Plenty of local bands go it alone

May 3, 2002


Time once again to dive into the always-overflowing mail bin full of Do-It-Yourself releases by local bands.

The Supernatural Yes, "...true love on planet X" ( ***

What does the Supernatural Yes want in life? "We want a private jet with big bucket seats/In-flight movies and plenty to eat/We want the poolside massages and fancy clothes/Diamonds dripping from our heads to our toes," bandleader Kim Katz sings on the second track here, "Drive." In other words, she and her mates want to be rock stars, and on this collection of catchy, hard-driving, mainstream rock (think Blondie or Pretenders, whom they cover) they make a pretty good case that they're deserving of exactly that. Katz sponsors the occasional women's music festivals called Eve's Garden of Rock; check the band's Web site for upcoming events.

Land of the El Caminos, "Subourbon" (Boojm, ***

This suburban trio gigs often, works hard, and writes potent Midwestern guitar-rock in the tradition of the Replacements or Cheap Trick, with a hint of a stoner-rock edge. Guitarist-vocalist Dan Fanelli has a throat lined with sandpaper, but he puts it to good use singing the lyrics of his kid sister, Lana, who has helped co-write another strong set of tunes but does not perform with the band. The group appears at the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, on May 24.

PurrBox, "PurrBox" ( **1/2

Led by Memphis expatriate Miss Millie on bass and vocals, PurrBox is a trio that recalls Veruca Salt at its poppy, punky best, singing infectious, energizing songs about unfaithful boyfriends and getting your first tattoo. Intoxicating stuff, and the group's debut is well-recorded with especially strong vocals.

Slitheryn, "Slitheryn E.P." ( *1/2

What hath Slipknot and its nu-metal peers wrought? A legion of uninspired imitators with Cookie Monster vocals, and a handful of bands with enough chops and a hint of imagination that makes you think they could graduate to doing something better. On this four-song E.P., the Chicago quintet straddles that uncertain line.

Stories for Boys, "The Terrific Tale of Johnny and the Circus" ( *1/2

Swirling, droning mood pieces in a retro-New Wave vein a la Echo and the Bunnymen. There's some promise on this four-song E.P. (I like the kalimba overdub), but Stories for Boys, like Slitheryn, needs to reach beyond imitating its influences to attempt something more original.

Tom Sharpe, "Like Setting Myself on Fire" ( **1/2

Though the title track on this album won World Music Song of the Year in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, this effort by Sharpe, a member of the Jellyeye percussion troupe, is, not surprisingly, more notable for the mysterious, layered polyrhythms than it is for the singing and songwriting. I dig it, but then again, I'm a drum enthusiast.

The Phenoms, "The Phenoms" ( ***

It was only a matter of time before Chicago had a contender in the New Garage sound currently exploding out of Detroit (White Stripes, Detroit Cobras), New York (the Mooney Suzuki), Sweden (the Hives), and the Pacific Northwest (the Catheters). On this 12-song set, the local quintet is loud, snooty, obnoxious, and overflowing with energy, plus it covers the Sonics and actually does them justice! The group performs at the Double Door on May 8, and the Underground Lounge, 952 W. Newport, on May 17.

The Raingods, "Looking for Loopholes" (Cheswick, **

Here's a pleasantly lilting, slightly-country-tinged hippie-pop quartet that would really, really like to be Poi Dog Pondering. With these 15 songs, they kinda, sorta come close to early Frank Orrall--I'm just not so sure anybody wants or needs that. The Raingods perform at Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, on May 9, and the Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln, on May 31.

StarCandy, "StarCandy E.P." ( **

More Poi wannabes, though this sextet is heavier on the funk and Latin influences, and it's distinguished by the soulful, powerful vocals of Renee Ruffin, who ought to do all of the singing while her partner Marqueal Jordan sticks to the sax.

Sones de Mexico Ensemble Chicago, "Fandango on 18th Street" ( **1/2

These five Chicago musicians are proudly traditionalist--"100 percent acoustic, no synthesizers!" they boast on the back of this CD--but not so traditionalist that they limit themselves from exploring the many variations of Mexican folk music, nicely illustrating the different strains of "son" (the overall term for a wide variety of musics performed at the "fandango," or dance festival). There's some especially nice horn work decorating the basic acoustic guitars, drums and accordion. The ensemble performs at 11 a.m. on May 11 at the Ravinia Festival's Lawndale Community Family Concert with Ella Jenkins at the Douglas Park Fieldhouse, 1401 S. Sacramento Blvd.

Strawberry, "Strawberry" (Taigkyo, **1/2

This odd, ever-shifting ensemble has built a cult following for its absurdly ambitious mix of synth-pop, art-rock, and over-the-top theatricality. It works better in a live setting (just like "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"), but there are rewarding moments on the well-produced, 13-song album as well.

As I've noted in the past, I receive an incredible number of submissions from local bands seeking press. Very few of these are downright awful or totally lacking in merit. Much more common are discs that fall into one of two problem categories: artists who haven't quite figured out what they want to say yet (but might, down the road), or artists who aren't saying anything particularly original or distinctive (but could, given the time to develop).

Among the recent entries falling into either of these classifications: Jesus and the Devil, two-song demo; Emilie Autumn, "Chambermaid E.P."; Pistol Whipped, "Too Much Excitement" (Beluga); Third Grade Teacher, "3"; Forty Piece Choir, "Face Your Fear"; the Nobs, "The Best of the Nobs" and "Greatest Hits"; the Cruelest Aprils, "Novella"; X-Aisle, "The Hardest Way"; Logan's Loss, "Riot Like"; Longitude, "... By the things that light the night"; Acumen Nation, "The 5ifth Column"; Mr. Juani's Dojo, "Welcome to My Dojo"; Tenki, "Red Baby"; YesMen, "Total Comfort"; Tami, six-song demo; Fatal Order, "Branded for Life."

Feel free to send your CDs or cassettes along with photo and bio to me in care of the Chicago Sun-Times, 401 N. Wabash, Chicago IL 60611.