Tag Archives: Chicago

November 30, 2017 — “This is Permanent” by Airiel

Airiel — Molten Young Lovers

If you only listen to one song today, make it “This is Permanent” by Airiel (2017, from the album Molten Young Lovers).

Airiel is a shoegaze/dream pop quartet from Chicago. It started out in 1997 as a two-man project when Jeremy Wrenn (vocals/guitars) and some other guy formed the band in Bloomington Indiana. Over the course of 20 years, the lineup has changed a bunch. All of the founding members of the terrific Chicago shoegaze band Lightfoils were either official members of Airiel, or they made guest appearances on their recordings. Through all of the lineup changes, the only consistent member is frontman Jeremy Wrenn. These days, he’s joined by Andrew Marrah out of the band New Canyons (guitars/synths), Matt Blanton (bass), Nick Bertling out of the Baltimore band Alto Verde (drums). Spencer Kiss was in the band and may still be, but it’s certainly Bertling playing drums in the video for today’s song.

In 2003 and 2004, the band released a series of four critically acclaimed EPs called Winks and Kisses which were later re-released as a boxed set. They released their debut album The Battle of Sealand in the summer of 2007. Five years later, Shelflife Records put out the Kid Games EP. Five more years later, they released the long-awaited sophomore long player.

I still think that the band, and especially Wrenn’s vocals, sound like they’re from the East or Southeast regions of England in the mid 1990s instead of present-day Chicago. I’m thinking Ride and The Catherine Wheel. Lots of delay and flange and fuzz on the guitars. Those guitars have a very bright, chiming quality, but there’s still something that weighs it all down. It’s like breathing fresh air underwater.

The new album came out on October 13, and I’ve had it in my catalog since then, but I didn’t get to spend any real time with it until this week. It was everything I hoped for from a new Airiel record, and actually quite a bit more. I don’t think there’s a bad song or any “filler” on the album, and it certainly made the long wait worthwhile.

This is the album-opening song:
“This is Permanent” by Airiel

In the 30-second intro, the synthetic drums are all over the stereo field, and I love that. That aspect of it reminds me of the drums at the very end of the extended 7″ version of Thomas Dolby’s smash hit “She Blinded Me With Science”. I still remember how much that song, and that trick in the stereo field blew me away as a small boy.

After that intro, the noise kicks in, and it gets even better. Wrenn has told people that his band is “loud… pretty… You can dance to it”. I’m not sure about the dancing part, but it’s certainly loud and pretty.

The aforementioned video is no frills. Pretty much a performance video shot in black & white with a couple of different cameras and lenses. Still though, it’s cool to see the pedal boards they use.

You can buy the album as a digital download or as a 2XLP via Bandcamp here.

June 11, 2017 — “New Colors” by Panda Riot

Panda Riot

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “New Colors” by Panda Riot (2017, from the album Infinity Maps).

Panda Riot is a shoegaze/dream pop/noise rock quartet from Chicago. They formed in 2007 in Philadelphia and put out a record as a duo. Years later, they ended up in Chicago with a full lineup. I first learned about them when the band submitted their 2013 album Northern Automatic Music to my mailbag. I immediately fell in love with that album and I eventually named it my #13 album of that year.

I also, almost exactly a year ago, featured the song “Helios (June 20)” while they were working hard on the new album. That new album finally came out on Friday, and it met every high expectation that I had for it. I had the chance to listen to it in its entirety while driving out-of-town on Friday, and I knew that I recognized “Helios”. I thought I had just heard it as an album preview, and I planned and promised to feature it in this post. However, I just discovered that the reason I recognized it was that I had already written about it.

There are a lot of bits in this record and in tonight’s song that remind me of My Bloody Valentine. Specifically, I’m reminded of the latest MBV record m b v. There’s a lot of similar guitar effects and production qualities. There’s a parallel vibe, and the same beautiful noise. And, of course, it has to be said that Rebecca Scott sometimes sounds quite a bit like Bilinda Butcher. While this band definitely wears the MBV influence on their sleeve, they’re not a Valentines rip-off band. They’re definitely doing their own thing.

Here’s tonight’s song:
“New Colors” by Panda Riot

The first 35 seconds are quiet. Dreamy and pretty. When the shoe drops, it’s not an overwhelming tsunami of sound. Rather, it’s a really pleasant wave of noise. While I’ve been known to appreciate deafening “noise for the sake of noise”, this works better here. I like that there’s tons of noise, but you can still hear the difference between the guitar, the other guitar, and the bass. Too often with noise, it sort of all melts together into a big chunk. Like a bag of gummy bears left in the car on a hot summer day.

I also really like that the song ends with an even longer bit of quieter beauty.

You can download the album from Bandcamp
. Or Amazon, or whatever place you legally buy and download music. They’ve announced a small tour of seven shows in six cities. It’s like they took the NHL Original Six and replaced Toronto and Montréal with Philadelphia and Milwaukee. No shows down here have been announced yet. I’m still holding out hope.

