Jan 31, 2007

"The bottom feels so much better than the top!"

Alright, maybe I haven't convinced you yet. But I'm going to give it another shot, because I just can't get enough of her. I know I've mentioned her several times before, but it bears repeating - Lily Allen is the real deal. And after months and months of hype, including some major airplay for "Smile" video, her debut album Alright, Still finally got its U.S. release this week. And you know what? It's even better than the original UK release. Not by much, but just barely, thanks to the inclusion of the hilarious 50 Cent send-up of "Nan You're A Window Shopper" and a surprisingly decent remix of the aforementioned "Smile". So if my other plugs for this girl haven't converted you yet, take a listen to these two and give the girl a second (or third) shot. She's worth it.

Lily Allen - "Nan You're A Window Shopper" (taken from Alright, Still)
Lily Allen - "Smile (Version Revisited)" (taken from Alright, Still)

Jan 30, 2007

"It feels good, wonderful, I forget I have feelings at all"

I sure do love Damon Albarn. It seems like the guy can do no wrong, and he only seems to be getting better with age. First there was that whole helping to define Britpop thing with Blur, then there was that whole Gorillaz thing which did fairly well, and now we've got the excellent new project The Good, The Bad, & The Queen. Of course that leaves out loads of other side projects and collaborations, but you get my point - dude is on fire. This time around he's hooked up with a veritable all-star session that includes Paul Simonon (The Clash) on bass, Simon Tong (The Verve) on guitar, Tony Allen (Fela Kuti) on drums, and wunderkind himself Danger Mouse handling the production duties. If you're unfamiliar with much of Albarn's discography you may be a little surprised by how downbeat and gloomy the resulting songs are, but longtime fans were probably pretty pleased to hear some more of this particular side of Damon. The entire self-titled album is great so here's a track to check out for yourself, along with an old favorite B-side from one of his other bands.

The Good, The Bad, & The Queen - "80's Life" (taken from The Good, The Bad, & The Queen)
Blur - "Dizzy" (taken from the Sunday, Sunday single)

Jan 28, 2007

"The only thing that you ever really did for me / was make me oh so miserable"

I've been a huge fan of Alkaline Trio for a number of years, wallowing in their near-perfect blend of dark cynicism and catchy punk-rock with every new release that trickles out. They've also been one of the few bands that I've loved enough to track down each and every compilation and soundtrack that they've appeared on, even the ones that were pretty much worthless outside of the Trio's contribution. But those of you who haven't followed the band down each and every dark trail are in luck as Vagrant is releasing a catch-all compilation of B-sides, split EP tracks, and compilation appearances this Tuesday entitled Remains. That's the excellently dark cover art above. It also comes with a DVD full of backstage features and videos from the last three full-lengths, well worth checking out. And while this may be a rarities comp, it doesn't mean these songs are any less fantastic than anything else they've put out... as evidenced by these two songs below.

Alkaline Trio - "Jaked On Green Beers" (originally found on Atticus: Dragging The Lake)
This is one of those great kiss-off songs that you scream along with after being dumped, wishing you could send this to your ex as a Casey Kasem long distance dedication. Feel the bile.

Alkaline Trio - "Old School Reasons" (originally found on Oil: Chicago Punk Refined)
Besides blood and heartbreak, another common theme found in the Trio's music is alcohol, as in being the cure to the previously mentioned two. "Old School Reasons" is the punk rock way to cry in your beer.

Jan 25, 2007

Throwback Thursday II

For this week's Throwback Thursday, let's take a little trip back to the local cineplex circa 1997 for the release of the sequel to a movie that helped kickstart the modern horror movie renaissance, like it or not. Scream 2 was a decent little flick that upped the irony factor and meta-references of the first while spinning the series into "whodunit" territory. And if the movie wasn't enough for you, there was also the mostly forgettable soundtrack that featured a virtual who's who of radio friendly alt-rock of the day - Everclear, Sugar Ray, Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters, Tonic, and Collective Soul to name a few. There were also nods to hip-hop (the horrifyingly awful "Scream" by Master P and Silkk the Shocker), R&B (a decent Prince cover by D'angelo), and pop-punk (a pretty half-assed Less Than Jake cover). But there were actually a few songs worth keeping and pulling out for another listen, so go ahead and do so now...

"Rivers" - Sugar Ray
I never really expected to post a Sugar Ray song on this blog, but this is a decent little gem that is actually the best Weezer song ever written by a band that wasn't Weezer.

"Right Place Wrong Time" - The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
The late '90s, popcorn flick soundtracks especially, seemed to be a hotbed for ill-conceived cover versions. This update of a classic Dr. John song however, is an exception to the rule.

