maudlin traps that ensnare his sensitive contemporaries is in his nontraditionally structured songs. “Casimir Pulaski Day” contains no chorus but remains altogether charming. On Part I of “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” there are sound shifts and a clever use of rhythm that gives the illusion of time signature changes when actually the romp is persistently 5/4. Part II moves into common time and invokes dramatic strings. “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders” does use a shifting time signature and also a Part I/Part II split, the first half being cheery with hand clapping and trumpet, the second somberly hopeful with a polyphonic chorus and weeping strings. The second way Stevens is unusual is by his thorough musicianship. Outside of trumpet and strings he plays all of the instruments on this album, the long, diverse list of which includes guitar, piano, flute, banjo and glockenspiel. Any song, like “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us!,” that relies on an oboe for its oomph is fine by me. All of these instruments on Illinois come together to create an array of sounds, from the softer rock tunes, to the vaguely ragtime “Decatur,” to the mix of string quartet, banjo, and electric guitar on “Jacksonville” that falls somewhere between lazy bluegrass and poppy jazz. On the romantic “Chicago” Stevens creates a lush sound with the bass on the low end, moving up through full harmony of voices and strings, topped by fluttering guitar and majestic trumpet. Among this resonance Stevens’s diffident voice stands out sweetly like a modest boy in a grade school chorus. So this album could easily be annoying because it is so cute, but the cuteness is often grounded in a sadness that is acquiescent and universal instead of indulgently miserable. I admit some of the lyrics are little better than something you could find in the journal of middle school Catholic school girl (“Celebrate the few. Celebrate the new. It can only start with you.”), but this is not an album of lyrics; rather, it is one of tales and life and legend and humor. Jesus Christ, it is a concept album! I get it! Critics be damned. But Illinois isn’t necessarily the theme. More the state and all of its glory and inanity is used as a means to relay Stevens’s personal concept: the climb out of that dejection every sad pop star feels, the egress of which reveals a love for god, a wonder at the world, and the ability to laugh at oneself.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Return of the Ox Cancelled!

After a hiatus that felt like ages, underground hip-hop heroes Vordul Megilah and Vast Aire recently announced they would be returning as Cannibal Ox and embarking on a short reunion tour. Now it looks like anxious Chicago fans are going to have to wait just a bit longer for the much heralded return of the Ox, as the Abbey Pub website reports that tomorrow night's show has been cancelled. A make-up date is supposed to be announced TBA. We'll keep you posted... In the meantime, check out highlights from their recently released live album, Return of the Ox, on their MySpace page at www.myspace.com/cannibalox.