Antietam’s powerful new album essays life’s travails, and seems to find the strength to overcome challenges through the power of its music | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Antietam’s powerful new album essays life’s travails, and seems to find the strength to overcome challenges through the power of its music 

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click to enlarge Antietam


Dawn Sutter Madell

People tend to talk about long-lived rock bands as though it’s surprising or admirable that a group of folks can stick together for so many years. But I think belonging to a band can be the thing that helps you soldier on through the challenges and hurdles of life. The husband-and-wife team of guitarist Tara Key and bassist Tim Harris have been the core of New York band Antietam since they founded it in 1984 (they’d previously played in Louisville’s Babylon Dance Band). The group’s terrific new album, Intimations of Immortality (Motorific Sounds), makes me think that playing together has been a balm for both of them—and maybe even for drummer Josh Madell, who’s been aboard since the early 90s. In the six years since their previous album, Tenth Life (Carrot Top), Key and Harris have suffered the deaths of their mothers and those of various friends and colleagues from Louisville’s punk scene. Last Thanksgiving, a huge fire in a building adjacent to their longtime apartment forced them from their home for months. In an e-mail, Key describes these experiences as “your garden variety adult redefinitions,” and the songs on Intimations of Immortality meditate on them with nonplussed acceptance—or offer escape into simple pleasures. (On the opening track, “Sunshine,” Key sings “Summertime loosening my spine.”) And even when she can’t find respite, she refuses to buckle; on “Jefferson” she sings “You can call the game or set up a straw man to blame” in a calm tone that makes clear she intends to do neither. Key remains a ferocious guitarist, wedding the maximal thrum of Pete Townshend with roaring punk-rock aggression, but this isn’t just a guitar record: unexpectedly lovely vocal harmonies, occasional sparkling horn charts, and wonderfully ragged rock ’n’ roll piano from guest Ira Kaplan help vary the complexion of its 11 songs. (Physical editions come packaged with 11 corresponding collaged paintings by Key.) Antietam play on the first day of the Hideout’s 21st annual Block Party, a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Sputnik launch—every act on this lineup of longtime comrades features a member born in 1957.   v

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