Tag: Chicago IL

New Audio: Chicago’s Así Así Shares an Uneasy and Feverish Single

Chicago-based indie outfit Así Así — Fernando de Buen (vocals, guitar), Ben Geissel (drums), Celeen Rusk (vocals, keys) and Sam Coplin (bass) — can trace their origins back to 2018, as the continuation of a previous project, El Mañana, which was originally started in Mexico City. Whether as El Mañana or Así Así, the Chicago-based band is a part of the city’s growing Latin rock scene — and has played at a number of venues across the Chicago area.

Así Así’s sound sees them and blending elements of rock, dance and Latin with arrangements that feature acoustic and electronic drums, synths, guitars paired with propulsive grooves frequently create material that’s haunting yet upbeat and catchy.

Their debut single “Carne Molida” was released back in 2020 and received coverage in Remezcla, Filter Mexico and Indie Rocks, as well as airplay on Mexico City’s Reactor, 105.75FM.

Recorded at Palisade Studios, the Chicago-based outfit’s Fernando de Buen and Marcus Reese co-produced album Mal Otras is slated for release later this year. The album’s first single “Yo La Sé” is a dreamy and expansive track featuring a driving, motorik-like groove, glistening guitars, de Buen’s plaintive vocals and an uneasy bass outro. While the song evokes the sensation of waking up from an unpleasant and incredibly vivid dream. Thematically the song focuses on a familiar sensation for all of us — a deep-seated frustration over the seemingly never-ending stream of terrible news.

New Audio: H2S04 Shares a Swaggering and Anthemic New Banger

Formed in Kent back in the late 90s, British electro pop act H2S04 — Graham Cupples (keys, programming), Darren Till (keys, programming) and James Butler (vocals, bass) — features a collection of accomplished musicians: Cupples previously led techno acts Mortal and Code. Till played with Cupples in Code. Butler contributed bass and vocals in indie rock act Lobster, which was once known as Sulpher.

Initially tracing their origins back to when they started experimenting with a series of remixes, the members of H2S04 began writing original material that blended electronica, rock and techno paired with a special attention to songwriting. Their debut single, 1998’s “Little Soul,” which featured a foreboding song, quickly became popular in English — and because of its extremely limited release, a collector’s item.

The British trio’s 1999 full-length debut Machine Turned Blues featured the aforementioned “Little Soul,” “I Need Feel,” “The Way I Want,” and “Imitation Leather Jacket,” a track that was a favorite among British DJs, while receiving radio play here in the States. The trio supported Machine Turned Blues by playing a series of festivals across the British festival circuit, including Glastonbury — and they played shows in Canada and Chicago.

2000’s Glamtronica saw the British trio further establishing their sound while adding a playful sense of satire to the mix. The act largely disappeared until 2015’s Under Control and 2021’s Love and Death.

“Fast Cars” H2S04’s first single of 2022 is centered around skittering tweeter and woofer ratting thump, buzzing synths, crooned vocals, relentless motorik groove and enormous, arena rock friendly hooks paired with a swaggering air. The end result is a song that sonically nods at Kasabian, The Chemical Brothers and Evil Heat era Primal Scream meant to be played as loud as humanly possible.

New Audio: Neal Francis Releases the Breezy Yet Self-Aware “Problems”

Born Neal Francis O’Hara, the Livingston, NJ-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist best known known as Neal Francis can trace the origins of his sound and approach to his childhood: he was obsessed with boogie woogie piano — and as a result, his father gifted him a dusty Dr. John album. O’Hara quickly became a piano prodigy, touring Europe with Muddy Waters‘ son and with other prominent bluesmen across the States when he was just 18. 

