Music » In Rotation

Stephanie Smith of Varsity on the best way to discover the Hold Steady

Plus: Flowerbooking agent Natasha Parish on John Maus’s disco for sad people, the Reader’s Kevin Warwick on a long-in-the-works collaboration by Abraham Levitan and Devin Davis, and more

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A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

The cover of Spontaneity by Teletype, aka Abraham Levitan and Devin Davis
  • The cover of Spontaneity by Teletype, aka Abraham Levitan and Devin Davis

Kevin Warwick, Reader associate editor

Teletype, Spontaneity What do you get when a pair of outre-pop whizzes join forces on a record? A long wait. The brand-new full-length from Abraham Levitan (Baby Teeth, Shame That Tune) and Devin Davis (Lonely People of the World, Unite!) took two and a half years to finish, even after Levitan recorded piano-and-voice versions of the songs. Davis worked them over and tweaked them with what sounds like an airplane hangar full of instruments, and the results glow with pop radioactivity that's equal parts Billy Joel, ELO, and the Thin White Duke—new acts of theater reveal themselves on each listen.

Bands loyal to 90s metalcore In the likes of Philly's Jesus Piece and Tampa's Blistered, the chug-chug hatefulness of the mid-90s Victory Records catalog has risen again. Compressed, tinny guitar riffs and growling bass-line torpedos fill the gaps between lumbering breakdowns, and the production often recalls Destroy the Machines by Earth Crisis—which sounds like it was recorded in a ten-by-ten panic room. I can't get enough of it.

Treasure hunting through unmarked CD-Rs During the latest purge of my CD collection, I've been digging through spools of CD-Rs, listening to each disc to determine if it's worth saving. So far they've mostly contained demos from the early 2000s, when I was in a band that absolutely loved the Murder City Devils. But! I did discover a copy of the great Primitive Enema by gross-out punks Butt Trumpet, released by Chrysalis in 1994, when labels signed anything that might resemble grunge.

Kevin is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

The Hold Steady at this year's Riot Fest - ALISON GREEN
  • Alison Green
  • The Hold Steady at this year's Riot Fest

Stephanie Smith, lead singer of Varsity

Andy Shauf, The Party Lyrics are what draws me into a record, and on this 2016 album Andy Shauf hooked me with his oddly specific narratives and affected delivery. I almost feel like I'm friends with the recurring characters from the party whose story he tells: Jimmy is a dick, Sherry is unattainable, Alexander is . . . possibly dead? I've listened countless times, and I still have questions. Maybe I'll get answers when he plays Schubas in November.

Switched on Pop podcast Switched on Pop is great to put on in the car when I'm tired of actual pop radio. Musicologist Nate Sloan and composer Charlie Harding dissect songs in terms you can understand without knowing music theory, occasionally tracing their roots all the way back to medieval music (or just to Michael Jackson). My favorite episode de­constructs Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend"—apparently while I was sweating it out on the dance floor, she was manipulating my emotions with minor-key chords and text painting.

The Hold Steady at Riot Fest I found out about the Hold Steady about 12 years late, on accident, at this year's Riot Fest. Usually at festivals I don't go see unfamiliar acts, but at Riot Fest I wandered to stages where I liked what I heard—including the Hold Steady performing Boys and Girls in America from beginning to end. I was mesmerized by Craig Finn's erratic gesturing but constantly torn away (in a good way) by the crowd yelling along to almost every lyric. Experiencing the band with people who clearly sang these songs in their teen bedrooms was an awesome introduction!

Stephanie is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

John Maus - PHOTO BY TONI ROSADO
  • Photo by Toni Rosado
  • John Maus

Natasha Parish, agent at Flowerbooking and cofounder of Women in Music Chicago

Torture Love, They Came Crawling I find Torture Love's music addicting in a way I normally reserve for new Drake singles and Carly Rae Jepsen. I haven't seen them live yet (even though they're local), but their latest record, 2016's They Came Crawling, does everything I love. It's fast and psychedelic like Destruction Unit, and the vocals are deep and melodic like Total Control and Merchandise. It even uses drum breaks suggestive of hardcore. It's noisy and catchy, perhaps my favorite combo. Torture Love open for Thee Oh Sees at the Empty Bottle on Sunday, November 20.

John Maus, A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material This 2012 release is a treasure to me. It contains "Bennington," a song I'd been searching for since I heard it the prior summer in an older dude's car. Its lo-fi synth pop is dark but upbeat—it's essentially disco for sad people, so beautiful and eerie that it could soundtrack a haunted house. I find Maus fascinating—so mysterious, so intelligent. His interviews are a treat—he almost always ends up on a philosophical tangent, catches himself, apologizes, gets back on topic, and then does it all over again.

Jenn Champion, "No One" Formerly of Carissa's Wierd (and more recently S), Jenn Champion is a Seattle staple. The first track from her new solo project is more electronic than her previous output, but it still delivers her honest, melancholy songwriting. I can't listen to this just once—whenever I play it, I have to hear it one more time. It evokes serious Drive nostalgia, and I hope there's more to come.

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