November 23, 2010

Positive Beat Presents: Cains & Abels.

Chicago's alt-folk up-and-comers Cains & Abels are celebrating the LP release of their 2009 full-length Call Me Up on Positive Beat Recordings, and you're invited! Led by David Sampson and his wavering vocals, sprinkled with gritty, minimalistic guitar and drums, Cains & Abels present the listener with what they consider "the most real and honest music we can make." Sampson implants a glimmer of hope among a barren wasteland through his powerful, yet subdued, vocal delivery that definitely carries the weight of the band's style in sound - think Neil Young-meets-Gordon Gano - which is no minor accomplishment considering the delicate duality inherent in the band's name as well as their mixed and modeled sound.

Call Me Up was released on States Rights Records in 2009; Positive Beat Recordings is re-releasing the album on vinyl LP, available January 18, 2011. The band will tour in support of the release of the LP in 2011.

Below are door times and details:

Wednesday, December 1 at Viaduct Theater / 3111 North Western Ave / Chicago, IL
Doors: 7:30pm
Show: 8:00pm
$10 at the door

Younger (Chicago) will play an improvised set throughout the evening.
Talons' (from Akron, Ohio) will be opening.
Cains & Abels will be playing Call Me Up in full with backing choir and orchestra.

Please contact Michael Hunter at Positive Beat with any questions regarding the release. Hope to see you at the show!

November 16, 2010

How To Listen To The Beatles.

On November 15, 2010, Apple teased the internet with a special announcement:

iPad iOS 4? A new line of 3G MacBooks? The first Macintosh-powered consumer vehicle?? Oh the possibilities. As it turns out, the secret unveiled was much better than all of these things combined:

Note the sarcasm.

For an extremely innovative, forward-thinking enterprise such as Apple, the release of the back-catalog of a band that, to some extent, invented modern rock music is just a bit of a step backward - and a ridiculous one at that. It's also a bit arrogant, as Apple appears to think they've re-invented the band and effectively branded them as Apple products (go to the Apple site and have a look for yourself; see how the visual you are greeted with strikes you).

Do yourself and the Beatles a favor: visit your local record reseller and buy a Beatles LP for $10. Not only will you have a timeless piece of memorabilia and a pure representation of the music and the era of its release, but you'll be supporting local business as well. For that, the Beatles would applaud you.

October 3, 2010

Principle Of Essentiality: My Interview with Laetitia Sadier.

I had the recent pleasure of chatting with famed Stereolab and Monade leader Laetitia Sadier about her new solo record, The Trip - a troubled personal outpouring of emotion into song, and a successful release of the pains of losing a loved one.

Laetitia has been the lead singer and multi-instrumentalist of London's Stereolab for roughly twenty years, as well as leader of dream pop quartet Monade. Both groups showcase strong influences by krautrock bands such as Neu! and Can, as well as Chanson and Brazilian music, and Stereolab is often cited as a seminal group to the post-rock subgenre.

Our interview begins with only momentary Skype video delays; after our initial hellos, we dive into the technical aspects of the recording.

"I didn't have any specifically conscious, direct influences that I could name right now, but I did have a principle in mind, which was one of essentiality; I wanted it to be as bare and as minimal as possible," she recounts regarding the influence of other artists/music on The Trip, "...very much like a Joni Mitchell record."

Despite this overall aim, this principle of essentiality and goal for minimalism, Laetitia finds herself reverting back to her familiar "template": the Stereolab and Monade formula. "I realized that I have this very, very strongly ingrained template of how to do things and how they should sound like, because that's what I've done all my musical life."

Reverting further to the template, much like the concerted efforts of many in producing Stereolab's and Monade's releases, Laetitia relies on the technical and musical assistance of a couple good friends and a well-known producer in order to flesh out and breathe life into her music. "I don't like having to engineer myself as well as play; I like being with people, you know, and doing this with a team. I went to my boyfriend's house in Oxford with two of my friends from France - Julien Gasc and Emmanuel Mario - and Emmanuel has a computer and an audio interface... and he is quite good with gear... So yeah, we just spent two weeks developing five or six tracks, among which "Summertime" was done quite quickly and "By the Sea" which was done even more quickly.

"The other team that I had was Richard Swift... and he supported Stereolab on our last tour, for the last third of the tour. He was also great to work with, and also responsible for that first track, you know, "[One Million Year] Trip", that sounds kind of metronomic and a bit Krautrocky. If I played it to you on the guitar, you will not say "Oh, this is krautrock", you know."

