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CHIRP DJ writesLetters From Korea

In a matter of days, I went from hipster-platinum to waeguk-nobody. In the beginning of May 2009, I packed up my crates of LPs, stepped down as Music Director of the burgeoning Chicago Independent Radio Project, quit my job at Reckless Records, handed over the helms of Plustapes/Addenda Records to my co-founder, canceled all my DJ gigs around Chicago’s west side (Whistler, Burlington, Danny’s, etc.), handed my cat over to my little brother, and left the city. Days later, I stepped off an airplane at Incheon Airport and took a late night bus to Daejeon, a city located in the heart of South Korea. I slept that night on a single-sized mattress, the only piece of furniture in my allotted studio apartment. Moments before I fell into a deep sleep after my 24-hour journey, I heartily questioned my decision.

I had no idea what to expect coming to South Korea; I had little time to prepare. On a whim, I inquired about a teaching job and not three weeks later reluctantly accepted one. It happened fast and with little premeditation. All I knew was that Chicago was feeling stuffy and redundant after four years. I needed adventure and a setting where I could effloresce into adulthood without too many outside influences. “Individuality” was the word of the moment, and nothing was more foreign to me than South Korea.

Innately, Korea is very different. But superficially, it’s rather westernized. Besides the Hangul script and the copious amount of dragonflies in late spring, Daejeon didn’t seem that far out. The kids dress rather stylishly, the technology is modern (if not slightly ahead of the U.S.) and commerce bustles. Daejeon is certainly a city, but it’s no Chicago. It’s about the size of Portland, OR actually. With the rather uneventful cultural touchstones and nightlife though, it’s much more akin to the Charlotte, NC’s of the world. It’s a city built around a particular business ethos (technological innovation in this case), not around the arts. The opportunities and communities that I gravitated toward in Chicago were obsolete.

Everything, and I mean everything, in Korea is animated. Nearly every store on every corner is blasting music out its doors. Or, at the least, there are dedicated and luminous neon lights for décor. My senses were saturated, and that I was thankful for. But where my sight, taste, smell and touch were satisfied, my hearing was left dumbfounded. Throughout the country, Korean pop is ubiquitous. And not just in placement, it’s loved in the hearts of the people as well. I have yet to meet a person who does not like the sugar-loaded, bubblegum techno, pop-rap, pseudo-soul of K-pop. Even after years of careful music listening, I have a tough time differentiating the groups, even after 7 months. But I have nary a student who can’t list every song on the current pop charts from memory (along with a quick rendition of each song’s chorus).

The song-of-the-moment – and moment in K-pop terms is about 6-8 weeks of chart dominance – when I arrived was Big Bang and 2NE1’s “Bubblegum.” Big Bang, a substantial veteran of the scene for being around for three years already, is a hit-making machine. Every female student of mine has a pencil cased covered in stickers of the five members’ smudge-free images. The production company behind them, YG Entertainment, is dominant and sly. They had just finished fastening the female equivalent of the Big Bang mold, 2NE1, and paired them together for a promotion song for a cell phone by LG Cyon. It is a popular strategy by promotion companies at the moment: crossover jingles. The song was a smash, two Big Bang members would go on to release lucrative solo albums in the fall, and 2NE1 would win numerous awards and accolades during the many year end award shows.

I, on the other hand, needed refuge. The culture I enjoyed, the music industry I loathed. That would change (somewhat). But for the moment, I needed escape. I turned to Miles Davis, an artist that I respect but don’t really get up in arms about. In fact, besides Sketches of Spain, Get Up With It is my only real focus in the vast discography of the archetypal jazz trumpeter. Its inch-thick haze of electric-organ-derived ambience was the perfect opposite of the crystalline K-pop. Composed of a series of session ranging from 1970-74, it also helped that the album was 2 hours-plus of music. Whenever the three-minute onslaught of hook-hook-hook would wear me down, I’d hole myself up in my apartment and lose myself in the endless funky grooves of Reggie Lucas’s static electric guitar and Michael Henderson’s loping bass lines. The tectonic shifts of atonality and seemingly structure-less jam sessions became just the rabbit hole I needed on those special occasions. It’s no wonder this record was so influential on Eno. Even without drugs, it easily trips you out.

