Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"This isn't pizza. This isn't even human food!"


The Daily Show is in town taping four episodes in Chicago and Mich and I were lucky enough to get invited to tonight's taping. I should probably make the embarrassing admission that I realized I haven't actually watched a full episode of The Daily Show since Trevor Noah took over (?!). Well, now I have. I've always appreciated his combination of sharp, intelligent humor tempered by laid-back demeanor, and seeing him live—he continued his stand-up approach even during the commercial breaks and kept us all in stitches the whole time—made me appreciate his control of his craft even more.

As for the title of the post, you'll just have to watch the episode to understand why that quote made me laugh so hard, but I'll give you the hint that correspondent Ronny Chieng and I both have a similar view of Chicago deep dish pizza.

UPDATE: You can now read my recap, and watch videos, of the episode on Chicagoist!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Wand stopped wandering and found their focus, for now.

Wand, photo by Sofia Arreguin. Which, I guess, makes this a sort of selfie?
On Plum, Wand is less a psych band and more a classic rock band. This ends up delivering a solid album that, for me, doesn't have many highs or lows, but instead feels mostly ... competent. Don't mistake this as a negative observation. The band had been veering around a bit during their first burst of productivity, and the result was unpredictability, but not always of the best kind. Their sound differed from album to album, and I always got the impression the changes were driven more by a search for identity; a drive to flip over new musical stones and dig deeper into one sound or another without really making a commitment.

Plum is the band's first new album in two years, for Wand an eternity, and in many ways it feels more conventional, inasmuch as it profiles a band that seem to be happy with the sound they've chosen. This move allows the band to stand on an album that feels like they finally flipped over a stone and found a mirror that reflected their true intentions back at them.

"Bee Karma" is a scorcher I've got on repeat.

Friday, October 13, 2017

'Legion' is easily my favorite soundtrack of the year thus far. If you're logging that sort of thing.


Note: I just noticed this draft has been sitting around since the first half of this year! I think I remembered it primarily because I was listening to the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack earlier this week and was struck by how great it was when matched against the visuals, and how flat so much of it felt when it was just left to stand on its own merits. Anyway, it's probably better I didn't publish this way back when, because I don't think the Bandcamp page was live at the time, so the only placeI could have directed you was iTunes—where I bought it from—since I don't think it existed anywhere else at the outset. Anyway.

The Legion soundtrack is like a lovely mixture of Vangelis, Pink Floyd and ‘60s Mod. And it works even better than most, since the instrumentals can mostly stand as songs on their own and not just snippets of music to match a 30 second scene or transition.*

Which isn’t to say these compositions didn’t perfectly, perfectly, fit the visuals in the series they were created to complement. They did. They just happen to accomplish the unusual feat of a soundtrack album also being engaging outside its prime reason for existing. Most that do this tend to skew more on the atmospheric side, but for whatever reason Russo’s work here also has a weird prog sensibility that puts it in a slightly different swim lane than you’d expect it to occupy.

You can’t just listen passively to Legion. It digs in and creates its own space within you whether you want it to or not.



*There are a few “snippets” but they act as welcome interludes in the album’s sequencing. Actual interludes!



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Liam Gallagher's AMA had some genuinely wistful and emotionally revealing moments.

Photo via Liam Gallagher's Instagram
I know you think I'm kidding, but I'm not. First of all, Liam Gallagher's AMA was remarkably straightforward. There was some humor, to be sure, but he actually went ahead and answered questions thrown his way with a forthrightness usually pretty foreign to these exercises nowadays.

And there were three questions that actually elicited answers that felt, well, emotional, wistful and honestly sentimental.




But of course, because Liam is Liam, there was still this…

Comment from discussion I'm Liam Gallagher. And you are not.

Gallagher's new album, his first 100% solo effort, As You Were is out now. And you know what? It's really great. It makes me even more sad his Lollapalooza set got cut so short this year, because the kid is on a hot run right now.



It might just be my favorite post-Oasis release from either Gallagher brother!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Resurrect summer vibes with WATERS.

WATERS, photo by Cara Robbins
Wow, I really sat on this one. You see, since I have long lists of albums to listen to, I often spin the ones that seem like they might be more "difficult" and save the ones that sound like they'll just be pure fun to take in until later. What this means is that ofttimes albums keep getting pushed further and further back in the line. It's kind of like when you know the bartender but you tend to get passed over for newer customers because they're trying to get them out of the way so they can spend quality time with you. But what actually happens is you end up waiting forever to get a drink.

