They're makin' some noise in a gritty city

February 28, 2008


In the ever-volatile, consistently surprising music world, the only "sure bet" is that anyone who predicts a "sure bet" is probably an idiot.

Nevertheless, when pressed to name the 10 homegrown acts to watch in 2008, I have no problem rattling off a list of Chicago artists I'm fairly certain will make considerable noise in the months to come.

Are any of the musicians or groups alphabetically listed below "the Next Big Thing"? I wouldn't bet on it. But they're certainly making fans in Chicago -- and they're all deserving of much wider audiences.

1. THE ADORNMENTS: Though it only recently has started playing out, this gleefully goofy, fabulously unselfconscious rockabilly/New Wave/garage-rock quintet instantly became one of my favorite local bands on the strength of funny, catchy, minimalist anthems such as "Blogs Are Cries for Help" and "Pox on Your Car." Think of the B-52's, the Cramps and the Violent Femmes crammed into a van on a three-day road trip. Then think of them on acid.

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The Adornments perform March 8 at the Nite Cap Lounge, 5007 W. Irving Park.

2. AIRIEL: A psychedelic shoegazer band from Bridgeport? You know it, and this quartet has got that vintage Ride sound down so well, you'll swear they attended Oxford in the early '90s. The group has been touring in support of its first full album, "The Battle of Sealand," unleashing a full-blown sensory assault to rival My Bloody Valentine at its loudest and with visuals that would do Pink Floyd proud.

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Airiel will return from a 10-gig tour of the U.K. to perform a free show at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Metro, 3710 N. Clark.

3. THE COOL KIDS: Kicking it old-school with two turntables and a microphone, rappers Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish were one of the most impressive acts at last year's Pitchfork Music Festival, and "Black Mags," the standout track from the "Totally Flossed Out" EP, should do for dirt biking what Lupe Fiasco's "Kick Push" did for skateboarding.

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Gearing up to release a new EP called "The Bake Sale," the Cool Kids represent Chitown at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 12.

4. EZRA FURMAN: Falling somewhere between New York freak-folk guru Devendra Banhart and "Juno" soundtrack heroine Kimya Dawson -- with Jonathan Richman at the root of the whole genre -- this sensitive 20-year-old made his debut on the local Minty Fresh label with last year's "Banging Down the Doors," featuring gonzo tunes such as "God Is a Middle-Aged Woman."

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Hot off a Friday night residency at the Annex in New York, Furman will perform March 8 at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, before heading to Texas for SXSW.

5. HEAD OF FEMUR: Chicago continues to be a hotbed of beautiful ork-pop: The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir and the 1900s both won widespread accolades for their releases last year, and now it's Head of Femur's turn with a lush and irresistible album called "Great Plains." Due on March 25, it comes complete with cello, violin, viola, trumpet, trombone, flute and a small orchestra's worth of other instruments.

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The core Femur trio of Matt Focht, Mike Elsener and Ben Armstrong perform at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, with the usual extended cast of friends and hired hands on April 11.

6. KID SISTER: Rapper Melissa Young won the blessing of none other than Kanye West when he made a cameo on her single "Pro Nails," and she's been signed to the label started by West's DJ, A-Trak. The buzz is that she's one of the strongest female voices in hip-hop since the glory days of Yo-Yo and Salt-N-Pepa, and fans are eagerly anticipating her debut album, tentatively titled "Koko B. Ware."

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Kid Sister performs for "MTV's Spring Break" in Florida on March 18.

7. MATTHEW SANTOS: Blessed with a gorgeous voice introduced to the world at large on Lupe Fiasco's "American Terrorist" and "Superstar," this Columbia College grad is slowly but surely garnering attention for his own stripped-down folk-rock, as heard on last year's acoustic solo album "Matters of the Bittersweet." The fact that he continues to perform with Lupe in the company of Kanye and Pharrell Williams can't hurt, either.

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8. TOM SCHRAEDER: Hardworking, unassuming but wildly ambitious, this 23-year-old singer-songwriter is touring the States with a nine-piece band in support of his first self-released seven-song EP. The group is showing its range during its Monday "Practice Space" residency at Schubas this month, and clearly it's just warming up.

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Tom Schraeder and His Ego play at 8 p.m. Friday at the Art Institute of Chicago, then a more conventional gig March 8 at the Hideout before heading to SXSW.

9. THE SAPIENS: Quite possibly the most stylish band in town right now, with the spiffiest suits since the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, these five musicians have been pinging on my radar for some time: They play with the punk ferocity of overly caffeinated teens while writing songs with the sassy sophistication of Elvis Costello or Ray Davies. Right now, they only have a self-released EP to their credit, "Vs. the Hornet," but it'll be interesting to see what they do over an entire album.

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The Sapiens play at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, on March 7.

10. TEAM BAND: America needed an answer to British pop-punk favorites Art Brut, and here it is, complete with a D.I.Y. animated short on its Web site and lovably self-referential ditties such as "Team Band Fight Song" and "Team Band Anthem." Then there's the immortal (or at least it should be) "Bond" from last year's "Rock & Roll" EP, which finds singer Greg Drama cooing, "I'm Bond/I'm so bloody James Bond/You know, baby, I'm cool as ice/And twice as nice." He may even be right.

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Catch the Team Band spirit Sunday night at Quenchers, 2401 N. Western.