December 6, 2016 — “Chain of Pink” by Lazy Legs

Lazy Legs

Lazy Legs

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Chain of Pink” by Lazy Legs (2016, from the forthcoming EP Chain of Pink).

Lazy Legs is a shoegaze/ambient trio from Chicago. You may remember that I wrote about their “Lipstick Prick” single last November, ahead of their self-titled debut EP, which came out in January of this year. They also released their first LP —Visiondeath— in July. Frontman Michael Tenzer, who is also occupied with a couple of other bands (Savage Sister, and Eyes Behind the Veil), wasn’t done with 2016, though. The band has released a couple of singles from a forthcoming EP, and everything I’ve heard has been right up my alley.

I haven’t written about anything in quite some time, and as the year winds down, I aim to rectify that. But I have been listening. And I’ve been listening to this a lot. This is that song.

“Chain of Pink” by Lazy Legs

It starts off all lovely and ambient. It’s melty and gooey and warm. Then at 0:43, there’s a big sonic crush. It gets much bigger and much fuzzier and much louder. And we really like that.

As with other Lazy Legs songs, Tenzer’s vocals and Laura Wagner’s vocals sort of blend together like some delicious Australian blend of shiraz and cab that I would have known about in 2001 when I used to drink red wine.

I love the wall of noise. I love the warm fuzz. I love the weight of it all. I also love the way there’s a sudden stop at 3:50, followed by a bit of a delay and fade out. It’s a lovely, and strangely soothing way to end the song. It’s pillowy and soothing at the start and at the end, with a bunch of beautiful noise in the middle. It’s a tried and true recipe for success in my book.

The Chain of Pink EP will be released on December 16 via Tenzer’s own Wild Patterns Records. For now, you can download the “Chain of Pink” single via Bandcamp by naming your price here. Proceeds from all sales will be evenly distributed between Planned Parenthood, The Sierra Club, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

June 9, 2016 — “June 20” by Panda Riot

Panda Riot

If you only watch one music video tonight, make it “June 20” by Panda Riot (2016, from the forthcoming album Infinity Maps).

Panda Riot is a shoegaze/dream pop quartet from Chicago. Back in April of 2013, I featured their song “Good Night, Rich Kids”. I also named their 2013 sophomore album Northern Automatic Music my #13 album of 2013.

A lot of the bands in the Chicago shoegaze scene are interrelated, and that’s the case with Panda Riot and another of my favorites: Lightfoils. Panda Riot bassist Cory Osborne also plays bass in Lightfoils, whom I’ve written about numerous times. Included in those writeups was the time that I called the Lightfoils album my second favorite album of 2014.

There’s some really obvious influence from My Bloody Valentine and some of the other 1990s UK shoegaze giants, but unlike the Valentines, Panda Riot doesn’t let the wall of sound cast its fuzzy shadow over the vocals. Nor do they bury the vocals. They know that there’s no reason whatsoever to cloak Rebecca Scott’s lush, dreamy vocals. They’re much more up front, where they can shine as brightly as the super-shoegazey guitars.

They got started as a Philadelphia two-piece when Rebecca Scott (vocals/guitar/keys) and Brian Cook (guitar/drum machine) were working on documentary films. As a duo, they self-released the 2007 album She Dares All Things. Later, they moved to Chicago, Osborne (bass) and José Rodriguez (drums), and released the Far and Near EP in 2012. They signed to Saint Marie Records, and in 2013 they put out the aforementioned Northern Automatic Music. I used to get a lot of promos in the mailbag from that label, but with that Panda Riot record, I got something directly from the band to the mailbag. It was a no-brainer for me to post about it.

I knew that something was up with Panda Riot. I was aware of the fact that they had new material. I knew that a new record was somewhere on the horizon, but I didn’t know any details. A couple of days ago, Sounds Better With Reverb released one of the details with this video

I absolutely love it. Scott’s vocals are terrific, and lighter than air. The guitars are perfectly gazey. Those elements are dream-like, while Osborne’s bass and Rodriguez’ live drumming keep us from drifting off into a very peaceful slumber.

They already sound like MBV, but this video even looks like it ought to be an MBV video. Shadows and light, layers upon layers of video, bits of monochrome interspersed with vibrant colours… All of it. Everything looks kind of acid washed, and that’s kind of brilliant.

All we know is that the forthcoming album will be called Infinity Maps. We don’t know the release date, and we don’t even know if the band is still affiliated with Saint Marie Records. Those details will surely be emerging soon, and we’ll be very much looking forward to the release of the new album.

In the meantime, Panda Riot is about to begin a micro-tour of the Pacific Coast. Starting tomorrow night (June 10) in Los Angeles and ending next Tuesday (June 14) in Seattle. Hopefully, there will be some east coast shows as well.

January 18, 2016 — “Champion of Love” by Star


If you only listen to one song today, make it “Champion of Love” by Star (2007, from the album Devastator).

