By Matt Pais
RedEye Sound Board
April 25, 2012
UPDATE: THE POLLS HAVE CLOSED. CHECK BACK LATER THIS WEEK TO FIND OUT WHO MADE THE FINAL 4!
After 9 years of facing off Chicago bands in our Rock ‘n’ Vote competition, you might think the city would run out of strong candidates.
You would be wrong.
This year we received a record 170 submissions to our contest and chose these 10 bands to fight for your approval. Read about them and listen to tracks from these artists, which say more than any biographical information can. Vote through midnight Sunday for who you want to see live; the top 4 vote-getters play our free show May 16 at Hard Rock Café (headlined by former Rock 'n' Vote finalist Rockie Fresh), with on-site voting at the show determining the ultimate Rock ‘n’ Vote 2012 winner--who earns a spot performing July 15 at Taste of Chicago.
Listen up; this crop is as good as any we’ve ever had.
Home base: Palos Park/Orland Park/Elgin
Need to know: Originating as a solo project for singer-guitarist Dan Durley, the 92s now put full-band spins on the songs Durley--who, yes, was born in 1992—recorded on the excellent EP “Don’t Bury Me.” “They’re folk songs at the heart,” says Durley, 19, who aimed to combine grittier aspects of punk, shoegaze and noise rock with folk-pop. “There’s a juxtaposition between the pretty and the noisy.”
Influences: Manchester Orchestra, Wilco, Say Anything, Mike Golden and Friends
Live show: A “weirder,” more distorted version of the band’s recorded material. “It’s much more full of character than you can capture on an album,” Durley says.
Claim to fame: Maintaining a commitment to charitable organizations, including playing benefit shows for Amnesty International, to raise autism awareness and donating 25 percent of Bandcamp and iTunes sales to the Red Cross
Home base: Logan Square
Need to know: Before forming her band in Kansas (and then moving to Chicago about two years ago), singer/guitarist Hawley Shoffner performed ukulele-centered bedroom pop. Now, however, she has embraced a fuller, more electric approach. “I’ve heard that I look like a very unlikely person to play electric guitar, so usually people are surprised that it’s as loud as it actually is,” says Shoffner, 24. Thanks to her highly expressive voice, “Dirt” achieves something sweet underneath all the raucousness, while “Suzannah” and “Sirs and Madams” take control of your foot and your heart, respectively.
Influences: John Cale, PJ Harvey, Fugazi
Live show: All electric guitar, which delivers something livelier than the band’s self-titled record
Claim to fame: Performing at venues like Lincoln Hall and Subterranean, “’ ’cause I’ve never been able to play legit venues or anything like that,” says Shoffner.
Home base: Pilsen/Lakeview/Logan Square
Need to know: Formed in Dayton, Ohio in 2007, Hospital Garden—which takes its name from a William Carlos Williams poem--came to Chicago in 2009 and made its biggest mark with last year’s blistering full-length “Haunter.” The sound? “Indie noise pop,” a term coined by a Dayton newpaper that singer/guitarist Lucas Hollow, 29, agrees with. “It’s pop-rock, but it tends to get a little louder and noisier than a lot of other bands.”
Influences: Guided by Voices, Wavves, The Ramones
Live show: Hollow’s description is as effectively straightforward as the band’s music: “Loud and energetic. We love playing.”
Claim to fame: Opened for Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices at Dayton Music Festival; positive press for “Haunter” from Loud Loop Press, Razorcake
Home base: Boystown
Backstory: Kaiser, 19, began writing music in high school: “I was just upset about a guy and listening to Fiona Apple.” She soon got into older music, and in September released her self-titled debut EP, which perfectly marries affectionate, retro soul sounds with a voice that doesn’t sound like she’s just starting out. It’s “a ‘60s girl group vibe, but with a little bit of a modern twist,” says Kaiser, who loves the harmonies of the era and how “it sounds really sentimental and beautiful. I just really want to recreate it.” A new EP will drop this summer.
Influences: Fiona Apple, The Ronettes, Shangri-Las, Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield
Live show: Kaiser just rounded up a live band, expecting to front an 8-piece, “old-school” operation with dancing backup singers.
Claim to fame: Kaiser marvels at the blog love (including Do 312) that has come her way since releasing her EP. “I was thinking it might just be I showed this music to my friends, and it didn’t really go any further.” Not with a voice like that.
Home base: Lakeview/Logan Square
Need to know: The band, started by brothers Billy and Danny Yost in South Dakota, came to Chicago in 2009. Its catchy, sophisticated take on melodic rock receives an extra dose of swagger on new track “Scorched Earth (Do-Da),” which will be released on the group’s full-length debut “Sorry All Over the Place” later this year.
Influences: Spoon, The Strokes, David Foster Wallace, “an overwhelming fear of death.” FYI: The title “Sorry All Over the Place” comes from a footnote in a Wallace novel.