"Dear Lover" - Foo Fighters
I was always surprised that Dave Grohl relegated this one to cast-off soundtrack status, as this was a pretty little tune that would have worked as a nice contrast to the driving rock on any of their albums.

Jan 23, 2007

"Chemicals don't flatten my mind / Chemicals don't mess me up this time"

Things have been, and are still, a little hectic this week so tonight's update is going to be a brief one to share a couple songs from early '07 that have been buzzing around in my head in a good kinda way.

Of Montreal - "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse"
(taken from Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?)
Don't let the rather unwieldy title fool you, this is a great little slice of indie pop from one the more exciting bands I've discovered of late. They certainly aren't new, Hissing Fauna is their eighth full-length, but over the course of their last three albums they've managed to put together quite a stretch of fine music.

Gruff Rhys - "Candylion" (taken from Candylion)
For those of you not immediately familiar with the name Gruff Rhys, he is most often found leading the Super Furry Animals - a band that is criminally overlooked here in the United States. This, the title track from his most recent solo album, is a laid-back tune that fits perfectly in with the rest of SFA's poptastic catalog.

Jan 21, 2007

"We're not here to start no trouble..."

The only appropriate song for this evening. Go Bears! Miami here we come...

Chicago Bears Shufflin' Crew - "Super Bowl Shuffle"

Jan 18, 2007

Throwback Thursday

I thought it would be nice to spice up the new year a little bit by adding a new feature here at via//chicago, so welcome to the first ever installment of Throwback Thursday. Every so often, on a Thursday, I'm going to dig way back into the archives of the via//chicago music collection to share a couple of tunes that are near forgotten or just gems that need to be enjoyed again. We kick it off by heading all the way back to last century to check out a little 1990's action.

The Verve - "Bittersweet Symphony (James LaVelle Remix)"
It's unlikely that anyone's forgotten this Britpop classic, nor its extremely memorable video, but I'm not sure how many people got to hear this interesting little remix. I can't say it improves upon the original version, but it certainly does provide a little twist.

Soul Asylum - "Fearless Leader"
This is one of those bands that deserves a little bit more recognition than they seem to get by everyone who wants to dismiss them as a two-hit wonder ("Runaway Train" and "Misery"). But the truth is, they've managed to put together a mighty impressive catalog over the years, including the near decade they were cranking out rock before they hit it big. This was always one of my favorites of theirs, sadly relegated to B-side status on the "Misery" single. For some reason, considering the state of the nation today and the plummeting presidential approval ratings, I'm finding the lyrics more fitting than ever.

Girls Against Boys - "Sexy Sam"
We go from forgotten freshness to a band that never got nearly as much recognition as they deserved. GVSB were an underrated indie rock band that funked things up with their duelling bass players, cranking out a sound that was well ahead of its time. "Sexy Sam" was a non-album single, but was no less impressive than tracks like the also classic "Kill the Sexplayer". It's a shame these guys never broke through to the mainstream, here's hoping for a critical reappraisal in the near future.

Jan 17, 2007

"And though these wings have turned to stone / I can fly, fly, fly away..."

I've been on a huge, huge Neil Young kick for the past couple of weeks, but more on that in a minute.

First things first, I know its been awhile since I last posted but things have been slow to get back into the usual swing after the holidays and the new year. With the veritable slowdown in new releases and the general winter doldrums, I haven't had a lot to taslk about - but I swear things will start to pick up again.

In the past couple of weeks a few more reviews I've written for Static have popped up on the site, follow the links and read what I had to say about new albums from The Shys and Thunderbirds Are Now!. I was also fortunate enough to have been invited to take part in the inaugural Jackin' Pop Critics Poll, presented by Idolator and edited by the always worth-reading Michaelangelo Matos. You can view my ballot here.

And, in a bit more of a personal note, I was extremely fortunate to have the most wonderful woman in the world agree to marry me over the weekend. 2007 is shaping up to be a wonderful year.

Back to Neil Young for a second, because really, there can never be enough said about this guy. Chances are you know him from one of his songs that has become a staple on classic rock radio - maybe "Ohio" or "Cinnamon Girl" or even "The Needle and the Damage Done". But Neil has provided us with so much more legendary material over the years whether with Buffalo Springfield, some guys named Crosby, Stills and Nash, the short-lived Mynah Birds, or throughout his ultra-prolific solo career. In order to spread some Neil love and encourage more of you to spend a little time digging deeper into his catalog, here are a few of my all time favorite songs to get you motivated:

Neil Young - "Danger Bird" (taken from Zuma)
Neil Young - "Razor Love" (taken from Silver & Gold)
Neil Young - "Don't Let It Bring You Down" (taken from After the Gold Rush)

Jan 3, 2007

Top 50 Albums of 2006: Part Five (10-1)

And now, via//chicago's favorite ten albums of the year that was two thousand and six...

