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The CHIRP Blog

Entries categorized as “Top Five” 51 results

Tyler Clark presents: Local Mythologies writesTop Five Music Stories: January 2015

At the end of every month, we here at the Top Five take stock of the music news that mattered most to us during the preceding 30-odd days. Without further preamble, here are our five favorite stories from January 2015.

1) They Might Be Giants and Jens Lekman Write One Song A Week for a Year (Sadly, Not Together).

What began its existence as "a regular phone call to Brooklyn" is back for the internet age: They Might Be Giants have officially resurrected Dial-A-Song, their old-school song distribution service and perhaps the finest use of answering machine technology ever produced. To celebrate, they're releasing a new song every week for 2015, releasing tracks on Tuesdays via the website above and (for old time's sake) a toll-free telephone call to (844) 387-6962. It's the same idea that drives Jens Lekman's Postcard project, which finds the singer penning weekly pop correspondences from Sweden while taking breaks from work on his new album. Whether you're a fan of oddball pop or looking to correct a Swedish wistfulness deficiency, you now have something to set your calendars by. 

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Categorized: Top Five

Tyler Clark presents: Local Mythologies writesTop Five Chicago Folk Artists Who’ll Make You Stick to Your New Year’s Resolution

We're three weeks into January, and New Year's resolutions are already dropping faster than a lapsed gym membership. If you're reading this blog, it's safe to guess that "learn a musical instrument" has appeared somewhere on your list in the last 20 years or so. Worry not, CHIRP listeners: this is the year you finally pick up that guitar/trumpet/mountain dulcimer, and we've got the inspiration to help. Five kinds, actually, all provided by musicians associated with Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. It may take more than a year to catch up to John Prine, but with this list, you'll be equipped to power through.

1) Steve Goodman

The lion of Chicago's folk music scene stood only 5'2", but his voice extended far beyond his slight frame and the city where he sand. Steve Goodman wrote "City of New Orleans" when he was just 23, turning the sights and sound of a downstate rail trip into a hit for Arlo Guthrie and a coming-out party for his own massive talent. Stricken with leukemia for most of his professional career, Goodman embraced the fun side of folk, becoming known for witty, insightful lyrics that nonetheless often contained a little politcal bite at their center. He also looked swell in that cowboy hat, as the video above proves.

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Categorized: Top Five

Tyler Clark presents: Local Mythologies writesTop Five Songs About Winter (That Aren’t About Christmas)

Chicagoans survived their latest brush with winter weather last week, waiting out Polar Vortex Jr. without dipping into their customary winter emergency kits (for me, a fifth of Old Granddad and a VHS copy of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles). However, most of them did it without the aid of seasonal music; while Christmas carols demand a large share of the popular songbook, songs about general wintertime are significantly harder to come by. To stave off cabin fever, I compiled this list of my five favorites. You probably won't find carolers singing them on street corners any time soon, but they make welcome additions to playlists from here until March.


1) Lee Hazlewood - "Urge For Going" (1973)

Before she escaped to Laurel Canyon and started gallivanting around with Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell spent years weathering Canadian winters around Alberta and Saskachewan. That kind of cold sticks with you, even when you leave it. Despite its title, "Urge For Going" doesn't celebrate the kind of California escape that MItchell eventually found; although she eulogizes the death of both a romance and the summer that contained it, she also remains determined to see the cold months out without flinching. "Urge For Going" gained most of its fame by coming out of other people's mouths; the song was a hit for country singer George Hamilton IV in 1967. However, the best rendition comes from picaresque crooner Lee Hazelwood, whose version appeared on his Sweden-only 1973 album I'll Be Your Baby Tonight. Recorded during Hazlewood's stint in Scandinavia, the song takes on an extra layer of yearning; Hazlewood's not only in for a long, dark winter, but also one spent very far from home.

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Tyler Clark presents: Local Mythologies writesTop Five: East German Bands

This Sunday marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a watershed moment that marked the physical end to a divided city and a symbolic end to the Cold War. Instead of celebrating with yet another spin of David Bowie's Low, I decided to take my headphones to the source. The result? A nearly double-stuffed Top Five of East German bands that helped shape (and reshape) the country during its 41-year existence.


1) Silly

City: East Berlin
Sound Like: Olivia Newton-John being kidnapped and forced to write a Eurovision song
East German Fact: When you're trying to keep the West at bay, start with the language. According to Europopmusic, the band started their life as Familie Silly after East German officials denied their attempt to use an English word for their name.



2) Wolf Biermann

City: East Berlin
Sound Like: The guitar of early Dylan, the populism of Woody Guthrie, the mustache of Sonny Bono
East German Fact: As awareness of Biermann's burgeoning life as a dissident increased in Western folk circles, the singer-songwriter came under close scrutiny from East German officials; according to a 1997 article in German-language publication Cicero, Biermann's declassified Stasi files contained a 20-point plan to smear and discredit his growing reputation.



