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Mike Scales writesArtist Spotlight: Why?

(Photo by Jacob Hand)

On their fourth official full-length effort, Eskimo Snow, Oakland’s beloved psychedelic folk-hoppers WHY? take a decidedly less hip-hop approach to their song-writing. Recorded during the 2007 sessions that birthed Alopecia, the band’s last, more robust and rap-inspired record, the 10-song set reveals a lighter and more spacious side of WHY? – songs that feel more like “song-songs” according to frontman Yoni Wolf.

“Eskimo Snow is intentionally what it is I suppose,” the singer/rapper cryptically states in a chat with CHIRP. “But [it’s] not like we said before we made it, ‘let’s make an album that is not rap’ or anything like that. It’s just what we happened to come up with.”

The more live and stripped-down feel on Eskimo Snow was no doubt made possible in part by session players Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson of the Minneapolis-based outfit Fog who rounded out the band to 5 members in the studio. The two longtime collaborators and friends of WHY? will also be joining them on the road this time around and the whole band is doing what they do to prepare the 40+ date trek which will include stops in Australia and New Zealand. “The Fog boys are most definitely in tow in a big way, they are sounding strong; sounding super!” Wolf enthuses. “Of course, we’ve rehearsed an awful lot for the tour. And between rehearsals Broder likes to jump rope, Josiah [Wolf, Yoni’s brother and drummer] likes to work on this house (today he was putting up insulation) and the rest of us…do other stuff I guess.”

“Other stuff” for Yoni meant recently lending his consuming and reviewing skills to TheYoundAndHungry.com with his version of a New York vegan restaurant review. “Though I was extremely busy, my friend Jena asked me to write that,” he admits. “She’s the kind of very attractive woman you find it hard to say no to. So, I did it and I’m glad I did! It was a lot of fun and I could see myself starting a whole new career. I am surely a big fan of food.”

In true WHY? fashion, cooking up another uniquely awesome record called for another batch of unique and awesome album art. To help him flesh-out the many ideas he had for the look of the album, Yoni enlisted the help of photographer Phoebe Streblow and layout artist Sam Flax Keener. The resulting image utilizes paint, photography and collage and vividly depicts a mummy figure with a bouquet of flowers for a head and an eerily lit purple wall for a backdrop. “It is my favorite WHY? cover so far,” Yoni says. “It took me a long long time (months) to come to this idea after having so many others, but I think things finally came together. I had a lot of help from my friends on it.”

As one of the founding members of the anticon collective, Yoni Wolf knows all too well the value of a supportive group of forward-thinking friends. Although some of the crew have branched out to other bands and labels, anticon remains thick as thieves and has injected some young blood (in the form of Serengeti & Polyphonic, Tobacco and Anathallo) to help keep the operation afloat. “I love all those guys,” he says of the label’s rookie acts. “They probably wouldn’t be a part of the label if I felt differently. We are doing quite a few shows with Chicago’s own Serengeti & Polyphonic [on this tour] and we’ve toured with Anathallo (also a Chicago band) and Tobacco in the near past. I’m very much looking forward to the future of anticon.”

Why? is playing tomorrow night (Oct. 5th) at the Bottom Lounge

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Categorized: Interviews

Topics: artist spotlight, interview

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Groucho Marx Edition

What’s the iPod/MP3 Shuffle? It’s just a way to get people to share music and foster some discussion. I started doing this on my Facebook page a while back and it’s been great seeing friends exchange comments on each others lists. Every Friday, I get out my 120 GB iPod (which has about 24,000 songs now), hit shuffle and write about the first 10 songs that come up. Sometimes the 10 songs are kind of conventional, sometimes there’s a lot of obscure stuff. So check mine out and please add your own shuffle or discuss other people’s shuffles!

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Good morning! Here in Chicago, the Goodman Theater is reviving The Marx Brothers’ Broadway play Animal Crackers. And today is Groucho Marx’s birthday. Remember, as Groucho once said, “The Lord Alps those who Alps themselves.” — so Alp yourself and everyone else by grabbing your iPod/iTunes/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up with everyone else.

