Local bands making ear-catching music


May 21, 2004


This column is once again long overdue for a trip through the always-overflowing stacks of D.I.Y. releases by local bands. So let's dive right in and sample some of the best, shall we?

Bang! Bang! calls itself "Chicago's sex-rock three-piece," and the band members flirt with a vengeance from behind their skinny ties and skillfully torn fishnets. Yes, there's some New Wave revivalism going on here, a la New York's Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but with more fractured, disjointed rhythms in the manner of Devo. The seven songs on the band's debut EP, "Do You Like It?" are fun, catchy and brimming with nervous energy, and the group delivers the goods live. It will perform at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, at 8:30 p.m. on June 8. (www.bangbangband.com)

From "sex rock" to something more wholesome -- Illinois First! is a "history rock band" devoted to "setting the history and geography of the Prairie State to a dynamic rock 'n' roll soundtrack." Its other motto: "Illinois: It's not as boring as you'd think!" I can't decide whether the group's 9-song D.I.Y. album "Songs About the Land of Lincoln" is a spoof or a localized version of the historical ditties from "Schoolhouse Rock." With songs ranging from "Marquette and Joliet" ("Marquette and Joliet, French explorers/They mapped out Illinois!") to "George Ryan," it's probably both. (www.illinoisfirstband.com)

The well-recorded four-song demo by the Its! (hey, the third band in a row with an exclamation point in its name!) makes it clear that guitarist/vocalist Maciej (a Polish immigrant who uses his first name only) has spent quite a bit of time listening to the Strokes. But I like that droning New York garage-rock sound quite a bit, so it doesn't bother me when the quartet rips it off, especially when Maciej's hooks are nearly as strong as those of Julian Casablancas. (www.theits.com)

Gurnee resident Johnny NeRo is a one-man band who records as Nerve Exhibit. He's released several tracks on industrial/goth compilations, and he's just issued a five-song EP called "The Horror of Amusement." He clearly worships at the throne of Skinny Puppy, but his electronic drone is well-crafted as bedroom darkwave goes. It's a shame Wax Trax isn't around anymore to sign him. (www.nerve-exhibit.com)

Formed a few years back at Eastern Illinois University, the progressive-rock quartet Spread has just released an impressively well-made, lushly psychedelic album called "The Transition." With serious chops and considerable ambition, these lads fit in nicely with the prog-meets-emo surge of bands like Coheed & Cambria and the Mars Volta. The band will perform at the Wise Fools Pub, 2270 N. Lincoln, at 8 p.m. Thursday. (www.spreadmusic.com)

Please Please Wait, the alias of programming wizard Charlie Williams and guitarist-vocalist Namky Lim, calls the four songs on its "Used" EP "sci-fi soul" and asks us to imagine Radiohead covering Al Green. That's a neat idea, but the pair's uplifting synth-pop is actually much closer to the Pet Shop Boys. They will perform at the Bottom Lounge, 3206 N. Wilton, at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. (www.pleasepleasewait.com)

Relocated to Chicago from Michigan City, the Effect is a tight, hard-rocking quartet that plays dynamic, straightforward indie rock on its second impressive self-titled EP. If the group is as confident and uncompromising live as it is on record, it's definitely a band to watch. The Effect will perform at Java Jim's, 426 Pine Lake, LaPorte, Ind., at 8 p.m. on May 28. (theeffectmusic.net)

Abstract Mindstate, the hip-hop duo of Ice-Gre and Hellcat, have a long track record in the city's underground rap scene, and its members have an impressive pedigree: Ice-Gre worked as Kanye West's personal assistant, and West repays a debt by producing "Welcome 2 Chicago," a Windy City anthem that's one of the best tracks on "Still Paying," the crew's second album. This is inventive, ultra-melodic, genre-hopping hip-hop with a strong, politically conscious message, and it deserves to win a much wider audience.

There's another cool Chicago anthem on "Find the Time," a splendid five-song EP by the chamber pop sextet Canasta, as well as a killer cover of "The Model" by Kraftwerk, emphasizing the key hook with violin instead of synthesizer. (The band also makes liberal use of piano and trombone.) Canasta will perform at Subterranean, 2011 W. North, at 9 p.m. on May 31. (www.canastamusic.com)

Singer-songwriter Jamie Holesha's "3 Dollar Demo" (so named because that's what she sells it for at shows) features three tunes powerful enough that they make others in this genre sound like emotional lightweights. Holesha attacks her 12-string with punk ferocity and veritably howls her vocals; think of a one-woman, riot grrrl version of the Inidgo Girls. (www.cluttergirlmusic.com)

The speed-metal quartet Rival has been kicking around the Chicago metal underground since 1990, but it finally signed to Metal Blade for its long-in-the-making second album, "State of Mind." The disc mixes bassist-vocalist's John Johnson's soaring, old-school vocals with Gary Olson's stampeding drums and a searing two-guitar attack that never skimps on the melody. The song title "Extreme Aggression" pretty much says it all. (www.rivalmusic.net )

We get more truth in advertising via the tune "Alcohol and Rock 'n' Roll" from the 12-song demo by Twin Wrecks the Memory. Led by art-school vets Dan Sullivan and Ryan Paveza, the group plays loud, boozy, extremely grungy garage-rock with an arty twist, somewhere between the Stooges and Sonic Youth. Again, if they're as good live as they are on record, you may be scooping your brain off the floor at the end of their set.

Guitarist-vocalist Jamie Jacobs and the boys in Sour Deluxe continue to pursue their Brit pop meets Midwestern power-pop sound on yet another winning indie release, the "White Noise" EP. These five tunes find the group growing past its Garbage fixation and delivering its strongest set of tunes yet (in a just world, "Butterfly Collection" would be a major hit). (www.sourdeluxe.com)

Reaching back to the hardcore heyday of the early '80s, Regress plays scorchingly angry, ultra-political, punishingly fast (one song clocks in at eight seconds) punk rock the way Black Flag or the Dead Kennedys used to. "Look Who's Pulling the Strings" is a furious eight-song EP that's impossible to ignore. We need a lot more punk like this, and much less Good Charlotte.

Vintage '60s girl-group pop meets nasty modern garage-rock on "Sick Times," the six-song debut EP by the Dials. The quartet is led by guitarist-vocalist Rebecca Crawford and bassist-vocalist Patti Gran, but my vote for MVP goes to Farfisa organ player Emily Dennison. The band will perform at the Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton, on Tuesday. (www.thedials.us)

Local bands can send music and press materials to Jim DeRogatis, Chicago Sun-Times, 401 N. Wabash, Chicago IL 60611.