Indie stalwart Ted Leo returns with The Hanged Man, his first album in seven years | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Indie stalwart Ted Leo returns with The Hanged Man, his first album in seven years 

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click to enlarge Ted Leo

Ted Leo

Mindy Tucker

For much of the aughts Ted Leo & the Pharmacists found themselves in the unusual position of being beloved avatars of the indie-rock scene. The group wasn’t as commercially successful as other acts that emerged from this broad milieu, but their sophisticated, punk-driven, oft-political songs had a scrappiness to them that spoke to the genre’s underdog spirit, and had an unexpected crossover appeal. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists’ bold and refined 2010 album, The Brutalist Bricks, which came out on the indie juggernaut Matador, appeared to be a culmination of their artistic expression and commercial growth over the previous decade. But, financial success appeared to evade them as they played to smaller crowds than in previous years. A European tour in support of the album left Leo in dire financial straits, and as recent detailed in an in-depth Stereogum profile, that was just the beginning a lengthy difficult period in which, among other things, Leo and his wife, Jodi (of severely underappreciated indie-pop duo Secret Stars), lost their daughter to a late-term miscarriage. Leo confronts that loss on his Kickstarter-funded self-released solo album The Hanged Man, an accomplished melange that further colors his power-pop sensibilities and gift for multidimensional songwriting. He’s got the magnetism and force of will to bring together a ragged, sparse ballad (“Lonsdale Avenue”) and a relatively quiet political fable filled out by a string section (“William Weld in the 21st Century”), a frictionless, feisty power-pop tune (“Anthems of None”), and a dreamy pop-rock track that dissolves into a collage of his own overdubbed vocal melodies (“Used to Believe”). What’s more, Leo infuses the album with a sense of intimacy that makes it befit the quiet moments of your day—or, really, any moment.   v


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