May 22, 2006

v//c:preview 1.2
I know I talked about making this a more regular feature here on via//chicago, and I still most definitely plan to do that, it's just that - well, I've been slacking. At least as far as updating goes, I've been busy as all get out in almost every other aspect of life right now. But what better than to calm the pace and help you through than some exciting new music, right? So today I've got three new songs I'd love to share with you, really running from one end of the music spectrum to the other...

Naledge - "Life"
I mentioned Naledge recently when I talked about the Chicago Rocks showcase at the Metro a couple of weeks ago, his set being one of the night's highlights and giving us a local guy to really look forward to hearing more verses from. First up is one of my favorite tracks off his recent mixtape, hosted by Mike Love, Will Rap For Food. The production by Memo is pretty solid, but I think it's Naledge's lyrical skills that really elevate this track. Check it out and remember the name, especially once his Rawkus debut drops later this year.
((click here to purchase Will Rap For Food: The Mixtape))

Naledge - "Cold Outside"
This second track, "Cold Outside", also comes from the Will Rap For Food mixtape, presented by Kidz In The Hall. This track is a little more hard than some of his other material, but I like the local flavor and Chicago imagery it provides. Rather than focusing on the gang-related lyrics, I like to think that this is a way to let heads know that Chicago shouldn't be slept on and that there is more talent here than just Kanye and Twista.
((click here to purchase Will Rap For Food: The Mixtape))

Beirut - "Brandenburg"
And now, for something completely different... we'll switch things up and take a look at an amazingly talented 19 year-old, originally from New Mexico, by the name of Zach Condon. Zach, who has just released his debut album under the Beirut moniker, pieces together wonderfully engaging tunes that bring to mind images of Eastern Europe and drunken polkas in the early morning hours. Yeah, I said "polkas", but don't let that keep you from checking out this track. Condon tosses in accordions, horns, and even ukeleles to create these tunes that are both engaging and refreshing. Maybe I only like these songs because they are so far removed from the typical guitar-oriented indie rock I listen to, but I dare anyone to keep their toes from tapping or head from bobbing by the end of "Brandenburg". Only nineteen? What have I been doing wrong?
((click here to purchase Gulag Orkestar))

As always, click on the track names to download the songs and please remember that these are for evaluation purposes only. If you like 'em, please click on the links provided to support the artists that bring us these wonderful songs. Thanks.

Am I the only one excited to check out We Don't Need To Whisper tomorrow? For those who haven't heard about it yet, Angels and Airwaves is the new project of former (still current?) Blink-182 guy Tom Delonge. Debut single "The Adventure" has been getting heavy rotation on local alt-rock station Q101 and I've really fallen for the nu-emo meets epic post-punk/electronic sound. I've heard it called Tom fronting U2, but I think the single sounds way better than what would be expected from that description. The fact that its some sci-fi concept album worries me a little (how many of those are actually good?), but I'm willing to give it a fair listen. Of course I consider Blink 182 to be one of the most consistent rock-oriented singles bands of the last five years, so make of that what you will (for real, that Greatest Hits just kills).

Also, take a peek at my just up review for the debut album by J Mascis side-project Witch.

May 17, 2006

Track by track: Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam

So this should have been up here about a week ago, but as is often the case I've been distracted by the million other things going on in my head these days. But as promised, here is a closer look at the excellent new self-titled album by Pearl Jam.
((buy it here))

"Life Wasted"
Things get off to a scorching start with this rocker that features some excellent guitar work and impassioned Vedder vocals, reminding us just how hard this band can rock when they want to.

"World Wide Suicide"
The lead single continues the momentum of "?Life Wasted"?, building out of an almost Strokes-like guitar riff into a fiery chorus punctuated by Cameron's insistent beat and some crunchy guitars. Some nice spacey, echoed effects around the two and a half minute mark add texture and keep this from getting stale.

More than a little reminiscent of "?Spin the Black Circle", this is a quick burst of punk-inspired Jam that sounds like it could become a live highlight on this year's tour.

"Severed Hand"
A slow building into turns into an uptempo, driving rocker complete with some trademark Vedder vocal tics and a particularly inspired guitar solo. Outside of the solo this is nothing special, but I could easily see it becoming a good jam vehicle during the live sets.

