These local popsters have been building their buzz as carefully as they craft their songs. Over the past two years they've gigged steadily, playing a monthlong acoustic residency at the Hideout and opening for Big Star, Marshall Crenshaw, and the Old 97's. Tracks from their debut album, which came out this week, have been turning up on college radio and commercial stations' local-airplay shows since February 1999. The Subversive Sounds of Love, on the band's own Hear Diagonally label, was worth the wait: it's a supremely catchy and beautifully realized assortment of tunes that easily ranks among the year's best pop records. The most obvious reference point is Big Star--"To See and Be Seen" aspires to the celestial grace of Chris Bell, and "Pollyanna" is a photocopy of "Way Out West"--but the record's more adventurous second half hints at everything from Yes to the Kinks, from the Bee Gees to the dB's. Singers Liam Davis (formerly of the Moviegoers) and Steve Frisbie (the bandleader in name only) trade lead and backup vocals, coming together in harmonies worthy of the Hollies, and keyboardist Ross Bergseth (also from the Moviegoers) tosses in a wild card by doubling on trumpet. If the quintet has an Achilles' heel it's their live show, where their smooth professionalism becomes more of a hindrance with each passing song; despite their prodigious talent I've never really seen them ignite an audience, largely because drummer Zack Kantor (formerly of Lotus Crown) seems unwilling to break a sweat. But on record they're stunning, and with the Chamber Strings' second album on the way, Chicago may soon rival Halifax in the production of first-rate pure pop. Friday, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160. J.R. Jones
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.