Color image of a hand holding up a smartphone to photograph Cheer-Accident performing on stage in a crowded venue
Credit: Mikel Pickett

When I moved to the Windy City in 1995, “psychedelic” and “progressive rock” were dirty words associated with patchouli-scented hippies. A few local bands were boldly mining this expansive territory, though, including Sabalon Glitz, Frontier, and Cheer-Accident. Led by drummer, singer, keyboardist, and trumpeter Thymme Jones, Cheer-Accident always put on a thrilling, even hilarious live show, where it was anyone’s guess what would happen. Would Jones climb inside his bass drum and not come out, as I once saw him do at Lounge Ax? Would they enlist their cabdriver to sing with them, like they did at the Fireside Bowl? Would they try the patience of venue staff with a maddeningly repetitive 15-minute improvised blues jam and constant unnecessary requests for “more reverb,” the way they did at Pop’s? Even better, the shenanigans never eclipsed the band’s complex, heady, and playful sounds.

Founded in 1981 and active as a live band since ’87, Cheer-Accident have gone through many lineup changes over the years, with Jones the only constant (though guitarist Jeff Libersher has also been aboard since their first show). On their new 24th LP, Here Comes the Sunset, they’re joined by bassist Dante Kester and the usual bunch of guests: this time they include oboist and keyboardist Amelie Morgan, saxophonist Cory Bengtsen, and violinist Julie Pomerleau (also a coconspirator of Bobby Conn). They started working on the album in the 2010s, recording at Jones’s various residences in Humboldt Park—it’s tricky to lay down drum tracks with neighbors around, he admits. But genius takes its own time, right? 

“Star Vehicle (4 Flats)” kicks off Here Comes the Sunset with a Magma-ish explosion that settles into a metronomic pulse that recalls This Heat or Faust. Then mutant horns and Jones’s distinctive singing enter the mix, and the track becomes a delicious slab of catchy art-rock on par with Peter Gabriel or 801. “Maison de Velours Écureuil” uses a complex time signature that’s impenetrable to mere mortals such as myself, but it has me imagining what would happen if the Star Wars cantina band beamed in Yes drummer Bill Bruford for a dance jam. 

Even if you think you’ve figured out Cheer-Accident’s weird modus operandi, they’ll still surprise you by throwing in a faithful version of Cheap Trick’s “Dream Police”—or faithful until the middle section, anyway, where the strings go off the rails completely, as though ELO had collided with ELP at Budokan. (Jones cites Cheer-Accident’s treatment of “Theme From Shaft” on the 1991 Pravda Records compilation 20 Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hit Explosions! as a precursor.) On the CD version of Here Comes the Sunset, that rockin’ cover flows right into the title track, but on the LP it starts off side two, which works almost like a 15-minute avant-garde suite. The rest of the album slaloms through spacey atmospherics, dark postpunk, heartbeat rhythms, and Jones’s fragile but jazz-informed vocals, which are a big part of why I call him “the Robert Wyatt of Chicago” (or is he the Eric Stewart?).

Here Comes the Sunset packs an epic journey into around half an hour—positively concise for a Cheer-Accident album—and proves that the band continue to care as little as possible about commercializing their “everything but the kitchen sink” aesthetic. Music scenes come and go, but the Accident persist, reminding us that they’re still one of the greatest, most challenging, and most fun bands that Chicago has ever produced—and that their music will always transcend genre and hype.

Cheer-Accidents’s Here Comes the Sunset drops 2/18 and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp.