“shake & tremble” – django django (2015)

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Summer is on its way. In Chicago, that means hot sun, sweat, and swimming. While Lake Michigan may not come to mind for many when it comes to beach bummin’, but I love it just the same. It’s what I have and that’s enough. I love the vibrancy of summer as the light shines on my skin. Incredibly transformative, my senses are heightened. When your winters are long, it is smart to enjoy any opportunity available to play outside in the summer.

Along with summer weather comes summer music. Mood music is incredibly important for me and varies from season to season. During these sweltering times, I want indie pop and surf music. I typically cannot find a way to enjoy both simultaneously. I only have either one or the other. Won’t some hip, young band come satisfy my thirst for surf guitars and harmonic choruses?

As luck would have it, the latest from Django Django entitled “Shake & Tremble” does the trick. Busting through with an oscillating guitar intro a la T. Rex, the band unleashes their sleigh bells and jangly guitars in a sonic homage to surf music of the past. The backing track has all the appeal of surf rock icons of yesteryear while staying fresh. The train rhythms and pounding percussion are carefully driven but chill as well. It presents a careful balance of the relaxation that comes with the dog days of summer but pulsates with youthful energy.

The group harmonizes throughout the song similarly to early Beach Boys while managing to keep a contemporary indie pop flavor. The lines are quick and undeniably poppy, but are catchy. I also love the storytelling and the juxtaposition of the lyrics against the backing track. While vague and misleading, the lyrics convey a sense of darkness and fear. Something is happening here, but what? Smoke. Hidden eyes. Pitch black darkness. All the ingredients of a spooky nightmare are there. You shake and tremble as the environment closes in on you. The setting presents some humor by relying on unclear intentions against a cool, crisp surf backdrop. It adds a sinister element to the music that is very tongue-in-cheek. Something is about to crash this surf party.

I cannot wait for summer. Beach bummin’ and fro-yo! Chicago carries an entirely different energy when the heat is on. It becomes more lively and energized. You fall in love with the city again when you go out walking along the lake, and then duck in some random store or restaurant to get a break from the heat; a great way to discover something new. Get out there and live.

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“friends of p.” – the rentals (1995)

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I like a lot of older music quite simply because there is just more of it than newer, more hip music. There is more of it to explore. I’ll get to the new music eventually but by then, it will become old. Every day, a song gets older and it just exists in the ether until the next time it is enjoyed. Some of these songs are wildly successful and become part of the public consciousness. For example, what is a professional sports event without Queen’s “We Will Rock You” or “Rock & Roll Pt. 2” by Gary Glitter? Whenever I listen to someone long gone like Jimi Hendrix, part of them doesn’t seem real because they’ve been so far removed from the present day. Especially when our society places such historical value on them as well. However, most songs don’t get that kind of status. They’re enjoyed less frequently, but it doesn’t make them less valuable. It just makes that song even more special.

It always blows my mind when I come across a really great song that was released during my lifetime, yet I didn’t know it at all. The iconic classic tracks almost seem beyond our lifetime as if they existed throughout the ages and were crafted by giants among men. So, when I hear something from 20 years ago for the first time that is brilliant on all levels, my mind is blown. I’m left wondering why such a song wasn’t more popular. Why is it not everywhere today like all of the other great songs? Why aren’t people listening? Then, it comes to me. These guys are still alive doing their own thing and their own thing is to not to be so prominent on all fronts. Again, it’s the near social anonymity that makes these songs absolute true treasures.

The Rentals is a band that doesn’t strive towards mass popularity. It is a side project fronted by Weezer bassist Matt Sharp. Weezer is a band that has been wildly successful for almost a quarter of a century, so Sharp doesn’t need that kind of affirmation elsewhere. The Rentals can afford to be the cool art project that has esoteric appeal. “Friends of P.” has the appeal of a great 90s pop radio song, but with some added artistic elements that make it just offbeat enough to be truly alternative. Two moog synthesizers create mellow drones throughout while the catchy “hoo, hoo, hoo” chorus is juxtaposed over the music. Sharp’s talking vocals also add to the track by sounding a little disconnected. This distant stylistic approach elevates the chorus and makes the female backing vocals more jovial by comparison. The song is telling you when to chill and when to dance.  Even the black-and-white video is a trip with the band wearing dated clothes and remaining non-committal with their rigid presence. And the Cyrillic lettering? Does it matter why it is there? No. Just enjoy the ride.

I heard “Friends of P.” for the first time earlier this year and on Saturday, I went to their show at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago. My girlfriend is a fan and I had free tickets. I really didn’t know any of their songs, but I thought it would be fun. I was surprised by how cool the show was. The band sounded great and Sharp has an excellent stage presence. At several points, he was even walking through the crowd while singing. I was thinking how crazy it was this rock star from one of the biggest bands of the last 20 years was just walking around like it wasn’t a big deal (and it wasn’t). Many rock stars can be afraid of their own fame because of the crazies in the audience, but not Sharp. Even while closing out the set with “Friends of P.”, the band stopped to play the “Ghostbusters” theme complete with Sharp running through the audience in full dress and a proton pack while getting chased by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The personal connection and intimacy with the audience was so radiant. Totally cool.