In 2012, Neal Francis joined the popular instrumental funk band The Heard. With Francis at the creative helm, The Heard quickly became a national touring act, sharing stages with The New Mastersounds and The Revivalists, and making stops at New Orleans Jazz Fest and Bear Creek among others. As The Heard’s profile rose, Francis sunk deeply into addiction. By 2015, he had been fired from his band, evicted from his apartment and was inching perilously close to his own destruction. “When you get close to death like that you can feel it,” Francis recalls. An alcohol-induced seizure that year led to a broken femur, dislocated arm, and, finally, the realization that he needed to get clean.

Although he identifies as not being religious, Francis took a music-ministry job at St. Peter’s UCC in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend. 

Francis’ solo debut, 2019’s Changes was released to critical acclaim with the album landing on Best-of-the-Year lists of KCRWKEXP and The Current while BBC Radio 6hailed him as “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint.” Adding to a breakthrough year, Francis toured with Lee Fields and The Expressions and JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas. He shared a stage with members of the legendary The Meters at New Orleans Jazz Fest. And he did a live session on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Despite having breakthrough success with his career, Francis broke up with his longtime girlfriend while on tour to support Changes. When the tour ended, he returned home to Chicago and found himself with no place to stay. So, he headed off to St. Peter’s and asked if he could move into the parsonage. “I thought I’d only stay a few months but it turned into over a year, and I knew I had to do something to take advantage of this miraculous gift of a situation,” he says. 

Francis began writing new material, a series of songs that’s both strangely enchanted and painfully self-aware, inspired by Greek myths, frenzied dreams, late night drives — and a possibly haunted church. (More on that in a bit.) The end result is the Chicago-based artist’s highly-anticipated sophomore album In Plain Sight, an album that derives its title from the title of a song that wound up getting cut from the album. “It’s a song about my breakup and the circumstances that led to me living in the church, where I’m owning up to all my problems within my relationships and my sobriety,” says Francis, whose first full-length chronicles his struggles with addiction. “It felt like the right title for this record, since so much of it is about coming to the understanding that I continue to suffer because of those problems. It’s about acknowledging that and putting it out in the open in order to mitigate the suffering and try to work on it, instead of trying to hide everything.”

Continuing his ongoing collaboration with Changes producer Sergio Rios, a guitarist and engineer, who has worked with CeeLo Green and Alicia Keys, the album spotlights Francis’ restrained yet free-spirited piano playing. “From a very early age, I was playing late into the night in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way,” he says, naming everything from ragtime to gospel soul to The Who among his formative influences. 

Recorded entirely on tape with his backing band, Kellen Boersma (guitar), Mike Starr (bass) and Collin O’Brien (drums), In Plain Sight is also fueled by Francis’ restless experimentation with a stash of analog synths lent by his friends during his early days living at the church “My sleep schedule flipped and I’d stay up all night working on songs in this very feverish way,” he says. “I just needed so badly to get completely lost in something.” 

By the end of his surreal and sometimes eerie experience of living at the church—“I’m convinced that the stairway leading to the choir loft where I used to practice is haunted,” he says—Francis had found his musicality undeniably elevated. “Because I was forced into this almost monastic existence and was alone so much of the time, I could play as often and as long as I wanted,” he says. “I ended up becoming such a better pianist, a better writer, a better reader of music.” Dedicated to a woman named Lil (the de facto leader of the St. Peter’s congregation), In Plain Sight ultimately reveals the possibility of redemption and transformation even as your world falls apart.

In the lead up to In Plain Sight‘s Friday release through ATO Records, I’ve written about “Can’t Stop The Rain,” an uplifting and shuffling boogie woogie featuring a Southern rock influenced arrangement that nods at Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama,” complete with a soaring gospel-tinged chorus and a smoldering slide guitar solo from Derek Trucks. Underlying the whole affair is Francis’ unerring knack for crafting infectious hooks paired with lived-in songwriting. Of course in the case of “Can’t Stop The Rain,” the song expresses a deep, hard-won sense of gratitude, for experiencing the difficult shit and somehow surviving.

