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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

February 2008 Archives

Spin Control: Sons and Daughters

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Sons and Daughters, “This Gift” (Domino) [3.5 STARS]

With their earlier releases “Love the Cup” (2003) and “The Repulsion Box” (2005), it was easy to dismiss the Scottish foursome led by Arab Strap veteran Adele Bethel as a second-tier entry in the New Wave of New Wave movement spearheaded by labelmates such as Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys: Sons and Daughters’ dark, moody folk-punk brought to mind a Celtic version of X, but without the motivating grooves or particularly memorable melodies. “This Gift” amplifies the band’s assets, injects the previously missing ingredients and winds up a beginning to end winner.

Vocally, Bethel cuts loose on songs such as “Gilt Complex” and “The Nest,” evoking Debbie Harry with more range and the hint of a brogue as she romantically references Sylvia Path’s poetry or ’60s cinema while decrying these vapid and superficial times of celebrity obsession and reality TV. Meanwhile, the rhythm section veritably bounces off the walls, barely constraining its nervous energy long enough to stay in time through one three-minute explosion after another. With former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler producing, hooks that were only hinted at in the past are brought to the fore, and when it all builds up to an anthemic chorus such as the “whoo a-ooo” chant of the title track, it’s impossible to resist singing along.

10 new Chicago acts that should be heard from in 2008

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So my editors said, "DeRo, we wanna do something special to launch our new 'local music channel' on the Web site! Something big, something super, something spectacular!! We want you to write about 10 of the next big bands from Chicago!!!"

Of course, I am pretty much trying to do that 365 days a year. But you know how it is: The bosses ask, you try to deliver. Sometimes it's easier than arguing. And everybody loves a good list.

My picks for 10 of the local acts destined to make some big noise in 2008 are here, with handy links to their own individual Web pages so you can sample some of their sounds. If you follow my work in the paper or online, you know that I try to devote one of my Friday "Live" columns every few weeks strictly to reviewing D.I.Y. local releases -- or what we used to call "demos" back in the old C30-C60-C90 days. Now, since we have the aforementioned spiffy new music channel, I'll be writing about one of the best of these local releases each week, posted online and printed in Friday's Weekend section.

As always, I'm happy to listen to any and all local submissions. But I do prefer to get them on shiny disc (I'm no Luddite, my computer's speakers just sound lousy, and MP3s tend to clog up my inbox), so send them along to me care of the Sun-Times at 350 N. Orleans Chicago IL 60654. It's always helpful to include a brief (one-page or less) bio or cover letter -- tell me who you are and why anyone should care! -- but don't worry about including a photo; if you have a good, clear JPEG posted online, just include the address for your Web page.

The first masterpiece of 2008

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Erykah Badu, “New AmErykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War” (Motown) [4 STARS]

After a flurry of critically and commercially popular debuts -- Erykah Badu’s “Baduizm” (1997) and D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” (1995) chief among them -- the so-called “neo-soul” movement of the late ’90s sputtered out all too quickly in the face of the continued dominance of sonically slick, politically bankrupt R&B by the likes of Robert S. Kelly. Fans are still waiting for D’Angelo to release his third album, a follow-up to the dense, dark brilliance of “Voodoo” (2000), and with only one sketchy EP to her credit in the last eight years, it was all too easy to believe that Badu was retiring from music to concentrate on raising her children and practicing the New Age healing techniques of Reiki. Now, with her third proper studio album, Badu has given us the sinister and complex masterpiece we’ve long been expecting from D’Angelo.

Taking a bath with Sia

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If you’re a music fan wary of the overly twee or unbearably cutesy, there are plenty of signs that could warn you away from 32-year-old Australian-born pop singer Sia Furler.

For one thing, the artist -- who simply goes by Sia (pronounced see-ah) -- has been annoyingly ubiquitous in Starbucks: She’s the woman with the bad bowl haircut pretending she’s a five-year-old, drawing on her face with markers on the cover of her third proper album, “Some People Have Real Problems,” recently issued by the coffee chain’s Hear Music label.

What will Diablo do now?

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As my esteemed colleague Bill Zwecker reports today, the much-lauded, Oscar-certified Brook Busey-Hunt of west suburban Lemont -- better known as former stripper/hipster poseur/seamy underbelly tourista turned "Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody -- has plenty of projects on her plate to capitalize on her 15 minutes of fame, including an autobiographical screenplay about her days at Lisle's tony Catholic prep school, Benet Academy. Nearly as funny, however, is the spoof "leaked Diablo Cody screenplay" posted by the humor Web site Something Awful, first brought to my attention by reader Chad Mummert.

