Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm clearly loving the new Neko Case album...

Wrote it up for Transmission today...

Neko Case Is All Over The Place
In addition to having AWESOME album art, Neko Case's latest album Middle Cyclone is also an awesome piece of work. A collection of love songs (which she swore to herself that she would never write again...), Middle Cyclone is a beautiful follow up to Fox Confessor Brings The Flood.

The first time I heard a Neko Case song (it was "Star Witness" for good measure) I was completely struck by her entrancing voice and Fox Confessor became one of my favorite albums. Sometimes I wonder if an artist can match themselves after putting out such a great album, but I would say she's one-upped herself with this one. Middle Cyclone is typical Neko in all the right ways, yet new and different in all the right ways. The opening track "This Tornado Loves You" is an energizing, powerful entry into the album, while "People Got a Lotta Nerve" is the catchiest tune that will most likely get the most airplay.

The Sound Opinions boys talk with Neko about the new album in this week's episode available today via podcast and airing on Chicago Public Radio tonight at 8pm (and again tomorrow at 11am). She's joined by guitarist Paul Rigby and backing vocalist Kelly Hogan for a couple of live songs, too.

Middle Cyclone doesn't come out 'til next Tuesday, but until then, NPR is streaming the album in its entirety as part of their Exclusive First Listen series. Also, if you pre-order on iTunes, there are a couple of bonus live tracks recorded at her old stomping ground, The Hideout.

In case this wasn't enough NekoNews for you, she is also embarking on a tour this spring, and makes her stop in Chicago April 24th at Chicago Theatre. Tickets are $30 but are also available at the Chicago Theater box office with no service fees (take that Ticketmaster).

(Photo by Jason Creps)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Things are going to be Touch and Go

The blogger world went viral last week when Time Out leaked that Chicago's indie darling Touch & Go Records might be closing up shop. Turns out the rumors were just that, rumors, but the label did announce big news that it was ceasing the manufacturing and distributing side of their business. Here is a piece I wrote for Gapers Block: Transmission examining how the cutback will affect (and represents) the music industry as a whole given the current state of the economy and the way file sharing has impacted sales.

Touch and Go: The Reverb

While the Touch and Go label is still intact, the announcement that they are ending the manufacturing and distributing side of business may have much more of an impact on the music industry than we realize. The Tribune's Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis of the Sun Times discussed the label's announcement on their respective blogs, as well as on last week's episode of Sound Opinions, raising an interesting point: This change in operations could be devastating on the independent music scene as we know it. For the past 20 years, Touch and Go provided distribution for dozens of small labels across the country, including several Chicago labels. Who do these small labels now turn to for distribution when the business of music is already under such strain financially? And what does this mean for the future of independent labels and bands? This question has been looming for quite a while, and is part of a much bigger concern in the music industry (affecting majors as well as indies) brought on by the internet and file sharing.

One of the indie labels directly affected by the news is Chicago's own Flameshovel, who has been distributed by Touch and Go since last year. "Aside from the direct affect that this news has on us and our label, it is further evidence that something is terribly terribly amiss in this industry," said Flameshovel's James Kenler. "There has been this massive consolidation at all levels that continues to push all of us to sacrifice a large part of the independent spirit that made labels like T&G as great and as successful as they were. Most of the pressure is obviously as a result of the declining value that the evolution of the internet has given both music and the printed word. File sharing and web news have pulled this industry from both sides and the fans themselves have to a large extent completely disconnected themselves from the notion that consumable art has value."

Kot and DeRogatis actually held a public forum at Columbia College in December as part of a Sound Opinions College Tour on the subject of the future of music in this uncertain time. While there is no clear answer, and they don't pretend to have the solution, the problem won't just go away. The Touch and Go casualty may be just the first rock to fall of an avalanche to come. Mac McCaughan of Merge Records (who T&G also distributed until a few years ago) reiterates the worry (and grief) in this statement given to DeRogatis:

"Touch and Go basically allowed Merge to exist as something other than a singles label...we did our first full-length (the Superchunk Tossing Seeds comp)in 1992 because Corey agreed to take on Merge as a label under the Touch and Go umbrella. We've worked with Touch and Go since then -- 16 years -- and they are the most straight-up and ass-busting-for-music-they-love people we know.

"Corey Rusk is the most meticulous, cautious, thoughtful business person I know which is what makes this whole thing so unbelievable and such a bad portent for the rest of the independent music business -- if a company that did everything the right way can't survive in this environment (and the environment existed before the current worldwide financial disaster -- the Bush economic legacy only piled on), then who can?

"This is not even to mention the fact that Touch and Go put out some records that were incredibly important to me long before Merge existed -- Big Black, Scratch Acid, Die Kreuzen, Negative Approach, Butthole Surfers, and later on Slint, Jesus Lizard and the list goes on... -- a ton of records that are just important period.

"It's a sad day for music, independent music and punk rock in particular, and the music business as we know it in the real world."

While last week's news may not foreshadow the end of the music business all together, it may signal the end as we know it today. Until a new business model comes into play and settles in (same with newspapers and other print publications), there are more tough times ahead and probably a lot more casualties.

So, what's next for Flameshovel? They "were actually assembling the press mailing for the new Mannequin Men record that was to come out via T&G June 9th" when they got the call from T&G's Corey Rusk last Tuesday. "At this point," says Kenler, "our #1 priority is to find a way to keep that release date. Beyond that, we're using this event as a chance to take a big step back and take a look at what we are doing in a larger context."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dan Auerbach Releases Album Sans Keys

You may know Dan Auerbach better as the front half of rock power duo The Black Keys, but yesterday Auerbach released his first solo album, Keep It Hid on Nonesuch Records. Self-produced and recorded with a full backing band, Keep It Hid is dripping with the gritty guitar and vocals The Black Keys are known for, especially on tracks like "I Want Some More" and "The Prowl." Yet, the bluegrass twang and weary blues that peeked out on The Keys' Attack & Release take on a life of their own in his solo work. "Trouble Weighs A Ton" and "Whispered Words" are notably turned down and different. There is heavy desperation in "Real Desire" and "When the Night Comes," while "Mean Monsoon" has a heavy 60's psychedelia influence. Lyrically and in mood, the album is has an overall dark tone making it a haunting, yet appealing piece of work.

Auerbach, a self-confessed workaholic "obsessed with making music" recorded songs for Keep It Hid between tours at his home studio in Akron, Ohio. Auerbach's obsession is a family affair, too. His uncle James Quine, who taught him how to sing and play guitar, also plays guitar on the album. Auerbach's dad, besides encouraging his musical aspirations at a young age, also contributed to Hid by writing "Whispered Words."

Dan Auerbach's solo tour makes its stop in Chicago March 6th at Metro with special guests Hacienda as his backing band. You can stream Keep It Hid in its entirety on Auerbach's MySpace page.
(Posted yesterday on Gapers Block: Transmission.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happiness is...Peachcake

It's Monday and you want to get out of the house but there's nothing to do, right? Wrong! I'm going to see this fun little band Peachcake at SubT tonight. I'm excited to see what they're all about. They remind me a lot of when I first saw Aqueduct at Mojo's (?) back in CoMo in '03. I actually got my hands on their album, What Year Will You Have the World? a few months ago, and was just waiting for them to come to Chicago to do a write-up. The band has had their share of hardship, but they've managed to turn it around and use their experience to create fun music and promote all-around happiness. Read all about it in my preview on Gaper's Block (free mp3!)