"Marker in the Sand"
This has been one of my favorite tracks since my very first spin, one of the most poppy Pearl Jam songs since the "Last Kiss" cover. The chorus is one of those transcendent moments that the band used to crank out on a regular basis, it will stand the test of time as one of the band's classics. Boom's organ at the end is a beautiful touch.

This attempt at a pretty, waltz-like melody falls flat for me, coming across a little bland and lifeless after the great "Marker". The quivering guitar at the end nearly comes close to redeeming the song, but overall the songs serves as little more than a palate cleanser.

This is a nice little character sketch about a man fearing for his future after losing his job. "Thinking if he can't sleep / how will he ever dream?"? is a great line, nicely capturing the anxiety of the situation. Eddie's delivery and poppy harmonies make this a deceptively upbeat tune.

"Big Wave"
Vedder's obligatory surf and ocean references are taken care of in this song, which sounds like it would have been better suited by B-side status. Not a terrible song, but is sounds like exactly the kind of song these guys can toss off in fifteen minutes. But, like many of the band's weaker album tracks, the excellent instrumentation keeps it from being completely skippable.

This is another highlight, featuring piano and acoustic guitar driven verses that lead into epic choruses recalling the classic early albums. Atmospheric guitars and an understated Cameron performance add to the sense of drama that keeps this engaging.

"Wasted Reprise"
This is a pleasant enough interlude that consists of the "Life Wasted"? chorus over a pump organ.

"Army Reserve"
One of the more blatantly topical songs on the album, this one conjures up the intertwining fear and anxiety of a family who's patriarch has been sent off to war. A simple but effective solo makes this a compelling late album entry.

"Come Back"
An obvious touchstone for this gem is "Yellow Ledbetter", but this is by no means a blatant attempt at recapturing the magic. Instead of the blues basis of "Ledbetter"?, this one emerges from more of a soulful, organ embraced sound Â? a classic tale of loneliness and bittersweet hope capped off by a devastatingly beautiful solo. Another song sure to be hailed as a Pearl Jam classic.

"Inside Job"
This slow burning anthem is a fitting choice to end the album on. Rather than replicating the angst-ridden epic closers of Ten and Vs., this is more of a hopeful note to close out the proceedings. Eddie pledges to look within and get "?on my knees to rise and fix my broken soul / again"?. It's a beautiful sentiment and song, the perfect ending for the band's strongest album in years.

May 16, 2006

Kick... and Push... and Coast.

Saturday night I was lucky enough to hit up the second night of the annual Chicago Rocks hip-hop showcase at the Metro. Put together by the Molemen, this event is a great chance to check out some of the hottest hip-hop artists the city has to offer - and this night was certainly no exception. In addition to long time Chicago favorites like Diverse, Vakill, and Juice; this particular night was anchored by recent breakout star Lupe Fiasco. While most people currently know him as "the other guy" in the most recent Kanye single "Touch The Sky", that should all change as his debut single "Kick, Push" climbs up the charts. He put on a very energetic, if brief, set near the end of the night on Saturday and had the crowd eating up every word. He started things off by rhyming over a couple of Kanye beats ("Sky" and "Diamonds") before switching over to some material from his upcoming Food & Liquor album. He finished up with "Kick, Push" and the crowd went crazy. Rap can always be hit or miss in a live setting, but if this charismatic performance was any indication Lupe's got a long and exciting career ahead for him. Other highlights from the night included a set from Typical Cats' Qwel and one of Just Blaze's favorite young Chicagoans, Naledge (recently signed to the rejuvenated Rawkus). Not to mention the awe-inspiring moves displayed by the legendary Brickheadz crew and some onstage graf artwork. Not only was it a fun night, it went a long way towards proving just how vital and thriving Chicago's hip-hop scene is - we've got a hell of a lot more than just Kanye and Twista to offer the scene.

(By the way, be on the lookout for Lupe's "Kick, Push" video which was filmed not too far from where I live. I never thought I would see a rap video on MTV (ok, MTV2, but still) filmed so close to my own 'hood.)

