Today is the birthday of a Chicago original. Andrew Bird went to high school in Lake Forest and got his degree in violin performance at Northwestern. After releasing a solo album, he spent some time working with The Squirrel Nut Zippers before forming his Bowl of Fire band. Their records were acclaimed, but they never broke through. Bird went back to solo work and his multi-genre stew and unique lyrics and melodies gradually gained an audience. Bird has certainly staked out his own turf and stayed true to the city, playing multiple show stands fairly regularly. Let’s pay tribute to the skinny whistling violinist by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.
Neko Case – Stinging Velvet (Blacklisted): This track from her third album is a typical mix of country, folk and something more mysterious, in the vein of the score to Twin Peaks. This is one of the strongest songs on this LP, and she has written many tunes in this vein, and since no one else really does, that’s perfectly fine.
The Orange Peels – 2020 (2020): The title track from the fourth LP from these sunshiney Bay Area power poppers. Frontman Allen Clapp has a boyish voice that is perfect for his positive lyrics and this bubbly tune. The band’s influences are familiar but this band puts it together in a wholly original manner.
The Knack – Radiating Love (Round Trip): After undergoing one of the biggest backlashes in rock music history on their second album, But the Little Girls Understand, The Knack retrenched and their third album was a mostly successful attempt to show the breadth of their talents. This lead track instantly showed a psychedelic influence, with a simple mid-tempo rhythm providing a foundation on some interesting embellishments. And the chorus is catchy – that part didn’t change.
The Bees – Pressure Makes Me Lazy (Every Step’s A Yes): Speaking of psychedelic, this is an atmospheric track from the most recent Bees album. This is nearly a droning number, with the vocals buried in the percussion and other instruments that bubble together like slow boiling water.
Mystery Machine – What I Want (Headfirst Into Everything): This is a ‘90s gem that you can probably find used for a quarter. Everything came together on this album from a veteran Canadian band. This is indie rock with a bit of a psychedelic bent. They sound like a cross between Dumptruck and Sloan, which is a great place to be. This is a typically memorable song with a big hook, and these guys don’t wait around long to get to the best parts.
Sukilove – From a Blue-Eyed Girl (You Kill Me): What is Aztec Camera had become more sinister? They might have wound up like this Belgian band, who went from early soft-pop melodic tunes to hard edged rock with a bit of blues vibe. This is an angry rant with some smart little melodic wrinkles.
Jalla Jalla – Ballad of Green Salad (Jalla Jalla/Crumelur): One of my favorite tunes by this Finnish band. It is an interesting mix of ska and New York Dolls style rock, with incomprehensible lyrics. It’s okay, the music carries it very well.
Myracle Brah – Hearts on Fire (Plate Spinner): While this band never topped its debut, every album has some Badfinger-ish gems. This may be the best song on what I think is their second best album. It’s an intent acoustic guitar grounded song with a strong lead vocal from Andy Bopp.
The Last – Assembly Line (Awakening): The second LP from their first reunion with those indelible harmonies as this band mixed folk rock and power pop with a heavy dose of ‘60s classicism and punk rock power. The harmonies and the tune don’t mesh perfectly, yet that somehow makes this song even cooler. Criminally underrated band.
Masters of Reality – Gimme Water (Sunrise on the Sufferbus): Masters of Reality was a big influence on Josh Homme. On their second album, Ginger Baker manned the drum kit and leader Chris Goss put his own spin on Cream-style rock. Here, the collaboration with Baker works very well. This is a simple guitar vamp, with Goss’s crooning while Baker fills in all the empty sonic space without overwhelming Goss and his guitar.