Word Around Town
Icy, sheer 50 MPH winds whipping across Lake Michigan and dampening your mood? All in a day's work for Chicagoland. Don't worry, plenty of action is heating up for winter, including the return of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival this January 11-15. The lineup includes a nice mix of star power & buzz bands – Theophilus London, The Walkmen, Grouplove, Gauntlet Hair, to name a few – so we'll all have an excuse to brave the weather and hit the clubs.
Speaking of the club scene, Girls & Nobunny rolled into Lincoln Hall (see the live review below – photos by Nicole White -, while Asobi Seksu & White Birds (ex-Drink Up Buttercup) made a splash at Schubas. Meanwhile, locals Loyal Divide celebrated the release of their new album Bodice Ripper (see Quick Hits below) at the Empty Bottle, and Está Vivo will enjoy its own split release shortly (see interview below).
Congratulations to piano man Daniel Knox, who capped off a successful Kickstarter campaign that will have him composing an original score for a series of black & white photographs by John Atwood. The fund drive raised (as of press time) almost $10,000, which will go towards orchestration & instrumentation. The score will be composed during a yearlong artist residency at the Byrd Hoffman Watermill Foundation in Watermill, New York.
Here's some new tunes, Chicago. Panda Riot signed to the shoegazey US/UK XD Records, so expect their label debut soon(ish). SECRETWARS has released a new “best of” volume and a teaser trailer for his new album Dead In The Western Cosmos. Beyond far-out noise/jazz/blues mavens Names Divine has been logging hours in the studio, as have kraut-noise dynamos Verma, so new jams are on the way. Local cassette label Plus Tapes has launched a “tape club,” a kind of beer-of-the-month thing. If you want a regular stream of great underground analog vibrations, head to their site to find out more.
Final shout-out to CHIRP, Chicago Independent Radio Project, which recently organized a successful Record Store Crawl. Vinyl junkies of all stripes assembled to patronize their favorite nooks, enjoying a nice little discount with the magic CHIRP gold button. Much love to the Neon Marshmallow Festival as well. The festival, which started in Chicago, made its first weird & wonderful appearance outside the windy city, in three day stint at Public Assembly in New York City (an event co-sponsored by QRO Magazine).
Live In Concert: Girls & Nobunny at Lincoln Hall
Girls flew into Chicago on the wings of their latest album Father, Son, Holy Ghost, churning out the sort of expansive, polished, professional set that makes it hard to believe the San Francisco band was ever anything except a criminally-reliable headliner.
What we have here is a band that has the money to chase their growing compositional ambitions, and isn't afraid to spend it. The results have mostly been marvelous. Major hits from Father, Son, Holy Ghost that got aired at Lincoln Hall included the drop-dead gorgeous “My Ma,” Black Sabbath-esque “Die,” and the well-traveled single “Vomit.”Girls compensated for the lack of breadth (they arrived in Chicago as a four piece, in contrast to the legions of musicians and/or tracks required to record some of their latest material) with a few well-placed organ riffs. The organ riff could hardly hold a candle to the incandescent he/she duet at the end of “Substance,” but Girls, who have performed with the “whole crew” (gospel choir & more), did not bring the entourage to Chicago. Alas!
Overall, memorable set, yet strangely hamstrung by a cult of perfection that has overtaken Girls in their last two releases. As if to remind the house where Girls had come from, Nobunny has been tagging along for this tour. The scraggly, masked mix of S&M punk and Bugs Bunny chic represents all the fuzzy, buzzy innocent mayhem that Girls has left in the rearview mirror. Clad in black undies and a bare-chested leather jacket look, Nobunny was enjoying himself in his old stomping grounds. About halfway through the set, he announced that it was the first gig his parents had ever attended. Not a bad first gig for the 'rents to see: Nobunny stole the show, easily providing the most bounce for your buck with his impossibly infectious throwback rock ditties. Hopefully that was enough to smooth over the awkward “Mom/Dad, I'm going to perform in front of a live studio audience in my underwear” conversation. Different strokes for different folks, Mom and Dad!
Interview: Está Vivo
Está Vivo is Ryan McMahon, plus friends. He has a split cassette release with Gracie due out in December on Two Michael Jordans Records. Find out more at www.facebook.com/EstaVivo.
Drowned In Sound: So how long has Está Vivo been around? Have you gigged with other bands around Chicago?
Está Vivo: Está Vivo's been around for maybe about two years or so. The first year of that [Está Vivo] was just an idea and trying to get together what I wanted to do. I have played with other bands around here: this band Whisker Music, Audiences, The Avantist, and some bands that have rolled through like Radiation City.
DiS: Very cool, and when you're playing live is it a one-man act, or do fellow musicians sit in?
Está Vivo: I play live with five of my close friends. They help me bring the music to life when they're not busy with their own projects.
DiS: You are coming out with a split with Gracie in the coming months, are the musicians you perform with also going to be on the recording? Está Vivo: Yeah, there are some tracks that were recorded live and those are the ones they'll be on.
DiS: The split is due out in December, how did the collaboration with Gracie and Two Michael Jordans (MJMJ) Records come about?
Está Vivo: Well, I had contacted MJMJ Records in the past and shared my previous release, Together We Step with them and they really liked it. I was getting ready to record these new songs and I sent them an email seeing if they were interested in releasing it and they said they were. I didn't have enough to do a solo release so they hooked me up with Gracie who I was familiar with before so it worked out great and I was totally stoked to do a release with him.