Live show: “We’ve recently acquired a certain level of finesse that we didn’t have before,” says bassist Eamonn Donnelly, 25. That kind of thing will happen with experience like …
Claim to fame: Played a March residency at Schubas
Home base: South Loop/Plainfield
Need to know: The rock sextet came together when all of the members’ previous bands broke up. As 19-year-old singer Ryan Alan puts it, “Let’s press the restart button and actually make this happen.” The band formed in September 2011 and released the “In the Wake of Dreaming” EP earlier this year, featuring “aggressive pop-punk with a dance twist to it,” says Alan. Most importantly: It’s extremely catchy, with choruses guaranteed to stick in your head.
Influences: Go Radio, Mayday Parade, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows
Live show: “No one will leave the show without their heart beating fast,” promises Alan of the band’s energy. Vote for them if you want him to prove it.
Claim to fame: Playing a sold-out show at House of Blues with the Action Blast
Goodbye Ilene from Phil Doherty on Vimeo.
The Retar Crew
Home base: Lincoln Square
Need to know: That name might seem offensive, but it’s not. The group came together in 2007 when working a summer roofing job in Kentucky. Their specialty: Re-tarring roofs. The group, who delivers drum-heavy, melodic hip-hop with honest lyricism and a sense of humor, also travels around the world educating kids about hip-hop, which they will do again in the Kidzapalooza section of Lollapalooza in August.
Influences: The Clash, J Dilla, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Frank Zappa
Live show: When’s the last time you saw 4 MC’s rapping and singing while doing Temptations-style dance moves, with a horn section? “We’re kind of like an adult boy band,” says Jax, 30. “A really dirty, self-deprecating boy band.”
Claim to fame: “Blackhawks Song (We Love the Hawks?),” a riff on the bandwagon that flocked to the team in 2010 that has nearly half a million views on YouTube.
Santiago x The Natural
Home base: Streeterville
Need to know: South Side native rapper The Natural (real name: Jeffery Z. Stephens) has collaborated with producer/vocalist (Lawrence) Santiago since 2004 but officially teamed up toward the end of 2011. They combine ‘90s hip-hop love—“for us that was like the golden era of music,” says Stephens, 27—with rock, electro, dancehall and an island feel, informed by the background of Santiago, a Native American who grew up in Guam. He now resides in L.A. but will move to Chicago in August.
Influences: Sublime, 2Pac, Jack White, Born Jamericans, Nas, Gorillaz, Lauryn Hill, Jackson 5, Outkast, Kanye West, Black Thought, Lee Perry
Live show: “We put it all out there when we're up on stage ... we look at it as both an artform of emotional expression and an instantaneous means to connect with people in the most visceral way we know how--beats to move to, sincere lyrics, and melodies to sing-along with," says Santiago, 29.
Claim to fame: The group’s song “Warriors” was chosen as the official theme song for professional lacrosse team the Minnesota Swarm, who will soon fly out Santiago and The Natural to perform at halftime. Individually, The Natural has opened for Akon, the Clipse, Mya and Cake, and Santiago has opened for Wyclef Jean, Lyfe Jennings and Avant, and appeared in Terrence Malick’s “The New World” and the Steven Spielberg-produced miniseries “Into the West.”
Home base: Ukrainian Village/South Loop/St. Charles
Need to know: After forming in late 2009, the band’s self-titled 2010 album quickly earned attention from publications including Nylon, as well as a Pitchfork video premiere. The sextet, whose name was inspired by the Beatles’ song “Tomorrow Never Knows,” will soon release an extended version of their previous “EP3” on vinyl and already has a full-length record, “Peach,” finished and ready to go. It’s neo-psychedelic with a touch of Brit-pop, says lead guitarist Dave Stach, 24. “A lot of the reviews we got, everyone just says Pink Floyd. Which we don’t necessarily agree with, but that’s not a bad thing.”
Influences: The Pretty Things, Jefferson Airplane, Rolling Stones, Stone Roses, Blur, Oasis, The Black Angels, Tame Impala, The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Live show: “Pretty groovy,” says Stach of the show, which includes plenty of late-‘60s-inspired jamming, dancing and psychedelic colors and shapes projected onto the stage.
Claim to fame: Being invited to represent Chicago (along with fellow local rockers Disappers) at the upcoming Austin Psych Fest
Home base: Lincoln Park/Bucktown/Humboldt Park
Need to know: Before the group even had enough band members or songs to play a full set, the guys from rising locals Yawn asked Sister Crystals—previously called Magic City, until the TV show took all their Google results—to open Yawn’s record release show last year at Schubas. “I guess we’ve been tagged as dream-pop and indie rock,” says singer/guitarist Lauren Whitacre, 21, of the group’s “Little Bits” EP. That’s a fitting description of Sister Crystals’ mix of fragile vocals and hazy guitars.
Influences: Best Coast, Grizzly Bear, Beach Boys
Live show: A “detail-oriented” mix of ballads and songs that are “really rocky,” says Whitacre.
Claim to fame: Praise from blogs including I Guess I’m Floating
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