Major Control Issues

The Detachment Kit had been a band for less than a year before recording their debut album, They Raging. Quiet Army, last April. The young quartet didn’t have a record contract, and the mere eight shows they’d played hadn’t earned them a following to speak of–but they didn’t let that deter them. They raised the money to pay for the studio time–about a thousand bucks–by moving the contents of a home owned by a family singer Ian Menard knew a few days before the sessions.

On Tuesday the album was released by the popular New York indie label Self-Starter Foundation–also home to Les Savy Fav and Lifter Puller–and the Detachment Kit has become one of the most talked-about rock bands in the city. Last summer David Newgarden of Manage This!, a New York-based artist management company that handles Guided by Voices, Cibo Matto, and Mark Eitzel, heard the record, and since then he’s been informally advising the band, although he’s taken no money for his work yet. A Sunday-night gig at Metro in January drew a respectable 300-some people, the album has already cracked the top 40 on CMJ’s college radio chart, and the group is considering offers from several larger indie-rock booking agents.

Thus far the band–which also includes guitarist Charlie Davis, drummer Toddrick Spalding, and bassist Josh Hight–has achieved this modest success on its own terms. “I wanted us to finance the record so we could do whatever we needed to do, as far as a deal was concerned,” says Menard. “By the time we got labels involved it was going to be another six months or eight months before we could record the songs. I felt like we would be past them by then. We wanted to get them down when they were still new and we hadn’t played them a hundred times.”

An early demo had impressed Chris Newmyer of Self-Starter Foundation, who decided to release a seven-inch. But it hadn’t even come out yet when Menard hand delivered him a copy of the album, recorded in two days with engineer Greg Norman at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio. After one listen Newmyer agreed to release the full-length, scrapped the single, and in October released a ten-inch EP called Attacks on Bright America, featuring five songs from the demo.

The Detachment Kit’s savvy is born of personal experience–mostly Menard’s. “I’ve already gone through a lot of this on a different scale,” he explains. When he was only 17, as a member of an arty pop band from his native Nashville called Caesar’s Glass Box, he signed a deal with the Enclave, an EMI imprint, but the label–briefly home to World Party, Belle & Sebastian, and Fluffy–folded before they ever had a chance to make their record. “It was a great learning experience, and I think it’s kept me from making mistakes here,” Menard says. “When you’re in a band you’re broke, and when you hear of anybody liking what you do and possibly saying ‘I can help you make a career out of this,’ you tend to throw your trust at them pretty quickly. If I hadn’t had that experience I think I would be a lot less cautious about this.”

The performances captured on the new full-length reveal an assured, limber band with a nice grip on radical dynamics. An ear for melody reveals itself now and again, and there’s some nice textural guitar interplay. When I saw the band in November at the Empty Bottle, they jumped around a lot, radiating uncontained energy. But they had yet to transcend their most transparent influences: the Pixies (specifically the hysterical vocals of Frank Black), Nirvana (in the whisper-to-a-scream volume leaps), and mopey melodist Doug Martsch of Built to Spill.

The Detachment Kit will play a release party for They Raging. Quiet Army at the Empty Bottle on Friday, February 15.

Fresh Salsa

Chicago’s first annual Bacardi Salsa Congress runs all this weekend at the Hilton Chicago at 720 S. Michigan; between Friday and Sunday more than 30 workshops and panel discussions on Latin American dance music–including mambo, cha-cha, bomba, and rumba–will be offered, in both English and Spanish.

And even if you aren’t interested in picking up some new steps, you may want to catch a few of the acts performing in the evenings–they’re some of Puerto Rico’s best and longest-lived salsa stars. Andy Montanez, the former lead singer for El Gran Combo, performs Friday, February 15; La Sonora Poncena plays Saturday, February 16; and the soulful Gilberto Santa Rosa closes out the event on Sunday, February 17. On Santa Rosa’s latest album, Intenso (Sony Discos), he covers all his bases, breaking up a slate of dance floor burners–some traditional, some spiced with bits of flamenco, funk, and Brazilian music–with a few sentimental ballads.

The events aren’t cheap–a one-day pass, which includes access to all workshops and one evening’s performances, will set you back $125, while admission to any individual concert is $50 at the door. For more information call 312-421-5832 or visit


Chicago’s First Family of Soul, Gospel, and Compassion: The Staple Singers, a documentary produced by WTTW as part of its “Chicago Stories” series, premieres next Monday, February 25, at 7:30 PM on Channel 11. As a warm-up, on Wednesday, February 20, FitzGerald’s is hosting a musical tribute to the group, hosted by Chicago soul legend Jerry Butler. Mavis Staples will perform with the Jesse Dixon Singers and the Providence-Saint Mel Choir; also on the bill are Paul Cebar, Kelly Hogan (see Critic’s Choice), Otis Clay, the Robert Cornelius Seven, Foley McCreary, and Sonia Dada. Call the club at 708-788-2118 for more info.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Suzy Poling.