10. Food & Liquor - Lupe Fiasco (Atlantic) [buy it here]
This past year saw Lupe shoot from cameo appearances with Kanye to critically acclaimed rapper in his own right, dropping a thrilling debut album filled to the brim with hooks and charisma.
Check Out: "I Gotcha", "Daydreamin'"

9. Be Your Own Pet - Be Your Own Pet (Ecstatic Peace) [buy it here]
Teenagers from Nashville out spazz and rock people twice their age on this hyper debut. Lead singer Jemina Pearl is the most engaging frontwoman this side of Karen O, alternately playful and frightening.
Check Out: "We Will Vacation, You Can Be My Parasol", "Adventure"

8. Destroyer's Rubies - Destroyer (Merge) [buy it here]
While he wasn't writing winning pop songs for the New Pornographers or taking part in other Canadian indie supergroups, Dan Bejar found time to drop his most stunning and fully-realized album to date.
Check Out: "European Oils", "A Dangerous Woman Up to a Point"

7. Fishscale - Ghostface Killah (Def Jam) [buy it here]
Who knew that the most engaging Wu-Tang member a decade on would be Ghostface? This was the first of two albums he dropped in the '06, but this was the clear-cut winner - full of his usual insane street tales packed with both lyrical and production punches.
Check Out: "Be Easy", "9 Milli Bros."

6. Pink - Boris (Southern Lord) [buy it here]
Japanese doom metal masters alternate between plodding brutality and in-the-red distortion attacks on this thriller, finally gaining them the American audience they deserve.
Check Out: "Farewell", "Woman on the Screen"

5. Drum's Not Dead - Liars (Mute) [buy it here]
The highly experimental trio moves to Berlin and records a concept album about the duelling creative forces battling inside and names them "Drum" and "Mt. Heart Attack", awesomeness ensues. When the beautiful "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack" emerged from the primal squall for the first time, I could have sworn I saw God.
Check Out: "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack", "It Fit When I Was a Kid"

4. Return to Cookie Mountain - TV on the Radio (4AD/Interscope) [buy it here]
One of the most exciting young bands on the planet finally makes good on the promise shown on the early releases, crafting an absolute stunner of an album that practically demands repeated listens. The choruse of "Province" alone makes this journey an essential one.
Check Out: "Wolf Like Me", "Province"

3. Boys and Girls in America - The Hold Steady (Vagrant) [buy it here]
It may be a little more slickly produced and a little less of a concpet album, but this is just as thrilling as Separation Sunday. The backing band is as punchy as ever and Craig Finn's lyrics only get better and better, this is the best straight-ahead rock album heard all year.
Check Out: "Stuck Between Stations", "Chillout Tent"

2. Carnavas - Silversun Pickups (Dangerbird) [buy it here]
Channelling Gish-era Smashing Pumpkins through an indie kid filter, this California band fuzzed and riffed their way through a space-trip that was never short on thrills or hooks.
Check Out: "Future Foe Scenarios", "Lazy Eye"

1. Blood Mountain - Mastodon (Reprise) [buy it here]
The best active American metal band has been progressing by leaps and bounds with each successive album, culminating in this absolute killer of a disc that is destined to change the face of the genre. Crushing menace with the technical skills to back it up, this is the album that anyone who questions the validity of "heavy metal" in 2006 needs to hear immediately.
Check Out: "Capillarian Crest", "Bladecatcher"

Jan 2, 2007

Top 50 Albums of 2006: Part Four (20-11)

As we inch ever closer to the top ten...

20. Happy Hollow - Cursive (Saddle Creek) [buy it here]
Tim Kasher leads his band through their most hard-hitting and exciting album to date, an actually entertaining concept album about small town life, war, and faith.
Check Out: "Bad Sects", "Dorothy At Forty"

19. The Black Parade - My Chemical Romance (Reprise) [buy it here]
The nu-emo poppers strike back with an even bigger and bolder Technicolor album, leaving all the charm and melody of the breakthrough album in place.
Check Out: "Dead!", "Teenagers"

18. The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me - Brand New (Interscope) [buy it here]
These guys started out as your average pop-punkers but have steadily evolved into one of the more intriguing rock bands of the past decade, as this epic album proves.
Check Out: "Sowing Season", "Jesus"

17. Avatar - Comets On Fire (Sub Pop) [buy it here]
Comets On Fire slides a little ways away from the dissonant noise rock while embracing classic rock, resulting in a much better album than it sounded like on paper.
Check Out: "Dogwood Rust", "Sour Smoke"

