The CHIRP Blog
Incredible local music! Amazing drinks! Cool raffle prizes! It’s all at CHIRP Night at the Whistler! Check out this month’s featured local artists, In Tall Buildings & Helen Money, while DJ STV SLV (of Hood Internet) and Dena Masley (CHIRP) spin records throughout the night. A portion of the bar’s proceeds goes to CHIRP.
CHIRP Night at the Whistler
2421 N. Milwaukee
9:30pm – 2am
In Tall Buildings confounds expectations on their new self-titled Whistler release, unless you’re familiar with the force behind this project. Going by the name alone, you might think that In Tall Buildings would create an artificial and electronic sound, busy with blips and beeps but devoid of all life, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, there is a warmth and sense of space throughout the eight compositions on this debut that is palpable, and comes as a welcome refuge from the daily hubbub of urban life. Once one learns that In Tall Buildings is a solo project from Chicagoan Erik Hall, a guitarist and percussionist in NOMO, bassist in His Name Is Alive and drummer in Saturday Looks Good To Me, the quality of the songs and performance is less of a surprise, but the writing and the sound is still more contemplative than one might expect. The territory is the road well traveled of acoustic folk, but Hall does bring a fresh approach that warrants a close listen.
Another stellar example of musical work by an alter ego is Helen Money, the nom de plume of classically-trained cellist Alison Chesley. Lovers of music first had the chance to fall in love with Helen Money when she was known as the Alison half of Jason and Alison, and the love only got deeper with the advent and flowering of their group Verbow. Since the end of Verbow in 2001, Chesley’s cello has appeared on records by Anthrax, Broken Social Scene, Russian Circles, Chris Connelly, Disturbed, Poi Dog Pondering and Bob Mould (who produced the first Verbow record). Chesley’s second album under the name Helen Money, In Tune was recorded at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio and released last fall on Table of the Elements. The release features eight beautiful original compositions of vastly varying styles and paces (from chop-chop rock to dark ballads) and an awesome Minutemen cover. When she plays the CHIRP Night at The Whistler, she will have just returned from playing in the avant garde ensemble Carte Blanche (with Rhys Chatham) and under the Helen Money moniker at the Berles Rock Festival in Switzerland, and she will be opening for Shellac and Mission of Burma starting this September.
CHIRP currently is experiencing connection problems with our stream provider, Live365. Because of this, we are running backup programming — this is why you’re not seeing current information in the playlist and “now playing” sections of CHIRPradio.org. We have informed Live365 of the problem, which is on their end, not ours, and hope they will remedy the issue very soon. We apologize for the inconvenience, and we appreciate your patience.
This week we are paying tribute to one of the more recent tragic figures in rock music, Elliot Smith. Smith got his start with the band Heatmiser, and then went on to an influential solo career, playing delicate songs with his voice rarely above a whisper, that often unfolded into beautiful melodic pop songs. The beauty never overshadowed the vulnerability that seemed to lurk in every song. Sadly, he died in 2003, and the mystery as to whether he took his own life or was murdered has still not been resolved. But today, on Mr. Smith’s birthday, let’s celebrate the great music he gave us by getting out your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
- The 1900s – Acutiplantar Dude (The 1900s): This local band is still playing out, but they are taking their own sweet time recording a follow up full length to their debut platter. At their best, as on this song, they traffic in an orch-pop sound that lies between the urbane Belle and Sebastian and more retro outfits like The Ladybug Transistor. Please put another album out soon, guys (and gals).
- Porter Wagoner with Merle Haggard – I Haven’t Learned a Thing (The Essential Porter Wagoner): A cautionary tale from Porter, joined by Merle Haggard, of a boy who played songs in church but ignored the message, becoming a drinkin’, sinnin’ musician. What makes this duet odd is that suddenly, during the second verse, Merle starts singing, with Porter narrating the same lyrics over Merle’s vocal. What I find most interesting is that whatever lessons there are in the Bible, I don’t recall any strong anti-alcohol messages. But if this song saved one person from a life of alcoholism, it was well worth it.