What becomes a diva least?

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Janet Jackson, “Discipline” (Island) [1 star]

If there’s anything sadder in popular music than a middle-aged diva refusing to grow up and reinvent herself, clinging instead to the coquettish sex-kitten pose that grew old a decade ago, it’s a middle-aged diva refusing to grow up and only reinventing herself by adding some creepy hints of S&M to the coquettish sex-kitten pose that grew old a decade ago. (See also: Madonna.) As Jackson sings on the gentle ballad that stands as one of the disc’s few good moments: “This can’t b good/This can’t b good.” And she ain’t kidding.

“It has a lot of different meanings for me,” Jackson said of the title of her 10th studio album, which arrives in stores on Tuesday, during an interview with MTV News. “But the most important is my discipline in my work.” Yes, well, work is exactly what “Discipline” sounds like: Long gone is the joy of the newly emancipated that powered the singer’s early albums and which made us forgive her limited voice. In its place is endless, empty-headed, near pornographic silliness that stoops even lower than the equally desperate, post-Nipplegate “20 Y.O.” (2006) and the ridiculous “Damita Jo” (2004).

“I’ve misbehaved, done some things I know I shouldn’t do/I touched myself, even though you told me not to… Daddy, I did something, now I want you to come punish me,” Jackson coos in the title track, an apparent attempt to out-nasty R. Kelly that falls flat both as seduction and as music. Despite the presence of some impressive guests, ranging from Missy Elliott to the great guitarist Ernie Isley, and top-drawer production talent including boyfriend Jermaine Dupri, Ne-Yo and Rodney Jerkins, these 13 tracks are strictly generic, with forced or plodding grooves and instantly forgettable melodies. Even worse, though, is Jackson’s robotic delivery, which sounds just as mechanical as that of “Kioko,” the computer that Jackson chats with during the nine interminable skits or “interludes” that have become a sorry trademark.

Really, someone needs to establish a retirement home for fading pop divas, a place where they could live comfortably on their royalties and avoid public embarrassment until they prove they can pull off a Cher. Among the first tenants: Jackson, Madonna, the Spice Girls and Mariah Carey (not to prejudge her forthcoming “E=MC²,” though I don’t have high hopes).

Personality crisis? Not for David Johansen

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After playing their first gig at a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve, 1971, the New York Dolls made two studio albums: a self-titled debut in 1973 and the prophetically titled “Too Much Too Soon” the following year, by which point they were well on their way to disbanding. But the influence of those sounds has loomed large ever since, echoing in much of the punk, glam and hair metal that followed.

After three decades of resisting the urge to reunite and show the world where Guns N’ Roses went wrong, a new New York Dolls came together around the original group’s only surviving members, singer David Johansen and guitarist Syl Sylvain, once the Ron Wood to the late Johnny Thunders’ twisted-transvestite Keith Richards. This group has been touring ever since it first took the stage in London at the Meltdown Festival in 2004 at the behest of superfan Morrissey -- who, ironically enough, has always scoffed at the notion of reuniting the Smiths -- and it released a new album, “One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This,” in 2006.

I’m no fan of that disc: “A shameless exercise in cash-in nostalgia, this album is full of hollow, ersatz Dolls-like glam-rockers [that] draw on the familiar influences of ’50s rock and Motown, but with guitarist Steve Conte doing a poor job of invoking Thunders’ roar, and Johansen and Sylvain clearly only in it for the money,” I wrote upon its release. Yet there’s no denying that Johansen remains one of the most inspiring vocalists in rock history, and it is, was and always will be a kick to hear him tear through brilliant Dolls classics such as “Personality Crisis,” “Trash” and “Pills.”

We caught up in the midst of a tour that brings the Dolls back to Chicago tomorrow night.

Martin Atkins, underground renaissance man

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An inveterate self-promoter, Martin Atkins is, as usual, talking a mile a minute. But it’s hard to resist being charmed by his rapid-fire banter, because as always, he has plenty of impressive accomplishments to tout.

Here, in this post, in which he actually resorts to barbs about my weight and age (265 and 43, not that it matters in such high-minded discourse) while managing to convince me that he has not actually seen "Juno," or that if he did, he didn't pay any attention to it.

