Review roundup: overlooked gems | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

Review roundup: overlooked gems 

Key Losers do California pop, Purple and Green do Chicago house, Iceage and the Men carry the posthardcore torch, and the girls in Nu Sensae and White Lung get screamy

Key Losers California Lite (P.W. Elverum & Sun, ltd.)

click to enlarge California Lite by Key Losers
  • California Lite by Key Losers

Key Losers bandleader Katy Davidson may be an avowed "Portlander for life," but her time in Los Angeles imprinted her with a new musical genetic code. The band's latest, California Lite, as it's fittingly titled, is all sunshiny languor and lambent licks. An understated tribute to the Canyon rock canon, there are allusions to Joni, but it doesn't sound like Joni, at least not in the way people usually do (think Hejira not Blue). California Lite comes on like pre-jazzbo-era Joni—relaxed in its complexities, not shy about its detours and chops; it's feminine and confident. Davidson creates small, ephemeral hooks that do more to serve the song than your appetite for pop, and they reward a close listen with magnificent minor details. The album opens with "Metal Masks," in which Davidson sings of freeway scenes, getting lost in the Santa Monica sunset, and car wrecks—like a modern Maria Wyeth (from Joan Didion's quintessential L.A. novel Play It as It Lays), who endlessly loops through Los Angeles in her convertible. The difference is that Davidson's "eating messy sandwiches" and "listening to Animal Collective." "Metal Masks" maintains a steady burbling hum; horns pip and then fall into soft lulls, mimicking the rhythm of the road. Davidson's sweetly imperfect voice, unadorned of effects, is of a different time. She often sounds wistful—but refreshingly, the subject matter isn't some old romance. As she's remembering light, landscapes, and driving, driving—always driving—she's singing the language of Los Angeles.

Iceage New Brigade (What's Your Rupture?)

The Men Leave Home (Sacred Bones)

click to enlarge New Brigade by Iceage
  • New Brigade by Iceage
click to enlarge Leave Home by The Men
  • Leave Home by The Men

Nostalgia is creeping closer to the present. Grunge-era 90s rock is sticking around through the summer. And in a further twist of the good-old-bad-old-days knife, we get two new hyped acts cast from molds of the recent past. Both Iceage and the Men have made perfectly good records (the latter more so than the former) that you'll swear you've heard before. The bands remind me of No Age and Fucked Up, respectively, though the Men cadges Fucked Up's formula more than their sound. Both No Age and Fucked Up, it should be noted, have inspired true-believer fan bases, in part because they remind us of what we loved about a previous generation of bands. Iceage and the Men are therefore distilling from good source material, but to expect you to dig on two bands in 2011 who are ripping off bands from the aughts who were riffing off of 90s bands who were borrowing from the righteous side of the 80s is to assume you're interested in doing the time warp again. Danish teen duo Iceage is essentially a youth crew hardcore band, if hardcore had been about goth and feelings and not doing toe-touch jumps in tear-away track pants. The Men's album is considerably more engaging; their rendition of viciously loud early-90s posthardcore noise is so spot-on, I could swear I saw them open for Universal Order at the Fireside. For 90s babies, these are some time-capsule fumes to get high on. For old people whose fondest show-going memories involve Lounge Ax, here's your new favorite band.

Purple and Green "Right Here" 12"

Purple and Green "Human Nature" video

White Rainbow From Now On Let's: The Mixtape

click to enlarge Purple and Green
  • Purple and Green

It would be rude to say I didn't know Adam Forkner had this in him. But, well . . . either I haven't been playing close enough attention, or the Portland producer is emerging from the synth-drone cloud and coming into his funky own. Forkner came of age in the same tiny college scene as Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors), Amanda Warner (MNDR), Katy Davidson (Key Losers), and Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans (YACHT)—and is seemingly the last in the gang to rise. If his new house duo, Purple and Green, cannot extend his career beyond the Portland hipster ghetto, then nothing can. On their debut 12" the track "Right Here" appears with three remixes, but none of them best the original (though the sub-bass ping-pong on the Zac Eno version will loosen your gut trying).

click to enlarge From Now On Let's: The Mixtape by White Rainbow
  • From Now On Let's: The Mixtape by White Rainbow
This little cut of vocal house would kill at a 4 AM jackin' Chicago warehouse party with its thick synth bass, piano breaks, and singer Justin Green promising, "I'll never leave ya lonely." Just as good is their first video, for "Human Nature," a low and dirty grind cut using Prince's Around the World in a Day as its template. The video features Green bringing vogue-ball moves to the parking lot, and Forkner's just-detailed hatchback serves as party P.A. Between this and Forkner's From Now On Let's: The Mixtape, posted last month on White Rainbow's Bandcamp page—a collection of curious club tracks and west-coast 80s funk-influenced stony synth-outs—he's clearly casting for a wider audience, and you'd be foolish not to take the bait.

Nu Sensae/White Lung Clown Life split tour 7" (Deranged/Nominal)

click to enlarge clown-life-split-tour-7_magnum.jpg

Please Lord, hear my prayer of supplication. I ask, oh Lord, do not let this insurgence of female-fronted Canadian hardcore bands end anytime soon. I have been waiting all my life for bands this ferocious—and in particular for the scream that Andrea from Nu Sensae screams. Though if this splendid era must end, thank you for blessing us, the world beyond Vancouver, with this glorious commemoration of these two bands' heroic, three-month, basements-and-dives tour of America. And, Lord, thank you for routing that tour through Chicago next week so that I might have a chance to see with my own eyes two of the most exciting bands in punkdom, even though my ears will ring for a day and a half afterward. Amen. 

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