Between Rock and an Indie Place: “The Times I’m Not There” by NE-HI and Jamila Woods

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I am super excited to be talking about the awesome collaboration song from NE-HI and Jamila Woods called “The Times I’m Not There,” which came out last year and I cannot get enough of. NE-HI is an indie rock band from Chicago that definitely deserves a spot up there next to Whitney and Twin Peaks as a band that’s on the move toward making it big. On the other hand, a Chicago native, Jamila Woods, is an activist, poet, and R&B singer-songwriter. I would never have expected the two of them to make music together, but “The Times I’m Not There” is honestly a fantastic song.

It’s not really something that I’m used to hearing, since I can’t name that many songs that are truly collaborations between two separate musicians as opposed to one artist who is featuring the other. Although, the more I listen to the song, the more I it feels Jamila should be the permanent lead singer of the band. The five of them together have excellent chemistry judging by this song. However, I am thanking the indie rock gods for allowing NE-HI to connect with her and make this amazing song together.

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: “Talk a Lot” by SALES

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SALES jumped into my indie rock playlist in 2016 with the release of their self-titled debut LP. They’re the kind of band that I could listen to while casually doing homework, because the beats and vocals are just soft enough to be chill but also still upbeat enough to be considered rock music. SALES is the epitome of coffee-table-wine-on-a-Wednesday-night type of music.

According to their bio on Spotify, SALES is described as “[creating] low-key but engaging music that marries lo-fi sensibility to a spare but evocative melodic approach.” The dynamic duo consists of Lauren Morgan and Jordan Shih, who (anecdote) first met when they took the same Latin class in high school. Who ever said Latin is a dead language? By listening to their music, I get the feeling that the two of them are very much on the same page; perhaps, they have an inseparable musical bond.

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: “Intrepid” by Pinegrove

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I have been wanting to review some of Pinegrove’s music for a while, but they haven’t released anything that I could really get into since their astonishing 2016 debut album, Cardinal. Luckily, this grunge/Americana/indie-rock band from Montclair, NJ, have released a terrific single entitled “Intrepid,” late last year in November.

I think this song is a perfect snippet of who Pinegrove are as a band. They possess the almost magical talent of slowly building listeners up with a mellow, synchronous rhythm only to provide us with the ever-so-satisfying, climactic, head-bang-worthy drop. That, combined with the clever word-play in the lyrics and the lead singer’s hypnotic voice, creates an overall very satisfying listening experience.

As far as the lyrics for “Intrepid” go, I think that Evan Stephens Hall (vocals, guitar) has a special gift for putting beautiful words to beautiful music. I think his lyrics have a marvelous simplicity while also being undeniably relatable:

Don’t let it get to you, you said.
Well, I did.
Take a rectangle, untangle your head.
Intrepid.”

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: “Control (Secretly Sorry)” by JR JR

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Random fact: This is the only band that I know of who has undergone a major name change successfully. The band JR JR — formerly known as “Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.” — released their single, “Control (Secretly Sorry),” earlier this year in October. They’ve just come off their nationwide fall tour, and the indie-pop band now gets to celebrate the widespread success of the song.

As the title insinuates, the song demands attention and takes control of the listeners immediately with loud, fast, and upbeat electronic music. Everything about this song is directly in-your-face. They do not hold back on the ‘kitchen sink’ use of what I’m assuming was every instrument they had available to them.

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: “Blue Skies” by L. Martin

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A few entries ago, I reviewed the single “She’s Gonna Leave You” from beloved Chicago indie-rock band, The Walters. In that same review, I mentioned their announcement from earlier this year that the band will be taking a hiatus so the members can work on solo albums instead. Well, it’s happening. This past month, The Walters’ former front man, Luke Martin Olson, released his very first solo single, “Blue Skies,” under the name L. Martin.

Being a fan of The Walters since their formation in 2014, I honestly couldn’t have been more upset when I heard the news of their split. However, Olson has given fans something to be very excited about in this new single. It’s hard not to compare the single to his band’s previous work, and I think that “Blue Skies” stands up there with some of their smoothest songs that manage to make me sink into the floor.

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: “Love Too Soon” by Born Ruffians

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On October 29th, Born Ruffians released a new single titled “Love Too Soon,” and I cannot be more excited to hear new music still coming from this Toronto-based indie rock band. I believe that this band has flown under the radar for a while since their formation about a decade ago, and I would love to see them eventually receive the attention they deserve. I have much love for this band from our neighbors to the North.

Their bio on Spotify sums them up pretty well when it says they “deliver a playful variety of indie rock that weaves shifting guitar patterns though spare, hooky melodies and sweet but snarky vocals.” You can get a really good sense of the diversity of their sound by listening to some of their more popular songs, such as “Hummingbird” or “Needle” off of their earlier albums.