Her team did not collectively write the songs, however; "They were fully written in terms of chords, lyrics... and then sometimes you're going to add a middle eight, you know, you're going to slightly arrange the songs as they are played, with your accomplices. I would say they were fully written but they were kind of bare bone and they needed keyboards, embellishments... and although I was trying to keep it down to a minimum, to even avoid it, it was still unavoidable..."

As was the looming darkness and despair at the center of Laetitia's candy-coated melodies; "This is an album about grief. I lost someone precious. I lost a family member, a dear family member; a young family member, and I didn't know what to do with this, you know, this is crazy. So the album's dedicated to my little sister; she committed suicide a couple of years ago. It's shocking; it's a shock. It's difficult to process when it's such a big shock, and I know that art can be a very good way to sublimate all these emotions, to channel them through something and make an object, make a representation of it, you know. So really, the album is dedicated to her, and was made with her in mind. It was hard to make it, because you have to face your pain and pour it into the songs."

Laetitia assures that a significant portion of the pain has stayed with the record, making The Trip a personal success as well as a commercial success. Visit to order a copy of the record on LP/CD or to download the MP3 (also available on iTunes).

Thank you to Laetitia for chatting with me about the album, Brazilian music and Lynch's Inland Empire (among other fun things).

August 30, 2010

Joel Mattern: "Park Avenue".

I've returned to my self-titled project to release a collection of musical "scraps", noodles, previously unreleased/unfinished and two brand new songs. Park Avenue follows along the lines of my ambient-infused Beasties project, as well as ties in and succeeds the acoustic sparseness of You Try Forever.

The album is available for download per the link below, as well as on the About page.

Joel Mattern - Park Avenue

August 10, 2010

Sam Prekop: "Old Punch Card".

Apparently, shortly before, during and after the writing/recording of not one, but two albums for release under Chicago's post-rock staple The Sea and Cake, Sam Prekop (vocalist/guitarist for The Sea and Cake and visionary leading an astoundingly original solo career) began recording every synthesized tinkle, bloop and blip that tickled his fancy. Armed sparingly with synthesizer and studio headphones - not at all standard fair for Prekop, but an obvious passion since The Fawn - Sam translates a rawer, more intricate side of his artistic inner man to musical form; one we've undoubtedly only seen the emergence of.

Recorded over the last three years as a side project to all of Prekop's many other side projects, including a successful career as a painter and photographer, Old Punch Card is an experiment combining improvised synth textures and subtle melodies crafted from raw sound sketches. Though slated for release on September 7th, my inbox was recently teased with a track from the upcoming album entitled "The Silhouettes". I was instantly taken back to the Japanese import of The Sea and Cake's 1997 masterpiece The Fawn, and most notably its last five tracks which were bubbly, electronic sound experiments that intrigued me for their natural beauty and their experimental nature, and gave way still to TSAC's sonic signature and opened a whole new avenue of their incredibly unique sound.

In short, Old Punch Card could very well be Sam's "New Card Swipe" on his previous musical output. That's a very good thing.

Sam Prekop - "The Silhouettes"
From the upcoming album Old Punch Card.

June 7, 2010

Currents/Kanyons: "Rip Duck".

2010's been good to me, as far as inspiration goes. Currents/Kanyons ( has released the follow-up to 2009's Whistles Chimes Birds Leaves Wind, being the seedy anti-pop experiment lovingly titled Rip Duck. I're just jealous you couldn't possibly imagine a more brilliantly obscure album title...

Rip Duck is some sort of (musical) answer to many questions I've been pondering as of late; namely, what would a lo-fi rock-meets-Tropicália-meets-avant-horror/sci-fi-meets-krautrock with a bluesy twist album sound like...and how many Tums would it require in sitting through it? Luckily, none. I think I've done something unique here.

The album's odd title - a term used in competitive sports circles, especially Lacrosse, which means something along the lines of "nice shot" - might not be as intentionally misleading as one might think; As I said, I've done something unique here. This isn't perfect - hell, what is? - but it's one hell of a nice shot. Let's just say I'm pleased. I hope you are as well. It's free and available to all, as always.

Currents/Kanyons - Rip Duck

May 27, 2010

June Thrills: Tortoise, The Fiery Furnaces and Future Islands.

