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Demo2DeRo: The Vindits

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Though the Chicago quartet the Vindits earnestly admire a diverse group of indie-rockers known for their lo-fi recordings--from the Minutemen to Sebadoh to the White Stripes--there is nothing slapdash about the sound or the songwriting on the four songs from the group's new EP, "Shots," which shows a sophisticated use of dynamics, an evocative eye for telling lyrical details and a bounty of hooks.

Guitarists-vocalists Kyle Peterson and Matthew Lane, bassist-vocalist Paul Meister and drummer Janis Sayer came together in 2007 and have two earlier EPs to their credit, in addition to a well-articulated sonic goal: "Loud like a car crash, or soft like a dimly-lit barroom make-out while 'Crimson & Clover' plays on the jukebox." That's a promise that songs such as "Waiting" and "Another Way" fulfill--sample them at or the band is sure to play them when it celebrates its new release at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, on April 22.

Demo2DeRo: The Maybenauts

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Little more than a year old--they played their first show in January 2009--the Maybenauts have the sort of imaginative arrangements (glam-rock to psychedelic pop), sophisticated melodies (three-part vocal harmonies a specialty) and cohesive vision (think of a '60s go-go bacchanal in outer space) lacking in many power-pop groups that have been slogging it out for a decade or more.

Lead vocalist and keyboardist Leilani Frey and bassist and backing vocalist Ellie Maybe are old friends who've been harmonizing and writing songs together for years. Guitarist Vee Sonnets came into the fold while Maybe was recording a solo record, "Meet Ellie," and the Maybenauts were completed by drummer Emily Agustin. The quartet already has won some impressive fans--Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's produced its debut single, "My Head Is A Bomb," released digitally--and the band is issuing its first full album on March 21. Meanwhile, you can listen to its alternately grungy and giggly tunes online at, or see the band onstage at Cigars & Stripes, 6715 W. Ogden in Berwyn, on Friday, March 26, and at the Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison, on Thursday, April 8.

Demo2DeRo: The Ragtones

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As bands' boasts of an unlikely combination of influences go, I haven't heard a wilder one than the way guitarist-vocalist Chris Oakes described the Ragtones: as a combination of Tom Waits, the White Stripes and Nine Inch Nails. (Forget about "one of these things is not like the others"; none of them are!) Yet if the Chicago trio doesn't quite pull off that unholy marriage, it's easy to see what he was getting at: The band boasts a timeless, amorphous rootsiness at the same time that it feels thoroughly modern and sometimes downright alien.

Initially formed to provide the backdrop for a fashion show, the response to that one-off live show was so encouraging that the group decided to keep going, and it's been playing out regularly since early last year. The Ragtones--which are completed by keyboardist Jeremy Tromburg and drummer Mike Mazzola--are about to release a 10-song album aptly entitled "The Ragtones Time Travel Extravaganza." A generous sampling of their songs is streaming online at, and the band will perform at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, on Monday, March 22.

Demo2DeRo: Urbanites

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Stream the band's music here.


Photo by Jeff Kalch.

While NBC 5 weather princess Ginger Zee is unlikely to be eclipsed any time soon as the hottest Valparaiso-to-Chicago export, her Indiana neighbors in the art-rock quartet Urbanites are on their way to generating nearly as much excitement, at least in the indie-rock world.

Songwriters, multi-instrumentalists and long-time buddies Bradley Briggs, Steven Burkholder, DJ Field and Jeremy Schering started making music together in 2007 by swapping computer files of bits and pieces of songs in progress. Eventually, a debut EP, "A Ghost in the Electric City," took shape, and the four began rehearsing in the real (as opposed to digital) world.

Since then, the buzz has built thanks to shows at Metro, Double Door and Schubas. Now comes a second, much more focused and impressive EP, "The Years," which the group proudly notes was recorded live to analog tape at Chicago's Electrical Audio Studios, and which splits the difference between the glossy, arena-rattling grandeur of mainstream modern rockers such as MGMT or the Killers and much more methodical, introspective local post-rockers and indie-pop mavens like the Sea and Cake.

The group doesn't have any Chicago gigs listed on its Web site at the moment, but it is streaming six songs from "The Years," as well as providing a link to a free download.

Demo2DeRo: Anxiety High

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Though bands such as Big Black, Naked Raygun, Pegboy and the Effigies all pursued radically distinctive paths during the indie heyday of the mid-'80s, to the extent that there ever was a "Chicago punk sound," its common denominators were relentless rhythms, churning, in-your-face guitars and a ferocity that always was leavened by a hefty heap of sing-along melodies. This formula never grows old or seems derivative in the right hands, and after likeminded locals Shot Baker, Anxiety High is its most promising purveyor on the current scene.

Though the quintet only came together in 2008, its members bear the pedigrees of several familiar groups: Guitarists Knife Jones and "Fish" Vogel were members of White City Black, and drummer Ken Wallin and bassist Aaron Cleall were the rhythm section of Land of the El Caminos (recently reactivated after a long hiatus). Looming largest of all, however, is Jim Nagrant, abandoning the drums he hammered with Phistine Verona to distinguish himself as the burliest, most unlikely but ultimately most endearing front man this side of Pegboy's Larry Damore.

The group's buzz has been building since a head-turning appearance at last year's Riot Fest, and songs such as "Sober," "The Mechanic" and "Fight" illustrate why as they roar via streaming audio from the band's Web site ( But Anxiety High is best appreciated live, and after a bout of touring in the South (smart move, leaving winter behind), it next takes the stage at home on March 4 at the Rockbox, 2624 N. Lincoln.