May 11, 2006

Recent Release Round-Up and Random Notes:
Pearl Jam week isn't officially over just yet, the track-by-track rundown of the new album is on the way very soon. Between switching headquarters over to a new computer and preparing for out of town visitors, things have been a bit crazy this week - but I didn't want to leave my loyal readers hanging for too long. So here's a smallish update to keep you satisfied for the time being. If you yearn for more of my thoughts, head on over to Static and check out my review of No Trigger's new album. They are a surprisingly talented young punk band sure to turn many heads at Warped this summer.

Now, let's catch up on some recent releases.

Tool - 10,000 Days (Volcano/Zomba)
Well, it's been five years so it was about time we got another disc jam-packed with prog-metal deliciousness from Maynard and company, right? Of course it was, the world could always use some more Tool. Which is exactly what we get with this album - more Tool and that's just about it. 10K Days is sure to satisfy the band's legions of rabid fans, but isn't very likely to win them many new ones. Not because this is a bad album, but because it doesn't do anything new with the sound. This is just 70 plus minutes of Tool doing what they do best - churning out dirging epic prog. but I can't shake the feeling that the band is just kinda treading water at this point. The packaging is freaking amazing though. (7.9/10.0)
Recommended Tracks: "Vicarious", "Rosetta Stoned", "Right In Two"

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Stadium Arcadium (Warner Bros)
Hmmm. This album had two strikes against it before I even heard it, that being the horrible album name and the godawful artwork that looks like a rejected design for NOW! 437. And let's be honest, the world needs a RHCP double-album like they need another Eagles goodbye tour. But lead single "Dani California" wormed its way into my head (as did Frusciante's excellent solo), and my hopes were raised a little bit. The verdict? Well, I gotta say that I am perfectly whelmed with this album. Not over, not under - just "whelmed". There are some definite standouts and flashes of the old-school funk that I thought RHCP had compeltely abandoned in favor of MOR waters, but to be perfectly honest there was no reason for this to be a 28 track double album. Take the best fifteen or sixteen and it would have been another very respectable addition to the band's catalog, but as it is this verges on being a bloated mess. Just exercise some self-editing and you can probably come up with your own very pleasing single-disc version. (6.9/10.0)
Recommended Tracks: "Storm In A Teacup", "Tell Me Baby", "Dani California"

Snow Patrol - Eyes Open (A&M)
I can't claim to be a longtime fan of Snow Patrol, I only caught on to them with 2004's really enjoyable Final Straw, mostly thanks to killer opening cut "How To Be Dead". I've heard a lot of hardcore fans complaining about the new album, saying that it is a blatant "sell-out" album and a big disappointment. I don't know about all of that, I think Eyes Open is just more of a pop streamlining of the sound they explored last time around. This is epic, guitar-driven pop that never really tries to extend itself too far and thus ends up usually hitting the mark without lapsing into Coldplay-lite wimp rock. "Hands Open" is a great single though, with or without the Sufjan namecheck. (7.6/10.0)
Recommended Tracks: "Hands Open", "Chasing Cars", "You're All I Have"

The Stills - Without Feathers (Vice)
Wow. Without a doubt, this album is one of the biggest disappointments of the year so far. After slowly falling in love with Logic Will Break Your Heart over the last couple years I was hoping for great things from them the second time around. No dice, however, as this one is nothing but lifeless and limp. I'm not sure what happened, but I couldn't even bring myself to listen to the damn thing more than twice. The only worthwhile track on the whole album is "Baby Blues", thanks to the presence of Metric's Emily Haines. (3.8/10.0)
Recommended Tracks: "Baby Blues"

May 4, 2006

Pearl Jam Week Part IV

So yesterday was all about the recent Pearl Jam album cuts, well today is all about the live experience. What fans have always known, and others may never have realized, is that Pearl Jam is one of the most consistent touring rock bands active right now. Night after night this band cranks out exciting, compelling, and well executed live sets that blow away expectations each and every time. But don't just take my word for it, listen to these awesome tracks from recent tours and discover for yourself. (Song title will allow you to download the tracks, the other link will take you to more information on that particular show)

"Given To Fly"
Recorded Live @ Palau St. Jordi; Barcelona, Spain
May 25, 2000
An exceptionally impassioned version of this longtime fan favorite.