- The Move – Mist on a Monday (Movements: 30th Anniversary Anthology): This is very proper baroque British psych pop with woodwinds and dainty keyboards and strings and stuff. It was just a couple of steps from this song to the formation of Electric Light Orchestra.
- Sparks – The Lady Is Lingering (Indiscreet): Indiscreet was Sparks’ Sgt. Peppers. The Mael brothers collaborated with legendary producer Tony Visconti on an album with lots of orchestration and augmentation, with the Maels trying on a lot of new styles. In comparison to most of the album, this song is incredibly conventional – just a catchy mid-tempo guitar track. Which, in its own way, makes it the most unconventional song on this delightful album.
- Empire – Electric Guitar (Expensive Sound): This band was led by Bob Andrews, formerly of Generation X. The music certainly has roots in the classic catchy punk of that band, but there are some darker post-post punk overtones. This song could certainly have been an anthem for Billy Idol to wave his fist to, but it is subtler, as the guitar (which is awesome on this song) is celebrated with suspicion.
- The Lackloves – Hallmark Stars (Take a Seat) (Cathedral Square Park): Mike Jarvis is a master of retro pop songs that evoke the best of the lighter side of ‘60s (and even ‘50s) rock. This song has some majestic power pop jangly power chords that set up the Buddy Holly-meets-The Beau Brummels verses. Then the song downshifts into the sweet chorus – it’s dynamics in reverse. The harmonies also kick ass. These guys still play Milwaukee from time-to-time and are always worth seeing.
- Mott The Hoople – Sweet Jane (All The Young Dudes): Around the time David Bowie was producing Mott and giving them commercial viability, he was also working with Lou Reed. Perhaps Ian Hunter and crew already knew of this Velvet Underground classic, but, if not, then Ziggy Stardust surely turned them onto it. Mott doesn’t mess around with the arrangement, and Hunter turns in his usual bang up glam-Dylan lead vocal to make this version, to some people, the definitive one.
- Pernice Brothers – Goodbye, Killer (Goodbye, Killer): The new Pernice album has more of a spontaneous feeling and Joe’s vocals are a bit looser (it’s a subtle difference). This is very noticeable on the title cut. This jaunty acoustic number sounds a little bit like an old Faces number, mixing with a typically buttery smooth Pernice melody. Very nice.
- Santigold – Shove It (Santigold): Santi White’s debut album is such a great summer pop record, mixing everything from new wavey pop to R & B to reggae inflected songs such as this put down song. Alas, until she follows up this platter, we’ll have to live with this LP for one more summer.
- Bob Seger – Shame on the Moon (Greatest Hits II): This is probably the song that Bob lifted the melody for “Fire Lake” from and Bob felt guilty, so he had a hit with this too. This was originally written and recorded by country singer Rodney Crowell, who was, for many years, Roseanne Cash’s husband. While some folks look at this as MOR cheese, this is one hell of a song and Bob knows enough not to mess with Rodney’s tune. It is a well-suited for Seger’s sandpapery voice.
Her theatrical art-pop songs took England by storm during the frenzy of the post-punk years. When you can succeed even though you are totally out of fashion, that’s a sign of a major talent. And Kate Bush was an artist who commanded attention from the moment “Wuthering Heights” came out. She was the complete package, a dazzlingly original songwriter who controlled all aspects of her work, leading to watershed albums such as The Dreaming and The Hounds of Love, and elaborate live shows. Sadly, she has a fear of flying, so other than a single appearance on Saturday Night Live early in her career, she has never played live in the States. However, if we all pay tribute to this influential artist by grabbing the ol’ iPod/MP3 player and hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up, maybe she’ll have a change of heart and come across the pond to amaze us.
- Robert Palmer — Sailin’ Shoes (The Very Best of the Island Years): I’m a fan of Palmer’s low key blues and R & B inspired rock. This is a really nice cover of the Little Feat track, and I believe that Little Feat actually backed him on this track. This has a funky New Orleans vibe and Palmer’s lead vocals are a bit more aggressive than usual. This is actually a medley with the song “Hey Julia”, but on this compilation, it cuts off midway through.
