Tag Archive for 'Chicago'

AlmostAGhost’s Top Albums Of 2012: #10. Disappears – Pre Language



I don’t listen to a lot of straight-up rock bands anymore, but Disappears (who were one of my surprises in my list last year), returned just a few months later with another cool record. And while I wrote last year that their album was difficult, one that I would hardly go around recommending to people. It sounded like “garage band, but with the garage door closed,” as I wrote.

But on Pre Language, they brought Sonic Youth’s drummer into the studio for the first time (he’s since left the band), turned everything up a little louder, infused their riffs with a menacing repetition, and get a huge awesome swirly psychedelic groove going. Don’t mess with these guys.

Disappears “Hibernation Sickness”

Disappears “Replicate”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #15. Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer

Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer

I won't fall apart on you tonight / But I don't know what tomorrow may bring

I am not sure what happened to Eleanor Friedberger last summer exactly, but it seems to have inspired an album full of nostalgic songs about getting lost and failed romance.

Friedberger’s considerable talent is in her observational and uniquely specific, semi-stream-of-conscious songwriting. Memories are like that though, right? You don’t just remember the car crash last year, you remember that “the ambulance was called by a guy and his friend called Guru / they were visiting from California / they saved my life.” She is not necessarily going for universal philosophical ideas (one way for a listener to connect to a song), but going in the opposite direction – zeroing in on whatever details are still there in her mind. This sort of specificity makes the songs feel more immediate, even more real. I’ve never been in a car crash, but hearing her sing of one (on “My Mistakes), I feel connected because of the detail, and sense the wonder it caused.

Similarly, “Inn Of The Seventh Ray” seems to specifically recall getting lost in Los Angeles on a date. Without explicitly bringing it up, it ends up as a look at broken promises of a broken relationship (“you promised to take me to the Inn Of The Seventh Ray / if you only knew the way”). In only writing about the trip to the restaurant, she ends writing about so much more. Again, the specifics bring you in. Friedberger even regularly drops “that’s crazy!” or “I liked that” impressions throughout her lyrics to bring them even closer to the listener. We are right there with her.

Most of the songs here do seem to be looking at a broken relationship. She remembers movies watched (The Girl Who Played With Fire in “Scenes From Bensonhurst” and Footloose in “Inn”), making necklaces from tin cans, getting lost in New York (on both “Owl’s Head Park” and “Roosevelt Island”), getting lost in Los Angeles (“Inn”), I could go on, listing all the moments. All these scenes tie all the songs together.

Musically, the songs have a calmness, especially compared to the intensity of Friedberger’s main band, Fiery Furnaces. There are less riffs, and she utilize mood over Furnaces’ experimentation. Some of the tracks perfectly embody the nostalgia, subtly dropping in some saxophone or a little harmonica or keyboards in just the right way. The music does form a string of moods through its different sections, which certainly matches the string of scenes she sings about.

In many ways, Last Summer is a loose concept album – maybe not in a specific sense, but in looking at some specific events of a time and trying to figure them out. Whether or not they really happened, or are fiction, I do not know. Friedberger does not write from within the memories, but almost always in looking back on them, trying to make sense of what happened. Is this not exactly what people do with their memories? “I thought I’d learn from my mistakes,” Friedberger sings on “My Mistakes,” “Why keep time-traveling if it doesn’t get better the second time around?”

Eleanor Friedberger “My Mistakes”

Eleanor Friedberger “One-Month Marathon”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #17. Disappears – Guider

Disappears - Guider


I was noticing some recurring threads throughout my top-20 list, in anticipation of future reviews. One thing I liked this year seems to be energetic, one-dimensional rock bands, who perhaps have some hidden, deeper dimensions. Disappears is one of these bands.

But I should be upfront here: Guider is not a particularly popular record. A few sites I looked at had it rated pretty poor (though some do love it). And even I, with the album sitting strong at #17 on my list here, cannot imagine recommending Disappears to a whole lot of people. Whether those hidden dimensions reveal themselves probably depends a lot on each individual listener, and perhaps with a band like this, they can easily stay hidden.

First of all, the 30-minute album contains only five short songs, and a fifteen-minute one. The singer blurts or groans out near-indecipherable vocals, like they were an afterthought. The guitar tones never seem to change from song to song. Instead of solos, the guitarist just strangles chords for atmosphere. And the whole thing has a distant, muffled feel, like you’re listening to a garage band, but with the garage door closed in front of you. These are not criticisms. Guider is not as difficult as that sounds, but to show how Disappears totally deconstruct the normal rock music angles.

Further, and perhaps most of all, the relentless driving beat of every track, provided by their new drummer, Steve Shelley (from Sonic Youth) impresses me.* That high-tempo mechanical repetition, borrowed from krautrock, is one of my favorite things. I find it totally addicting! “Halo” has one of the more intense rhythm sections, and it is a good example here. No matter what kind of stuff is going on above it, that backbone is momentous.

