INDIE | Miles Raymer
Coach House Sounds is among a growing number of Chicago-based online video series featuring live performances by local acts in nontraditional spaces—in this case the basement of a coach house—but with almost three years and nearly 100 sessions under its belt it’s arguably the best established. This fall CHS will issue its first compilation—a cassette featuring Joan of Arc, Disappears, Bobby Conn, Radar Eyes, and others—but at the moment it’s taking a break from recording new material. CHS producer and cofounder Matt Baron, who recently started his second year teaching elementary school, is directing most of his creative energy into a new project that’s become his passion: making what he calls “curriculum-based/Common Core Standards-aligned educational rock songs” under the name Future Hits.
Baron (who also fronts the group Baron von Something) began teaching ESL and Spanish in September 2010, visiting CPS first-grade classes in a regular rotation. By March he’d started to incorporate music into his teaching, in the form of original songs written to accommodate both his host teachers’ lesson plans and the state’s requirements for language arts.
He says his adherence to the rigid standards to which educators are held made his music “a hit” with administrators and teachers. The rest of Baron’s audience, being a bunch of first graders and thus highly entertainable, were easier to win over. “It’s pretty much guaranteed,” he says, “that whatever class I’m in—I go to about six different classes every day—whenever I do a song, they’ll raise their hands and ask if we can sing it again, like right then.”
Baron recently teamed up with Hollows bassist Emma Hospelhorn and Columbia College assistant professor in audio design and production Ben Sutherland to record a full-length Future Hits album, to be produced by former Coctails member Mark Greenberg (who’s also produced for Wilco and Andrew Bird). He plans to finish the recordings (and accompanying lessons) by the end of the year, and he’s launched a Kickstarter campaign to help cover expenses. Depending on the size of your donation, premiums can include anything from “tiered worksheets” to an in-home live performance and a meal cooked by the band.
PSYCHEDELIC | Leor Galil
On Tuesday the local Plustapes label released Netherfriends‘ Middle America, the second collection of material from the more-or-less-Chicagoan psych-pop band’s 50 Songs 50 States project, which nomadic main man Shawn Rosenblatt started in April 2010 and wrapped up early this year.
Rather than attempt to package all 50 tunes together—a difficult sell for most small imprints—Rosenblatt decided to divide them according to geographic region. In April the Cellar Hits label dropped the series’ first entry, the Angry East Coast EP, and the new cassette covers all 12 midwestern states. “I kind of developed it as I was doing the project, ’cause people kept asking how I was planning on releasing it,” Rosenblatt says. He wants to hit the sun belt next.
Splitting up the tunes hasn’t made it easy to find a label to put out a vinyl version of Middle America, though. Rosenblatt says that several, including Secretly Canadian and Barsuk, have already passed on it. “It just seems like nobody’s interested.”
In the meantime, local psych label Kilo Records will release a digital-only version early next year. (Plustapes already offers a download of Middle America, but only if you buy a cassette.) For Rosenblatt’s February tour, Kilo will also make 12 different screen-printed postcards corresponding to the states featured on the album—each one packaged with a download card.
AMERICANA | Peter Margasak
When it came time to record his new album, This Is Your Night (Clang!), Chicago oddball and veteran musician Chris Ligon invited friends over, so that the session doubled as a small party. Someone brought a carrot cake, but it was hardly the only thing the partygoers consumed. “When we woke up in the morning,” Ligon says, “there was icing all over the sofa.”
You might figure Ligon was blasted too, the way he fires off dopey jokes (“What do you call the nutsack of a custodian? The janitals!”) and banters bizarrely between songs. (“Do worms have ears? . . . I yelled at a worm today and he ignored me, so I guess he doesn’t. I don’t know what I was yelling about. I’m usually nice to worms.”) But he’s actually just a goofball who’d never let self-consciousness or decorum get in the way of a good time.
This Is Your Night is the first album to feature the Problems, Ligon’s sporadic backing group (here they’re a four-piece), and they bring out the nonchalant craft in his music. His multi-instrumentalist brother Scott (a member of NRBQ) and fellow multi-instrumentalist Casey McDonough provide dead-on harmonies and seamless rhythmic support, undergirded by drummer Alex Hall and bassist Sharon Rutledge, and they’re almost enough to distract you from how twisted the tunes are. Almost. “She’s only five / But she knows how to drive / She drives me crazy,” Ligon croons on “She’s Only Five.” “I write songs that first and foremost I like to hear myself play,” he says. “I don’t ever intentionally write things to offend anyone. There are some songs of mine where I say ‘goddamn’ that I’m not proud of.”
Ligon will celebrate the album’s release with the full Problems lineup (a rarity live) at FitzGerald’s SideBar on Fri 11/4. The show will also include his wife, Heather McAdams (a longtime Reader cartoonist), who’ll screen 16-millimeter films from her extensive collection.