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: Twin Peaks’ Sweet ’17 Singles Series

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A hundred years from now, when music fans look back on this decade, they will without a doubt hear the influence that Twin Peaks had among the majority of other indie bands of the 2010s. Their popularity has breached far beyond the confines of their native city of Chicago, and the band has exploded into the national spotlight with yearly nationwide tours. Twin Peaks has performed at multiple music festivals over the past few summers, including Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, just to name a couple.

This indie rock band is releasing music in an innovative way that I’ve certainly never seen before. They recently announced via their Tumbler something they call “Sweet ’17,” a Twin Peaks single series. Every month, for the rest of the year, they’re releasing two new tracks that can be found both on 7” vinyl releases, as well as on streaming services. I cannot applaud Twin Peaks enough for this creative method of putting their new stuff out there for everyone to enjoy. They began this series in June, and have followed through ever since, reliably releasing a pair of new songs on the first of each month.

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: “Special Moment” by Post Animal

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In light of season 2 of Stranger Things coming out this Friday, October 27th, I found it absolutely necessary to write a post about a new single from one of Chicago’s up-and-coming indie rock bands, Post Animal. For those of you who don’t know, a guitarist in the band, Joe Keery, stars as Steve Harrington in the enormously popular Netflix sci-fi drama. In a RedEye Chicago article, reporter Josh Terry characterizes the role as “one of the best characters on the show who could’ve fallen straight into the ‘80s douchebag, big-haired popular kid archetype, but manages by the end of the series to be one of the most likable figures.”

The thing that I admire about Post Animal is their ability to blend three distinct genres to create a sound so unique but totally awesome at the same time: heavy metal, psychedelic pop, and good ol’ fashion rock ‘n’ roll. This experimental type of music mirrors a similar level of creativity seen in other Chicago indie rock bands such as Whitney, The Walters (R.I.P), and Twin Peaks.

In addition, the fullness of their sound blew me away when I saw them open for The Walters this summer. From what I have experienced, having six or seven guys on stage at a time — at least three of them with electric guitars, mind you, all playing with their amps cranked past maximum — is generally rare in today’s indie rock scene.

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: “She’s Gonna Leave You” by The Walters

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If you have spent any of the last three years paying attention to the Chicago indie rock scene, then you’ve heard of The Walters. The band presents a unique spin on oldies music that sounds tremendously fresh among the mainstream alternative rock that you might hear on the radio today.

Their witty Bandcamp bio sums them up perfectly: just “5 hunks from Chicago.” Between 2014 and now, The Walters have celebrated the overwhelmingly positive reception of their only two LPs, Songs for Dads and Young Men. Earlier this year, they released their first ever stand-alone single, “She’s Gonna Leave You.” The song fares well among the band’s other most awesome jams, and it possesses that signature Walters flair that fans like me know and love. Although, I was not able to soak in the excitement of the release of a new Walters song for long before the band tweeted that they “have some unfortunate news to deliver.”

Last month — not long after “She’s Gonna Leave You” came out — this beloved Chicago indie rock band posted on all of their social media pages, “it saddens us to make this announcement, but the magic and inspiration that once drove us to collaborate as a group has left, and we feel it would be dishonest to continue forward with dynamic that doesn’t feel genuine.” Confusion. Shock. Heartbreak. These are a few of the emotions that I felt after reading this. It was like I was transported to high school and I was going through a bad breakup all over again.

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Between Rock and an Indie Place: “You’ve Got A Woman” and “Gonna Hurry (As Slow As I Can)” by Whitney

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What do you do if you’re one of Chicago’s top indie bands and you’re still coming off of releasing an incredibly successful debut LP from last year? Well, if you’re Whitney, then you release a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Gonna Hurry (As Slow As I Can),” along with another cover of a song called “You’ve Got a Woman,” by 70s Dutch psychedelic band, Lion. This is not the type of content that one would expect from a contemporary indie band. Upon further thought, however, it makes sense that this type of experimentation would earn Whitney such positive critical recognition. Releasing these covers shows their bravery and nuance in the scope of indie rock music being produced today.

Unsurprisingly, the covers have been initiating many listeners to respond about how pleased they are with the results of Whitney’s electrifying new releases. Reporter Alex Robert Ross states in a Noisey article, “Because Julian Ehrlich’s voice can hit highs that few other modern indie bands dare to reach for, Whitney sounds comfortable on both covers.” He calls the official music video for “You’ve Got a Woman” “sun-dappled in parts, retro, handsomely shot, and at home in a dive bar.” I can usually get behind the majority of the music that VICE promotes. I am glad that it seems like people are agreeing that these covers are amusing as opposed to just strange.

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