CELLS 8/24, SCHUBAS On their new We Can Replace You (Orange) the local Cells render crappy feelings into ten burly chunks of feel-good power pop. Those giant power chords might be predictable, but Cory Hance's voice is an unexpected touch: he's so new-wave twerpy he makes Robin Zander sound like Ronnie James Dio. But that's what makes this kind of plain Chicago loud rock palatable--the same sort of culture clash that takes place up on Clark Street when an all-ages punk show at Metro is opening its doors as a Cubs game is letting out. It's all about the satisfaction that can be derived from the weediest guys making the biggest noise--and though no one in the Cells personally looks particularly weedy, the restless roar of overcompensation is definitely there. CENTIMETERS 8/24, Reckless on Milwaukee; 8/25, HIDEOUT Throughout The Lifetime Achievement Awards (released last year by Space Baby), this LA sextet displays a manic, mordant cabaret sensibility; on a caffeine jag, they can sound like the B-52's stripped of all wholesome cutesiness. Vocalist Nora Keyes burbles and screeches and theatrically narrates, Rebecca Lynn makes her violin do things that are usually the responsibility of the theremin, and the sheer variety of musical approaches the band can screw into a single song induces a respectful whiplash. Their new fifth album, Live at Coles (Aqualade), is a live set that spans their five-year career. LILA DOWNS 8/24, VIRGIN MEGASTORE; 8/24, HOTHOUSE The biography of singer Lila Downs is a study in modern global bohemia: the daughter of an American filmmaker and a Mixtec singer, she split her childhood between Mexico and the U.S. Disenchanted with her opera studies, she took off and sold jewelry at Dead shows before moving back to Oaxaca to learn about the weaving traditions of her ancestors (on which she later wrote her thesis). This roaming expatriate background enables her to translate the sounds of her homeland into perfectly seductive world music: romantic, politically charged, and cosmopolitan. Singing in English, Spanish, and Zapotecan on her new Border (Narada), she pulls together a sort of Mexican-American torch-pop, delivering Woody Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty" in a throaty declamation and putting a real sob into her portrait of the eponymous folk spirit of "La Llorona." Overproduction and some hokey backup playing mar the record, but I'd lay odds that the charisma of that big voice comes through loud and unfettered live. ELEVENTH DREAM DAY 8/25, EMPTY BOTTLE It seems like decades since guitar rockers Eleventh Dream Day were Chicago's next big thing--and in fact it has been almost 20 years. Nowadays folks are likely to explain them via lists of the members' other bands--preeminent among them Tortoise and Freakwater. But though the time between albums has increased (and the time between gigs has increased dramatically), the beautiful tightrope tension of their music, when they get around to making it, mounts with every outing. This show, their first in about a year, is a warm-up for Thrill Jockey's tenth-anniversary celebration--a series of massive label-roster orgies taking place in New York and Europe but not, for some reason, Chicago. JASON LOEWENSTEIN 8/27, BEAT KITCHEN On his solo debut, At Sixes and Sevens (Sub Pop), Jason Loewenstein writes all the songs and plays all the instruments himself a la Prince. He was often the cock rocker in Sebadoh, and here the impulse to whip it out often gets free rein. Chunky angular riffs build to a head and let loose like thunder; quiet verses are carried forward by insistent bass that lets you know a Big Chorus is coming. Loewenstein recorded the album himself, too, on a reel-to-reel eight-track, but never fear--it's not a retreat to Sebadoh's unlistenable days. It's crisp, clear, loud, and just scruffy enough to still be charming. He's touring with a power trio. THE GHOST 8/28, SCHUBAS This Bay Area band, born under the influence of Fugazi and Jawbreaker, recently relocated to Chicago, where they recorded their debut, This Is a Hospital (Some), with Steve Albini. Their militant earnestness grows a tad tiresome after a while ("Burn my body on a windy night / Set my ashes into the bay / Let them fill the gap between love, hate, silence and screams" isn't redeemed much by the punch line "Don't forget to sprinkle them into the drinks of the fuckers I hate") but I'll let it slide because it's backed up by a genuine cavalcade of crunch.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tim Furnish.