3) Puhdys

City: Orainenburg
Sound Like: A Sweet album run through Google Translate
East German Fact: Given the country's tenuous position on the world stage (and artists' troubling predisposition toward getting disappeared by unsmiling men in fur-lined overcoats), the East German government was rightly concerned about defection by its popular artists. The leaders made an exception for Puhdys, which, in 1974, became one of a select few bands from East Germany granted permission to tour in Western Europe. They're still around, too.



4) Karat

City: East Berlin
Sound Like: The opening theme to an unmade John Cusack comedy about being an exchange student
East German Fact: Buoyed by the success of their 1982 record Der Blaue Planet and follow-up Die sieben Wunder der Welt, Karat was awarded the National Prize of East Germany in 1984. They became just the second pop band awarded the honor (after Puhdys in 1982).



5) Klaus Renft Combo

City: Leipzig
Sound Like: The German Doobie Brothers
East German Fact: The first banned band on the list, the Klaus Renft Combo was unofficially-officially dissolved by the Stasi after their swamp-rock sound made all the kids start growing out their CCR mustaches. Never fear, though; the band reunited in 1990 after the fall of the GDR.



6) Wutanfall

City: Leipzig
Sounds Like: The punk band that practices in the apartment below you after one too many viewings of The Lives of Others
East German Fact: One of the earliest punk bands in Leipzig, Wutanfall was basically the Minor Threat to L'Attentat's Fugazi. Their repression by Stasi forces had the opposite of the desired effect, drawing attention to the punk cause in the GDR. In English, their name means Tantrum.



7) L'Attentat

City: Leipzig
Sounds Like: A Sex Pistols album taped off of a Soviet radio
East German Fact: Turns out all of those rumors about Stasi members infiltrating punk bands were totally true. At least, that's the case with L'Attentat (or The Assassination), the band formed from the ashes of Wutanfall's breakup. In addition to turning out some capable punk tunes, L'Attentat fell victim to the authorities with the imprisonment of vocalist Bernd Stracke. The person who ratted on him? Guitarist Imad-Abdul Majid, a veteran of the Leipzig punk scene and paid Stasi informant.



8) Feeling B

City: East Berlin
Sounds Like: An unholy marriage between NOFX and the Scorpions
East German Fact: The East German punk scene would go on to influence Western music in unexpected places. For instance: before scoring their crossover hit with 1997's "Du Hast," Rammstein members Paul Landers, Christoph Schneider, and Christoph Lorenz formed the core of Feeling B, a popular outsider band fronted by the much older Aljosha Rompe. Rammstein singer Till Lindemann was also active in the scene, serving as drummer for the Schwerin-based punk band First Arsch.



9) Herbst In Peking

City: East Berlin
Sounds Like: Billy Idol, if Billy Idol cared about democracy and not just hot ladies
East German Fact: Herbst In Peking became one of the final victims of the GDR's government bans, earning one after lead singer Rex Joswig's protest of the Tiananmen Square Massacre at a concert in Brandenburg in 1989. Working in secret (and occasionally on the run), they recorded their biggest hit, "Bakschischrepublik", just before the wall fell. Heard on radios in both halves of German as the nations swept towards reunification, it represented the work and sacrifice of dissident artists throughout the GDR. Also, there's a sax solo.

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Tyler Clark presents: Local Mythologies writesTop Five: New Pornographers Members, Ranked By Solo Work

If you've listened to CHIRP in the last few months, you've probably heard a track from Brill Bruisers, the latest pop statement piece from the New Pornographers. Since forming in 1999, the Vancouver supergroup has been a critical favorite, and currently holds a 79 average on review aggregator Metacritic. The band's success comes from its ability to weave together the distinct songwriting voices of its members, including AM-radio devotee Carl Newman, experimental pop sorceror Dan Bejar, and alt-country maven Neko Case. Today, however, I'm unraveling that careful musical ecosystem. Not counting their work together, which member of the New Pornographers has produced the best work in solo or side projects? Band harmony be damned: which New Pornographer is the best?

A note on methodology: whenever possible, we list three sets of numbers: the Metacritic Metascore, the Metacritic user average, and an average combining the Metascore and reviews from AllMusic for albums not listed on Metacritic. The Metascore takes precedence, with the user average acting as a tiebreaker. The AllMusic scores are there to provide representation for older albums, and paint a (slightly) more complete picture of each artist. Plus, the more scores we use, the more there is to argue about. 


5) Kathryn Calder

Metacritic Average: n/a
AllMusic Average (Immaculate Machine + solo work): 71.7

Kathryn Calder joined the New Pornographers as a touring member in 2005, and most early coverage of her tenure was preoccupied with a) how much (or little) she sounded like Neko Case and b) the movie-plot story of her life as the niece Carl Newman never knew he had. It also shortchanged the facts of her own career; before signing on with the New Pornographers, Calder was already the successful singer of Immaculate Machine, whose just-the-facts indie pop populated the midsections of many a mix CD in the mid-2000s. More recently, Calder's found more success on the singer-songwriter beat, freeing her voice to lilt and meander over slightly more delicate arrangements.

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Categorized: Top Five

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