In Plain Sight‘s latest single “Problems” is trippy synthesis of 70s piano balladeer pop, AM rock, psych pop and blue-eyed soul featuring twinkling synth arpeggios, a strutting bass line, Francis’ easygoing yet plaintive falsetto, and a big book. But underneath the infectious and easygoing vibes, is a song with a narrator, who begins to realize that he ultimately is the cause and solution to his problems — and that he has the power to change his life.

Initially formed in Chicago back in 2019 and now currently based Portland, OR, the members of rising indie rock outfit Koalra quickly established a sound and songwriting approach indebted to 120 Minutes-era alt rock — in particular, The CureDinosaur Jr., WeenSonic YouthBoyracer, and The Thermals, as well as contemporaries like No Age, and Waaves

In the almost three years since their formation, the Portland-based outfit has been remarkably prolific: They’ve released three albums and a handful of EPs, including 2019’s self-titled debut, last year’s The Wakes and this year’s Into The Everything. Interestingly, Into The Everything, which featured “Water’s Push” found the rising indie rock act pushing their sound into decidedly New Wave territory. 

Koalra’s fourth album Love Songs To Remind Us That We Can’t Stand Each Other continues upon the band’s reputation for being prolific while being a collection of songs inspired by the disenchantment of our current sociopolitical climate, as well as a major lineup change — and their recent relocation to Portland.

Last month, I wrote about the  4AD Records-like “Sight Unseen,” a track centered around atmospheric synths, angular guitars, a driving, motorik-like groove, plaintive vocals and an enormous hook. Thematically, the song focused on some familiar and universal themes — in particular, nostalgia over a youthful yet major love that’s been long lost.

“When We Fall” is a melodic and yearning bit of post punk featuring shimmering and atmospheric synths, plaintive vocals, a driving 80s New Order-like groove, propulsive four-on-the-floor and a swooning hook. Much like its immediate predecessor, “When We Fall” is centered around a familiar nostalgia — of a time and place that you can’t quite get back.

New Video: Rising Indie Act Koalra Releases a Nostalgia Inducing Visual for Shimmering “Sight Unseen”

Formed in Chicago back in 2019 and now currently based Portland, OR, the members of rising indie rock outfit Koalra quickly established a sound and songwriting approach indebted to 120 Minutes-era alt rock — in particular, The CureDinosaur Jr., WeenSonic YouthBoyracer, and The Thermals, as well as contemporaries like No Age, and Waaves

Since their formation, the now Portland-based act have been remarkably prolific. They’ve released three albums and a handful of EPs, including 2019’s self-titled debut, last year’s The Wakes and this year’s Into The Everything, as well as a handful of EPs. Interestingly, Into The Everything, which featured “Water’s Push” found the rising indie rock act pushing their sound into New Wave territory.

Koalra’s fourth album Love Songs To Remind Us That We Can’t Stand Each Other is a collection of love songs inspired by the disenchantment of our current sociopolitical climate. The album is sparked by a lineup change and the change of location. The album’s latest single “Sight Unseen” continues a run of 4AD Records inspired material centered around atmospheric synths, angular guitars, a propulsive rhythm section and plaintive vocals. Thematically, the song focuses on some familiar and universal themes — nostalgia over a youthful yet major love that’s been long lost.

The recently released video features fittingly nostalgic footage by Len Elders that captures young people hanging out and goofing off in seemingly much simpler times.

Live Footage: Neal Francis Performs “Can’t Stop The Rain” at Shirk Studios, Chicago

Born Neal Francis O’Hara, the Livingston, NJ-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist known as Neal Francis can trace the origins of his sound and approach to his childhood: he was obsessed with boogie woogie piano and his father gifted him a dusty Dr. John album. O’Hara quickly became a piano prodigy, touring Europe with Muddy Waters‘ son and with other prominent bluesmen across the States when he was just 18. 

