Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Hot Chicago: 10 local bands on the rise

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Chicago is always a hot music town. There may no longer be an easily identifiable Chicago sound, but here's to that. Who wants to hear the same kind of music blaring out of every barroom doorway?

Here are some rising local acts worth checking out -- five (plus five more) working bands poised to not only grab the brass ring in the next few months but maybe even cash it in. These bands are making great new music and minting fans. You should become one of them.


If you must, you can refer to this hip-hop trio by its politically correct abbreviation, BBU. Voted best new music group in a citywide poll this summer, Bin Laden Blowin Up actually traffics in an older style of rap and dance music. Illekt, Epic and Jasson Perez came together in Humboldt Park and describe themselves as "a product of the '80s: survivors of the inequitable public policies of the reactionary Reagan era." In "Chi Don't Dance," a local hit last summer, they assert: "Chi don't dance no more / All we do is juke!" It's definitely not a complaint. They also throw the beats in "Juke This City," "Jukin on Landmines," "This Is Chi-Town" and other tracks joyously celebrating the South Side's famous form of footwork. But the rap is usually intelligent, too, tackling subjects from war to famine, even name-checking literature like Love in the Time of Cholera.

"Fear of a Clear Channel Planet," BBU's debut mixtape, was released in March to widespread online acclaim. (Download it for free at They're working on a follow-up now, including collaborations with Das Racist, Mic Terror and Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids. Catch them live at 7:30 Tuesday on a bill at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont ($12,

"Chi Don't Dance"


How to Dress Well began mysteriously, a blog that popped up a year ago and began posting music that was, at first blush, simply ambient and airy but eventually became spectral and haunting -- layer upon layer of reverbed falsetto, sampled environment noises and film dialogue, strange ghostly noises and the slightest hint of ... a groove. The music maker clearly loves '80s and '90s R&B, and it's as if he sits down to a keyboard to try and remember a song from that slice of the genre but all he captures is a kind of ethereal memory of a tune or two, messages from the ghosts of New Jack Swing past. (The UK press has dubbed this new style trend as "witch house.") Behind it all is Tom Krell, a philosophy student who's ping-ponged between Brooklyn and Cologne, Germany, finally settling here in Chicago.

Krell's music -- most of it like ethereal memories of '80s and '90s R&B -- has attracted a following quickly, enough to secure a New York Times review of his first American performance in mid-August. A debut album, "Love Remains," rounded up the blog tracks and scored high at Pitchfork. His latest blog offering is a sad, solo-piano reading of R. Kelly's "I Wish," showcasing Krell's own solid pipes, more Maroon 5 than Ben Folds.

"Ready for the World"


Comprised of members from defunct local bands, the music of Like Pioneers simmers with sighs of relief. These are songs that, while not always happy in and of themselves, feel lovingly crafted by players obviously happy to be playing again. A guitar band built from members of the acclaimed Bound Stems, as well as Chin Up Chin Up, the Narrator, Paper Arrows and more, Like Pioneers this summer released an album, "Piecemeal," that rounds out its self-consciously comfortable pop-rock music with soft touches of piano and organ, plus thoughtful arrangements and a tailor's determination to make each track snug and soft as a favorite pair of old jeans. Basic but deeply satisfying pop songs like "English Garden" and "Gift From a Holiday" keep good company with the cup-swinging pump organ of "Teakettles No. 1" and the collapsing carnival of "Crab Candy." The band's CD release show two weeks ago was a smash; more local dates are expected in the coming weeks.

"English Garden"


Girl-guy duos are hot in Chicago these days (see White Mystery, Fair and Kind), but My Gold Mask rises above the classification with its moody, driving guitar-and-drums rock. Guitarist and backing vocalist Jack Armondo works the spectrum, thwacking his bass strings while spider-walking the high ones, while singer and drummer Greta Rochelle throws her throaty wails over her comprehensive kit. The result sounds like Siouxsie working with Jack Black ("I Don't Need the Reason") or Shirley Bassey with Garbage ("Violet Eyes"), but when the Hood Internet applies their requisite remix, mashing up the white-girl rap of My Gold Mask's "Bitches" with Roxy Music's "Love Is the Drug," they become Blondie.

