The cover art for Cumbie’s new EP. Credit: Carolyn Stern

Cumbie front man Aaron O’Neill says his three-piece isn’t a “real band”—they’ve only ever performed publicly once—but on their new self-released debut, EP, they rock like road-tested veterans. O’Neill started writing the record’s sleek, rowdy songs a couple years ago, when he lived in Saint Louis (he played in several bands there, including Shady Bug, a touring indie-rock group on respected indie label Exploding in Sound). To realize the material he was creating for Cumbie, he recruited bassist-vocalist Reid Maynard, who still lives in Saint Louis, and drummer Zach Simmons, who lives on a farm outside Bloomington, Illinois. O’Neill moved to Chicago in October 2020, and since then Simmons’s home has served as Cumbie’s de facto headquarters. O’Neill has quickly ingratiated himself into Chicago’s scene—he now plays in country-inflected power-pop group the Deals with all three members of Moontype, and Cumbie recorded EP with local indie-rock engineer Seth Engel at Pallet Sound in Bridgeport.

So far, Cumbie are basically just a studio band, but they’re so tight it sounds like they’ve spent months touring basements, dive bars, and lofts. Their new record grafts metal and hardcore aggression onto the kind of sugary melodies that indie rockers write when they want to make pop. This combo brings Cumbie closer to grunge than to any other alt-rock hybrid, but they don’t stick to a discernible formula—on “Inside,” for example, they invigorate a downcast tune with occasional guttural burps and a metalcore breakdown. O’Neill frequently pitches up his vocals like he’s been sucking helium, which gives the band an extra kick of giddy energy—and the gargantuan guitars and galloping drums on “Pretty” propel his chipmunk singing into orbit. It’s the kind of song that feels like it could destroy your speakers at any volume.  v