Recorded Live @ Bryce Jordan Center; University Park, Pennsylvania
May 3, 2003
This song has grown into an always exciting addition to the setlist, as the band is known to incorporate tags for a huge variety of other songs. This terrific version includes bits of "Highway to Hell" and "Another Brick in the Wall".

Recorded Live @ Alsterdorfer Sporthalle; Hamburg, Germany
June 26, 2000
Excellent version of this classic, complete with one of Mike McCready's monster solos.

Recorded Live @ Key Arena; Seattle, Washington
November 6, 2000
One of the many highlights from this tour ending hometown show, make sure to pay attention to Matt Cameron's nice drum solo.

And there you have it, some live highlights to help you understand why hardcore Pearl Jam fans are still that way - even more than a decade past the band's commercial prime. Hopefully these past couple of days have helped to bring the band some new fans, or even reignited the interest of a lapsed fan. While we're at it - go pick up the new album. It's excellent.

May 3, 2006

Pearl Jam Week Part III

Now that I've spent a little time looking back on the band's releases, it's time to try and convince some of you lapsed and flat-out non-fans that this band isn't worth overlooking any longer. And what better way for me to do that than to allow you to hear for yourselves? So here are three different songs from the most recent three albums, all slightly different and ones that I love for entirely different reasons. Anyway, click on the links below and give the band another shot. If you like what you hear, follow the other links and order the albums. Or just delete 'em, whatever. Can't say I didn't try. So here we go...

From 2000's Binaural (buy it here)

"Thumbing My Way"
From 2002's Riot Act (buy it here)

"Marker in the Sand"
From 2006's Pearl Jam (buy it here)

So there you have 'em, plain and simple. I decided not to elaborate on them in this post, I'd rather have everyone who hasn't heard them yet just dive in and appreciate them on their own terms. Tomorrow check back for a couple of terrific live cuts that showcase the Jam in full-on rock mode.

May 2, 2006

Pearl Jam Week Part II

Today we continue with our brief review of the band's discography, picking up with the first of many (many, many) official live albums. If by any chance you haven't gone out and picked up the new one today as of yet, please make sure to do so soon (or click here to order it). As usual, the packaging and artwork make the disc well worth picking up even if you were one of those that downloaded the tracks early. Anyway, on with the show...

The Discography (Part Two: Live On Two Legs through Riot Act)
Live On Two Legs (1998)
Live On Two Legs was released just six months after Yield and was recorded during the tour in support of that release, but you wouldn't really know it based on the track selection (only a handful of songs from Yield appear). Instead the band put together a really outstanding setlist that balances all of the classics with the high points of the more recent discs, proving that much of the new stuff was really just as strong as the material off of Ten and Vs. But unfortunately this disc just doesn't quite capture the intensity and fire of a Pearl Jam live show. Anyone who caught the band during this tour knew how great the band had been, but this just feels a tad bit understated compared to the full experience. The disc sounds great though, it was well recorded and there are a couple of worth hearing highlights like the cover of Neil Young's "Fuckin' Up" and "Daughter" in particular, the latter of which incorporates bits of "W.M.A.". Luckily the band's decision to release official boots of full tours beginning in 2000 allowed fans to fully appreciate the band's power on stage.
Rating: 8.3/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Corduroy", "Black", "Fuckin' Up", "Daughter"

Binaural (2000)
Even though the band hit unexpected Top 40 chart heights in 1999 with the release of non-album single "Last Kiss", 2000 found Pearl Jam in an increasingly unfamiliar rock landscape. When it came to mainstream rock, the classic leaning sound of Pearl Jam was about as far from popular as one could get. But rather than concern themselves with what was popular on MTV and the radio playlists, the band dug in even deeper and bounced back with a very focused and polished effort. The addition of former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron livened up the band's sound a great deal, allowing tracks like the Cameron co-penned "Evacuation" to explode out of the speakers. There weren't as many standout cuts as on the last two efforts, but this album worked much better as a more precise, cohesive whole.
Rating: 8.7/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Nothing As It Seems", "Light Years", "Grievance", "Of The Girl"

