Local bands supply notes from the underground


September 27, 2002




Time once again to dive into the stacks of recent recordings by local bands. Since the last column devoted to Do-It-Yourself releases by Chicago-area artists, no fewer than three mail bins have piled high with submissions. How, then, do I choose what gets highlighted in these periodic samplings?

Everything gets at least a partial listen. The discs that stand out, which are played again (and again), and which ultimately get written about are the ones that demand closer inspection, which jump out as something fresh and original, are particularly inspired or heartfelt, or which have appeared already on the radar screen because clubgoers are excited and talking them up.

At the end of the day, that's the real definition of "buzz"--that elusive, mysterious but ubiquitous elixir that powers the underground music world.

Even in the Blackouts, "Myths & Imaginary Magicians" (Hope and Nonthings) ***1/2

John "Jughead" Pierson's definition of "acoustic punk" is considerably different than, say, Dashboard Confessional's, as might be expected from a founding member of Screeching Weasel (whose anthemic "Hey Suburbia" is retooled here for the coffeehouse). Even in the Blackouts maintains the driving rhythms, good humor (via wry and literate lyrics by Pierson) and massive hooks of the best pop-punk. It's just been unplugged and prettied up via the impressive vocals of Lizzie Eldredge and Kelly Summers.

Ben Weasel, "Fidatevi" (Panic Button) **1/2

Speaking of Screeching Weasel, that band's auteur has reemerged with his first solo album. He continues to pen the sort of personal, no-longer-quite-so snotty-or-cynical lyrics that characterized the last two albums by his legendary band. Unfortunately, while it has moments of tuneful propulsion, "Fidatevi" lacks the massive hooks that made "Emo" and "Teen Punks in Heat" so memorable and powerful.

Quiet Kid, "Imbecilica" (www.quietkid.com) ***

Recorded by underrated producer-around-town Mike Hagler, this solid debut album falls squarely in the Midwest's proud power-pop tradition (think Cheap Trick and Material Issue), with chiming guitars, driving beats and strong vocal melodies on infectious tunes such as "Matchless" and "Swear Up."

The Artist Formally Known As Vince, "At Last" (www.vincerock.com) **1/2

"Get down on your knees/Bow down," sings T.A.F.K.A.V. (as he abbreviates his so-dumb-it's-brilliant moniker) on "Goin' Hollywood," one of 11 flashy, trashy glam-rock gems delivered by this makeup-sporting goofball. As a whole, the album doesn't quite warrant that level of devotion. But it has spark and style nonetheless.

Sono, "Sono" E.P. (www.sonomusic.tv) ***

Formed in Champaign-Urbana and relocated to Chicago, this quartet literally wears its influences on its sleeve: The cover art nods to My Bloody Valentine, and a serious strain of English shoegazer guitar-rock runs through these four tunes. So far, the songwriting isn't as strong as the sound. But then that hasn't stopped the Vines from hitting it big.

The Siderunners, "Ain't Inventin' the Wheel" (Failed Experiment) ***

Country music as it was meant to be played (and often is in Chicago's thriving alt-country underground). The Siderunners are gritty, gutsy, not afraid to get down and dirty, and tipsy enough that they ought to be forced to call a cab instead of driving home.

Blue New World, "Visual Cues for Sonic Things" (www.bluenewworld.com) **1/2

Somewhere between the yuppie folk-rock of the Dave Matthews Band and the far more adventurous sounds of the groundbreaking Fairport Convention falls this ambitious quartet. The sound can be annoyingly slick at times, but it's redeemed by Aoife Lyons' stellar violin work and the varied world beats of the creative rhythm section.

Boas, "Mansion" (Overcoat Recordings) ***

Formed when some of the members linked up at a Califone show, Boas share that band's disorienting, on-the-verge-of-falling-apart approach to deconstructing classic rock a la Neil Young or the Rolling Stones circa "Let It Bleed." Glimpses of beauty poke out of the trash in unexpected ways, making mood music for schizophrenics.

Three on the Tree, "Three on the Tree" (osing@prodigy.net) **1/2

Also paying homage to Mr. Young, albeit in a much more straightforward fashion, this four-song E.P. is the work of a self-professed trio of "pre-midlife crisis musicians from the western suburbs." The ol' boys do a fine job of conjuring up that vintage "Cortez the Killer" maelstrom--all midlife crises should sound this spirited.

Heather's Damage, "Her Father's Son" (Sweet Pickle Music) **1/2

Equal parts early L7 and pre-pop Hole, Heather's Damage packs an impressive wallop instrumentally, but the trio suffers from a limited vocal range. Of course, Courtney Love can't sing, either, and the guitars provide the hooks that the vocals lack.

Tub Ring, "Fermi Paradox" (Caroline) ***

Hailing from Schaumburg (of all places!), this quintet is the most gonzo genre-blending mess since the late, lamented Blue Meanies. Sure, lots of underground bands attempt noisy stylistic collages at breakneck tempos. But few manage to inject as much melody as Tub Ring, or to craft lyrics as sharp as those in "The Subsequent Rating Given to the Life and Times of Jack Valenti."

The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, "Jennie That Cries"/"Not Helicopters" (www.fashionbrigade.com) ***

With a classically tinged (via cello and keyboards) take on twee pop/folk-rock, this sophisticated quintet will appeal to fans of Belle & Sebastian, with whom they've gigged. A beautiful, lulling single, with special emphasis on the gorgeous vocals.

The Paperbacks, "The Paperbacks" (thepaperbacks1@hotmail.com) ***

More rip-roaring garage rock from Chicago, courtesy of a young quintet that understands that fuzz tone guitars are all the more appealing when paired with strong, well-crafted pop hooks. "Do It For Me" they sing in the opening track. Then they proceed to deliver themselves.

Duvall, "Standing at the Door" (Double Zero) ***1/2

The failure of the Smoking Popes to break big nationally on modern-rock radio was perhaps the greatest injustice in Chicago during the alternative era. This E.P. marks the return of born-again (in every sense) Popes bandleader Josh Caterer, along with drummer Mike Felumlee. Caterer's way with an indelible melody remains unfailing, while his singing has grown even more expressive and emotional. May the second time around be the charm.

Braam, "Gravity & the Right to Fly" (www.braamrock.com) ***

Led by three brothers (vocalist Tom, guitarist Scott and bassist Mike) and named for their surname, Braam debuts with an ambitious, exquisitely crafted concept album that charts the intertwining, turbulent love affairs of three typical Chicago slackers. It's set against a jangling, folk-rock backdrop that brings to mind the California sound of the early '70s (Eagles, Jackson Browne)--no easy feat to pull off in a home studio.

The Interociter, "Predicts the Weather" (www.theinterociter.com) ***

Named for a mysterious machine in the B-movie classic "This Island Earth," this Oak Park trio infuses the generic emo-punk sound with a touch of psychedelia and a flair for solid hooks to arrive someplace fairly unique on songs such "A Mistake That Might Kill Us Both," "Three Quarters (I Got Mine)" and "Mike Singletary," a wacky tribute to the Chicago Bear with the memorable chorus, "Look at his eyes/He'll tear you apart."

Next week: The local roundup continues! And, as always, bands can send their recordings to me care of the Chicago Sun-Times, 401 N. Wabash, Chicago IL 60611.