Share January 25, 2010 Share on Facebook Tweet This!

Categorized: Post Mix

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday Sam Cooke Edition

Chicago has such a rich musical history and one of the greatest talents to come out of our fair city was Sam Cooke. He bridged gospel roots with an urban sensibility — it’s like he found the midpoint between Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, capable of being as smooth as silk or gritty and down home. On top of that, he was a ridiculously talented songwriter, penning hit after hit and influencing so many of the great soul singers who followed him. What a wonderful world this would be if you would get your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up! (NOTE: the 11th tune on my shuffle this morning was Cooke’s “Sugar Dumpling”).

  1. Gaza Strippers — D Is For Dead (Laced Candy): The Strippers were Rick Sims’ band after Didjits. At one level, they weren’t much different than Didjits — more fast punky songs with Sims’ fingers flying on the fretboard making sounds like a mess of pissed off hornets leaving the nest and lots of lyrics about being a badass. But the Strippers had a bit more of metal orientation that both tied them a bit to the ’70s and even moreso to ’90s contemporaries like Hellacopters. As a result, I preferred Didjits, but still dug the Strippers, and this is one the better songs off of the band’s debut.
  2. The Streets — Has It Come To This (Original Pirate Material): Gosh, remember how exciting that first Streets record was? A lot of songs about not doing much more than being lazy and getting high over grime and hip-hop beats. Mike Skinner yobbed his way through his insightful lyrics and someone would sing the hook. I wish Skinner would go back to doing that.
  3. The Replacements — Androgynous (Let It Be): I like but don’t love The Replacements. The major label part of their career was more craftsman-like than inspired, in my (decidedly minority) opinion. Their inspiration peaked on Let It Be. Legendary Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau explained that on Let It Be, the ‘mats simply played the music they liked, whether is was loping rockabilly-ish pop (“I Will Dare”), Kiss (the cover of “Black Diamond”), or this tender exploration of folks who like to wear clothing of the opposite sex. Not the deepest treatment of the subject, but it’s not exploitative and is rather affecting.
  4. Velvet Crush — Gentle Breeze (A Single Odessey): The duo of Ric Menck and Paul Chastain made plenty of classic power pop in the ’90s. This singles collection is a great place to start if you want to find out more. This might be my favorite Velvet Crush tune, a pure jangle fest that is steeped in The Byrds and Big Star (they even reference Big Star’s “Way Out West” in the chorus).
  5. Channels — New Logo (Waiting for The Next End Of The World): Both of J. Robbins’ post-Jawbox projects haven’t really deviated from the style he perfected on Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart. Jagged guitars, an ultra-tight rhythm section with surprisingly strong melodies. Channels is perhaps a hair less powerful than Jawbox or Burning Airlines and a touch more melodic. And Robbins is still articulately angry, as this song varies from clangorous roar to delicate middle eights.
  6. The House Of Love — Sulphur (1986-88: The Creation Years): A British indie guitar rock band that wasn’t really a shoegazer band but meshed well with that style, House Of Love put out two terrific albums before getting lost trying to figure out its next move. This is from that early period, when they could really do no wrong. Lead singer Guy Chadwick had this interesting low key vocal style that exerted an all-knowing and comforting presence. Meanwhile, there were always lots of great guitar work on top of the sturdy compositions, like this one.
  7. Polara — Allay (Polara): This Minneapolis band was lead by Ed Ackerson, who had previously fronted The 27 Various. Both bands played power poppish indie rock. On Polara’s 1995 debut, Ackerson created a really cool wall of sound, augmenting the guitars with an array of keyboards and percussion sounds, giving Polara a special texture that rocked out enough to hold its own in the alt-rock ’90s. Ackerson also had a voice that sounded a fair amount like Scott Miller of Game Theory and The Loud Family. The debut is great, as is this song, but on subsequent albums, the band got slicker, and less interesting.
  8. Tommy Keene — Love Is The Only Thing That Matters (The Real Underground): Keene is a revered cult figure both in and out of power pop circles. For nearly 30 years, he’s been reliably churning out melancholy pop songs, supported by his wistful, reedy voice and his excellent guitar playing. Keene, who has collaborated with Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices in The Keene Brothers (Tommy’s tunes with Robert’s words) and has been Paul Westerberg’s touring guitarist, is skilled in Big Star style jangle, but also can produce riffs that are catchy and tinged with bittersweet emotion. This is more of a jangly tune.
  9. Northern State — Trinity (Dying In Stereo): Three gals doing old school rap that calls to mind the Beastie Boys? Sure, they’re not as good as the Beasties, but there were some really good songs on their debut. Neither the music nor the lyrics reach the heights of their inspiration, but the bar was set pretty high. More importantly, they have loads of personality, making this a fun listen.
  10. Shoes — Your Imagination (Present Tense/Tongue Twister): This is a pretty power poppy shuffle, and Shoes are also legends if you are into the style. The Zion, Illinois band graduated to Elektra Records after one classic DIY record, and managed to retain their low fi charm with bigger budgets. Shoes boiled down pop songwriting to its basics, drawing from everyone from Buddy Holly to The Beatles to The Raspberries and their best songs have two or three hooks and usually get right to the point. Kind of like a wussier Buzzcocks. This song fits that formula to a T.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle


