Home stylin'

January 26, 2007


The local music scene is never at a loss for producing a bounty of strong D.I.Y. releases and promising demos, but the best of what I've heard in recent months comes from a trio called Central Standard.

Characterized by its driving rhythms, fractured New/No Wave melodies and the endearingly manic-panicked vocals of guitarist, songwriter and New Orleans transplant Frankie Ostello, the five-song EP "Uniforms" stands as a remarkably impressive debut for a self-recorded D.I.Y. release. The group just played a handful of record release parties, but hopefully it will be posting some new dates soon on its Web site, www.centralstandard.info, which also offers free MP3 downloads of instantly infectious songs such as "Ruiner" and "Heart of Chicago."

My choices for coolest bubbling-under sounds continue with Mira Mira, the nom de CD of keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter Charlie Williams. Fans of the blissful electronic/ambient pop of the Album Leaf or Sigur Ros should love the entrancing album "Midnight for You," recently released via Ickydog Music. For live shows, Williams is joined by three fellow musicians on synthesizers, drums and cello, which should make Mira Mira's music even more seductive on stage than on record. It performs at Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark, at 9 p.m. Feb. 16. Visit the group on the Web at www.ickydog.com/miramira/.

"Whatever you do, please don't call me smooth jazz," Evanston pianist-vocalist Lisa Lauren wrote when she sent along a copy of her new album, "Lisa Lauren Loves the Beatles" (Planet Jazz), and that's fair enough: Her jazz re-imaginations of 14 Fab Four classics have more than enough soul and adventurous musical spirit in them to preclude tepid adjectives such as "smooth" or "lite." In fact, the electronic remix of "The Word" that closes this disc, th guest David Sanborn on sax, is better than anything heard on the recent, much-hyped "Love" album. Lauren and her band perform at 8 tonight at Davenport's, 1383 N. Milwaukee, or visit her on the Web at www.lisalauren.com.

Goat Motor begins the bio on its Web site (www.goatmotor.com) with the Wikipedia definition of "power trio," and within the first 30 seconds of "Law Man," the opening track on its self-titled 10-song album, it pretty much covers all the bases of what a hard-driving, vintage '70s power trio ought to do, giving us massive rhythms (complete with cowbell), deliriously fuzz-drenched, Marshall-amplified guitars and rip-roarin', whiskey-tinged vocal expressing bad-boy disdain for officers of the law. Good stuff, and the group brags that it's even better onstage; find out when it plays a record release party at 9 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Kinetic Playground, 1113 W. Lawrence.

Heavy in a very different but no less effective way is yet another hometown trio, Planetstruck, which has just issued a pummeling, pounding and thoroughly punishing five-song EP that finds a middle ground between the doom/stoner-rock subgenre and the artier noise-rock experiments of the Melvins. Surf over to the group's Web page (myspace.com/planetstruck9) and the titles of its songs will give you a hint of what you're in for: "Eating Staples," "Drooling" and "The Ham and Eggs Fire." Better yet, listen to the music, which more than lives up to the weird promises.

On an untitled 13-song collection of his basement home recordings, Evanston singer, songwriter and one-man band Conor Madigan tips his hand regarding one of his prime influences by not only covering the Zombies' "After He's Gone," but giving us a version of "Andorra," a beautiful solo track by Colin Blunstone. The Zombies' ornate, artfully orchestrated and harmony-laden pop is a hard sound to replicate, especially when you're working alone in a home studio, but Madigan does a great job of it, and his originals are ha derivative, following in a proud tradition of inventive romantic pop, and ranging far enough afield to include one fetching instrumental, "Drunken Pigeon," recorded entirely on a MicroMoog synthesizer. Madigan doesn't seem too fond of the idea of live performance -- he notes that another hero is Dusty Springfield, in part because of her stage fright -- but maybe a little encouragement will bring him out of the basement.

The trio of Chicago rappers known as Trump Tight proclaim themselves winners with the name of their crew -- in hip-hop lingo, somebody is "trump tight" if they're holding nothing but trump cards -- as well as the title of their new album, "The Greatest Show on Earth." Its 15 well-produced tracks don't quite live up to all the boasting: The mix of gangsta posing and brainless party grooves is too derivative at times of two of the group's self-proclaimed heroes, the Wu-Tang Clan and N.W.A., while there isn't enough evidence of the third, OutKast. But Sean Flynn, Michael Harris and James White are skilled rappers driven to make their music and their Trump Tight Records label succeed, and with a bit more work at forging their own sound, they could.

Less slick in its production (as befits the mixtape format) but more original and uplifting in its lyrics is the latest from longtime up-and-coming West Side rapper Mick Luter, "The Micks Tape: Hustle Harder Vol. 1." Luter has been a promising voice on the local scene since he won the Source's Unsigned Hype Battle in 2000, and he's recorded with the likes of Lupe Fiasco and Slum Village. He's overdue for his moment in spotlight, and tracks such as "Bless the Bottle" (which can be heard on his Web site at www.myspace.com/mluter) provide all the evidence that's needed.

English indie-rock heroes Art Brut gave the Chicago quartet Team Band a shout-out at last year's Pitchfork Music Festival, and you can hear why: Singer Greg Drama is like Eddie Argos' American cousin. Drama can't really sing, either, but he throws himself into the music heart and soul, has a great sense of humor and spurs the band to keep things moving in irrepressibly melodic pop-punk fashion. I fell in love with the band midway through the first song on its seven-song "Rock & Roll" EP, a tune called "Bond" that found Drama intoning, "I'm Bond / I'm so bloody James Bond / You know, baby, I'm cool as ice / And twice as nice." They played last night and don't have another show listed on their Web site (www.jointeamband.com), but I'm keeping an eye out for upcoming gigs.

Finally, keyboardist-vocalist Sima Cunningham may only be 16 years old and a junior at Whitney Young High School, but she's already fronted two bands -- Sima Cunningham and SmazE recently changed its name to the Audians -- and released two DIY recordings, including a new six-song EP produced by Brian Deck. Cunningham is an incredibly powerful and self-assured performer, with a smoky, sexy voice -- if that's legal to say at her age -- that more than does justice to the alternative country sounds, which feature an alluring underpinning of Cajun rhythms and melodies. Visit the Audians on the Web at www.theaudians.com.

Local bands can send music to Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic, Chicago Sun-Times, 350 N. Orleans, Chicago IL 60654.