HE’S MORE MACHINE THAN MAN

I always felt like having a job where I can wear band shirts, jeans and Converse All-Stars to work everyday while making a sustainable income would be a win — and it was. I’m an engineer and get to do really cool shit everyday (and some shit that’s less cool, but even that’s better than most people’s good days) and with that comes an understanding that you’re gonna get some weirdos… I’m one of those weirdos. When I started my job, if you told me that one day I’d be working from home full time, I would have thought you were full of shit, but here I am — working from home full time. I don’t think I’ve put on pants once in the last seven months unless I had to go to the store. That’s really weird.

I sit in a room all day with my record collection surrounding me, listening to music while doing my job. Great coffee is mere steps from me and I get to see my daughter all day everyday and that’s the fucking highlight of this pandemic. I’m surrounded by guitars, Moogs, FX pedals, books, records, CDs and as cool as that is, I miss waking up with a purpose — with the option to go to the office if I want to. Getting on the L and taking it into the Loop, grabbing a breakfast sandwich and seeing other people. Specifically people I work with. Sure, we have a Teams meeting everyday where we talk about work, what’s going on outside work, joke about music, talk shit about world events… but none of that really feels like human contact and I genuinely miss that. I miss the option for human interaction. Sometimes I feel we’re all becoming cyborgs — like we’re melding into one with our Lenovos and Macbooks and multiple displays. Soon we won’t know where the machine ends and the human begins, which leads me to…

I fucking love Kraftwerk.

I haven’t listened to The Man Machine in a really really long time — easily years at this point, but a weird sample at the beginning of a song by CULO reminded me of Kraftwerk. I’ve been listening to them for a few days now — Computer World, Autobahn, The Man Machine and various tracks while shuffling my MP3s.

The great thing about Kraftwerk is that they went into making music with no influence, really. They wanted to make computer music and that’s what they made. They get lumped in with Can, Neu, Faust and a lot of other German bands, but I really feel like they shine through a lot more than the others. Look — there’d be no House, Industrial, Jungle, Drum N Bass, or any other electronic music — or at least not how we know it today without Kraftwerk.

That’s all I got. OH YEAH. VOTE. If you haven’t done so already, go do it. Don’t let anyone stop you, either.

RIP PIERRE KEZDY

As a kid growing up in 1980’s Chicago, discovering a bunch of bands like Black Flag, Agnostic Front, Anthrax, Metallica and Cromags, it was pretty easy to feel like you’re living in a wasteland of nothing. All of these bands were from the coasts and none of them were from the Midwest. The first Chicago punk band I discovered was Life Sentence, but the first Chicago band I truly fell in love with was NAKED RAYGUN.

In 1988, I was thirteen years old going to Catholic school on the northwest side of Chicago. Fridays were always half days, so common practice for me was to jump on the Belmont bus and head to Lakeview and Lincoln Park to go record shopping, hit up The Alley or pester the clerks as Sessions skate shop. Whatever money I had always went towards music… always. Not band shirts, not skate decks — records or tapes. My favorite record store was Wax Trax on Lincoln and the bus transfer was always worth it.

I walked into Wax Trax on one of those Friday afternoons with my Catholic school mullet, denim jacket with the Bad Religion logo painted on the back and high top Chuck Taylors looking for something fresh. I asked the clerk what punk records I should buy and he said “you like Naked Raygun?” I had no idea who he was talking about, so I grabbed JETTISON on cassette, popped it in my Walkman and headed to the Fullerton L station to head up to Belmont. I felt like I was let in on some big secret that only so many people knew about. Naked Raygun changed my life forever.