In 2012, Neal Francis joined the popular instrumental funk band The Heard. With the Livingston-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist at the creative helm, The Heard quickly became a national touring act, making stops at New Orleans Jazz Fest and Bear Creek, and touring with The New Mastersounds and The Revivalists. As The Heard’s profile rose, Francis sunk deeply into addiction. By 2015, he had been fired from his band, evicted from his apartment and was inching perilously close to his own destruction. “When you get close to death like that you can feel it,” Francis recalls. An alcohol-induced seizure that year led to a broken femur, dislocated arm, and, finally, the realization that he needed to get clean. Although he identifies as not being religious, Francis took a music-ministry job at St. Peter’s UCC in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend. 

Francis’ solo debut, 2019’s Changes was released to critical acclaim with the album landing on Best-of-the-Year lists of KCRWKEXP and The Current while BBC Radio 6hailed him as “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint.” Adding to a breakthrough year, Francis toured with Lee Fields and The Expressions and JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas. He shared a stage with members of the legendary The Meters at New Orleans Jazz Fest. And he did a live session on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Despite having breakthrough success with his career, Francis broke up with his longtime girlfriend while on tour to support Changes. When the tour ended, he trend to Chicago and found himself with no place to stay. So, he ended to St. Peter’s and asked if he could move into the parsonage. “I thought I’d only stay a few months but it turned into over a year, and I knew I had to do something to take advantage of this miraculous gift of a situation,” he says. 

Francis began writing new material, a series of songs that’s both strangely enchanted and painfully self-aware, inspired by Greek myths, frenzied dreams and late night drives and a possibly haunted church. (More on that in a bit.) The end result is the Chicago-based artist’s highly-anticipated sophomore album In Plain Sight, an album that derives its title from the title of a song that wound up getting cut from the album. “It’s a song about my breakup and the circumstances that led to me living in the church, where I’m owning up to all my problems within my relationships and my sobriety,” says Francis, whose first full-length chronicles his struggles with addiction. “It felt like the right title for this record, since so much of it is about coming to the understanding that I continue to suffer because of those problems. It’s about acknowledging that and putting it out in the open in order to mitigate the suffering and try to work on it, instead of trying to hide everything.”

Continuing his ongoing collaboration with Changes producer Sergio Rios, a guitarist and engineer, who has worked with CeeLo Green and Alicia Keys, the album spotlights Francis’ reminded yet free-spirited piano playing. “From a very early age, I was playing late into the night in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way,” he says, naming everything from ragtime to gospel soul to The Who among his formative influences. 

Recorded entirely on tape with his backing band, Kellen Boersma (guitar), Mike Starr (bass) and Collin O’Brien (drums), In Plain Sight is also fueled by Francis’ restless experimentation with a stash of analog synths lent by his friends during his early days living at the church “My sleep schedule flipped and I’d stay up all night working on songs in this very feverish way,” he says. “I just needed so badly to get completely lost in something.” 

By the end of his surreal and sometimes eerie experience of living at the church—“I’m convinced that the stairway leading to the choir loft where I used to practice is haunted,” he says—Francis had found his musicality undeniably elevated. “Because I was forced into this almost monastic existence and was alone so much of the time, I could play as often and as long as I wanted,” he says. “I ended up becoming such a better pianist, a better writer, a better reader of music.” Dedicated to a woman named Lil (the de facto leader of the St. Peter’s congregation), In Plain Sight ultimately reveals the possibility of redemption and transformation even as your world falls apart.

In Plain Sight‘s first single is the uplifting and shuffling boogie woogie “Can’t Stop the Rain.” Centered around a Southern rock arrangement reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama,” complete with a soaring gospel-tinged chorus, Francis’ latest single also prominently features a smoldering slide guitar solo from Derek Trucks.Underlying the whole affair is Francis’ unerring knack for a crafting an infectious hook paired with lived-in, world weary yet hopeful lyrics expressing a profound yet simple sentiment — gratitude. “I wrote that with my buddy David Shaw, who came up with the refrain and this idea that even though life’s going to throw all this shit at you, there’s still so many things to be grateful for,” Francis says.