June's shaping up to be quite a thrill, as three Thrill Jockey artists play Chicagoland venues in support of new releases! Here's the scoop...

Baltimore-based Future Islands have released a mighty little record called In Evening Air, being their first full-length, focused effort since relocating from their native Greenville, NC to Baltimore. It's mighty in a refreshingly new sense: focused, driven, exact and cutting.

Labeling themselves "post-wave" - a befitting description for the trio as their music combines the soaring, synthesized melodies of much of Talk Talk and New Order's early eighties new wave material with the flat, hard-hitting percussion of such post-punk progenitors as Joy Division and Gang of Four - these three talents draw together the violent, driving force of post-punk with the fragile intimacy of new wave, and create something wholly original with the addition of Sam Herring's splintered growl to the mix.

In a sea of nameless, faceless and tragically unaffected indie pop/rock, Future Islands stands alone - a lush gem to the weary, and to the future of post-wave.

Future Islands will be playing Saturday, June 5th at the Hideout with the Lower Dens (feat. Jana Hunter). Show starts at 9:00 pm.

Future Islands - "Tin Man"
From their new album In Evening Air.

Also returning to Chicago in June are the Fiery Furnaces, Friday the 18th at the Empty Bottle and Saturday the 19th at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, as well as our favorite post-rockers Tortoise, coming to Lincoln Hall on Thursday, June 3rd.

March 19, 2010

High Places Play Schubas.

Thrill Jockey's High Places celebrate the March 23rd release of their second full length album, High Places vs. Mankind, with a live performance at Schubas on Saturday, April 3rd. The album is a dreamy, percussive reflection on humanity and human interaction, contrasted by its electronic, repetitive percussive drive. Visit for more information.

High Places - "On Giving Up"
From their upcoming album High Places vs. Mankind.

February 18, 2010

Thrill Jockey Presents: Tortoise, Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar, and Chicago Underground Duo.

Lacey at Thrill Jockey has recently informed me of some stellar shows coming to the Windy City this weekend. Here's the scoop:

Post-Rock masters Tortoise will be appearing with Robert A.A. Lowe of Lichens on Saturday, February 20th @ Lincoln Hall. The show starts at 10pm and is 18+. Tickets are available in advance for $20 here:

Tortoise - "Prepare Your Coffin"
From their latest album Beacons of Ancestorship.

Robert A.A. Lowe & Rose Lazar - "Fantomoj de la Vitro Domo"
From 2010's Eclipses.

Also on Saturday, Chicago Underground Duo will be playing two sets @ The Hideout starting at 8:30pm. The show is 21+ and you can buy tickets for $10 here:

Chicago Underground Duo - "Spy On The Floor"
From their latest album Boca Negra.

Thanks again to Lacey and Paco @ Thrill Jockey Records for the info.

February 8, 2010

Pick Of The Week: "Dots And Loops" (1997) By Stereolab.

Dots and Loops may be one of the most instrumentally brilliant albums I've ever heard. Imagine every pleasant sound you've ever heard, as well as some bubbly experimentation for good measure and a captivating brass section that compliments the music so much you can't possibly imagine hearing it without, and you've arrived at Stereolab's Dots and Loops.

The album introduces a more lounge-influenced Stereolab, replacing the favored guitar-driven song structures with more Moogy, vibey constructions of flowery, electro-pop bliss. "Brakhage" is an ode to experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, and fearures Douglas McCombs of Tortoise and Brokeback. "Miss Modular" contains one of the most unique and interesting Moog lines of any Stereolab song (it sounds like a corny toy organ played at each chord change and randomly throughout), and a supporting acoustic and synthesizer medley.

"The Flower Called Nowhere" is an absolutely gorgeous tune, and swirls together plenty of synths and beautiful vocal harmonies between Sadier and Hansen (which is really what makes Stereolab so great; the two most amazing women in modern pop/rock music, R.I.P. Mary). "Diagonals" has an inventive, playful opening, and soon becomes one of the most charming songs on the album.

"Prisoner of Mars" is something of a musical trap door, and once you've fallen into it, you're in it till you hit bottom; luckily, the bottom is "Rainbo Conversation", a moving little love song with a double-dose of Parisian stylistic sentimentality and little of the krautrock sound the Groop has become famous for incorporating. Mary Hansen adds an amazing amount of charm to the track with her pretty harmonies (as usual, and also especially).