In high school, I discovered a band featuring the newly ex-Raygun guitarist John Haggarty, as well as members of the Bhopal Stiffs and Effigies. It was a god damned super group. I fell in love with Pegboy. Everything great about those bands coalesced into one lean-as-fuck Chicago punk machine. Pegboy is and always will be my favorite Chicago punk band. All of my favorite memories of being young and going to shows are locked up in Pegboy and their influence as a band and as people (despite being Sox fans) is indisputable. If you’ve ever seen Pegboy, you know. I don’t even need to go into it. Pegboy is the high school reunion you wish you had. It’s the family that you should have been born into. It’s the friends whose names you don’t know, but recognize and talk to every time you see them.

Prior to the release of the second album, Earwig, Pierre Kezdy joined on bass completing the best line up of the band. He had a cool, calm, stern faced presence on the bass, but it added to the intensity of the show. If you were up front and locked eyes with Larry DaMore, odds are your getting grabbed by the shirt and he’s getting in your face to sing, but Pierre — he’s holding it down, making sure the car stays in the lane. That’s the bassist he was.

I met Pierre a handful of times — once when I was fifteen or so and again at various Pegboy shows. He was the nicest person in the punk scene, hands down. End of story. You weren’t going to find anyone kinder or more willing to interact with you if you approached him. However, this isn’t the memory that sticks with me. It’s the memory of his wife at The Metro standing in the audience up front waiting for Pegboy to come on, holding up their young toddler to say hi to dad. Security would be nervous, advising her that a toddler up front wasn’t safe, but she just assured them that they were just saying “hi.” Even as a jaded twenty something at the time, I thought it was really sweet and thinking about it as a 4o something father of a toddler makes me a little teary eyed.

I’ve shared so many moments with so many people wrapped around the music of Naked Raygun and Pegboy that it’s in my blood at this point. My child has been listening to both of these bands literally since birth. It’s in her blood too. I can’t separate their music from my life or the lives of the friends I’ve made through their music. My entire friendship with my late best friend is tied directly to the albums Throb Throb and Jettison. The first time I went to a punk show with him and his younger brother was to see Pegboy/The Bollweevils/Apocalypse Hoboken at The Vic theater (I took a combat boot to the head at this show from a stage diver, causing me to black out for a couple seconds). Every time I make a new friend and I find out they listen to punk, but don’t know either of these bands, I quickly make them a tape — or link them to Spotify or Youtube.

In 2003, I was helping my friend Justin start his label, Underground Communique primarily because he told me he was releasing a Pegboy tribute album. I was so excited about this that I jumped at the chance to be involved somehow. That record is still one of my favorite records I’ve ever been involved with. I was honored to help in whatever way I could.

I’m in the business of sharing my love for Raygun and Pegboy. I’m in the business of loving Chicago. It’s hard to be a punk from this town and not do one without the other. They’re synonymous with each other. They’re like peanut butter and jelly, coffee and donuts, watered down Jameson shots and the Fireside Bowl — you know what I’m saying. The Raygun family tree is Chicago and that family tree lost a very important, loved branch today.

RIP Pierre Kezdy. Thank you for your service. You’ll be missed. The world is worse place without your kindness in it.

SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY

Growing up in the 80’s meant I had a fascination with martial arts — karate, Bruce Lee, ninjas, SAMURAI SUNDAY on Channel 66 and of course, the Karate Kid. As an adult, I was super stoked to hear Youtube was doing a series on Johnny and Cobra Kai and it didn’t disappoint. When I was fifteen, I wanted to name my first band COBRA KAI (and fuck it, I should have), but the singer thought it sounded “dated” and too “eighties” and we should use something more “intelligent” and “ironic;” so Sycophant was born.

Anyway, all of that is tangential, because I’m not writing about martial arts or my first awful punk band, but rather about one of the best math rock bands to come out of Chicago’s extremely furtive math rock and post hardcore scene — SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t revisit Going Down Swinging because Cobra Kai is now on Netflix, but the truth is, I’ve been walking around the house yelling “SWEEP THE LEG JOHNNY!” This obviously lead me to the music room and pulling this LP off the shelf.