Recently Francis and his backing band stopped at Shirk Studios for a loose and jammy version of “Can’t Stop the Rain,” which I think is a good taste of what to expect from Francis and his band, when they start hitting club across the country. Francis is currently on a massive and extensive Stateside tour that included dates opening for The Black Pumas and stops at Americana FestShaky Knees, and Outside Lands, as well as several other stops on the national festival circuit. The tour also includes two NYC area dates: a sold-out Mercury Lounge show on September 20, 2021 and a Brooklyn Bowl show on 9/22/21. You can check out the rest of the tour dates below. Tickets and other information is available at nealfrancis.com

In Plain Sight is slated for a November 5, 2021 release through ATO Records.

New Video: Aussie Post Punk Band S:Bahn Returns After a Lengthy Hiatus

Melbourne-based post-punk/alt rock act S:Bahn currently features the following:

Kristian Brenchley (guitar), a former member of WOMAN and Degrasser and a current member of The Tim Evans Band.
Denis Leadbeater (drums), a founding member of Rootbeer and a member of post-rock, improvisational duo Under The Sea.
Dik (guitar, vocals), a former member of Bastard Kestrel, an act championed by John Peel in the early 90s and the creative mastermind behind the minimal synth punk act mnttaB
Rene Schaefer (bass), a former member of The Bites and currently guitarist in cold wave act Banish

The act formed back in the mid 90s and quickly received attention for specializing in a Chicago and DC-inspired take on post punk. After releasing 1996’s debut effort, Stock Footage EP and 1998’s North Sea Clean, the members of the band went on to their own creative projects and day jobs. But after a long hiatus, the band reunited. Between lockdowns during the early parts of the pandemic, the band recorded their second full-length album, the soon-to-be released Queen of Diamonds.

“Exhaustion,” Queen of Diamonds’ latest single finds the band seemingly coming back to where they left off: Dischord Records meets Signals, Calls and Marches-era Mission of Burma inspired post punk centered around angular attack, thunderous drumming, half sung/half spoken verses and multi-part harmonizing on the song’s anthemic chorus. At its core is a searing yet world wearied indictment of post modern, consumerist life.

The recently released video is a frenetically shot, black and white, visual that captures the energy of the band’s live show.

Polaks Records will be releasing Queen of Diamonds tomorrow.

New Audio: Acclaimed Chicago-based Singer/Songwriter Neal Francis’ Souful and Uplifting “Can’t Stop the Rain”

Born Neal Francis O’Hara, the Livingston, NJ-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist known as Neal Francis can trace the origins of his sound and approach to his childhood: he was obsessed with boogie woogie piano and his father gifted him a dusty Dr. John album. O’Hara quickly became a piano prodigy, touring Europe with Muddy Waters’ son and with other prominent bluesmen across the States when he was just 18.

In 2012, Neal Francis joined the popular instrumental funk band The Heard. With the Livingston-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist at the creative helm, The Heard quickly became a national touring act, making stops at New Orleans Jazz Fest and Bear Creek, and touring with The New Mastersounds and The Revivalists. As The Heard’s profile rose, Francis sunk deeply into addiction. By 2015, he had been fired from his band, evicted from his apartment and was inching perilously close to his own destruction. “When you get close to death like that you can feel it,” Francis recalls. An alcohol-induced seizure that year led to a broken femur, dislocated arm, and, finally, the realization that he needed to get clean. Although he identifies as not being religious, Francis took a music-ministry job at St. Peter’s UCC in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend.