Such was the case with the WATERS album Something More!, that came out in ... May?! What was I thinking?! Because it's so much fun, and would've made the perfect summer soundtrack for me. But of course, instead, here I am on a dreary October day now dreaming of sunshine powered by huge guitars and group choruses. Let's go straight to the notes I jotted down after first listening to the album at the gym this morning (which, by the way, definitely contributed to me logging 10,000 steps before 10 a.m.!).
If 5 Seconds Of Summer wrote good songs they might sound like this. I can't tell if this is kids with great production or pros who are aiming for super accessible HUGE pop-rock. Ah ... the press release says "Written and recorded over the past year in LA, following big-time touring runs with the likes of Weezer, Tegan and Sara, and Matt and Kim, the album came together after the five-piece band returned home and were forced to confront the day-to-day realities of everyday life." Yup, that sounds about right. 
It's super dumb but super fun and I think I super like it.
I mean, that about super sums it up. Check out two of the LP's tracks below and snag a copy of the album if you like them. If you're looking for a shortcut to blast out ever shortening days with an extra dose of psychic sunshine, this should do the trick.



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Quick tips to keeping your sanity in an unending political news cycle.


I don't know if this will help you, but I've found it helps me. Here are a few tips on how to consume political news in a relatively responsible manner that may help you from constantly freaking out.
  1. Don't watch cable news. At all. 
  2. Avoid news sources that either directly align with or contradict your political beliefs. Submerging yourself in either isn't really helpful. (Unless you're a journalist trying to get the full picture of what each side thinks is going on. But the average person should save themselves the blood pressure raising hassle.)
  3. Check in with AP and Reuters throughout the day. Once things filter through those two sources you can be reasonably assured you're getting something real and more balanced.
  4. Don't get your political news from Facebook. It's an echo chamber that will only feed you your own viewpoint, and that is completely useless.
  5. Take up meditation. Even if only in brief bursts.
UPDATE: I added the photo of Pickle to make this a little more inviting. Tips are always better with kittens!

Monday, October 09, 2017

Two new Diane Coffee songs are just making me hungry for more.

Photo by Photo by Cara Robbins Photography from the Diane Coffee Facebook page.
Diane Coffee's new 2 song release, Peel, is out later this month. It glam-tastic. And fabulous. And really makes me wish he was releasing a full album. Here's the A-side, but I assure you the B-side "Get By" is just as excellent.

I've been following Shaun Fleming (they who are "Diane Coffee") and their work for quite a while now and they've progressed from a quirky psych wunderkind into a mini-symphonic stomping genius. If they continue in this direction, I am prepared to get very excited for their next full-length, whenever that might finally arrive.

You can order a copy of Peel today.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Just 4.5 hours away.

I really wish my dad were alive to see the Blade Runner sequel.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Getting heavy with Mothership.

Mothership sounds exactly like this photo looks. Photo by James Villa via the band's Facebook page.
Short, sweet and to the point today.

Mothership, a Texas groovy power trio, bears a lot of similarity to Fu Manchu's skate metal. Their latest album isn't exactly a mindblower, but if you're looking for a sharp, solid collection that will get your head swaying, then this will fit that bill.

"Ride The Sun" is my clear favorite from the LP, so let's use its forward momentum to get us ever closer to the weekend.

Dig it? The band has a short tour out west coming up.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

How much new music did I listen to in September 2017? Let's find out!

On my way to Riot Fest a few weeks ago...
2017 is really shaping up to be a pretty mediocre year, musically. At least based on my personal rating system and the hundreds of albums I’ve listened to thus far. Don't get me wrong, there has been a LOT to like. I'm not hurting for enjoyable tunes. There's just precious little that has been GREAT.

On one hand, it’s a great time to be a sentimental 30- or 40-something, since the indie guitar rock of the late ‘80s and ‘90s has made a roaring comeback. But that ain’t exactly new or groundbreaking, no matter how much it is a direct hit on my pleasure centers.

Pop and hip-hop are dominant, which in no way bugs me, but neither is doing anything new. In fact, due to the Soundcloud and Spotify nation, I’d argue much of this stuff is more disposable since it is literally built without longevity in mind. So as far as snapshots of a moment, this is great! But it evaporates almost instantaneously upon landing.

I have a feeling the above grafs will end up forming the backbone of my year-end piece, so don’t be surprised if you get a sense of déjà vu come December. Anyway, here’s how September shaped up!

As always, here’s a guide to my rating system.

Total number of new/upcoming releases listened to in September 2017: 44

Number of those releases that rated 7-10: 2

Number of those releases that rated 4-6: 31

Number of those releases that rated 1-3: 11

Highest rated album: The National’s Sleep Well Beast. Believe me, no one is more surprised than me. I suspect that the new Foo Fighters album will edge up a point or two by year’s end, which would give it the win for September. But as of now it’s the NYC crew by way of Ohio.

New band I’d never heard of that caught me off guard: Deep State! For so many reasons, I think they actually won September.

Most surprising discovery: Tub Ring has a new album! Who knew they were even still together?! I remember booking them waaaaaay back when. If you need your Faith No More / Mr. Bungle / accessible Mike Patton itch scratched, then grab this album.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tom Petty and me.