Demo2DeRo: The Stretch

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Though this reviewer will always be dubious of any group embracing the "jam band" label and citing Phish first and foremost among its influences, he's just as quick to hail a band that can master the serpentine but nonetheless propulsive grooves of the best progressive rock or the otherworldly vibes of psychedelic greats, and there is as much Yes and Pink Floyd in the mix for the Stretch as there was in the earliest days of Trey Anastasio & Co., circa, say, "Lawn Boy" (1990).

Chicagoans Mike Rizman (guitar and vocals), Kevin Greene (keyboards and vocals), Dugan O'Keene (bass and vocals) and Brett Baxter (drums) have been making music together--and threatening to make the leap from the legions of bubbling-under jamsters to the national notoriety of an Umphrey's McGee--for several years now. They first surfaced and made their recorded debut under the god-awful name of Uncle Boogie Pants, but wisely changed it to their current moniker for recent gigs and copies of their strong D.I.Y. album, "Volume & Verse."

Rizman's interstellar-overdrive guitar and Greene's washes of ambient keyboards are the most interesting sonic hallmarks of the band on album, and if the rhythm section doesn't lose the plot or the pulse, the band could be spectacular onstage. It doesn't have any gigs listed at the moment on its Web site ( or MySpace page ( at the moment, but check back, and be sure to stream the tracks "Frequent Naps" and "Head the Space" when you do.

Demo2DeRo: Osvaldo Paese

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A prolific home-studio musician in the tradition of the Magnetic Fields--he claims to have written and recorded 300 songs to date--Osvaldo Paese is an earnest young singer and songwriter with seemingly boundless ambition and a wildly diverse set of influences. Though he's clearly enamored of the Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young schools, he describes his musical goal as evoking "Leonardo the Ninja Turtle singing the songs Britney Spears will be writing in the year 2169."

Nothing I've heard on his new seven-song demo, D.I.Y. album "Definitions" or the online jukebox on his MySpace page ( is quite that far out. But my favorites in his catalog--"We Dot Com," "Whatever You Want Done" or "If You Had Nothing"--do sport a fascinating Beck-like love of psychedelic surrealism colliding with sudden clear-eyed social observations. "If you had nothing would you start living instead?" he asks amid the otherwise cheeky wordplay in the latter tune.

A versatile multi-instrumentalist particularly adept at Jimi Hendrix-meets-Syd Barrett electric guitar freak-outs, Paese performs solo acoustic at open-mike nights around town. Though he doesn't have any dates listed at the moment, he does offer a bounty of homemade videos on his YouTube channel (, which means you can see him perform without even leaving the couch.

Demo2DeRo: Model N

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"If the Velvet Underground and Uncle Tupelo joined forces in a Chicago garage band, you'd get close to the sound of Model N," guitarist Travis Rejman wrote in his pitch to this column. That's a big boast, but on its first full-length album, the recently released "Correspondence Battleship," the quartet comes close to fulfilling that kind of promise with a dynamic, emotional, sophisticated and multi-layered sound.

There's a bit of old-school Chicago nepotism in this band--Travis' brother Rob is on acoustic bass and his wife Gia Biagi is on vocals and guitar--and those family ties may account for the impressive maturity and focused cohesion of such an otherwise young and under-the-radar combo (it's only been playing with drummer Michael DiMaria since 2007, with one earlier EP to its credit). Simply put, it's as impressive a musical introduction as I've ever received from any bubbling-under Chicago band, and if the group is half as impressive onstage as it is in the studio, it deserves to rise to the top of the local scene.

Model N's debut album is streaming on its Web site at, and the band performs at the Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln, on Thursday [Feb. 4] and at Subterranean, 2011 W. North, on Sunday, Feb. 21.

Demo2DeRo: Killing Revolutions

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Killing Revolutions.jpg

Killing Revolutions make a couples of mistakes common to all too many young bands: The quintet includes only the most cryptic or clichéd biographical information on its Web sites (band members: "Dave, vocals; Mike, drums; Ryan, bass; Jonah and Miguel, guitars;" interests: "beer, women, writing music"), and it telegraphs its major influence in its moniker. (That would be political hard-rockers Rage Against the Machine, of course.)

Still, the band is worthy of some attention for the relatively unique gambit of mixing its familiar brand of rage with hints of U2's stadium-rock grandeur, as well as the fact that the six tunes on its new EP "Songs for Strangers" boast an impressive control of dynamics and some sophisticated arrangements made all the more impressive for the fact that they seemingly were recorded live.

The music is streaming online at, and the band performs at the Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake St., at 8 p.m. on Feb. 11.

Demo2DeRo: The Kickback

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Sibling-led bands have a special kind of intensity, as proven countless times throughout rock history, from the brothers to Davies in the Kinks to those battling Gallaghers in Oasis.

If your only exposure to the Kickback is via its recordings, including a dynamic, well-recorded, exquisitely arranged and very dramatic new disc called the "Great Self Love" EP currently streaming on its Myspace page, you might think that guitarist-vocalist Billy Yost and his drummer brother Danny have escaped the usual sibling drama. But since the group, which is completed by guitarist Tyler Zee and bassist Zachariah Verdoorn, immigrated here from South Dakota last summer, the stories have begun to spread about its explosive live performances, with the members cheerfully owning up to the occasional broken chairs and bloody knuckles.

You can sample the Kickback's aggressive but melodic and sometimes glammy roots-rock at Or you can see if the band lives up to its feisty reputation onstage when it performs at the Bottom Lounge, 1375 W Lake St., on Friday, Jan. 22.

Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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