Francis’ solo debut, 2019’s Changes was released to critical acclaim with the album landing on Best-of-the-Year lists of KCRW, KEXP and The Current while BBC Radio 6 hailed him as “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint.” Adding to a breakthrough year, Francis toured with Lee Fields and The Expressions and JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas. He shared a stage with members of the legendary The Meters at New Orleans Jazz Fest. And he did a live session on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Despite having breakthrough success with his career, Francis broke up with his longtime girlfriend while on tour to support Changes. When the tour ended, he trend to Chicago and found himself with no place to stay. So, he ended to St. Peter’s and asked if he could move into the parsonage. “I thought I’d only stay a few months but it turned into over a year, and I knew I had to do something to take advantage of this miraculous gift of a situation,” he says.

Francis began writing new material, a series of songs that’s both strangely enchanted and painfully self-aware, inspired by Greek myths, frenzied dreams and late night drives and a possibly haunted church. (More on that in a bit.) The end result is the Chicago-based artist’s highly-anticipated sophomore album In Plain Sight, an album that derives its title from the title of a song that wound up getting cut from the album. “It’s a song about my breakup and the circumstances that led to me living in the church, where I’m owning up to all my problems within my relationships and my sobriety,” says Francis, whose first full-length chronicles his struggles with addiction. “It felt like the right title for this record, since so much of it is about coming to the understanding that I continue to suffer because of those problems. It’s about acknowledging that and putting it out in the open in order to mitigate the suffering and try to work on it, instead of trying to hide everything.”

Continuing his ongoing collaboration with Changes producer Sergio Rios, a guitarist and engineer, who has worked with CeeLo Green and Alicia Keys, the album spotlights Francis’ reminded yet free-spirited piano playing. “From a very early age, I was playing late into the night in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way,” he says, naming everything from ragtime to gospel soul to The Who among his formative influences.

Recorded entirely on tape with his backing band, Kellen Boersma (guitar), Mike Starr (bass) and Collin O’Brien (drums), In Plain Sight is also fueled by Francis’ restless experimentation with a stash of analog synths lent by his friends during his early days living at the church “My sleep schedule flipped and I’d stay up all night working on songs in this very feverish way,” he says. “I just needed so badly to get completely lost in something.”

By the end of his surreal and sometimes eerie experience of living at the church—“I’m convinced that the stairway leading to the choir loft where I used to practice is haunted,” he says—Francis had found his musicality undeniably elevated. “Because I was forced into this almost monastic existence and was alone so much of the time, I could play as often and as long as I wanted,” he says. “I ended up becoming such a better pianist, a better writer, a better reader of music.” Dedicated to a woman named Lil (the de facto leader of the St. Peter’s congregation), In Plain Sight ultimately reveals the possibility of redemption and transformation even as your world falls apart.

In Plain Sight’s first single is the uplifting and shuffling boogie woogie “Can’t Stop the Rain.” Centered around a Southern rock arrangement reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” complete with a soaring gospel-tinged chorus, Francis’ latest single also prominently features a smoldering slide guitar solo from Derek Trucks. Underlying the whole affair is Francis’ unerring knack for a crafting an infectious hook paired with lived-in, world weary yet hopeful lyrics expressing a profound yet simple sentiment — gratitude. “I wrote that with my buddy David Shaw, who came up with the refrain and this idea that even though life’s going to throw all this shit at you, there’s still so many things to be grateful for,” Francis says.

Directed by Alec Basse, the recently released video for “Can’t Stop the Rain” is split between the Francis and his backing band performing in a sparse studio space and Francis playing on his childhood piano in a suburban styled home — in the rain. Towards the end of the video, we see Francis destroying his childhood piano, the same one he used for the song’s recording.

Francis is currently on a massive and extensive Stateside tour that included dates opening for The Black Pumas and stops at Bonnaroo, Americana Fest, Shaky Knees, and Outside Lands, as well as several other stops on the national festival circuit. The tour also includes two NYC area dates: a sold-out Mercury Lounge show on September 20, 2021 and a Brooklyn Bowl show on 9/22/21. You can check out the rest of the tour dates below. Tickets and other information is available at nealfrancis.com.

In Plain Sight is slated for a November 5, 2021 release through ATO Records.