The Playlist: What’s in the earbuds this week
BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org September 1, 2011 6:24PM
Eric Johnson of Fruit Bats
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:52AM
Catching up with some summer releases from Chicago musicians:
Fruit Bats, “Tripper” (Sub Pop) ★★★1/2
There’s been a lot of Shins news lately — the band’s new lineup, its new label, a new album on the way — but the best might be a new album from the Fruit Bats, the creative folk-pop project from Shins touring bandmate Eric Johnson. Whereas “the Ruminant Band” managed to coalesce a full band, the Kenosha-born Johnson here is mostly back to going it alone. Thus, the straightforward dynamics and dense harmonies of that previous record step aside on “Tripper” in favor of, as the title suggests, some personal psychedelic touches. Noodling around on cocktail organs and spacy loops, Johnson is still twangy and twee even as he crawls inside his own head, sometimes going for Scissor Sisters-weary jauntiness (“You’re Too Weird”) but often squarely, if perhaps inadvertently, landing some heady Mercury Rev tributes (“So Long,” “The Fen”). “Tripper” is trippy, but the title also implies voyage and movement. It keeps churning and chugging, with hooks aplenty, and here’s hoping it finally arrives at overdue widespread recognition for this band.
Noise by Numbers, “Over Leavitt” (Jump Start) ★★
With the swift implosion of Chicago’s legendary Screeching Weasel following a stage brawl at the South by Southwest music festival in March (Ben Weasel recently addressed the dissolution of the band online), former Weasel Dan “Vapid” Schafer wasted no time kickstarting other projects. This sophomore album from Noise by Numbers plays it somewhat safe — practically begging for puns on the band’s name — inking in the template crafted by late-’90s pop-punks from the repeated riffs of “Lost My Way” to the earnest acoustic guitar in “Swarm of Flies.” But there’s more to come: Watch for Dan Vapid & the Cheats, a new band with two former Methadones members expected to record this fall for an album out early next year.
Elsewhere in Chicago pop-punk: Alkaline Trio’s “Damnesia” (Epitaph-Heart & Skull) is the band’s eighth record, though it’s a greatest hits, of sorts, celebrating 15 years together. Featuring 12 fan favorites from those years, newly recorded with an acoustic bent, “Damnesia” also adds two new tracks “Olde English 800” and “I Remember a Rooftop” as well as a Violent Femmes cover (“I Held Her in My Arms”).
Skysaw, “Great Civilizations” (Dangerbird) ★★★1/2
On-again/off-again Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin once again has liberated himself from Billy Corgan’s lumbering alt-rock enterprise. His new band, Skysaw, debuted this summer with this spunky, prog-rock session. Named for a Brian Eno song, Skysaw struts through modern rock with the kind of confidence you’d expect from a musician as sharp as Chamberlin (the song “Capsized Jackknifed Crisis” evokes its title primarily because of Chamberlin’s superbly wrecked drums), and there’s a wonderful ’60s delirium along the music’s edges — backwards guitars (guitarist Anthony Pirog) and woozy bass wobbles and MGMT-worthy psychedelic voices (vocalist Mike Reina). There are a few tracks Corgan would probably love to pour his whine into (“Am I Second” would be absolutely smashing), but “Great Civilizations” is whole, complete and fresh on its own, a fine argument for the creative legacy of progressive music without employing the often pejorative label of “math-rock.”
The Laureates, “Spells”
A superb sophomore effort, this follow-up from Chicago pop-rock band the Laureates sounds like comfort food not only because of the smooth blend of ’60s rock and the ’80s bands that aped it (by track four, “Worry Worry Worry,” we’re into some serious Paisley Underground revivalism) but because it was recorded on warm, fuzzy eight-track tape. Guitars jangle, but tightly, and the attitude is cool, but studied. Fans of the Smithereens or the Velvet Underground might find equal measures here to adore. (If only they were railing against capitalism, I’d think this was the second album we never really got from Manchester’s Easterhouse.) It’s bold and sinister and nervous and never quite settles down into a niche. Good stuff.
Old formats still call the shots. When rhythmic Chicago noise-pop group A Lull assembled tracks for its fine debut album, “Confetti,” the band realized there was too much — about 20 minutes too much. Four tracks were cut, but now they see the light of day on the EP “Confetti Reprise” (Mush).
DVD NOTE: When bands reunite, cameras are always there. Even Chicago’s notorious Jesus Lizard, which came together in 2009 for a splendidly squalling tour, has thrown together some merch to document the event. The “Club” DVD captures an entire performance from Nashville’s Exit/In.