Chicago’s grassroots rock bands brighten the corners they’re in 

Reviews of new releases by Bleach Party, Coaster, Fake Limbs, Lala Lala, Strawberry Jacuzzi, and Swimsuit Addition

Bleach Party - VIA THE GROUP'S BANDCAMP PAGE
  • Bleach Party
  • Via the group's Bandcamp page

Bleach Party
Endless Bender

(Tall Pat)

Bleach Party's Endless Bender EP doesn't come out till Friday, but you may already have heard the serrated surf-rock guitars of the tightly wound, garage-inflected "Single Summer"—this bonus track from the EP's digital version appeared in a national radio spot for the McDonald's value menu that aired for a few weeks over the summer. The ad put "a little extra dough" in the band's pockets, says bassist Richard Giraldi, but he's much more excited about Endless Bender. "This is the biggest record release I think I've ever been a part of."

Giraldi, who founded local blog-turned-podcast Loud Loop Press, launched Bleach Party with vocalist-guitarist Meghan MacDuff and guitarist Bart Pappas in 2012. The previous year, when Giraldi was looking for someone to record a split between his band Rodeo and MacDuff's group Velocicopter, he recruited Pappas. Giraldi was used to hearing MacDuff howl and scream on Velocicopter's swinging, spiky songs, but at the sessions he heard more of her talents. "In between the takes, she would just sing regularly—it's like, 'You can actually really sing. You don't have to scream all the time—you can sing really well,'" Giraldi says. "She's like, 'Yeah, I used to sing in the other bands.'"

Eager to explore a pop-friendly sound, Giraldi contacted MacDuff through Facebook to float the idea of playing together, and they recruited Pappas on guitar. "I liked having this other outlet that wasn't this sort of hard-rock thing—it was more fun," Giraldi says. "It was more danceable—it's a little more accessible to anybody." After recording with onetime Swimsuit Addition member Susan Volbrecht on drums, Bleach Party recruited Kaylee Preston of psych-rock misfits Rabble Rabble to replace her.

These days Bleach Party is the main vehicle for most of its members: Rodeo broke up in 2014, Velocicopter called it quits in January (MacDuff launched a new band called Montrose Man earlier this year), and Rabble Rabble bowed out last month. They recorded Endless Bender in August 2015, then shopped it around before finding a home for its rambunctious boogie with Tall Pat, the upstart local rock label run by Reader contributor Patrick Sullivan and his wife, Dana Horst. Giraldi is looking forward to seeing his music released on vinyl for the first time. "To us this is really big­—this is what we've been waiting for," he says. "We've been holding back on posting all these songs to our Bandcamp—we really wanted to make sure this was a big celebration of this record."


Swimsuit Addition, Bleach Party, Clearance, Jollys
Fri 11/18, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, $8, $5 in advance, 21+


Coaster - JOHNNY FABRIZIO
  • Coaster
  • Johnny Fabrizio

Coaster
Deuces

(Community/Sooper)

Coaster have been around for less than five years, but 26-year-old guitarist Seth Engel talks about the pop-rock tunes on their flamboyant new Deuces EP like he's fondly recalling something that happened decades ago. The band's playful mix of boisterous rock and sugary power pop doesn't sound especially dated, but it takes Engel back to cruising around with his old bandmates—he mentions former bassist Michael Byrnes and former drummer Tom Graham. "There's all sorts of sentimental stuff attached to each song," he says.

Coaster started with a Columbia College songwriting class in 2012. Byrnes and singer-­guitarist Matt Kissinger teamed up for a project, writing the easygoing "Chewy," which would eventually appear on their debut release, the 2013 single Fetch. They pulled in Graham and Engel to play on the recording, though Engel already had his hands full. (He usually has several projects going; currently he records and performs emo-tinged rock as Options, drums in underground emo supergroup Lifted Bells, and plays guitar in experimental group Bathing Resorts). "I was like, 'I don't wanna do it unless I'm not singing and blah blah blah blah,'" Engel says.

These days Coaster's rhythm section consists of bassist Dillon Kelley and drummer Marcus Nuccio (Pet Symmetry, Mountains for Clouds), but Byrnes and Graham stayed long enough to record their parts for Deuces in summer 2015, after the band returned from a few weeks on the road with Kansas emo heroes the Appleseed Cast. They knocked out the rhythm tracks in about a day at Minbal in Humboldt Park, but Engel and Kissinger tracked the guitars in Coaster's practice space, and they took their time—their piecemeal sessions stretched into early 2016. "There would be nights where we'd be like, 'All right, cool—we're ready to go, let's do it!'" Engel says. "We would come in, and there'd be a band practicing next door."

On "Cool," the lead single from Deuces, a stop-time twin-­guitar riff gathers woolly noise till it sounds like it's about to disintegrate, especially at the end. Engel wrote his part at the Flowershop, a defunct DIY spot where he once lived with Kissinger and Byrnes. The tune has since become a favorite of his to play live: "The R&B vocal thing Matt does at the end is always a blast."