Star was a dreamy noise-pop/shoegaze trio from Chicago. The front of the band was Scott Cortez, who is famous for being the mastermind behind lovesliescrushing, astrobrite, and a couple of other bands. Lovesliescrushing and astrobrite are both active projects, and they both have really extensive catalogs, but Devastator was the only album by Star. I only just learned about it because our friends at Saint Marie Records are planning to re-release the album this year on vinyl and compact disc. For a few years, they’ve been doing this thing of remastering and re-releasing “classic” or “forgotten” shoegaze albums that have never been on vinyl before.

The other two members of Star were Theodore Beck (guitars/mixing/drum machine) and Shannon Roberts (vocals). I don’t know where either of those came from or what else they’ve done, but there’s something very familiar about Roberts voice. The way the vocals are hushed and very light and airy remind me of a lot of things. I’m reminded a bit of Louise Trehy out of Swallow and more recently out of Strata Florida. Cortez always works with female singers with really high, airy voices, but most of the time, the vocals get buried under mountains of vocal and guitar effects. There’s certainly some of that going on here, but it’s a little easier to hear and pick apart the vocals.

I first heard a different song from the album, and as if there was ever going to be a question in the matter, I liked it right from the drop. For absolutely no reason, I chose this song instead:

“Champion of Love” by Star

This is a great album that I missed out on partly because it came out during a two year span where I wasn’t really paying attention to or buying any new music. I don’t know what the timetable is for Saint Marie to re-issue the album, but for now, you can buy a download of the original release via Bandcamp here.

11.04.2015 — “Lipstick Prick” by Lazy Legs

Lazy Legs — “Lipstick Prick”

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Lipstick Prick” by Lazy Legs (2015, from the standalone single).

Lazy Legs is an ambient shoegaze trio from Chicago. Michael Tenzer (guitar/vocals) is joined by Laura Wagner (guitar/bass/vocals) and Nick Piontek (drums). Tenzer’s name might sound familiar because he’s been busy this year with various different projects. He’s the front of dreampop/shoegaze band Savage Sister, and also works on a solo project called Eyes Behind The Veil. He’s also involved in a couple of other projects, but these are the ones that I know about and have written about.

Lazy Legs is his newest project, and it reunites him with Piontek, who is a former member of Savage Sister. We’re still waiting, by the way, for the 2015 release of the new Savage Sister album Speechless). It should be out soon, but I don’t know details.

Tenzer just announced this the other day and released the song via his own Wild Pattern Records.

“Lipstick Prick” by Lazy Legs

There’s a bit of shoegazey fuzz carefully wrapped in dream pop gauze. In this respect, although this isn’t as noisy, they remind me a bit of their Windy City compatriots Lightfoils. The vocals of Tenzer and Wagner are very complimentary, even if the words are deliberately impossible to discern.

I have no idea if we should expect anything else from Lazy Legs, or if this is a one-off. Either way, this is really good. So is everything else Tenzer has done.

05.05.2015 — “Tomorrow Forever” by Astrobrite


If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Tomorrow Forever” by Astrobrite (2015, from the album Deluxer).
Astrobrite is a shoegaze/dream pop/noise/ambient group who is currently set up in Chicago. The project, with its revolving door of band members, is masterminded by Scott Cortez, who is also the mastermind behind the super-dreamy ambient noise project Lovesliescrushing. For a long time, Cortez was set up in Michigan, then Arizona, then Michigan again. Now he’s in Chicago with a new lineup of contributors. I’ve been a big fan for a long time, with lovesliescrushing going back all the way to 1991. Their debut record bloweyelashwish(1992) absolutely rocked my world back then, and I still enjoy it 23 years later. I’ve written about that before here, and I’ve also written about Astrobrite once before here. Astrobrite started in 1993 as a “side project” to lovesliescrushing. I’ve said before that the line between lovesliescrushing and Astrobrite is really blurry and even indistinguishable. That’s thanks in no small part to the fact that lovesliescrushing vocalist Melissa Arpin-Duimstra was a key part of Astrobrite for a while. Cortez has a different female vocalist now in Sophie Nagelberg, but it’s still difficult to tell what’s lovesliescrushing and what’s Astrobrite.

Whatever. Astrobrite released a new record on April 11, and it’s absolutely amazing.

It takes the right state of mind (relaxed) and the right time of day (late night), but it’s really remarkable. Bright, airy, spacey, warm, comfortable. It’s like your favorite pair of pajamas and a cup of hot chocolate on a snowy winter’s day.

I actually wasted a bit of time before sinking my teeth into the new album. but it’s been on repeat around here for about 24 hours. While the whole album is fantastic, and while it should be listened to from front to back as an album, here’s one of my favorites:

“Tomorrow Forever” by Astrobrite

This may be a little hokey, but I was initially drawn to this song because of the title, which seems like it ought to be a My Bloody Valentine song title. Setting that aside, it’s a magnificent song. Noisy as hell and dreamy at the same time. Just like yesterday’s song of the day, and just like the entire catalogs of lovesliescrushing and Astrobrite, you could put this on at bedtime and have no trouble getting to sleep. It’s just so comforting.

Lots and lots of delay. Vocals buried under their own effects as well as the wash of guitars. Smoke. Fog. Low lights. That’s what this is.

You can and should purchase a download of Deluxer from the Astrobrite bandcamp page here.

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