  1. Jerry Lee Lewis — What’d I Say? (18 Original Sun Greatest Hits): This is The Killer’s take on the song made famous by Ray Charles. This is surprisingly subdued, as if even Jerry knew that his version couldn’t hold a candle to The Genius’s version. There’s a good ad lib here or there, but it’s merely alright.
  2. King Crimson — Walking On Air (Thrak): I really need to explore King Crimson. All I have is a couple latter day albums that I got as promos. While on Virgin Records, the band had a double trio format (a pair of guitarists, bassists and drummers) which was interesting but not as interesting as the three ’80s albums the band did for Warners or its seminal ’70s work. Regardless, Crimson was less overblown than most prog-rockers and that was especially true on any of the albums Adrian Belew appeared on, as he always made sure there were a few songs to balance Robert Fripp’s theoretical constructions. This is one of those songs, which falls somewhere between The Beatles and Talking Heads. Pretty.
  3. Sweet — Little Willy (Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be): This is a bonus track on the first full length album by Sweet. The first record I ever bought was “Ballroom Blitz” and ever since then, I’ve always been a fan. The band’s early records were massive bubblegum hits written by Mike Chapman (with the financial assistance of Nicky Chinn, who got co-credit). This was the band’s first U.S. Top 40 hit and it still gets played on oldies radio today. It’s like The Archies on steroids. Soon after this, Chapman began to pen harder rockers that fit in with the glam rock craze sweeping the nation that were more in line with the songs the band was writing. That’s when Sweet went from fun to pretty darned great.
  4. To My Boy — The Grid (Messages): I got his album based on the sticker affixed to it by a Reckless Records employee. To My Boy is a throwback to ’80s Brit synth pop, a la OMD, early Depeche Mode, Erasure, Blancmange and others. If those bands sloshed down a case or two of Red Bull. They mix in some guitars with the hi-NRG synth stuff and every song has at least one killer hook. It’s been a few years since this came out — I should see if they ever followed this up.
  5. Echobelly — Today Tomorrow Sometime Never (Everyone’s Got One): Echobelly was a ’90s Britpop band fronted by Sonya Aurora Madan, an attractive lady of Indian descent who had really long fingers (that’s what I remember from seeing them live). Musically, they were two parts Blondie, one part Suede and one part The Smiths. This was the first cut on the band’s debut album and it holds up very well today. Madan had a lot of personality, the song is really driving, and the playing is quite spirited.
  6. Eleventh Dream Day — Bomb The Mars Hotel (Beet): Of all of the bands that had a chance to really break during the beginning of the alt-rock era, Chicago’s own Eleventh Dream Day was the most influenced by Neil Young. Rick Rizzo and crew added a punkish jolt to classic, vaguely rootsy rock. This was one of the best cuts on the band’s second album (and major label debut). Rizzo shouts over his power jangle playing while Janet Bean drives the music with her drumming. Any song that disses the Grateful Dead is worth hearing.
  7. Slow Jets — Snare Coda (Good Morning, Stars): Another band I discovered through Reckless. The Slow Jets fell somewhere between slightly off-beat college rock bands like Big Dipper and Hypnolovewheel and post-punk acts like Wire. Their songs are short, have odd herky-jerky elements, yet are generally pretty catchy. This is a more atmospheric tune that is quite short, but does the job.
  8. The Swingin’ Neckbreakers — Hail To The Baron (Return Of The Rock): New Jersey’s Neckbreakers are possibly the best garage band of the past 15 years or so good. Unlike a lot of modern garage rockers, they don’t stick with one sound over and over, though there is a consistency to everything they do. Moreover, they get their source material, whether it’s The Sonics, Chuck Berry, The Golliwogs or whoever. This is a tribute to a pro wrestler from bygone days and it is made for singalong to, while rocking out.
  9. The Jam — I’ve Changed My Address (In The City): This is an early Jam side, showing how they took classic mod rock and turbo charged it with punk. Paul Weller was not a consistently great songwriter early on, but this band simply cooked. Weller could carry the load on guitar and the Bruce Foxton (bass) and Rick Buckler (drums) rhythm section is simply killer. They are hard enough to rock, but deft enough to make this danceable.
  10. Tammany Hall Machine — Pedal To The Metal (Amateur Saw): This Austin, TX band made its final album count. The piano plays prominently, but not in a Ben Folds fashion. Instead, the band seems to have soaked in a lot of Kinks records and then mixed in some glam rock and power pop influences. This song also has some killer horns. One of the great lost of albums of this decade.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, lists