The reason I cited Patti Smith and the Stooges is that Juno cites those two acts in the film as among her very favorites, not because I am holding all modern music up against those touchstones in comparison. But I'll compare my vinyl, CD or MP3 collections with Mr. Williamson's any day, if he wants to talk about who listens to and likes more current sounds. And I will note again the incredible rupture between Juno liking those acts (and Mott the Hoople) on one hand and the Moldy Peaches and Antsy Pants on the other, while hating Sonic Youth and the Melvins in between. That aesthetic is as phony and contrived as Williamson's bluster.

As for the assertion that I don't understand this Interweb thing that Al Gore invented, well, excuse me: The NRO site is just badly designed, and when you read the media blog posts listed one after another, and the email contacts come up for some writers but not for Mr. Williamson, nowhere is it evident that that little button on the top of the page is your one chance to respond to him. Luckily, there are other forums to respond to a specious slur like "feminazi" -- they just happen to be on the Sun-Times' own badly designed forum, instead of the National Review's.

If "feminazi" is not right-wing bravado, I don't know what is. And because Williamson isn't a very good reader, I'll answer the question he poses -- "Why would a feminist hate Juno, a pro-choice movie?" -- one more time, in the simplest language I can muster: "Juno" is not a pro-choice movie. It is an anti-abortion movie masquerading as a pro-choice movie. And one with a lousy soundtrack at that.

May 9 is 84 days away...

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And that is the latest date -- shortly before what will be the six-year anniversary of his indictment for making child pornography -- for the start of the trial of Chicago R&B superstar R. Kelly.

The state's case focuses on one videotape featuring the singer and an allegedly underage girl. But from its first stories on the subject in December 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported that Kelly used his position of fame and influence as a pop superstar to meet numerous girls as young as 15 and have sex with them, according to court records and interviews. Kelly's attorneys maintain his innocence.

Now comes the claim that one of those girls was the daughter of legendary Chicago music retailer George Daniels and longtime Kelly spokeswoman Regina Daniels. Both of them severed ties with the singer several months ago, but they are only now saying why.

Kelly's current spokesman Allan Mayer issued this response:

It’s hard to take seriously the moral outrage expressed by George and Regina Daniels over R. Kelly’s relationship with Mr. Daniels’ adult daughter, Maxine. The fact is that they had no problem with the relationship – indeed, they encouraged it – while Ms. Daniels was on Mr. Kelly’s payroll. It was Regina Daniels, then working as a publicist for Mr. Kelly, who persuaded him to attend her step-daughter’s 21st birthday party. And it was Regina Daniels who shortly thereafter gave her step-daughter Mr. Kelly’s private phone number, with the admonition: “Don’t tell your father.” It was only after Ms. Daniels resigned her position to avoid being fired for incompetence that her step-daughter’s relationship suddenly became an issue for her and her husband.

I swore I wasn't going to belabor this any longer after my posts a couple of weeks ago (1 and 2 and 3 and 4), but the debate is, if anything, picking up steam as we get closer to the Oscars.

A week ago today, the media blog for the National Review Online seized upon what we journalists call "the nut graf" of my original "Juno" essay -- "As an unapologetically old-school feminist, the father of a soon-to-be-teenage daughter, a reporter who regularly talks to actual teens as part of his beat and a plain old moviegoer, I hated, hated, hated this movie" -- and hid behind the rantings of Rush Limbaugh to brand me a "feminazi," which was then defined as "those who seek to maximize the number of abortions performed, period, as though each abortion were good in and of itself."

Back to the Super Furry beginning

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After seven proper albums, a dozen odd side projects and nearly a decade’s worth of touring since England’s New Musical Express named them the Best New Band of 1999, the Super Furry Animals took the occasion of signing to a new label to pause, take a deep breath and reconnect with the sounds of their earliest recordings on last year’s “Hey Venus!”

Lollapalooza promoters seize Soldier Field

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As my colleague Andrew Herrmannn reports in today's paper, when it meets this afternoon, the Chicago Park District board of commissioners is almost certain to rubber-stamp a new five-year, $50-million deal allowing national venue managers SMG and their new partners -- Austin, TX-based concert promoters C3 Presents, the folks who bring Lollapalooza to Grant Park each summer -- to manage the city's biggest stadium, that landmark waterfront behemoth, Soldier Field.

What does this mean to rock fans, and why am I posting about it here?

I'm talking about this interview for the professional Web site, JournalismNow.