But most of all, the album refuses to stray. Often I prefer an album that wanders and explores a bit, but Disappears stick close to their own method for the entire time. This is the right choice for a band like this; one misplaced ballad, rude synthesizer sound, or something out-of-place like that would probably ruin everything. Instead, little short bursts of songs keep showing you the template, repeating it, over and over (just like the krautrock beat, come to think of it). And so by the time Guider arrives at the 15-minute “Revisiting,” you know what to expect. Those hidden dimensions, the intense grooves and deconstructed rock and roll, have shown themselves, completely drawing me in, allowing “Revisiting” to be the perfect epic closer. And by the time “Revisiting” ends, you’re ready to go again.

*UPDATE A FEW DAYS LATER: I have since read that Shelley is not on this album, though he is in the band and will be on their upcoming 3rd album. The drumming here is still bad-ass.

Disappears “Halo”

Disappears “Guider”

Spotify playlist here!

- almostaghost

Amanda Palmer August 8 2008 Lakeshore Theater Chicago

In 2008, I was in Chicago for a conference. As the plane landed I was looking up shows in town for my week stay and was shocked to find Amanda Palmer was playing a solo gig the next night. And it was totally sold out. I had seen the Dresden Dolls before, but this Amanda solo thing was brand new. Apparently she had done a record, which had leaked just before I left for Chicago, but I hadn’t heard it yet.

After spending nearly my entire first 24 hours in town making calls to the venue, record stores, ticket agencies,  and even asking the hotel concierge if he could help, the evening was upon me and I was ticketless. I decided to head down and see if I could just find tickets waiting in line. When I got to the venue, the line was wrapped around the building. I started walking down the perimeter, and asked if anyone had extra tickets probably each batch of 5 people or so. I got to the end with no luck. So, I turned around and walked straight back up and asked again.

This repeated for about an hour. I had asked many of the same people, probably 5-6 times if they had tickets. The evil looks I was getting were almost enough to make me give up, but I decided to wait in line and see if maybe somehow by the time I got to the front my luck would change. I had taken to discussing the Dolls and AP (FYI: this was the pre-AFP era) with a couple that had driven all the way from Green Bay. They had seen the Dolls about a dozen times, and encouraged me to keep trying. Overhearing our conversation, other people waiting in line shared encouraging words and one girl even said “you were meant to get in this show.” I tended to agree!

When I was about 40 feet from the entrance, a bad falafel saved me. This girl came up to me with one ticket in hand. Her friend had eaten some bad falafel and was leaving. The ticket was mine. Victory was mine. I triumphantly proceeded inside and after checking out some wicked merch I couldn’t afford, I found my seat. And then I was introduced to Vermillion Lies. That could be a whole blog in of itself, but I reserve myself by relating to you that they ended their set with crowd holding hands, swaying, and singing along thusly.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/Hz-G9qE-r8w" width="425" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]

Suffice it to say that the night was off to a great start, and it was about to get even better! The lights went down, the cheering started, and then came the following. I ask you stop here, watch the video, and then continue reading.

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Did you watch yet? If not, stop reading and play that video straight through.  I’ll be waiting for you.

Done? Ok, so I will in no way make the implication that Amanda Palmer is Michael Jackson. But if she was, this was her Motown 25 moment. Ok, so I just took a break from writing and watched that performance of Billie Jean. I reiterate, Amanda Palmer is no Michael Jackson. Anyway, Amanda went on to play many songs from the forthcoming Who Killed Amanda Palmer record, mostly just blowing us away one song after another. There were also some Dresden Dolls songs, several covers, and two encores. The full setlist can be found here.  She closed out the night with her now famous ukulele rendition of Creep, joined by the sisters Vermillion. At the time, nobody had heard her do this before. It was so fucking special.

Of course, anyone who has seen Amanda before knows it ALWAYS feels that way. That, my dear readers, is because it ALWAYS is. What makes Amanda so special, is that she knows it’s all about the fans. She gives us everything she has to give, and thats why we always keep coming back for more.  Unfortunately, this is the only video I could find of that closing number. However, despite the clipped audio, that crowd roaring pretty much captures the moment perfectly.

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If anyone reading this knows the girl who got sick on her falafel, or her friend who got me that ticket, please have her write me. I’d love to thank the both of you personally for having made possible one of my all time favorite concert experiences.

- breathmint

AlmostAGhost Learns About A Musical Genre: Acid House

A few months back, I made a mix of all soul music on 8tracks. It was pretty well-received, as that is a genre of music I love and know decently. But it got me thinking: I should make more one-genre mixes. But there’s so many genres I do not know anything about. So where to turn? Wikipedia, of course. I found a massive list of musical genres and picked one: right near the top, Acid House. Then I started reading, surfing, and downloading.