Fake Limbs - VIA THE GROUP'S FACEBOOK PAGE
  • Fake Limbs
  • Via the group's Facebook page

Fake Limbs
Matronly

(Don Giovanni)

Stephen Sowley's lurching howls on Fake Limbs' new third album, Matronly, sound a little more wild and ragged than on the postpunk band's previous records, and with good reason. "I think I was bleeding out a little emotion about my partner of ten years being gone," he says. Fake Limbs recorded Matronly at Electrical Audio in March, and his partner, Jes Skolnik, landed an editorial job at Bandcamp and moved to New York around the same time. Whether despite or because of the pain Sowley felt, he delivered a magnetic madman's performance that's perfectly in sync with Fake Limbs' assertive assault.

Fake Limbs sound so cohesive on Matronly in part because they road tested and refined its material on two tours with Nashville alt-rock outfit Bully—one late last year, and another this winter. "We got in a certain zone with how we wanted the new songs to sound, how we wanted the album to feel—all the trappings of making a record," Sowley says. Five years of playing together have also taught Sowley, guitarist Bryan Gleason, bassist Mat Biscan, and drummer Nick Smalkowski how to hash out their ideas. "We as a band were able to communicate more, and allow a little bit more vulnerability from our lives into the creative process," Sowley says.

Perhaps the biggest change for Sowley involved the lyrics for Matronly. For Fake Limbs' 2012 debut, Man Feelings, he wrote apart from the group. But for their 2013 follow-up, The Power of Patrician Upbringing, he consulted his bandmates, and for Matronly his process was almost collaborative. "This felt like there was more of a conversation within the band about what the lyrics were gonna be about, as opposed to me just doing it and being like, 'Here it is,' and they find out later on what the song is about," Sowley says. And when he lost confidence in his performances on the road, or when he had writer's block, his bandmates encouraged him. "They were the ones who were like, 'Maybe you should write some love songs,'" he says. "Like, 'OK, I'll try that.'"

Sowley not only came up with idiosyncratic love songs (the spindly "Lil Bit" and the distended "Murderbar") but also worked with his bandmates on their most overtly political number: "Inconvenience," provoked by Sowley overhearing a guy at a Logan Square bar complain about the Laquan McDonald protests ruining his Black Friday shopping plans.

"It's about having to deal with jerks that start off a conversation with, 'I don't want to sound racist . . . ,'" Sowley says. "We really were very conscious about how we wanted to present the lyrics for that song, and what it's like having to listen to somebody like that talk." Fake Limbs honor their progressive outlook in other ways too: "We try to be inclusive with who we want to have on the bill," Sowley says. "We don't want to be booked with assholes—we try to be very cautious about that."


Fake Limbs, Breathing Light, Beat Drun Juel
Wed 11/23, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, $8, 21+


Lala Lala - EGON SCHIELE
  • Lala Lala
  • Egon Schiele

Lala Lala
Sleepyhead

(self-released)

Lala Lala front woman Lillie West prefers simplicity in musical expression, and she's equally direct when she describes what she went through while working on the band's new album, Sleepyhead. "I had a really tragic year," she says. "I was hit by a car, lost a close friend, and someone broke my heart." In an effort to sort through her grief, West turned to her bandmates—bassist Karla Bernasconi and drummer Abby Black.

West's bare-bones approach arises as much from pragmatism as it does from aesthetics—she's only been playing guitar for a few years, and she began working on the band's ragged, minimal postpunk while she was still very new to the instrument. "I was writing songs a little bit, and then my roommate at the time, Lyla [Taube], started messing around on drums with me," she says. When they landed their first gig, they struggled to pick a name—and ended up going with one that was right in front of them. "When we would introduce ourselves together, for some reason it was really confusing for people—Lillie and Lyla—and sometimes it would just devolve into them saying 'lala lala,'" West explains. "So we just decided to call it that."

Taube didn't stay in the band for long, but the lineup with Bernasconi and Black seems more or less settled. West steers the ship, helping set the mood and nudging the band to release material at a steady clip. "I work very, very quickly," she says. "I get bored real­ly fast, and when I make something I want it out in the world." Her bandmates appear well suited to West's need for speed—when she brought them the song "Okie Dokie Doggy Daddy," she says they finished it in about 14 minutes.

The tunes on Sleepyhead feel fully realized, in part due to their occasional shambolic turns. The music has some of the barren chill of northern UK postpunk, though West's forlorn, near-­monotone vocals aren't quite frozen over—and her straightforward, magnetic melodies give the songs some approachable warmth. Often it feels as if she's focusing her positive energy to push through the suffering she endured while making Sleepyhead. But on "Okie Dokie Doggy Daddy," she confronts her misfortunes head-on. "It's about recognizing yourself in tragedy, what to do with that energy, and taking ownership of your state of mind," she says. "That's something that I was definitely struggling with and learning over the course of the year—how to navigate adversity and remain true to yourself."