Riot Act (2002)
After the more tightly focused attack of Binaural, the band loosened things up a bit and took a few more chances with the follow-up, 2002's Riot Act. While not quite as strong of a statement as the last go round, we are nonetheless treated to some of the band's greatest songs of the second half of its career. "Love Boat Captain" is a delicate tune that appropriates The Beatles in order to address the 2000 Roskilde festival tragedy in which 9 fans were killed. Some may cry foul for the lyric borrowing, but Vedder turns the line into a beautiful plea for love and compassion. Cheesy or overdramatic? Perhaps, but it's one of the most honest songs the band has recorded and it really shows. Other standouts include "You Are" with its intense guitar effects and the raging "Save You". The less said about the Dubya baiting "Bu$hleauger" the better. While not likely to be mistaken for the band's best album, it is nonetheless another satisfying entry in the band's impressive catalog.
Rating: 8.5/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Love Boat Captain", "Save You", "You Are", "Thumbing My Way"

Lost Dogs: Rarities and B-Sides (2003)
This long overdue collection was a fan's dream, finally compiling all of the band's wonderful B-sides, soundtrack contributions, and compilation cuts into one outstanding collection. Ever since the Ten-era B-side "Yellow Ledbetter" exploded onto alt-rock radio in the early 1990's, fans have raved about how great Pearl Jam's non-album material was - and how right they were to do so. From the haunting "Footsteps" to the fan favorite "Dirty Frank" to the fun surf send-up of "Gremmie Out of Control" to the driven, pissed off "Leaving Here", the band has put tremendous amounts of effort into each and every track no matter where it ends up being released. When you listen to the earliest of the songs on this collection it becomes even more clear as to how amazing this band was at it's peak, this is a must have for casual and hardcore fans alike.
Rating: 9.2/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Yellow Ledbetter", "Drifting", "Leaving Here", "Footsteps", "Alone", "Wash"

Benaroya Hall: October 22nd, 2003 (2004)
This live set is a definite curiosity and well worth calling out for special attention due to its unusual nature. This set was recorded during a benefit for the YouthCare organization, featuring mostly acoustic instrumentation and a setlist full of covers and rarities. There isn't exactly anything groundbreaking about this set, but it is a fun listen and the band seems particularly inspired to be playing for these kids. Bob Dylan ("Masters of War"), The Ramones ("I Believe In Miracles"), and Victoria Williams ("Crazy Mary") are all covered to tremendous effect, but the true gems here are the live rarities - "Fatal", "Down", and a fun acoustic cover of the usually hyper-charged "Lukin". The band plugs in again for an amazing finale, featuring one of the better "Yellow Ledbetter"s to make it to official release.
Rating: 8.8/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Man of the Hour", "Masters of War", "Crazy Mary", "Yellow Ledbetter"

And there ends the via//chicago run-down of the band's discography, but that really only scratches the surface. In addition to the very many fine official bootlegs, here's a few other Pearl Jam related items well worth your time and money:

rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991-2003) (a great place for beginners and lapsed fans)
Single Video Theory (an interesting look into the recording process for Yield)
Touring Band 2000 (great live DVD from the 2000 U.S. tour)
Live At The Garden (live at Madison Square Garden on the Riot Act tour)

May 1, 2006

Pearl Jam Week Part I

In celebration of this week's release of the band's eighth(!) studio album, we here at via//chicago decided it was due time to celebrate one of our long time favorite bands - Pearl Jam. Today and tomorrow we will take a look back at the previous entries in this band's exciting discography, starting off with the classics and working our way through the under-appreciated albums of more recent years. After that I'll spend a day or two tossing up some tracks that fairweather fans of the band may have missed and a couple live songs that demonstrate just how awesome of a live presence this band still is. Finally, I'll wrap up this celebratory week with a track-by-track look at the new self-titled album. So break out your flannels and Docs, get your 1992 on, and join us in celebrating the band once known as Mookie Blaylock.

