(Funambulist Recording Company)
It makes me happy to see the ironic cover song begin to lose popularity with indie rockers. The concept's condescending and full of quirk-for-quirk's-sake bullshit and everything else that makes people hate hipsters—not to mention it's completely tapped out humor-potential-wise. I'm guessing that not a single one of the dozen covers the Laureates recorded last year to give away on the Internet was ironically inspired. Their sources—Velvets, Yo La Tengo, Soft Boys—brought eccentric sonic visions to bear on sweetly simple pop structures, which is pretty much what the Laureates are up to, and if the remakes' fealty to the original material laid the Laureates' influences bare the group didn't seem too embarrassed by it. The covers did well by their originators, and the new LP Spells does a good job of living up to their legacies. Recorded to an eight-track tape machine, the ten songs are noisy but uncluttered, bringing enough dirt and echo into the mix to keep things interesting but leaving the heavy lifting to the songwriting itself. As far as that goes, I'd put money on the wager that R.E.M. and Big Star were up for consideration for the covers project at one point or another, and although none of the songs jump out as obvious classics for the ages, I'm sure a lot of bands with similar inclinations could improve their shows by adding one to their set list.
Chicago Stone Lightning Band
Speaking of ironic intentions, what are the odds that a bunch of thirtysomething white hipsters who've been bouncing around the local indie scene for the past decade or so would put out an album of straightforward Chicago blues with zero outward evidence of a smirk or a wink? (Not to mention the barest acknowledgement of any music made since Fleetwood Mac hired Buckingham and Nicks.) Turns out the odds are better than one might think, considering that's exactly what Chicago Stone Lightning Band just did. Front man Ben Pirani, who also DJs with the Windy City Soul Club, is on record as a major Peter Green fanboy, and the joy the group exhibited after getting booked for a Blues Fest kickoff party at Buddy Guy's Legends would be tough to fake. The music might be a hard sell, or even an impossible one, for listeners who associate blooze boogie with the exceedingly dadlike uncoolness of Tim Allen in Wild Hogs, but anyone who appreciates our city's rich history of white-boy blues should be able to groove.
Break Sale Vol. 1 EP
Wouldn't you know that as soon as someone comes up with a term like "post-hip-hop" that someone else would come along and reconnect it with hip-hop at its most classic? That probably says as much about the elasticity of some of the young producers currently on the come-up as it does the prematurity of the genre tag. On the titular cut that opens his new EP, local beatmaker Quadratic retraces some of the dizzy sonic excursions into free jazz and electronics that Flying Lotus first charted. Then he injects them with some chopped-up crate-digger soul 45 breakbeats that would have given any late-90s turntablist rap nerd a warm, fuzzy feeling. It makes me want to dig out a bunch of old Dilla beats. (In a good way.) The even more daring "Soul Juke," with its self-explanatory stylistic mash-up, is not quite as enjoyable a listen, but the ballsiness in trying to make it happen is worth a thumbs-up.
Squat the Condos
We Should Be Together EP
(Couch Potatoes/Living Room Songs)
I didn't notice Squat the Condos' seven-song EP when it dropped earlier this spring, which surprises me considering how amazing their band name is. Couch Potatoes/Living Room Songs, one of several local websites presenting filmed live musical performances in nontraditional venues, fixed that for me by featuring the group performing the disc's leadoff track, "Missing You," in a living room. The humble setting suits the band's unflashy approach—for whatever reason it seems to make sense that there's a dude in the background eating a sandwich while they play. "Missing You" is one of the more clever pop songs I've heard in recent months, and the band flies its dork-pop flag high, which should only bolster its appeal to fans of Harvey Danger, They Might Be Giants, and the Dead Milkmen. The rest of the record doesn't live up to the opener, though, and in the future the band might want to consider passing on lines like "There's nothing between us / But tell that to my penis."
The Pursuit EP
Say what you will about the Internet's effect on music and its business, but it's definitely made it an amazing (if occasionally overwhelming) time to be a music fan. For instance: last week legendary hip-hop producer No I.D.—whose credits on the latest Kanye and Jay-Z records come after two decades of quality work for lower-profile artists—dropped an EP boasting a reunion with former collaborator Common with zero advance warning and nothing by way of explanation. It's also available for the small cost of posting a link to the download on Twitter. Despite the project's grittily evocative name, the music's far from gangstafied, and only Common's cut ("Summer Madness") centers on rapping. The rest of the brief but rewarding set of songs seems to be an excuse for No I.D. to indulge his inner soul-music fan, with smooth vox by R&B songwriter James Fauntleroy and nods to everything from clean-cut Sam Cooke-style suaveness to greasy, psych-tinged 70s funk.