I also did this TV thing a couple of days ago, but that's been so well-covered elsewhere that I feel no need to go into here. I will, however, say thanks to the many readers who emailed kind words about that. And, to the handful of other correspondents who took a different tone -- well, thank you, too. It honestly never occurred to me that I might be overweight. Now that it's been pointed out, I'll have to do something about that!

And, hot off the presses...

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The official Grammy story as it will appear in Monday's Sun-Times.

(Now, I'm going to the bar!)

I watch the Grammys (So you don't have to)

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If the 50th annual Grammy Awards telecast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles is anything like previous shows, it may well seem like it's 50 hours long.

Spare yourself the agony: Read on for my minute-by-minute (or thereabouts) account. If anything really interesting happens, you'll be able to catch the replay on You Tube anyway.

From Galaxie 500 to Luna to plain ol' Dean (& Britta)

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Never ostentatious, usually low-key but quite often hypnotizing, the music of guitarist-vocalist Dean Wareham has now been a mainstay of the underground rock scene for two decades.

The 44-year-old New Zealand native started his musical career in the U.S. when he linked up with two Harvard University classmates, Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, to form slo-core pioneers Galaxie 500, which released three unforgettably moody albums before splitting up in 1990. Wareham then proceeded to lead the slightly more up-tempo guitar band Luna throughout the alternative-rock era, issuing seven more official albums before that group went on hiatus about three years ago.

These days, Wareham has pared things down, making music as a duo with his wife and former Luna bandmate, bassist-vocalist Britta Phillips. Dean & Britta released their rewarding second album “Back Numbers” last year, recording with legendary glam-rock producer Tony Visconti in between the new-found pursuit of crafting soundtrack music for films such as Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” (2005).

We spoke by phone from his home in New York before the start of a tour that brings Wareham back to Chicago on Sunday.

What makes someone a Chicago artist?

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In response to my post about the Grammys slighting Chicago's musical giants, a reader who happens to be Herbie Hancock's publicist sent in the following. All due respect to the man who gave us "Rockit," but Hancock has never been widely identified as "a Chicago artist" -- not in the way Smashing Pumpkins or Kayne West or Curtis Mayfield or Muddy Waters has. But I'm certainly open to hearing what readers think.

Lez not Led

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Contrary to what it says in the paper edition of the Sun-Times today, Led Zeppelin is NOT playing at Bonnaroo. Lez Zeppelin, however, is.

My esteemed Sun-Times music editor, whose name shall go unmentioned here (you're welcome, Thomas), is not the only music editor who made this mistake.

How could this have happened? The press release was misleading, to say the least. Keep reading and you'll see what I mean.

More music at Soldier Field: Is this a good idea?

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From the front page of today's Sun-Times:

Ten days a year, the Bears play at Soldier Field. But when the Bears aren't there, the landmark venue is mostly in hibernation.

Now, seeking to boost business at the lakefront stadium, the Chicago Park District is looking to bring in more concerts, festivals and sporting events. Other sports teams are a possibility. So is motorcycle racing.

It's offering a five-year deal to manage and book Soldier Field. And two of the biggest concert promoters in the country are among those interested: Beverly Hills-based Live Nation and C3 Presents, the Austin, Texas, promoter behind Lollapalooza.

What are your thoughts on all this?

I hate to be one of those bloggers...

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Who uses the forum to pass along cheesy jokes gleaned from elsewhere on the Net. But...

This one, submitted by reader Kenneth Brandell (who got it from who knows where), was simply too good not to pass along -- because it is all too true. Wanna know why the music business as we know it is completely disintegrating? (I mean, beside the mode of delivery shifting from CDs to MP3's.) Read on!

ADDENDUM: Loyal reader and good pal D.P. passed this along after reading the following:

that's from Dan Kennedy's book

Indeed it is. Follow the link to Kennedy's site for more information about his tome, Rock On. If the rest of the book is half as funny and insightful as this joke, it's a must-read.

Petty rocks the Super Bowl

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In the four years since Nipplegate, the infamous wardrobe malfunction that guaranteed that MTV will never produce another Super Bowl halftime show, the NFL has played it safe with a procession of classic-rock heroes: Paul McCartney (2005), the Rolling Stones (2006) and Prince (2007).

To this list we can now add Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who outshined them all with a simple but stellar turn at Super Bowl XLII in Arizona Sunday night.

Grammy Fun Part Two

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Some predictions for 2008, and a look at how Chicago's fared at the Grammys in their first half-century.

Grammy Fun Part One

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A little bit of history as we prepare for the 50th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2008 is the previous archive.

March 2008 is the next archive.

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