Career building

May 23, 2003



This column is once again long overdue for a trip through the always-overflowing stacks of D.I.Y. releases by local bands. (Three mail bins have piled up since last we checked!) So let's dive right in and sample some of the best, shall we?

A veteran of the West Coast group the Ostriches, guitarist-vocalist Matt Maloney recently relocated from San Francisco and put together a strong and lovably grungy garage-rock/alternative-country quartet called Big Buildings. The group's debut EP, "This Is the Bricks," is a roughhewn but endearing collection of six tunes that stake out a space somewhere between the Replacements and early Wilco; you can almost smell the beer and stale cigarette smoke. The group performs at Prodigal Son, 2626 N. Halsted, on June 6. (

There's never a shortage of driving power-pop bands in these parts, but Chlorine distinguishes itself with a particularly Spartan but tuneful approach on its self-titled three-song EP, thanks to Brian Magnusson's soulful vocals and fiery guitar. (

"Eleven space-age melodies," the four boys in Leave proclaim on the cover of their debut album, "Don't Go." In fact, there's nothing futuristic about their tight harmonies, driving rhythms and thoroughly satisfying power-pop, but as the aforementioned power-pop scene proves, catchy tunes never go out of style. (

The Rolls understand the value of space as a dramatic musical tool on their fifth album, "Trading Punches with Allah," recorded with considerable punch by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio. On songs such as "Sunday Morning in a Chinese Restaurant" and "Wrecking Ball," the emphasis shifts unexpectedly to a droning organ or an eerie Syd Barrett-like vocal, the better to highlight the group's simple but effective melodies. (

You'd have to reach back to England's postpunk trio Young Marble Giants to find a cooler organ-driven art-rock band than Oh My God, though this trio adds more of an energizing Midwestern pop sensibility to its minimalist tunes on its third album, "Interrogations and Confessions," as well as the occasional cool horn part and a flair for biting social satire in the lyrics. (

Not entirely metal but not exactly garage rock either, Bible of the Devil best recalls the wonderfully punishing sounds of early AC/DC, thanks in particular to Mark Hoffmann's impressive vocal screech. The group is in the process of recording its fourth release, tentatively titled "Versus Krell," and a five-track sampler is evidence that it's well on its way to creating a prime soundtrack for a sweat-drenched bacchanal. The band plays at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, on June 20. (

Distinguished by their laid-back, jazzy grooves and easy, effortless flow at the mike, Endangered Species makes some of the smartest, most sophisticated and most promising Chicago hip-hop since Common was just starting out. A self-titled five-song EP promises great things to come.

You've gotta love a band with a name like Domestic Godzilla that proclaims, "In rage we are as one!" The group's pummeling metal-edged hard-core almost lives up to the promise of its moniker and its motto on the debut album, "2 Hold You Over," though the anemic production does it a minor disservice; music this massive should sound a heck of a lot bigger. The group performs Saturday at 5 p.m. in the Dungeon at the Superbowl bowling alley, 1370 W. North in Melrose Park. (

A slave to no genre, the ridiculously prolific Nicholas Markos brings to mind a hipper underground version of David Gray while recording under his own name (as on the newly reissued solo disc, "Pinata Mondatta"), but he also dabbles in amusing electronic tomfoolery via a disc of diverse remixes of "Ave Maria" (credited to Jordan) and computer deconstructions of classic rock songs on "Let There Be Hits" (attributed to his techno-saboteur alter ego, The Hitmaker). He's also working on a new album under yet another identity, The Style. If he focused his energies (and chose a single name), he could be dangerous. (

A no-nonsense blue-collar punk band in the fine tradition of Pegboy or the Bomb (complete with the requisite Naked Raygun whoa-whoa choruses), Dummy delivers pared-down, hard-driving but ultra-hummable rock on its new album, "Hang 'Em High," recorded in fine no-frills style by Brendan Burke at Uberstudio. The trio celebrates the disc's release at Delilah's, 2771 N. Lincoln, on June 9. (

Solo artist Benjamin Gates, who records under the name Intelligent Dennis, lists among his influences Sonic Youth, the Beach Boys, the Monkeys and the Flaming Lips, and those divergent sounds as well as many more are indeed in evidence on "Ghost Companion," a strong collection of 14 trippy pop tunes. More than just a bedroom auteur, Gates has performed at venues such as Schubas and the Beat Kitchen, and I'd be curious to hear how his closet creations translate onstage. (

There aren't many indie bands that debut with a disc that's billed as the first part of a rock opera, but with its blend of alternative-country and psychedelia and its synchronized onstage film projections, Combo No. 3 certainly doesn't lack for ambition. Its six-song debut "Caretha" holds the promise of more interesting slowcore to come. (

Detroit and New York aren't the only cities with burgeoning garage-rock scenes; Chicago boasts a thriving '60s revival as well, and the Powerknobs are one of the most promising of its up-and-comers. The group's self-titled seven-song debut opens with a track called "The Testosterone Twist," and the rest of the disc delivers on the promise of that title with a searing collection of freakbeat. The band performs at Bar Vertigo, 853 N. Western, on May 30. (

In a similar, slightly more '70s vein are the Paperbacks, who blitz their way through six garage-rock scorchers on their own self-titled EP. The band sets itself apart from the pack by virtue of a red-hot frontwoman, L. Hotshot; she's not kidding when she wails, "I know, I know, I know about rock 'n' roll!" The quintet opens for legendary punk godfathers the Dictators on Saturday night at the Empty Bottle. (

An equally striking frontwoman in an entirely different genre, S'yen U. fronts Big Bang Music Theory and provides the focus with a soaring voice that recalls Sheila Chandra. Her fellow musicians craft an intriguing mix of worldbeat, techno and hard rock on the group's self-titled debut album. The band performs at Hoghead McDunna's, 1505 W. Fullerton, on June 20. (

Relocated to Chicago from Kalamazoo, Mich., Orquesta Ranura is a smoking eight-piece Afro-Caribbean dance band with a kicking horn section and hard-grooving percussionists who effortlessly navigate mambo, cha cha, meringue, cumbia and rumba rhythms on a 14-track demo. The group performs at in Grant Park at Taste of Chicago on June 30. (

"If there wasn't for music there'd be madness," singer-songwriter Ben Hollis warbles on the second track of his album "Live Your Life!" But there's plenty of giddy lunacy in the bluesy pop tunes that follow, including "Dead Rockers" and "Kathie Cut Her Hair," and that should come as no surprise to television viewers who know Hollis from his days as the hyperactive host of "Wild Chicago." Hollis celebrates his new release tonight at the Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood. (

Finally, Bryter takes its name from the title of Nick Drake's "Bryter Later," but the quartet's self-titled EP is less folk rock and more power-pop laced with electronic experimentation a la Beck and Radiohead. The group could stand to turn down the "twee factor" a bit, but overall it has the goods. (