"Refractions in the Plastic Pulse" sees a minimal layer of instrumentation featuring one acoustic, one vibe, and some subtle Moog filler, and of course Sadier and Hansen's masterful melodies. The track winds on and on, through three separate movements of electronic experimentation (aided by Jan St. Werner of Mouse On Mars) and an eventual (loose) return to the song's originating melody line (ce qui est, n'est pas clos, ce qui est ouvert, est à ítre - what is isn't closed, what is open is to be).

"Parsec" is a trancey piece of IDM with an intensely brilliant collection of vocal melodies, harmonies and scats. "Ticker-Tape of the Unconscious" will become your favorite track off the album, and it lodges itself inside your head for days, weeks, after first listen. "Contronatura" is our jazzy, krauty little wrap-up track, and ensures that quaint little (pretentious) smile remains on your lips long after the music ceases; Dots and Loops is quite literally the perfect album for a sunny, lazy day, and a rival to any of those brilliant records you hold in such high regards. Pleasant surprises will amass.

February 3, 2010

Pick Of The Week: "Canto On Guitar" (1970) By Baden Powell.

Perhaps Brazil's most accomplished guitarist, Baden Powell possessed enough raw talent and unbridled emotion to fill the world twice over with a sense of natural wonder and awe. The six pieces comprising this beautiful and inspiring work of Samba-inspired classical guitar, especially the monumental "Tres Themas da Fé Afro-Brasileira/Pai (Um Canto de Préto ...)", offer some of the most passionate flamenco and samba music to come from Brazil at the outset of the 60s.

Canto On Guitar is our very favorite this week. Tell us what you think!

January 13, 2010

Kllk In Twenty-Ten.

2009 saw much new music - some good, some bad, some benign to even the most passionate of critics - and 2010, by extension, will undoubtedly see more of the same. Despite this site's dedication to a slightly less focused niche of the indie music market, my musical tastes are urging a shift in content. Having poured over the Brazilian Tropicália, Samba and Bossanova movements of the late sixties and early seventies, the onset of the Blues scene in Chicago with Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo's rocking swamp blues, as well as just as much Krautrock, jazz and experimental variations, it seems a natural progression, and one that will surely benefit the reader and the author in various ways, to move the site's coverage and content into these areas of musical expression.

In the weeks to come, we'll begin exploring the history and culture of militant Brazil at the onset of the Tropicália movement in the mid-to-late sixties through the artists and musicians that inspired and propagated it. Beginning with the most notorious - Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes - and working through to Brazil's psychedelic underground, our quest will ultimately bring enlightenment and respect for Brazil's artistic, musical and other cultural creations to the reader. As much of this content will be building upon itself, be sure to subscribe to the site RSS feed in order to catch the latest updates as they arrive.

Happy listening in 2010!

January 7, 2010

Towering To New Heights: An Interview With Skyscraper Magazine's Peter Bottomley.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Skyscraper magazine founder and owner Peter Bottomley concerning the personal decision to discontinue the magazine's printed publication in favor of an online offering of the same content, at no cost to the consumer.

Skyscraper was founded in 1997 by brothers Peter and Andrew Bottomley, originally as a hardcore fanzine. Once the two found their little zine had a following, and a niche, they quickly gathered up regular writers and contributors, broadened the scope of their content slightly to include the burgeoning indie rock, post-punk and noise circuits, and packed it all into a novel-length quarterly magazine. The result: a decade of prolific underground, cutting edge music coverage spanning thirty issues.

Peter and I spoke through numerous e-mails, the culmination of which led to our little interview concerning Skyscraper's rise, the effects of an economic recession on an independent quarterly publication, and the brothers' personal decision to take Skyscraper's content to the web. Here's most of our conversation.

Joel: What originally influenced Skyscraper Magazine’s creation, and what inspired its content and design?

Peter: "Skyscraper has always been run by myself and my twin brother, Andrew. In high school we started making cut-and-paste fanzines and started a record label, ...and then there were none (later re-named Satellite Transmissions). Since we weren't musicians we were always looking for ways to be more involved in the music scene, so helping out our friends' band or doing these other projects allowed us to be connected to the scene beyond just being a consumer.

"I moved away to college and about a year later my brother followed me to Boulder, Colorado and about six months after that we started to play with the idea of starting a real fanzine. This would've been late 1997, and at the time we were mostly influenced by hardcore fanzines like Second Nature, Indecision, Trustkill, Anti-Matter, Number Two, and Nothing Left. However, the format we ended up using was more similar to HeartattaCk, Maximum Rock N Roll, or Punk Planet.