Mike Gibson writesSo that’s it, right?

CHIRP Radio has launched, we celebrated at the Empty Bottle the night before, and now you’re surely listening to the stream as you’re reading this. You may be thinking, “What more could CHIRP have in store for me from this past weekend?” Well, thanks to our friends over at High Frequency Media we’ve got video of the festivities from Saturday night for you. Enjoy the following, from The Yolks set at our CHIRP Radio launch party.

The Yolks – “Jane” at The Empty Bottle – CHIRP Radio Event – 1.16.10 from High Frequency Media on Vimeo.

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Categorized: Events Journal


Shawn Campbell writesCHIRP Radio has arrived!

After two-and-a-half years of work, CHIRP has launched its new radio station online at! is up and running!

The station streams live from our North Center studios every day of the year. CHIRP hosts play a mix of independent, local, lesser-known, and underappreciated music from an array of genres and eras. We’re also in the process of developing some locally-focused news and talk programming.

You can interact with DJs via phone and IM, and you can offer feedback on individual songs, or on the station in general, on the front page of

We’re so grateful to all of the people who have worked so hard to make CHIRP Radio a reality! Thanks to the bands who have sent us their music, the supporters who have made donations, lent us their venues, or purchased CHIRP gear, and the volunteers who have built the station from the ground up. It’s been an amazing ride, and it’s only beginning!

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Categorized: CHIRP Radio News and Info.