Photo by me.
My earliest memories of Tom Petty were of his videos on constant rotation in the earlier days of MTV. I always thought the videos were inventive, but my pre-teen tastes ran more towards poppier stuff, so while I always thrilled to see Alice turned into a huge cake, there were times I tires of watching Petty wander through a wasteland since it meant some of the frothier fare I preferred wasn't on the screen.

In my early teens, I appreciated his work, but thought hm a bit of a fuddy-duddy as I ventured into punk, metal and college rock (what you would now call indie, I suppose). I dug the hits, but didn't dwell on them. I do think it was probably around this time my brothers got hit by the Tom Petty bug though—they latched onto his genius before I really recognized it, that's for certain.

In my '20s I dutifully became aware of his broader catalog, the deeper cuts, and started to delve into unreleased tracks. It was probably about then that something clicked and the guy I thought was a dinosaur when I was a kid suddenly revealed himself as a visionary and a songwriter of almost scarily excellent consistency. My blind spot cleared up and what my brothers had known for years suddenly hit me as well.

I spent the next decade or so in this state, and unusually for me, didn't really do a deep dive into Petty's personal history. I think perhaps that once his genius became apparent to me, that was sufficient. Perhaps I preferred him to be more a cypher and an icon, and less flesh and blood? But in October of last year, my then-co-worker Dave suggested I read Warren Zanes' Petty: The Biography, so I took it on vacation to Florida, devoured it, and spent that week playing nothing but Tom Petty non-stop as I sat my the pool behind the house we rented.

It's only now I realize the irony of reading a Petty biography and gorging on Petty music while in Florida. How did I never make that connection before?! No matter.

Instead of his personal history demystifying his musical output, it intensified the work, in my eyes. It was the final piece of the puzzle. I had at last walked through the mirror with deep appreciation on one said and absolute fandom on the other. Sure took me long enough, huh?

Photo by me
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played Wrigley Field the day before my birthday this year. I didn’t have a +1, so I couldn’t bring Michelle, and I seriously considered giving up my ticket because I felt guilty I couldn’t take her.

Then I realized that even after all these years I had never seen Petty play live, and the word was this would be his last “big” tour, so I smartened up and went. It was pouring for the first half of the set, but even though I was soaked I was smiling he whole time.

It’s bittersweet, but I’m glad my only time seeing Petty on stage measured up to all my hopes and expectations. I spent most of yesterday hope, hope, hoping he’d pull through once the initial news reports were debunked, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Sad though today is, the man attained immortality, because his songbook will never go out of style.

Monday, October 02, 2017

How to decipher breaking news.

Below is an incredibly useful guide for translating what is what in a breaking news story. Given the horrific events of the past couple of hours, and the non-stop media coverage that has followed, I know it is tempting to listen to every single development. Personally, I prefer to check in every couple of hours to see what new things have surfaced, but we all have our own methods of dealing with mind-bending events. You should do what's best for you.

However you chose to consume updates, though, I can't recommend enough to keep the below "handbook" in mind as you do.


Friday, September 29, 2017

I decided not to wear a t-shirt of a band I love today because, Trump.

True story. I had this t-shirt on this morning because I freaking love White Reaper, and it's Friday, and I rarely wear t-shirts to the office anymore, so I was excited.

Then, just before I left the house, I thought about the fact it had a flag on it, and "white" was prominent on it, and someone who didn't know they are a kick-ass band might think I was supporting something completely different.*

So I took it off.

Fuck you, Trump. Fuck you for making it so I'm afraid to wear a fucking t-shirt for fear it will be misinterpreted because you have stoked the fires of hatred to run so hot right now.

*The name of their latest album is The World's Best American band, hence the stars and stripes. And they are rocking as can be, hence the faux metal lettering. It's all very tongue in cheek. But, you know, times have changed a lot since I bought it all the way back last May. Which, let's be honest, May feels like it was about twenty years ago by this point.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sick passenger on the train.


In Chicago, when you hear the announcement, or see a message on one of the boards, that trains are delayed due to "a sick passenger" we all know it doesn't mean someone has a severe cold.

We were at the doors of the train, waiting for them to open, when I noticed through a window a guy was sitting on the floor of the car. So I warned Mich to stand back when the doors opened since we'd have to step over him, only to have him leap up and start screaming as soon as the doors did open. We lurched back and away. He was shirtless and sweaty and obviously had taken way too much of something he couldn't handle.

We went to the next car and a girl was standing in the door, refusing to let it close, trying to get the conductor's attention. No one seemed to know what to do, so I slammed the call button inside that car. A few minutes later a CTA employee came down, surveyed the situation, made a call, and stood as far away from the shirtless, sweaty, screaming man as he could.