Tony Breed writesThe Scotland Yard Gospel Choir needs your help

We at CHIRP were shocked and saddened to hear about The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir’s serious highway accident yesterday. SYGC has been a good friend to CHIRP since our inception, performing at benefits for us and being generally awesome.

In addition to having injuries requiring hospitalization, the band has lost their van and all of their equipment.

Bloodshot Records has set up a recovery fund you can donate to via PayPal. Please join us in contributing to this fund, and share this link with your friends. Tweet it, Facebook it, Digg it, get the word out.

Thanks.

[UPDATE] I changed the news link above to the Bloodshot Records’ news item on their site, because it will be updated as new information becomes available. (Latest news: Mark’s condition upgraded from “Critical” to “Serious”.) If you want the original “breaking news” link I had up before, you can find it here.

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Categorized: Post Mix

Topics: chicago bands, fundraiser

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Anson Williams Edition

What’s the iPod/MP3 Shuffle? It’s just a way to get people to share music and foster some discussion. I started doing this on my Facebook page a while back and it’s been great seeing friends exchange comments on each others lists. Every Friday, I get out my 120 GB iPod (which has about 24,000 songs now), hit shuffle and write about the first 10 songs that come up. Sometimes the 10 songs are kind of conventional, sometimes there’s a lot of obscure stuff. So check mine out and please add your own shuffle or discuss other people’s shuffles!

————————————

Let’s give it up for the man who played Potsie on Happy Days, Anson Williams. He may not have been as cool as the Fonz, but he was the lead singer of the band he was in with Richie Cunningham and Ralph Malph. That’s worth something, isn’t it? In Anson’s honor, grab your iPod/iTunes/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up!

