King of the New School
Way out there on the spectrum of asshole behavior there’s a point where someone can be such a supreme dick that it starts to seem as impressive as it is irritating. Local MC Mic Terror has pretty much built his entire persona on that spot. On the rare occasions when he’s not boasting about his skills behind a mike or between the sheets, he’s usually dissing anyone in his line of sight. It’d be unbearable, except he actually is a really good rapper and a charming motherfucker to boot. “I’m an Asshole,” the second cut on his new mix tape, begins with Mic glorying in his own bad behavior to the tune of a funky Million Dollar Mano beat, but then he takes a bizarre left turn into end-times paranoia and rips on his listeners for paying more attention to Flavor of Love than politics. Elsewhere on the mix Mic declares his intent to unseat Lil Wayne as the Best Rapper Alive. That’ll take something a little more potent than King of the New School, but he’s already got the title of Most Infuriating/Entertaining Rapper in Chicago on lock.
When he named this band, lead singer John Tristan hadn’t yet seen the Urban Dictionary entry defining blueberry fist as a euphemism for beating off with a broken hand; he just plucked the phrase out of the air. I was hoping it was a reference to something, since that’d at least mean these guys weren’t entirely responsible for it—the shitty name is the only real problem I’ve got with their band. They play wild, primal pop rock with unforced exuberance—aside from the bonus track, which is a weirder combo of acoustic guitar and Auto-Tune than anything on the new Bon Iver disc, none of the songs on this EP dip below a brisk midtempo—and their punked-up lo-fi approach belies a sophisticated ear for nuance, though they seem to delight in swamping the subtleties of their own craftsmanship with cheap overdrive. Even with only six songs Blueberry Fist has a lot of high points, and the highest is probably “Sly Stone,” which starts off thundering and epic and ends up (three minutes and several abrupt shifts later) a swaggering tangle of sloppy horns and weirdly arpeggiated guitar parts that split the difference between Nigerian highlife and whatever it is Sam Zurick from Make Believe does, topped off with earnestly yelped song titles and lyrics from There’s a Riot Goin’ On.
Sun 2/15, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $3.
The 1900s’ consistently high standards and the meticulousness and attention to detail that characterize their aesthetic—a sort of pop OCD, which people apparently catch from old copies of Pet Sounds—make them one of the city’s better bands. But they also make you wonder what they’d sound like if they didn’t put up a quite such a perfect front—a question to which this seven-song collection of live versions, Bsides, and unreleased material (much of it years old) provides at least a partial answer. On Medium High the 1900s work in significantly darker tones than they did on the 2007 full-length Cold& Kind. A Daytrotter version of that album’s “When I Say Go,” retitled “When I Say Cohen” (as in Leonard), scrapes away the original’s happy-go-lucky studio sheen to reveal the song’s paranoid heart. And with its tastefully distorted guitar drone and shuffling, fuzzy drum machine, the B side “Age of Metals” is as close as the band’s come to making something you could call badass. Like any odds-and-sods comp, Medium High is uneven, but the 1900s’ embrace of the dark side that’s always been hidden in their music (on their first EP, Plume Delivery, they paraphrase Aleister Crowley) makes me extra excited to hear the full-length they’ve got coming later this year.
SANTIAGO & BUSHIDO
Second Nature EP
The complaint I hear most often about house music from people who aren’t into house music usually goes something like, “Where are the, y’know, songs?” There’s a long answer to that question and lots of short ones—conveniently, though, one of the short answers is Santiago&Bushido’s new EP. Its three original cuts, with their broad build-and-release sequences, stay well within the outlines of house, but they’re also dense with the same kind of musical nooks and crannies—little instrumental flourishes, turnarounds, even hooks—that make pop songs leap out and grab your ear. Though Santiago&Bushido occasionally touch on the distorted synths and euphoric buzz of the recent acid-house revival, for the most part they stick to a palette of clean-toned 808s and 303s that wouldn’t have sounded out of place during Chicago house’s early heyday. Longtime house head Johnny Fiasco rounds out the EP with a remix of “Can’t Be Wrong” that trades the original’s straight-ahead, lightly soulful approach for a twitchy, strangely compelling take on electro-funk.
Some Sweet Relief
Speck Mountain vocalist Marie-Claire Balabanian sounds a bit like Loretta Lynn calling home from a vast empty space station—in other words she sounds a lot like Hope Sandoval. Even as instrumentals the group’s songs—full of Velvetsy shoegaze guitars, echoing tambourines, and droning keys—would betray an infatuation with Sandoval’s old band Mazzy Star. This isn’t a bad thing by any means: the Mazzy Star sound was so good that the band didn’t come close to exhausting it with just three albums, and it remains fertile ground for groups like Speck Mountain. A cluster of three tracks around the halfway point of Some Sweet Relief makes an especially good case for the band’s songwriting versatility and skill at renewing this borrowed style: the title track’s relatively traditional take on country segues into a matched set of supremely spacey psychedelic jams (“Backslider” and “Backsliding”) as far-out as anything their predecessors ever did.v
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