Acid House grew out of the club scene in Chicago, in the mid-’80s. It seems to have been fairly self-contained to the midwest (maybe Detroit a bit), and only lasted a couple of years. But then a few years later in the late-’80s, it showed up somehow in London. It became a bit more commercial there. The Acid House sound was simple: a repetitive beat with the “squelchy” sound of the Roland TB-303 synthesizer.

There’s a lot of controversy over who created the first Acid House track, as there were quite a few pioneers back then, all around the same time. I made a mix of some of my favorites by some of them below. A few famous and important tracks couldn’t be used, because they were too long for 8tracks file limits. But I think it is fairly representative of what acid house was in the ’80s. I tried to keep it pure, in later years, producers would mix in different sounds like rap or strings or whatnot. The main consistency in the songs is that squelchy synthesizer and the repetitiveness.

Here is the mix (the smiley face logo was used in the acid house scene):

- almostaghost

Btrxz’s Haiku Reviews of 2010 Or Things We Over Look (in no particular order 10/18)

Artist: Houses

Title: All Night

Label: Lefse Records

Country: US, Chicago

Genre: Dreampop, Chillwave, Downtempo

Date: 10-19-10

Houses- All Night

Pull up the bedding

Shifting towards loves dreamscape

Filled in full at home

Sun Fills

- Btrxz

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #17. Record Club – Oar

Beck Wilco Jamie Lidell Feist

I could use me some yin for my yang

#17. Record Club – Oar

Beck’s superb and on-going Record Club project is my next choice for this countdown. Beck organizes a handful of fellow musicians and friends, and in one day, they cover an entire album. The tracks are recorded as videos, and then released on Beck.com weekly. He tackled Skip Spence’s Oar for the third project, which is an unbelievably good record. It is a sometimes strange mix of folk and jazz, but with the emotion of one man singing the blues. Skip Spence was an obscure genius, a lesser-known Syd Barrett-type who also went mad. His story is fascinating, but better saved for another post. Beck has been a long-time fan of Spence’s, and has covered him a couple of times prior to this as well.

The first couple of Record Clubs were a fairly random bunch of musicians. This time, the third project, Beck surrounded himself with a band, Wilco, who already have their own chemistry. This brought an added dimension to the proceedings, and the ability to go almost anywhere musically. Further, the other musicians (Feist, Jamie Lidell, Brian LeBarton, James Gadson) are all supremely-talented collaborators, who can easily fit in with whatever is going on. With Beck overseeing everything, this Record Club was set up to succeed.

And succeed they do. They all jump into Oar with unbridled enthusiasm and creativity, relishing the brilliant songs. They handle the project in two sections, basically. Eight of the tracks were done with all the musicians, and the remaining were done as a killer funk band of Beck, Lidell, Gadson and LeBarton (i.e., without Wilco). These two set-ups really complement each other, and make for a very well-rounded album.

The tracks with Wilco and Feist for the most part play the songs straight. Beck sings lead on “Little Hands” and “Diana,” sticking quite close to Spence’s original vocals. Wilco fills out the music in subtle and playful ways, like those lead guitar licks on “Diana.” Feist gets to sing the staggering “Weighted Down,” which was a perfect decision. I don’t think Beck or Jeff Tweedy would have been quite right for the song, neither’s voice has the necessary heft for it. Feist, however, brings it. Similarly, the band starts Spence’s slow and spooky “War In Peace” slow and spooky, but then drop a crazy guitar solo by Nels Cline. They never overdo anything, which is a perfect skill to have when doing an album in a day. For example, on “All Come To Meet Her,” they strip the song all the way down, and the entire group sings it acapella.

Meanwhile, the funk band lets loose with more abandon on the remaining songs. While the Wilco tracks are beautiful and tasty, after Wilco left (or before they got there, not sure), the other guys jammed. Jamie Lidell has a high soul falsetto, James Gadson is a legendary funk drummer on all the classics, Beck and Lebarton are groovy dudes. They must have realised, what else are we going to do here? “Books Of Moses” and “Cripple Creek” are the answer.

As you can see, this Record Club was up for anything-acappella barbershop, ’70s funk, acoustic guitars, rock, Ace Of Base (yep), whatever. That they were doing it from a template of Skip Spence’s songs is pretty inspiring. The project both stands on its own, and brings new light into the sometimes shady corners of Spence’s genius. If you’re not following Beck’s Record Clubs, you’re missing out. (It’s on hiatus at the moment though, I’ll certainly post when it returns.)

You can watch/listen to all of the songs on beck.com by clicking here.

Record Club: Record Club – “Grey / Afro”

Record Club – “Broken Heart”

Skip Spence:

Alexander Skip Spence – “Cripple Creek”

Alexander Skip Spence – “Weighted Down (The Prison Song)”

- almostaghost