Page 2 - "Eight Under the Radar: A Few Under-Hyped Records from 2006 to Kick-Start Your 2007

By: Brandon Forbes



Kill Them With Kindness


It takes almost two and a half minutes before Headlights true colors shine through on Kill Them With Kindness opener “Your Old Street.” Out from the mournful string quartet, soft percussion, and the subtle harmonizing of singers Erin Fein and Tristan Wraight from the first half of the song jumps the electronic pop magic of much of the rest of the record: dancey drums, bright keyboard chimes, and soft, confident vocals. The elegant piano of “Put Us Back Together Again”’s intro sets up one of the best vocal melodies of 2006 as driving drums uplift synth washes around Fein’s command to “Take us apart and put us back together right.” New-wave rock to synth kinesics are invoked on the pulsating bounce of “TV,” the blip and rock of “Lions,” the kaleidoscope romp of “Hi-Ya!” and the Robert Smith burn to shine of “Words Make You Tired.” Even electronic doo-wap gets a chance with the Beach Boys inflected chorus of “Signs Point to Yes (But Outlook Not so Good).” But quiet moments surface as well. Tom-tom beats and languid organ bring on winter’s chill with “Songy Darko” and instrumental “Struggles w/ Numbers” would fit nicely on a Casino vs. Japan B-sides compilation. With assorted moments recalling Stereolab, Blonde Redhead, or Quix*o*tic, Headlights share good musical company and an even brighter prospect for the future.


Big Buildings
Water Everywhere

Stars/No Stars

Sliding into place beside Drive-By Truckers, The Replacements and the grungier parts of Wilco's AM or Being There, Big Buildings’ second full-length Water Everywhere is the perfect compliment to the hot, bright summers of their hometown Chicago. From the moment the opening bubbles of “Submarine” roll into the straight-ahead drum and bass lick of the main song, you know it’s time to switch on the window AC and crack open a Goose Island brew. The burn of the guitar arrangement on “Grease Fire” can bring a tear to the eye of any who have equally mourned the passing of Uncle Tupelo as well as the best years of The Eagles. "Who Makes the Rules" is clearly the unrecognized roots-rock anthem of 2006. The infectious bass hook and high-end guitar noodling of "Saskatchewan" epitomize melodic wanderlust, and the booze-stomp of “Do You Lack Imagination” cannot be ignored. "Tuck the Nuts" and "Middleground" could be B-sides from REM's Chronic Town EP, producing rapid-fire guitar grind and Peter Buck approved jangle-to-explosion. The no depression overture "Mountainsides" and the Califone-inspired "Invisible Republic" further prove Big Buildings’ versatility and place Water Everywhere as one of Chicago’s best records of 2006.



Bound Stems
Appreciation Night


For fans of avant-garde literature the release of Thomas Pynchon’s massive Against the Day brought a more than 1,000 page tome to cuddle up to through the winter. As a beautifully eccentric musical compliment, Pynchon devotees should grab a copy of Bound Stems’ Appreciation Night. Like the ample historical events and characters Pynchon weaves into his book’s fantastical frame, the Bound Stems take elements from across Chicago’s soundscape, both past and present, mixing in references from the Civil War with found sound from El Train announcements to O’Hare background noise to offer a fascinatingly unique indie rock record. Even Chicago scene poet laureate Thax Douglas gets quoted alongside eccentric novelist Kurt Vonnegut to further assert literary cred. “Pulling on Pigtails” best exemplifies the feel of the record as it is completely composed of snippets from random recording sessions and encapsulates the incredible creative ability found in the Stems’ five-person collective. Rocker “Andover” fits the indie rock mold and, even if the rest of the record followed this lead, would create a solid offering. Thankfully, though, attention-grabbing moment after attention-grabbing moment occurs with the brighter moments traveling from the build-to-screamo climax of “Wake Up, Ma and Pa are Gone” to the eccentric pop of “Risking Life and Limb for the Coupon” to the seemingly twelve different songs packed within the roller coaster pop genius of “Excellent News, Colonel.” If anything, Appreciation Night grows from repeated listens as new doors become unlocked with each new encounter with its varied arrangements. Like the raw, gut-checking sounds of early Modest Mouse or the heady pop compositions of The Fiery Furnaces, Bound Stems never fail to disappoint those who are willing to be both challenged and rocked.



The Way to Bitter Lake


In a year that saw many so-called “freak-folkers” move musically in different directions (cf. the ‘70s subdued groove of Vetiver’s To Find Me Gone or the epic orchestral romp of Joanna Newsom’s Ys), Brooklyn resident Jane Herships’ earnest folk sounds resonant in both their honesty to themselves and to their genre. Aptly self-dubbed as Spider, Herships spins her quiet, patient yarns over a quiver of acoustic strumming occasionally accented by distant percussion or soft strings. The haggard country sound of “Cold Eyes” recalls Emmylou Harris and the straight-forward folk of “Midnight on the Nile” could come from Vashti Bunyan. But Herships can move in for the kill as well, utilizing buzzing electric lead for the slow jam outro to “Maggie’s Song for Alice” and brandishing it forthright on “End Song.” The best moment, though, comes in the subtle Wurlitzer and light flute of “The Ballad of Clementine Jones” as Herships sweetly sings: “Though we try to believe that a soul never dies/it just slips between the sea and the sky.” If Herships gets her proper due, however, her delicate music will avoid this slide into oblivion.


All opinions expressed by Brandon Forbes are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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