16. Altar - Sunn O))) + Boris (Southern Lord) [buy it here]
Two giants of sludgy, droning doom metal team up for a tag-team release that was even doomier, sludgier, and heavier than expected.
Check Out: "Etna", "Blood Swamp"

15. Hell Hath No Fury - Clipse (Re-Up Gang/Zomba) [buy it here]
After several years of label disputes and steadily building internet hype, the arguable kings of crack rap bounce back with this Neptunes produced stunner.
Check Out: "Keys Open Doors", "Trill"

14. Rabbit Fur Coat - Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins (Team Love) [buy it here]
The always charming Rilo Kiley frontwoman steps out and showcases her gospel-tinged, bluegrass-inspired side on this fantastic album, anchored by the gorgeous harmonies of the Watson Twins.
Check Out: "The Big Guns", "You Are What You Love"

13. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not - Arctic Monkeys (Domino) [buy it here]
One of the few bands worth all the breathless hype from the UK music rags, the Monkeys delivered a welcome modern spin on the classic Britpop sound.
Check Out: "When the Sun Goes Down", "A Certain Romance"

12. St. Elsewhere - Gnarls Barkley (Downtown) [buy it here]
This enjoyable album went way beyond the ubiquitous "Crazy", the pairing of DangerMouse and Cee-Lo turned out to be one of the more unexpected successes of the year.
Check Out: "Smiley Faces", "Just A Thought"

11. Passover - The Black Angels (Light in the Attic) [buy it here]
The Black Angels make a grand statement on the Iraq war via a tripped-out opium trip through the jungles of Vietnam.
Check Out: "The Prodigal Son", "Manipulation"

Jan 1, 2007

Top 50 Albums of 2006: Part Three (30-21)

I was hoping to have this countdown finished by the end of 2006, but it didn't quite happen. So here's to a great 2007 as the countdown continues...

30. The Greatest - Cat Power (Matador) [buy it here]
Chan Marshall heads to Memphis and teams up with some legendary local soul musicians to craft one of the more straightforward albums of her career, and what a treat it is.
Check Out: "The Greatest", "Where Is My Love"

29. Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam (J) [buy it here]
Forget the naysayers, forget those waiting for another Ten. Pearl Jam has consistently been putting out overlooked and underappreciated albums, this is just another in that string - and the most satisfying from start to finish since the '90s.
Check Out: "Marker In The Sand", "Come Back"

28. Yellow House - Grizzly Bear (Warp) [buy it here]
This Brooklyn-based band turns the intriguing sketches of their debut album into full-fledged epic experimental pop songs, full of a hazy and dreamlike quality that never fails to astound.
Check Out: "Easier", "Knife"

27. Remember the Night Parties - Oxford Collapse (Sub Pop) [buy it here]
Is it too soon for early 1990's indie rock nostalgia? Apparently not, especially when done this well. Oxford Collapse combines the best elements of the last decade of American indie (even emo, back when that term actually meant somthing) on their spectacular third album.
Check Out: "Please Visit Our National Parks", "Molasses"

26. Alright, Still - Lily Allen (EMI) [buy it here]
The UK pop sensation of 2006 simply oozes charm throughout each of this disc's eleven tracks, she'll be bringing her spunky wit to these shores early in the '07.
Check Out: "LDN", "Smile"

25. Age of Winters - The Sword (Kemado) [buy it here]
These Austinites churn out pummeling down-tempo retro metal that recalls the mighty Black Sabbath more than once over the course of this heavy disc.
Check Out: "Freya", "Winter's Wolves"

24. The Crane Wife - The Decemberists (Capitol) [buy it here]
America's favorite hyper-literate indie rockers jump to a major label and discover prog rock on their excellent fourth album.
Check Out: "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)", "The Crane Wife, Pts. 1 & 2"

23. Sam's Town - The Killers (Island) [buy it here]
For their long-awaited sophomore album, the band ditches the glitz of Vegas for the grime of backroad Americana via the pomp and circumstance of U2 and Springsteen. Even more surprising? It actually words.
Check Out: "This River is Wild", "Read My Mind"

22. Rather Ripped - Sonic Youth (Geffen) [buy it here]
The elder statesmen of noisy indie rock once again prove they can rock harder than kids one third their age. It's a bit more focused and concise than the some of the other recent offerings, but that doesn't make it any less exciting or engaging.
Check Out: "Pink Steam", "Incinerate"

21. The Shining - J Dilla (BBE) [buy it here]
The late Dilla's second outstanding album of this year, this is the more traditional hip-hop of the two. Teaming up with emcess like Busta Rhymes, Guilty Simpson, Black Thought, and Common this is an excellent showcase of the producer's talent.
Check Out: "Baby", "So Far To Go"