Mike Bennett writesiPod/MP3 Friday Shuffle — Happy Birthday David Bowie Edition

Can one birthday wish be enough for the man originally known as David Robert Jones, who changed his name to David Bowie so as not to be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees? Or does one have to wish a Happy Birthday to The Thin White Duke, The Earthling, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and so on and so on? Perhaps the best way to celebrate the birthday of a man whose career was premised on versatility and change is to show him your musical diversity. So give David a special birthday wish in his golden years by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. Cockeyed Ghost — I’m OK You’re Not OK (Neverest): Cockeyed Ghost was a cool power pop band that sprang from a rich late-‘90s L.A. scene that also spawned Wondermints and The Negro Problem. They didn’t get quite the same notoriety of those two acts, but the band added punkish energy and finely honed sense of classic pop (a la Elton John and The Beach Boys) to create a distinctive sound. Moreover, frontman Adam Marsland is a creative lyricist who manages to be prolix without getting in the way of the music. This song moves from driving sunny pop-rock to quiet melodicism and ends with a spunky guitar breakdown.
  2. James Brown — Let Yourself Go (The 50th Anniversary Collection): This is one of the Godfather of Soul’s early funk tunes. Or rather, this song is one of the bridges from Brown’s primal R & B to something a bit more fluid and grooving. Even in the early stages of developing funk, the depth of the arrangement is pretty amazing. And it would only get better from here.
  3. The Hives — You Got It All…Wrong (The Black And White Album): I love how these guys have evolved without losing their garage-y essence. This song has great bursts of guitar but contrasts it with some relatively pretty guitar passages. This makes the driving parts of the song sound all the more rocking.
  4. Ray, Goodman & Brown — Stay (The Best of Ray, Goodman & Brown): When the ’70s R & B vocal group The Moments ran into some contractual problems with their record label, they changed their name, signed with a major label and finally moved from the R & B charts to the pop charts. Their classic vocalizing had its roots in street corner doo-wop singing, best exemplified on their Top 5 smash “Special Lady”. This wasn’t a smash, but the smooth vocals and beautiful harmonies meld well with a mid-tempo song with a few disco production touches.
  5. The Greenberry Woods — You Know The Real (Yellow Pills, Volume 3): The Woods had two major label albums in the ’90s, playing sweet power pop, falling somewhere between Jellyfish and Fountains Of Wayne. This outtake is featured on one of the classic Yellow Pills compilations, which are essential for power pop fans. This is a psychedelic pop number with an obvious Beatles influence. It features strong vocals from the Huseman brothers, who later went on to form Splitsville.
  6. Muddy Waters — (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man (The Anthology): Waters was an innovator, who was one of thousands of African-Americans who migrated from the Deep South to Chicago and brought the Delta Blues with them. Muddy was at the forefront of bringing the electric guitar to Mississippi blues and that has resonated throughout music, from contemporaries like Bo Diddley to Led Zeppelin to The White Stripes. This song is such a standard bearer. Even if you haven’t heard it before, you have heard before.
  7. The Left Banke —I’ve Got Something On My Mind (There’s Gonna Be A Storm): The band that hit big in the ’60s with “Walk Away Renee” had plenty of other baroque pop delights. This song has massed harmony vocals and amazing keyboards (one of them kind of sounds like a harpsichord) and strings. The Left Banke has inspired a lot of modern orch-pop bands, such as The Ladybug Transistor.
  8. The Lightning Seeds — Like You Do (Dizzy Heights): This British band, led by Ian Broudie, had a minor hit during the alt-rock era with a song called “Pure”. They were a Brit-pop band with a strong ’60s Swingin’ London vibe, but Broudie, who was also a successful producer, added lots of cool contemporary production tricks. This song is a dazzling showcase for Broudie’s songwriting, with its melodic twists and turns and inventive dense production, with strings, backing vocals, loads of percussion, and a whole lot more.
  9. Billy Bragg — Moving the Goalposts (Don’t Try This At Home): A pretty number from Mr. Bragg, which belies the hangdog lyrics about love and romance. But, to be honest, the lyrics don’t fully hang together on this song, which isn’t typical for Billy. But the music makes it worthwhile.
  10. They Might Be Giants — Hope That I Get Old Before I Die (They Might Be Giants): If you have any affinity for They Might Be Giants and haven’t seen the documentary Gigantic, by all means do so. It’s not earth shattering cinema, but it’s an affectionate look at John Linnell and John Flansburgh. The main premise of the film is how incredibly unlikely it is that the two Johns ever found a relatively large audience, and, you know, it is hard to believe. This silly nugget from the band’s debut has Linnell’s accordion up front and awkward drum machines playing a modified polka tempo. And it’s a lot of fun.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle


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