  1. Translator — Sleeping Snakes (Heartbeats and Triggers): This ’80s band mixed a wide array of influences — everything from post-punk to jangle rock to even some jamming tendencies. As is often the case, the band’s debut album, which this tune is from, was its high water mark, though they put out some other good stuff. This song is definitely post-punk gone Cali, with a cool choppy guitar part and military style drumming with dollops of melody and ’60s folk-psych style vocals. Great song.
  2. The Plod — Neo City (Velvet Tinmine): Velvet Tinmine is a swell compilation of obscure UK ’70s glam rock. Almost every song is a winner. This sounds like the compilers couldn’t get the master tape and worked off an off-center 45. Unlike a lot of the songs on this comp, The Plod aren’t so indebted to Sweet, Slade or T-Rex, as they are The Raspberries. And what’s with the band name? How about The Sloppy or The Unrehearsed or The Turgid?
  3. The Wondermints — Tracy Hide (Cover Version)(Wonderful World Of The Wondermints): If you want to know how The Wondermints became the core of the band that has backed Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson on his tours, this original off the band’s second album would answer all questions. Written by Darian Sajanaja, the musical director for Wilson, this is simply a gorgeous song in the Beach Boys tradition with that certain melancholy yet sunshiney melody that Wilson patented, a strong lead vocal and a brilliantly inventive backing vocal arrangement. Wonderful.
  4. The Everly Brothers — Poor Jenny (24 Golden Classics): Speaking of harmony vocals, how about Phil and Don? This is a country song that is pepped enough to be classified as an early rock ‘n’ roll song. It’s a great tale about a bad girl having a bad night. Did I mention those harmonies — wow! And lyrics like, “It seems a shame that Jenny had to go get apprehended.”
  5. Guided By Voices — Shocker In Gloomtown (The Grand Hour): GBV was so prolific, great songs could come from anywhere — an album, a 7”, an EP, a bootleg. This was from an EP and the tune was later covered, quite well, by The Breeders. It centers on a repeated guitar riff and the nifty up-and-down rhythm, and like a lot of Guided By Voices tunes, ends a bit too soon. Always leave you wanting more.
  6. New York Dolls — Babylon (Too Much Too Soon): Like a lot music that influenced and pre-dated punk, it’s important to put the Dolls in context. Not that their flashy variation on Stones-y rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t hold up on its own, but if you put this up against the prog rock and Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters and plodding metal bands that were touring the nation, true rockers in drag were revelatory. Of course, having a great guitarist like Johnny Thunders was a help and David Johansen was, and still is, a wonderful singer who does a theatrical take on R & B styling and gets away with it because he gets it, if that makes any sense.
  7. The Long Blondes — Round The Hairpin (“Couples”): The second and, sadly, last Long Blondes album was not as well-received as their debut, as the band delved further into post-punk. This track exemplifies the approach, as it is premised on a droney electronic rhythm track and isn’t nearly as poppy as most of the first album. I think the chilly music is perfect for Kate Jackson’s clenched teeth delivery and the guitar fills add a little heat to the proceedings. I hope Kate is involved in a new project soon, but I’d rather this band get back together.
  8. Bad Religion — I Want Something More (No Control): I find that most hardcore punk has dated pretty badly. This is not the case with Bad Religion, as evidenced by this song off of what may be their very best album. I think it’s because the band managed to play fast but clean. The songs don’t pound so much as they take off and soar. This is helped by Greg Graffin’s powerful vocals that are much more than pointless shouting. He puts his Ph.d to use with lots of big words, which is tough enough to do with a mid-tempo song.
  9. The Fuzztones — As Time’s Gone (Lysergic Emanations): This NYC band was one of the better mid-‘80s garage revivalists. Led by Rudi Protrudi, the ‘tones channeled equal parts of The Seeds and The Sonics, and added a certain haunting vibe to their songs. This song is, at its heart, a hyped up folk-rock number, but add some atmospheric organ and a rhythm that is perfect for driving down a dark highway at night, and it sounds pretty cool.
  10. Scissor Sisters — Comfortably Numb (Scissor Sisters): The Sisters’ swell debut album had been out in the UK for a while when they played their first Chicago gig at Double Door. A pal of mine was working for their U.S. label and I asked him if they’d release this discofied Pink Floyd cover as a single, and he said no. But this is the song that got the biggest reaction from a crowd that was probably 50 to 60 percent gay men. Of course, that might be why they passed on it, but this is a great cover. The guitar part from the original is stripped down, a mid-tempo dance beat is pumped up and the vocals are falsetto a la the Bee Gees. The arrangement is brilliant. It’s club ready yet the best aspects of the melody and hook are intact. Moreover, despite the dance floor aspects the emotional poignancy of the song is not messed with one bit. Awesome.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, lists

Emily Agustin writesGrrrl on Grrrl: Goldie & The Gingerbreads

Before we get started, a quick word of introduction.

CHIRP was formed, in part, to focus on independent musicians and artists that are underrepresented on the bigger, more commercial stations. All too often, in my opinion, that group includes female artists. Or rather, female artists that are more than just a pretty face and an auto-tuner. As a classically trained percussionist and a drummer, the subject of women in rock is one that is near and dear to my heart. I co-hosted the Women on Women Radio Program for years, I have spoken on panels devoted to women in rock, and heck, I even wrote my Master’s thesis on female musicians.