- Lou Reed — The Last Shot (Legendary Hearts): A great slice of matter-of-fact decadence from Uncle Lou. This is from the follow up to Lou’s amazing Blue Mask album. It’s not as fiery, but it’s a tight mid-tempo rock tune with the great line, “shot a vein in my neck and coughed up a Quaalude.” Reed does black humor very well, making fun of addiction while taking it seriously at the same time.
- Cheap Trick — Big Eyes (In Color): One of a dozen near perfect power pop songs on Cheap Trick’s second album. This song is centered around Bun E. Carlos’ insistent drumming and Tom Peterson’s beefy bass. The Move was certainly an influence on this song. But what puts this song over the top is the amazing instrumental break that simply soars into the atmosphere, setting up an economical Rick Nielsen guitar solo.
- Pernice Brothers — Endless Supply (The World Won’t End): This Pernice tune has a fantastic ’70s mellow gold vibe. The use of mellotron compliments Joe Pernice’s quiet vocals. The only thing that separates this from America or England Dan and John Ford Coley is that the Pernice boys don’t pump the chorus to epic dimensions. Instead the song is more intimate and thus, more insinuating.
- The Mysteries — Give Me Rhythm And Blues (The Girls’ Scene): A fantastic slice of British ’60s girl pop. These gals aren’t the best singers, so the producer wisely added a slight bit of echo to their voices. The song is a trifle but has a bit of a haunting quality. This would be a good song for bands in the Vivian Girls mode to cover. In fact, the Hollows would absolutely kill this song.
- The Jesus & Mary Chain — It’s So Hard (Psychocandy): Other have tried to capture the amazing sound of the the JMC’s debut, and no one has quite succeeded. The mix of cotton candy melodies, Velvet Underground rhythms and reverberating guitars that sound like the album was recorded in an auto plant is still compelling to this day.
- Split Enz — Albert of India (Corroborree): A stately instrumental track that showcases Eddie Rayner’s keyboard skills. This song sounds like a throwback to the band’s early art-rock days.
- Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club — Video Killed the Radio Star (English Garden): The Buggles had the big hit with this tune, which Woolley co-wrote with Trevor Horn. Unlike the fey and ornate Buggles version, this recording is more of a rock number, though the overall arrangement is fairly similar. This version just shows what an indelible song this is, though I’ll concede that The Buggles’ version is definitive.
- The Merry Go Round — On Your Way Out (The Merry Go Round): Another slice of ’60s pop magic from Emitt Rhodes’ original band. This song is more in the vein of The Byrds, with folk rock jangle. The Youngbloods (of “Get Together” fame) would also be a good comparison.
- Big Black — Stinking Drunk (The Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape): A pretty typical slice of noise and aggression from this legendary Chicago post-punk band. The drum machine is set on rapid fire, Santiago Durango plays slicing lead guitar parts while Steve Albini shouts out lyrics ripped from the underbelly of life. The band’s use of dynamics is effective and Durango throws in some suprisingly melodic bits amongst the requisite fury.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is an actor, sure, but he’s also got some rock and roll in him. Whether it’s his first big appearance in Boogie Nights, his Oscar winning turn in Capote, playing a DJ in that pirate radio movie, or his fantastic portrayal of legendary rock critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, Hoffman has rocked. Accordingly, let’s celebrate his birthday by grabbing an iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first ten songs that come up.
- The Boomtown Rats — Mood Mambo (Mondo Bongo): Coming on the heels of the twin successes of Tonic For The Troops and The Fine Art Of Surfacing, this Irish rock band turned from new wave pop to more of a post-punk direction, incorporating more world music influences into their sound. The opening cut off of Mondo Bongo made this obvious, with its crazy percussion and rubbery basslines. This song is not very faithful to Afrobeat, but that’s okay, as it works well with Bob Geldof’s stream of consciousness lyrics. While the Rats never fully turned away from catchy pop rock, this track announced that they were going to find more interesting ways to do it.