"There wasn't really a single source of inspiration though; we simply wanted to start writing about the music that we liked. Even though the design of the 'zine looked like desktop publishing it was really cut-and-paste. We typed things up or scanned them in, but then pasted it together. We had no experience with desktop publishing, and only a crude knowledge of programs like Adobe Photoshop. Everything was trial and error, and throughout the life of the magazine we let it grow very organically.

"We picked up freelance writers when they began to approach us, and we had friends or acquaintances start to take over the graphic design duties. After about two years was when we started to have more outside contribution, and that's also about the time that we grew to the size (in terms of page count) and design format that was largely continued for our entire run.

"One of the main things people recognized Skyscraper for was its size. In our prime we published about 200 pages per issue, and that was packed with dozens of features and hundreds of record reviews. Although the content was designed for quantity over quality, we were also recognized as a very analytical publication. We would run 8-page features and 500 word reviews. We never censored or heavily edited our writers' work, so the opinions were very honest and they were given the page space that they needed. This is something that was lacking from most music publications, not just mainstream magazines but fanzines as well.

"There are only a few magazines that I think were comparable, a couple of those being The Big Takeover and The Wire. As much as people often pigeonholed us as a hardcore fanzine early on, we very quickly started covering all genres of independent music and at the end you could find everything from indie rock and punk/post-punk to rock'n'roll, garage rock, pop, hardcore, metal, electronic, Americana, and avant-garde/noise music . It was a good representation of what an independent music fan listened to; there wasn't a genre-specific mentality at all."

J: Although Skyscraper’s decision to move the zine to an online format was one of professional choice in keeping up with the digital age, and not necessarily due to the economic downturn which one would assume, what were the effects of both an ongoing digital revolution and a bottoming economy on Skyscraper?

P: "The decision to move Skyscraper from a print publication to an online format was largely a personal choice. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep a regular publishing schedule as Andrew and my personal and professional lives matured. In many ways, it's a surprise to us that we kept it going for 11 years. The "digital revolution" didn't even prompt the change, but in the end we saw the online format as a way to both continue running Skyscraper in some form and also expand the coverage that we provided given the advantages that the medium allows.

"Skyscraper was never a mainstream publication and our core readership was a pretty specific niche of the music scene - one that wasn't effected as much by the downfall of the music industry and the economy as a whole. However, we weren't totally immune to the failing economy. Even before the economic recession the problems within the music industry had caused many record labels to reduce their advertising budgets, so the amount of income we had coming in from ad revenue had decreased by 50-70% over the last few years.

"Since advertising revenue was our primary source of income it did lead us to reduce our page count slightly, but otherwise there was little noticeable change to the magazine. And we certainly could have continued to publish for the foreseeable future, but it would've been a struggle, and since our personal lives were pressuring us to make a change, it seemed like a reasonable time to do so."

J: Can you explain the process involved in transferring a printed publication into a digital publication?

P: "We're not actually transferring the printed magazine into a digital publication. There are some magazines that have tried to do this; they pretty much publish as a print magazine, but they put it online rather than on newsstands. We're transitioning to an online format in every sense, which means we'll look more like Pitchfork when everything is said and done. But everything that people liked about Skyscraper (the writing, the photos) will still be there, and in many ways the online medium will allow us to expand on that. We're still in the process of making this transition, and it has taken us longer than we initially expected, but I think people will be happy with the results."

J: Can you give your readers an estimate as to when the Skyscraper site restructure will be complete?

P: "The new site should launch in February, 2010. It's difficult to put a firm date on the launch, but we're very close to settling on the final design and structure of the site, and so we just need a month or so to gather enough new content to get things started. Because we've been dormant for the better part of a year we haven't been utilizing our contributing writers and photographers as much as we should've been, but the majority of contributors from the print magazine will be continuing to work with us as an online publication and so it'll be a lot of what people expect from Skyscraper - just updated weekly rather than quarterly, and it's free!"

Skyscraper will now be available at your RSS doormat weekly. We share in Peter's excitement in this aspect, and although we will all miss seeing Skyscraper on the shelves, we look forward to the convenience and frequency this new format allows its readers.

Visit for your underground music news, interviews, reviews and more! Thanks to Peter and all the Skyscraper crew for your time and dedication.

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