Dehd, Bunny, Lala Lala
Sat 11/26, 10 PM, Cole’s, 2338 N. Milwaukee, free, 21+


Strawberry Jacuzzi - STAN GOLOVCHUK
  • Strawberry Jacuzzi
  • Stan Golovchuk

Strawberry Jacuzzi
Watch the Clock

(Grabbing Clouds/Some Weird Sin)

Strawberry Jacuzzi's second album, Watch the Clock, begins with some of their oldest material: the cascading ripper "Bitch Jam" has its roots in the 2013 rehearsals that eventually gave birth to the band. "That's an old riff that [guitarist-vocalist] Nikita [Word] and I used to jam on the first couple times we met up to write music together," says guitarist-­vocalist Shannon Candy. Strawberry Jacuzzi soon added bassist Ross Tasch and drummer Devon Press to the lineup, and in 2014 they released their first album, Love Is for Suckers, on local label Grabbing Clouds Records & Tapes.

With its driving rhythms, gushing guitars, and alternately sweet and snarling vocals, Watch the Clock sounds like the work of a band that's been around for more than three years. Candy thinks it's mainly because she and her bandmates have better learned how to integrate a lead guitar. "When we started this band, it was a struggle at first to figure out how to do what we do, and then also still have that cool lead part come in," Candy says. "I've gained that as a strength—I've gotten a little bit better at writing lead parts and complementing what Nikita's doing. And Nikita's really branched out in terms of her songwriting."

Like Love Is for Suckers, Watch the Clock has songs about relationships—bad ones, collapsing ones—but on "Astronaut, Girl" Strawberry Jacuzzi also look to the stars for inspiration. "I'm fascinated by outer space and love science fiction," Candy says. "Sometimes being on earth can feel really terrible, and wouldn't it be great if we could all just go to another planet and be really far away from all the problems that are here."

Aging is also a recurring theme, and it hangs over the tense "Batman and Princess Leia." "That's a song I wrote about the idea of growing up and realizing that all the dreams and exciting adventures you thought you'd go on when you were a kid—as an adult, it's not so easy to achieve those things," Candy says. "And it's about the sacrifices we make as adults." The tune includes a sample of a 1950s PSA about menstruation, which can also be read as a reflection on adulthood and its demands—but for Candy "watching the clock" means something bigger than that. "My interpretation of it is there's only so much time that we're all given here to do something important—or something that we're gonna be remembered for," she says. "You have no idea how much time is left. So just keep going, do your best, and hopefully make things that you're proud of—and have a good time."


Absolutely Not, Strawberry Jacuzzi, Peach Fuzz, So Pretty
Mon 11/21, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, free, 21+


Swimsuit Addition - KALEIGH CARR
  • Swimsuit Addition
  • Kaleigh Carr

Swimsuit Addition
Killin Time

(Tall Pat)

When Swimsuit Addition headline Tall Pat Records' fourth Cuddlestock mini fest on Friday, the spunky punk group's members will likely have a little more on their minds than simply celebrating the release of their Killin Time EP. "It's a big night for us," says vocalist-­guitarist Jen Dot. "To put out this seven-­inch and just say, 'Hey, we've been playing for a while, and we've been playing a lot, and we are kind of needing a little bit of space from the live element of the band." Though they won't be playing shows for a while, Swimsuit Addition have recorded a new full-length, Dumb Dora, and are figuring out how they want to release it—they already know it'll be accompanied by a graphic novel by Dot and Indiana-based artist Brett Manning.

Dot says Swimsuit Addition feels like a family these days, an identity that's slowly evolved since 2011, when Dot began tinkering on songs with bassist-vocalist Sam Westerling. "We've had a couple different people come and play with us—when [guitarist] Becca [Nisbet] joined, it's just been us as, like, a trio," she says. Swimsuit Addition recorded the A side of Killin Time—the snaggletoothed doo-wop of the title track and the engine-­revving "I Need U"—as a three-piece, with Westerling on bass and drums. By the time Swimsuit Addition moved on to the tracks for the B side, they'd recruited a fourth member, Dot's longtime friend Mike, to play drums. (His last name in the band—not his real one—is Signal.)

The B side includes "Cartoon," a new version of a song from their 2012 Kitty­hawk EP—an original number titled "Cartoon Paper Cup." It's now cleaner and more exact, and it's acquired a new meaning for the band. "It means looking through your reality," Dot says. "Seeing through that, figuring out what you really want and what you want to make happen, despite any of the illusions set in place."

Those ideas mesh well with the theme of the title track. "We're trying to figure out how to spend our time wisely," Dot says. "Like what we need to put our energy into to accomplish our goals." Though Friday is a record-release show, Swimsuit Addition dropped Killin Time on cassette in August—the seven-inch format means the artwork will have more room to breathe. "The cover is a picture of Becca's grandmother—she's drinking a cocktail in the summer," Dot says. "I feel like that's our character right now." v


Swimsuit Addition, Bleach Party, Clearance, Jollys
Fri 11/18, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, $8, $5 in advance, 21+


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