I’m fairly confident I’m not the only person in the mid 90’s who saw their name on the FIRESIDE BOWL list and automatically thought “huh, wonder if they’re a ska band?” I mean, after all, they had a saxophone. I’m pretty sure the first time I saw them, I went under the assumption that they were ska — thank Jah I was wrong. They were SO GOD-DAMNED-GOOD.

It’s probably a sin that I only saw them like six or seven times. They really should have been a band I should have prioritized. I mean, I spent way more money seeing bands I liked way less far more often. Who knows? I was in my 20’s, which is really my go-to excuse for every boneheaded thing I did between 1995 and 2005.

What do they sound like? Well, if you’re asking that question, either you didn’t hit play on the Youtube link above or that link is dead. I would say maybe something like Slint meets King Crimson with a saxophone? If that isn’t enough for you to want to go dig in, I don’t know what else I can say.

Mix Tape of Similar Bands —
Lustre King – Horseblinder
Shellac – My Black Ass Live at the Congress Theatre 1998, opening for Fugazi (you can see my head bobbing up and down up front in some shots. Fucking stellar show. The Ex also played. )
Assembly Line People Program – Glass Static
Dianogah – What is Your Landmass?
Big’n – Song to End All Songs

The above bands are just a small snapshot of the Chicago post-punk/mathrock scene in the 90’s. I really should just write a post about the Fireside Bowl and cover all of the scenes that called that place home.

MEDUSA’S CHICAGO

Editor’s Note – the links in the text aren’t advertisements, but rather links to media related to the text. Click through as you go! Also, thanks to the Medusa’s Group on Facebook for keeping me nostalgically entertained for the last several years.

“They were already stars, I simply provided a place for them to shine.”
– Dave “Medusa” Shelton

A couple weeks ago, Dave Medusa, Chicago club luminary and founder of the historic Chicago juice bar –Medusa’s died. It’s taken me some time to really put together a lot of my feelings on the matter, because I spent a good amount of time in my youth at his venue and it helped me really become who I am today. I didn’t know Dave and I can neither confirm nor deny ever meeting him, because that was a very long time ago and I was an extremely awkward, shy kid. Instead of focusing on the man himself, because I feel that would be disingenuous, I can talk about my experience at his club, the music I discovered, the friends I made and how my mind was opened to different people and their lifestyles.

Continue reading “MEDUSA’S CHICAGO”

Black Dresses

Back in April, Black Dresses dropped their new record and I’m sadly just getting around to listening now. Despite quarantine having me at home a whole lot, I’ve been busy. Plus the pile of records I’ve needed to get around to listening to seems to only be growing and not shrinking. I think I share Henry Rollins’ fear that I won’t listen to all my records before I die. Maybe I should stop trying to make Led Zeppelin happen? I’m never going to like them, so why do I keep going back to them when I could be listening to BLACK DRESSES instead?

Anyway, the point is, this record is really god damned good and it’s infinitely more interesting than Led Zeppelin. Why am I even making this comparison? It’s apples and oranges.

Black Dresses borrow little bits of 90’s electro and industrial as well as spinning in hints of early 2000’s electroclash. I hear just as much Nine Inch Nails in their music as I do Peaches or LeTigre. The thing is, they don’t necessarily sound like either of these comparisons. Influence is funny like that — sometimes it manifests itself as this sort of nostalgia and at other times it looks more like inventiveness. Black Dresses really lean hard on the latter than the former. I dig this stuff a lot as does my two year old (she’s very advanced in that way ;p).

Don’t take my word for it — listen for yourself.

Olivia Tremor Control

One of my favorite Elephant 6 bands — so much so that I named my daughter after the band.  People find it odd that her name is Tremor and keep thinking I said “Trevor.”  Whatever.  I kid.  I did however name my daughter Olivia.

This is probably their best output and I’m not really taking any chances or throwing any hot takes out there in saying that.  It’s a magical combination of psych era Beatles, “Pet Sounds” Beach Boys and the kind of music you’d imagine board acid eaters in rural communities would make.  It’s wild shit, but still totally accessible and familiar.  It challenges you and comforts you at the same time.