This post then, marks the first in a series of mini-bios highlighting female musicians who are particularly noteworthy or groundbreaking, female-led bands that have injustly slipped through the cracks into obscurity, and/or just my personal favorite ladies in the industry. I’d like to start off this feature with a look at one of the first all-female rock and roll bands: Goldie & the Gingerbreads.

Born in the era of girl groups, American band Goldie & the Gingerbreads stood out for one very important reason: they played their own instruments. In fact, the Gingerbreads were the first all-female rock band signed to a major label (Atlantic subsidiary Atco), and the first to have any sort of chart success. While other girl groups and female artists had already gained popularity within rock and roll and made an impact on the charts, these women were primarily, if not exclusively, singers. Furthermore, their backing bands were nearly always 100% male. With Goldie Zelkowitz on vocals, Carol MacDonald on guitar, Margo Lewis on organ, and Ginger Bianco on drums, the Gingerbreads were nothing short of groundbreaking. At the same time, however, they were something of a novelty in the male-dominated music industry. MacDonald readily acknowledges this fact: “‘We didn’t think anything of it,’ she says. ‘We got more jobs because they were exploiting the hell out of us. All Girl Band! They’d do the whole thing, tits and ass. And we didn’t care. We were happy because we knew we could play, and we were knocking the socks off most of the male bands. And the guys couldn’t believe it. They’d start laughing, and then they’d walk out crying’” (Garr 59). In fact, the Gingerbreads toured with some of the biggest male rock acts of the time: the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, and the Hollies, to name but a few. They even had a hit in England with the song “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” which was later a hit in the U.S. for Herman’s Hermits.

Their success, however, was limited, and their enjoyment of fame tempered by Atlantic’s manipulation of their public image. Before MacDonald joined the Gingerbreads, she recorded solo for Atlantic under the name Carol Shaw. “‘They wanted me to be Lesley Gore,’ she says. ‘My first record, “Jimmy Boy,” was that type of thing. So they give me this image, and I’m not happy. I’m not playing guitar, number one, and I’m not doing my own music” (Garr 58). Her annoyance only increased when, a few years later, the Gingerbreads were asked to record “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat.” “‘I hated the song,’ says MacDonald. ‘We’re doing stuff like “Harlem Shuffle,” and then they give us this “Every time I see you… dee da dee de dee.” Eeeow! I said, “Goldie! What are we doing?” She said, “We gotta do what they say!” It’s like we had to do everything they said or we were not going to be successful’” (Garr 60).

Still, the band engaged in their own small rebellions against the prevalent negative stereotypes of female musicians. Goldie recalls, “‘We’d walk into a club with all our instruments and you could see the owner going “Oh my God, these broads? They know how to play? They really know how to play?” We’d set up and have a sound check and play totally out of tune, and I would sing the wrong lyrics. And the guy’d be chewing on his cigar going “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” And by the time we went on and counted off the song, we were cookin’. You could see the cigar drop and the guy had a heart attack… We had fun with this’” (Garr 59).

Ultimately, however, Goldie and the Gingerbreads folded due to misappropriation of finances by their management, the pressures of relentless touring, and the disappointment of never breaking big in the States. Goldie went on to become Genya Ravan and front Ten Wheel Drive (who reportedly turned down a spot at Woodstock), and later produced the Dead Boys’ debut record. Carol MacDonald and Ginger Bianco went on to form the influential jazz/funk band Isis, which later also included Margo Lewis and original Gingerbreads’ pianist Carol O’Grady. While the Gingerbreads may not have found the widespread acceptance or acclaim they craved, by the mere fact of their existence they nonetheless fought the rigidly institutionalized sexism that limited women in the music industry at the time, and paved the way for future all-girl bands to be taken seriously.

Works Cited:
Garr, Gillian G. She’s A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll (expanded second edition). New York: Seal, 2002.

Additional Reading:
Wikipedia
AllMusic
Genya Ravan’s homepage

This article also appeared on the WOW Music Blog

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Categorized: Post Mix

Topics: artist spotlight

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