DiS: Is this the first time releasing music in a non-digital form for you? What did you think of recording for a tape release?
Está Vivo: Yeah, this is the first time I'll be releasing music in a non-digital form. I'm really excited for it, ya know, I've never really felt an "official" copy of my music in my own hands before so it's nice and kinda weird at the same time. I like how it's getting released on tape too. I enjoy tapes and it's pretty cost efficient for everybody.
DiS: Definitely. By contrast, how do you feel about the use and abuse of the internet for the dissemination of indie music? Is the internet the bane or the savior of a struggling musician?
Está Vivo: Well, for me, the internet is definitely the savior. I do feel like there's more advantages than disadvantages for upcoming independent artists. In my own personal opinion I never really feel comfortable selling my music. Everything I do is with the help of some really beautiful friends T.J.K.,and The Avantist who let me use their equipment and houses to record, and my friend Yuki Tasaka mixed and mastered this latest release for free, so I really don't spend any money in recording and all that. If MJMJ weren't releasing it, it would definitely be free, and with the internet is very easy for me to send it all over the world and share it with everyone. I'm just more of a fan of sharing than selling, so I'm okay with the internet. (laughs)
DiS: Being able to get the music out there is definitely an advantage. Since you're a Chicago guy, what do you love about the Chicago music scene? What do you wish was different?
Está Vivo: What I love is that Chicago definitely knows how to throw a good house or warehouse party, those are definitely my favorite. As a whole though, I think the scene in Chicago is kinda messy. With all the shitty weather for most of the year I feel like people get lazy and don't participate or get involved with the scene. I love Chicago – it's no New York or Los Angeles, but the thing is that we have enough great artists to make Chicago an even better place artistically.
DiS: Are there any venues or DIY spaces that you particularly enjoy playing at?
Está Vivo: I really had a great time at The Hideout when I played with Radiation City. I think that might be my favorite venue right now. Really great building and really great vibe, it's very intimate.
DiS: You recently performed at a CHIRP (Chicago Independent Radio Project) meet & greet: how did that go? Any comment on the importance of CHIRP, and similar indie boosters, for sustaining the local indie music scene?
Está Vivo: Oh man, that was great! We had such a great time and the people from CHIRP are so beautiful. CHIRP definitely is important with pushing local indie music. They put together and promote a lot of events and really show people music they might have never heard. They're a definite need for the indie music scene and they're doing one hell of a job.
DiS: What's up next for Está Vivo (after the split release)? Any new news?
Está Vivo: Yeah, there's a lot going on right now. I'm trying to get a video done for the release of the split. I'm currently recording two brand new songs which I'll hand over to Bad Panda Records to release digitally; just about finished up with writing this new EP so hopefully I'll start recording that soon as well; an art collective I'm part of, Final Fight Family, which is run by my very good friends Jarvis Smith and Hussain Ewidah, are wrapping up a documentary they're doing, which includes myself and fellow musical artists, The Avantist, Jip Jop, plus many other great visual artists and filmmakers and all that. Also, I'm writing a film with my best-friend Julio Vergara, which we'll do the score for; also in the process of getting more shows together for December and the new year. Plus, I'm trying to get my broke ass to SXSW and get on some showcases. (laughs)
DiS: Wow, that's amazing! So much going on for you, we're looking forward to the release and everything to follow. Thanks again for talking for a bit
Está Vivo: Yeah, thanks so much! Had a great time chatting, appreciate it!
New Review: Jacker by Heavy Times
The Chicago-based punk ensemble Heavy Times recently released Jacker (Hozac Records). It is their second full length LP, if you feel comfortable calling a 22 minute record “full length.” Pick up the album here. If you've waded through the hip-deep excess of modern alternative balladry, the symphonic gluttony, the lugubrious wastelands of 64-tracked ProTool purgatory, all these past years, suffering the Radioheads, the MGMT 2.0's, the soggy chill waves dashing chill ships upon then chill rocks of a chill shore, then you've probably forgotten what the art of the “short & sweet” sounds like. We're talking about infectious music that was made to strike hard and fast. We're talking Minutemen. We're talking Ramones. We're talking Heavy Times, a punk rock band that knocks it out of the park with their latest LP Jacker.
Heavy Times raises the bar with Jacker, relative to their earlier stoner punk meanderings. The compositions exhibit ruthless pop efficiency while still flaunting a swaggering excess. The squeals, the pounding percussion, the buzzing guitar lines, the gravelly textures, the guy-next-door vocals polished to a Casablancian glimmer: all combine into a stark, symphonic, urban dystopia.
“Future City,” “Suicide Rider,” “Erase The Sun,” “Skull Hair,” “Memory Dump,” “Electronic Cigarette.” The song titles are pure ecstatic poetry. Jacker gives us a quick & dirty sketch of a world we're barely holding onto by the seat of our pants. Although you may not always be able to understand what Heavy Times is squawking about (lead off tune “Motionless Drift” sounds more like “Moisture Strips”) you will be left with the vague, powerful, exhilarating sense of standing on the precipice of a vast abyss, witnessing the rise of something enormous and unspeakable: the Mayan End of Times? Eschatological forebodings demand simplicity. Make Heavy Times your soundtrack for the apocalypse.
Enjoy streams from a few of the artists mentioned above. Special shout-out to Save The Clocktower, a band included in an earlier Drowned In Chicago, whom we unfortunately cursed with a broken link. Link to their fantastic album Carousel below!