For those unacquainted, Olivia Tremor Control was one of the original three Elephant 6 bands — the other two being Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel, both of which feature former and current members of OTC.  Members are also in the Sunshine Fix, Circulatory System, Frosted Ambassador and a whole lot of other projects.

Anyway, give ’em a listen.

New Release! Moor Mother

Moor Mother is probably the most interesting psych/experimental artist on my radar right now.  Mix of noise, lofi and hip hop that just gets the blood pumping.

There’s a lot I want to say about this record, but fuck it — go listen to it and make up your own mind.

“You Want a Big Box of Records?”

Was the question a friend asked as he was delivering several cases of toilet paper to my garage — don’t ask, because I won’t tell you.

My answer was obviously “uh, always. Yes.”

In that box was a ton of records that I’ve always wanted to own, or own on vinyl, including a bunch of 70’s Herbie Hancock.  The other day while working from home, I was spinning Headhunters, being reminded just how awesome this album is.

I originally bought this on cassette along with several other jazz cassettes from the long defunct Record Surplus out in Niles Il. (I really should do a post on Record Surplus sometime, because that place was magical.)

Also in this box were two Miles Davis albums I didn’t own as well as Marvin Gay, Aretha Franklin, the entire Jimi Hendrix discography (unplayed), the Cream discography (unplayed) and Revolver and Abbey Road by the Beatles, also unplayed.  Whomever originally owned this box of records was a hero for having the restraint to not play these albums, but a idiot for not selling them.  Either way, they’re in the hands of a person who is going to play the shit out of them.

There were also a lot of other albums in there, including NM+ versions of several Grateful Dead albums, which I’m in the market to sell and some smooth jazz stuff I’m not interested in.

Anyway, Herbie Hancock is a damn talented person — who’d of thought that one of the people who signed the Constitution would also be a jazz-funk pioneer. 😉 😉

So Lets Talk About Kit Records

Through a series of clicks on Bandcamp, I stumbled upon Kit Records out of London, UK.  They deliver a variety of experimental electronic releases, but the one that initially grabbed me was Object Agency, who deliver slightly more accessibly glitchy  experimental drum n bass ala Aphex Twin, Authechre and Squarepusher.  Maybe a less accessible Mouse on Mars?  Who cares.  This shit rules and you can either chill out to it, or toss it on at a party and you’re gonna have a good time.

I ordered this record and while I was bummed that it was coming from the UK, which meant a bit of transit time, the wait was worth it, because along with this album, Kit included a free Dromloch LP.

Dromloch is a collaboration between producer Antidröm and pianist Devon Loch.  The A Side is basically a collection of live improvisations on a Hohner church organ breathing its last dying breaths.  The B Side is a collection of contact mic field recordings.

I was listening to this the other morning while making breakfast.  The A Side got my kid super stoked and the B Side made a great Saturday morning breakfast soundtrack.  Drop this into a playlist at your local hipster brunch dive to watch a bunch of assholes trip over themselves to claim to know who it is or to clear out the after church crowd from the neighborhood diner.  While this sounds like an insult, it isn’t meant to be.  I’m a firm believer in weaponizing music and this stuff is begging to nuke someone’s consciousness.  Five stars, multiple A+’s.

I’m looking forward to checking out rest of Kit Records discography, because any label that has a fuckin’ church organ in their headquarters is a label I want to give my money to.

Buy this stuff on Bandcamp.  Follow the links in the text ya jerks.

Ibibio Sound Machine

Hey ya’ll.  It warms the cockles that even at my age there are still records that make me say “holy shit.”  Ibibio Sound Machine is one of those bands.  There’s a lot going on here and there’s elements of Afrobeat, 80’s electro-pop, West African folk music and some other elements I can’t quite put my finger on.  This some beautiful, powerful music that makes you want to dance.  Get into it! Send them all your money!

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