The "A Thousand Voices" EP debuted earlier this year, and another, "A Million Miles (From Where We Were Last)," is due in November digitally and on vinyl. Rochelle and Armondo premiered the new tunes last month at the Phillip Lim store during Fashion's Night Out in New York City (they also did the music for Lim's fall 2010 show). They open for New Pornographers this weekend in Bloomington, Ind., and are back in Chicago for a release show Nov. 13 at Schubas.

"Violet Eyes"


Some bands suffer the sophomore slump. Chicago trio Unicycle Loves You just experienced a sophomore jump. The band debuted in 2008 with a perfectly fine, self-titled power-pop record. The songs were catchy, tuneful and polished to a presentable shine. Since then, exhaustive touring and some lineup changes resulted in the now existing trio (band founder and guitarist Jim Carroll, bassist Nicole Vitale and drummer JT Baker) scratching and scraping out the follow-up, "Mirror, Mirror," which rolled out in September. Much more focused, fun and fuzzed-up, "Mirror, Mirror" reflects a band digging into its pop roots, pulling up curious buried artifacts and having the wisdom not to toss them out. "Mountain Lungs" burns with an arcade fire, the title track twirls with the mild psychedelic touches and eventual edgy guitars of the Primitives, and by "There's a Giant Walking Into My Heart" we've dug into some bizarre but cozy glam-reggae thing. It's an inviting mash-up, all the way through, and should be a splash at New York's CMJ music festival later this month.

The band could also be called Critics Love You, with raves coming in from here to Manhattan. They recently opened for Weezer; next week they join another kiddie tour, playing several dates with "Yo Gabba Gabba Live." They're in DeKalb tonight[10/7] and next booked in Chicago Nov. 13 at Schubas, supporting My Gold Mask.



This Chicago trio's MySpace status says the band is "putting in the hours." That's either a promise that they're working diligently on a debut record, which has been some time in the "any day now" stage, or an explanation for why day jobs and what-have-you have delayed its premiere. In any case, Bailiff is an arresting outfit that lumbers through soundgardens, shaking their foundations with a Zeppelin-ish blues base. When they play, they play loud, sir.

"What I Was"


Who knows if a guy like Daniel Knox can break through anything, but he knocked me out at a recent solo show with his sheepish piano balladry. With a clarion voice somewhere between Caruso and Leon Redbone, this big, humble Muppet frequently haunts the Hungry Brain on West Belmont, plunking out beautiful, heartfelt tunes that evoke the classic, near-traditional songwriting of Paul Williams or Randy Newman. He'll play with his band on a bill Oct. 11 at Schubas.

"What Have They Done to You Now"


Get into the mindset of Halloween with Salem, a band that splits time between Chicago and, of course, Traverse City, Mich. At the slow, cruising pace of a Southern rapper, Salem's music haunts the border between noise and sound, burying vocals so deep in the sonic ectoplasm you'll need the Ghostbusters to trap them. "King Night," a wonderfully dark CD, just came out Sept. 28, winning praise from NME to Rolling Stone. They tour Britain next month.

"King Night"


At a recent show at Lincoln Hall, David Singer and his band Sweet Science barreled through an exciting set of the kind of songs you don't find much anymore. Well-thought lyrics tell arcing narratives, arrangements build and change and grow, and most of the songs don't end the same way they start. He's about one flute and a few wizard hats shy of being prog-rock, but for now we'll relish his Elvis Costello and Ray Davies ambition. His just-released "Arrows" is a cynical blast.

"Command Overhead"


M.I.A.'s video for "Born Free," which depicts storm troopers rounding up redheads and using them for target practice, didn't sit so well with this carrot-topped couple, brother and sister Francis and Alex White. So a few weeks ago they filmed their own, for the song "Power Glove," to treat red-maned folk more humanely. While we wait for that, we can enjoy the powerful bash of their guitar-and-drums cacophony from their self-titled debut released this summer, and at live shows like their slot on a bill Oct. 22 at the Empty Bottle.

"Take a Walk"

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We remember Bailiff from a house party a while back and also Wicker Park Fest. They were really good - like bluesy indie rock. King Sparrow is another band that seems to be on the rise right now in Chicago too.

Bailiff are indeed great, and I second Pinto and the Bean's comment about King Sparrow. They have a new self-titled album that's just amazing. Check them out.

I would also add local punk band The Reaganomics...

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on October 6, 2010 6:00 AM.

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