Very slowly, people exited the car the guy was on, as his screaming continued he was also throwing himself and into walls. I was shocked a how long it took people to actually get away from the guy. I guess we city dwellers are just, like, "whatever."

I mean, what can you do?

He was obviously out of his mind on whatever he was on. But perhaps what shocked me even more were the following two things:

  • People had their cellphones out snapping photos and shooting video of a man in distress.*
  • It took waaaaay too long for help to arrive. 

But help did arrive and a couple firemen managed to get the guy off the train and onto a bench and we all filed back into the cars and made our way home.

I've seen a lot of fucked up stuff on the CTA over the years, but this was definitely the oddest experience.

*You'll note in the photo that accompanies this post I took pains to not get the guy in my shot. I thought it was important to capture the moment the firemen gathered around him and showed genuine concern for his wellbeing. But I could see no reason to capture another human who was clearly in pain in the shot. He deserved his privacy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

You might wanna grab this Josie and the Pussycats vinyl while you still can...

One of my favorite movie soundtracks, and let's face it, great power pop albums, of all time was just released on vinyl! You can get it here.

My only regret is that I didn't have enough money to actually fly to L.A. for the album release party that included a performance of the LP's songs by "voice of Josie" and still electric live performer, Kay Hanley.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Better a bit about Bad Bad Hats super late than never, eh?

Bad Bad Hats
Did I really never write about Bad Bad Hats? That seems really odd, since I remember enjoying 2015's Psychic Reader quite a bit. I have no idea how it got lost in the shuffle.

I haven't heard much from the Minneapolis trio* since this album came out, but it looks like they are currently touring, so that's great news! I feel they may have gotten lost in the mix due to being one of the earlier bands starting to rock out in the vein of the current mixture of '90s indie with more polished pop hooks that is currently all the rage. And every time "Fight Song" or "Cruella" comes on my tankPHONE I'm always confounded by the fact neither one right hit it bigger.

Well, you can stream Psychic Reader below and see if you agree with me. If you do, their label is still allowing you to download the MP3 version of the album for free (WAV, CD or vinyl's gonna cost you though).



*Though judging by this photo they have kept plenty busy!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Walter Sipple.

Oliver Sipple
This week’s Radio Lab about the story around Walter Sipple is a must-listen. Sipple is the man who foiled an assassination attempt on Gerald Ford in 1975, and subsequently had his life ruined because the reporters covering the story happened to also out him as a gay man, even though it had zero to do with what he did.*

The whole piece grapples with what journalists should and should not reveal in a story, and as a writer who sometimes covers news, this is an issue I personally wrestle with. At the core, I’m a music writer, (even and arts and culture writer!) so much of my writing is driven by historical context and opinion. So I’ve always felt uncomfortable when a fellow writer includes information in a piece that isn’t really relevant, but will add color. And I can’t say that’s completely wrong, but my personal instincts do not flow that way. It’s a really tough line to balance on.

Anyway, I found this long and thorough discussion around the topic to be really great.



*I feel it should be made clear that he was out about his sexuality as far as the scene and city he was living in, but he wasn't out to his family, who lived 3/4 of a country away from him. And please remember that being gay in 1975 was far different than it is today. This context is clear in the recorded piece, but I feel I should mention it just in case someone younger has some sort of gut reaction along the lines of "Well, he should have been out in the first place." I think even Dan Savage would agree that this way of doing it was pretty out of line.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

It’s been a week. Wait, it’s not Friday yet?!

In that case, I’m just gonna dive into this song and not come back up for a bit, if that’s OK with you.



Mainly because every time I hear it I'm back at Lollapalooza watching Brandon Flowers strut around the stage like a latter-day* Elvis and, I don't know, that makes me happy.

*I just realized that could be taken as a pun. It is not.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Long hair, don't care?

It's actually even longer now, but I really love this photo.
I think my hair officially identifies as "long" again. In fact I don't think it's been this long since, say, the late '90s. And when you hit a certain age, and you realize your hair can actually be long again, without obviously thinning or being overly embarrassing, there's a part of you that is definitely loathe to get in its way. At the same time you are plagued by the question, "Do I look like an idiot?"

I know I'm unrecognizable to anyone that hasn't seen me in a long time. It's weird.

My boss told me the other day I'm about three months away from going full Robert Plant. Can I last that long? Winter is coming, and I survived summer without giving in and chopping this mass off my head, so we'll see. No matter what happens, at least I got to be a "long hair" one last time. And this time around, I just let it do what it wanted to do. Every time I had long hair in the past I kept trying to tame it, and force it to be straighter or more coiffed or, just, not look what I thought to be insane. This time around I'm letting the volume go, the curls grow, and I've just stopped worrying about it.

Sorry, this is totally self-indulgent, but I just wanted to get it out there.