The Discography (Part One: Ten through Yield)
Ten (1991)
This was the classic that introduced the band to the world and, for better or worse, kickstarted the "grunge" revolution of the early 1990s. Nirvana may have had the bigger cultural impact, but let's face it - Pearl Jam was the band that launched a thousand musical imitators. The classic rock influence was clear from the get go, but that didn't lessen the impact of these often raw and visceral songs - in fact it made this batch of songs all the more timeless. Some of these songs may have gotten played out by alternative radio over the last fifteen years, but placed within the context of this powerful album they haven't lost a bit of the impact. Not to mention the other nine killer tracks that make up this amazing debut. From the uplifting and anthemic to the powerfully emotional, Ten is still Pearl Jam's most cohesive album and definitive statement.
Rating: 9.5/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Jeremy", "Black", "Why Go", "Release", "Alive", "Once"

Vs. (1993)
Despite the expectations of many critics and fans, the band knew they were never going to be able to top Ten on it's own terms so they used this opportunity to develop the band's sound and progress in several new directions at once. Gone are many of the more polished and deliberate moments of the debut, replaced with an ever-so-slightly looser and more organic feel. Some of the experiments fell a bit flat ("Rats", "Leash"), but others effectively showed off new elements of the band's sound (the passionate "Blood", the poppy "Glorified G"). Less motivated fans may have bemoaned the album's lack of a new "Jeremy" or "Black", but those who listened a bit more closely grew to appreciate the more nuanced sound on display.
Rating: 9.0/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Blood", "Animal", "Elderly Woman...", "Glorified G", "Daughter", "Rearviewmirror"

Vitalogy (1994)
Casual fans will tell you that this album is when the band's downhill slide began, pointing to the admittedly hard to love experiments like "Aye, Davinita" and "Bugs" as proof of the band's lack of direction. But those fans are allowing those red herrings to take their attention away from the true beauty and power of this third album, in full evidence on "Corduroy" and "Immortality" - two of the best songs the band has ever put to tape. "Better Man" seems to be the only song from this album to still get many repeated spins on alt-rock radio, but that one isn't even one of the album's five best songs. "Not For You" and "Spin the Black Circle" reflected a new found fire in the band's belly, while the ballads "Tremor Christ" and "Nothingman" added a true sense of delicacy and beauty to the album.
Rating: 9.3/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Spin The Black Circle", "Tremor Christ", "Corduroy", "Immortality", "Not For You"

Merkinball (1995)
It may have been just a two song single comprised of toss-offs from the Mirror Ball sessions with Neil Young, but what an amazing pair of songs. "I Got ID", familiar to many fans as "I Got Shit", is a brooding rocker that features one of Vedder's more fiery vocal performances. "The Long Road" is another solid track that gives a hint of things to come on the band's next full-length.
Rating: 9.6/10.0
Essential Cuts: "I Got ID", "The Long Road"

No Code (1996)
At the time this album was widely believed to be quite a big failure for the band, haters were quick to point to the relatively sluggish sales and weak performance of lead single "Who You Are" - but they were missing the point. At this point the band was hoping to shed the "most important band in rock" baggage and get back to focusing on the music they wanted to write. Once expectations for another "Jeremy" or "Alive" had fallen by the wayside, the band moved on and explored some interesting new directions. Not to say that this album was a complete success however, Vedder's spoken word "I'm Open" and Gossard's Neil Young aping "Mankind" would probably have been better suited to B-side status. But songs like "Off He Goes" and "Red Mosquito" more than earn their place in the Pearl Jam Hall of Fame. If you were one of those who left the fold after Vitalogy, pick this one up and find out what you've been missing this past decade.
Rating: 8.6/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Hail Hail", "Off He Goes", "Red Mosquito", "Habit", "Sometimes"

Yield (1998)
Even though mainstream expectations for this album were relatively low, fans seemed to be chomping at the bits for this album mainly due to the amazing lead single "Given To Fly". An easy choice to kickstart the promotion for this disc, "Fly" soars to a powerful climax both lyrically and musically - reminding fans that this band was still able to pack an emotional punch when needed. Other tracks like "Brain of J" and "Do the Evolution" rocked harder than anything since the Ten era, while "In Hiding" and "Wishlist" pulled forth a more subtle emotion through sincere, simple beauty. The band also made a brief return to the world of music videos with the Todd McFarlane helmed animated clip for "Do the Evolution", a chaotic sprint through evolution and armageddon that bravely matches the intensity of the song itself.
Rating: 8.9/10.0
Essential Cuts: "Brain of J", "Wishlist", "Given To Fly", "Do The Evolution", "In Hiding"