- Catherine Wheel — Judy Staring at the Sun (Happy Days): This is a warm melodic piece from the British band, with Tanya Donnelly of Belly accompanying Rob Dickinson on vocals at points during the track. This is a very insinuating track with an understated yet intense lead vocal from Dickinson and a wonderful pop chorus. This song always feels like it’s on the verge of exploding, and even with a spirited guitar solo, the tension between the sweet melody and the seething undercurrents makes it very compelling.
- The Saints — Memories Are Made of This (Eternally Yours): The first two Saints albums are blistering punk classics, with furious guitars over R & B fueled songs. The band then shifted a bit, keeping the R & B base and extreme intensity, but using more acoustic guitars. This tune from the second album basically foretold the direction The Saints would maintain for the next 20 years. This song has a grandeur and a great lead vocal from Chris Bailey, who had very little range but a compelling personality.
- Public Enemy — You’re Gonna Get Yours (Yo! Bum Rush The Show): This song is about Chuck D.‘s Oldsmobile 98, and the samples fromThe Bomb Squad give this tune the feel of a cinematic car chase. This is the first track on Public Enemy’s debut album and it announced a truly unique group. Chuck D.‘s authoritative voice, the contrast of Flavor Flav (who is a bit limited on this track) and the constant energy of the music tracks. Yet this sounds positively primitive compared to the album that followed it.
- Hot Chocolate — Brother Louie (Every 1’s A Winner: The Best of Hot Chocolate): The first big British hit for this multi-ethinic pop/soul band who later scored in the U.S. with “You Sexy Thing”. This dramatic tale of interracial lovers was covered by The Stories, and was a smash here two. The Stories’ version has a much more over-the-top vocal, whereas here, Hot Chocolate is a bit more low key. Moreover, this version has two spoken word interludes, where the lovers’ parents explain how they don’t want either a “honky” or a “spook” in their family. I think this version, which is much more in the urban soul vein of Issac Hayes and The Temptations, is superior. It’s one hell of a song.
- Free — Travelling Man (Molten Gold: The Anthology): Free is pretty much only remember for one song, “Alright Now”, but they put out a lot of swell blues rock records int he ’70s. Unlike Paul Rodgers’ next group, Bad Company, Free was not as decidely commercial, though the music was certainly accessible. This song showcases a great Rogers vocal and some nifty lead guitar work. This is music for people who wish Led Zeppelin hadn’t been quite so bombastic.
- Blur — Trouble in the Message Centre (Parklife): For a few albums, Blur reached Brit-pop perfection, mixing trenchant (but rarely condescending) observations about middle class life with music that followed in the footsteps of everyone from The Kinks to Madness to XTC. This song is a bit new wavey and behind the glossy mid-tempo pop, there’s a hint of sadness.
- The Oranges — Saturday Night (Right To Chews: Bubblegum Classics Revisited): This Japanese ’70s bubbleglam revivalist band was clearly inspired by The Bay City Rollers, so having them do the Rollers best known tune on a bubblegum tribute was a natural. Since the band usually does not sing entirely in English, this track shows they can handle the second language. More importantly, they have a ball with this dumb fun classic.
- Air Miami — I Hate Milk (Me, Me, Me): This side project from Mark Robinson of Unrest was a mix of hyper-caffienated pop numbers with some dreamier detours. This lead track from the band’s sole album simply percolates with energy. The verses are static buzzing guitars and crimped drumming which opens up in the chorus (“Please, please, someone kill me soon” — upbeat!), while retaining the stifling repetitive chords in the background. Paranoid fun.
- The Shazam — Fallin’ All Around Me (Tomorrow The World): The third Shazam album should have broke them. Little Steven had been playing them on his show and Hans Rotenberry crafted a great mix of rocking power pop and mid-tempo charmers that sounded like lost ’70s rock classics. This song falls in the latter category, sounding like a Cheap Trick song leavened with a little California Laurel Canyon pop. One of about six should-have-been hits on this excellent album.