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Sometimes when you think you’ve heard it all, you’re reminded how much more there still is out there. And it can be surprising when one of those discoveries is younger than you. Take a step off the beaten path and avoid the over-popular, antiseptic aspects of life. Sometimes, you might find something hidden that can make a more personal impact.

“class historian” – broncho (2014)

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As I get older, the more I believe in the adage of “everything old is new again.” It is a concept that is often paired with nostalgia, though the two can exist separately. You see this everywhere you turn. Fashion, music, television.  They all have it. I sometimes find myself frustrated by the lack of innovation and experimentation.  Boredom sets in and your mind craves a challenge.

I went through this last summer. Rock, pop, soul, and everything else in front of me was boring me. Everything I was hearing was just becoming noise.  Static amongst the static.  I tried listening to other genres to cleanse my contemporary Western-influenced rock music palette.  I engaged in various native folk, acid jazz, and most of Phillip Glass’ discography.  I wondered what was going to save me from the monotony.  I’ve since regressed back and enjoy the standards again, but I still find myself occasionally bored with the musical landscape because of its repetitive nature. However, sometimes you can relish in the irony of a mood.

In the middle of this weird phase, I first heard “Class Historian” by BRONCHO. When I heard the song open with its signature repetitive “du, du, du” refrain, I was floored.  This song was exactly what I was rebelling against, but I could not help myself.  The simplicity of its throwback style was just too cool and has since stood out as one of my favorite songs of 2014.

Everything about the recording and presentation of “Class Historian” is an exercise in nostalgia.  BRONCHO is a modern Indie rock band but model themselves after the DIY punk and new wave bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s.   The music tracks feature an unpolished, driving guitar that sounds like it was recorded in a garage.  Additional guitars paint a sonic dreamscape that lie underneath the pulsing rhythm of the lead guitar.  Imagine early INXS with some ironic undertones.

The vocals are a treat as well.  The “du, du, du” refrain adds a playful humor and mysticism that accentuate the dreamy theme.  The words are slightly distorted with an echo that adds a hazy aura over the whole song.  Ryan Lindsey’s mumbling singing style features sharp increases in pitch that add to this as well.  Much of what he is singing is hard to understand and the pitch change creates a jarring effect as if you are trying to fight falling asleep.  It almost seems purposeful in order to surround the lyrics in mystery. The vocals and music combine to create a complete dream experience.

I am so happy I found this song when I did because it is truly phenomenal.  It serves as a clever throwback to older musical styles while establishing its own independence as contemporary rock.  Sure, our society and culture is fraught in stagnation.  However, there are consistent elements that seem to transcend time and space and influence all types of musical genres.  What is now a clever homage to a particular time has the potential to blossom into something new and exciting.  BRONCHO is a very new and very young band.  If they can continue their path of resurrecting styles while crafting their own niche, I see many good things in their future.

“cloudbusting” – kate bush (1985)

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Spring is such a special time. Living in Chicago, the winters can be brutal. This is due to the length of the season. It is very cold for months and while the rest of the country enjoys warm temperatures and healing sunlight, the bitterness lingers through most of the spring months. Brief moments of sunny t-shirt days are soon overshadowed by fog and rain. The cold reappears like a specter to remind you that it is never truly gone. It is there always in your mind. Long summer days are coming, but they are fleeting. Though, these days become special and worth fighting for. Worth breaking through the elements.

Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” is so melancholy, but also brimming with hope. Bush sings that every time it rains, thoughts of someone special keep her safe and warm like rays of sunlight shining through dark clouds. An overwhelming sadness consumes Bush, but it is a beautiful sadness. In her quivering voice, the hope of something better is on its way shines through.

The weather themes in the lyrics work so well against the backing track. The strings and percussion are reminiscent of storms. Thunder rolling through the country with driving rain falling all around Bush. As the song continues, a deep wavering synth blows through like strong gusts of wind threatening to take Bush away. Thoughts of losing herself and the bitter, wet cold shakes her to the very core. Bush needs to stay strong and fight against the winds and rain. Busting through the clouds brings its own rewards. The warmth of a sunny embrace waits on the other side. As the song closes out, Bush is joined by a chorus of voices signifying the end of the storm and the sun coming out illustrating that we are not alone in this struggle.

We all must do some cloudbusting sometimes. In life, we all experience the highs and lows. The lows make us question ourselves and our ability to survive, but we ultimately find solace in the fact things will get better. Nothing lasts forever, and that counts for both the good as well as the bad. The stormy days are what makes the sunny ones even more special.

Today, it is very foggy in Chicago. And it has been rainy and cold after a beautiful, bright weekend. That weekend will come back and there will be more. This past winter was tough for me on several different levels, but that’s over. I’m very excited about the warm weather and the summer. Planning trips and other activities that allow me to enjoy the weather and the outdoors is very exciting. Everyone in the city is ready to breakthrough and enjoy the weather. Under the light of the sun, all men and women are equal and free.

If something is troubling you, take time to do some cloudbusting. Find your sunshine. Do what makes you happy and feel alive and please share that with the great people around you. Forget the sunshine stealers. Something good will happen.