74 Minutes or Less #4: The Best Chicago Music You've Never Heard

welcome to the fourth installment of 74 Minutes or Less.

74 Minutes or Less is the weekly supergig playlist. the concept is simple: i pick a theme, i choose at most 74 minutes of music that fits the theme, and i discuss it here. if you, or i, or anyone else thinks the playlist is so awesome that it deserves to be compiled and burned to CD for posterity, it won't be a problem--because it's no longer than 74 minutes.

this week's theme is the best Chicago music you've never heard. some of these bands are still together, some of these bands have broken up, and some of these bands are somewhere in between--they have the same name as before, and one or two of the same members, but the music is so different nowadays that they're hardly recognizable as their former selves.

over my five years living in Chicago, i racked up a lot of music by just picking up demos at the many, many local shows i attended. most of it was unremarkable. some of it was really, really bad. but, there were the occasional songs that were good enough to make me take notice. they were good enough to get me to start following the band, and good enough to stay on my regular playlist even though the band may be long gone.

to get on this list, i had to have first heard the song on a demo, an independently produced and locally released album, or at a concert in the Chicago area. [obviously, the band also needs to be from the Chicago area.] if there is a link from the song title, then the song is still available online for free download on their band page or MySpace...so check it out there. most of the other songs were distributed freely to me on demos--so if one of the descriptions intrigues you, leave me a comment or an email, and i'll share the love.

so, here it goes--74 Minutes or Less of the best Chicago music you've never heard, in alphabetical order by band.1

  • "Maybe" by A.D.D. (3:27)
    • i don't like a lot of female-fronted rock. i like the sound of a man's voice screaming and growling a lot better than i like the sound of most women trying to do it. i say "most women," because Margie from A.D.D. is a refreshing exception to the general precept. the song is snarky, angry, and powerful. i wish i could have a karaoke track of this song, though...not that i could do it well [my own voice is far more suited to art songs than to heavy metal], but i have spent so many years singing along to this song that i'd love to try it in public at least once.
  • "Hole In His Head" by The Burbanks (2:09)
    • this is the only song a band has ever played for me in a concert...the singer knew it was my favourite, so at a show at Hogs Head McDunna's back in the spring of 2004, he dedicated it to me. i don't know what this says about me, since it's not a happy song lyricall. but, never have i heard a more fun, exciting, and energetic song about a guy shooting himself. i don't know what happened to The Burbanks, though...their bad website is still up, but they haven't played shows in years. that's a shame, because they were so good at simple, straightforward, and fun punk rock songs.
  • "Urban Tragedy" by Charleston Dueling Society (5:09)
    • this song is a sad story, almost gratuitously so...it's about a guy who wants to propose to his girlfriend on new year's eve, and finds out a week later that she died in a drunk driving accident. in fact, the only dead lover song that i can think of that's more gratuitous than this one is "Tell Laura I Love Her" by Ray Peterson. i don't care...i'm a sucker for that stuff sometimes.
  • "It's A Stick-Up" by Dead Man Holiday (4:24)
    • in a moment this band appeared, and in a moment they were gone. they rose from the ashes of Red River, played two or three shows, and disappeared. luckily, i caught one of those shows, a show at The Metro on August 15, 2003...with Escape From Earth, Empyrean, and Inept. they were full of energy, and one of their songs really made an impression on me. i didn't know what it was called, but it was that song that made the crowd jump around and start yelling about a stick up. i managed to grab a demo on the way out, greedily opened it, and looked for a track listing. sure enough, track #4 on the four-song demo was "It's A Stick-Up." success. Dead Man Holiday did re-form about a year after those first few shows, but the lineup was almost completely different, as was the music, and they got very angry on the message boards if any of the fans brought up old Dead Man Holiday songs like this one. it's a shame, because so few songs have ever gotten my adrenaline running like "It's A Stick-Up."
  • "Bad Human" by Disonic (3:56)
    • this song has one of my favourite quotes of all time: "how can i explain the feelings and the thoughts within...when every word deserves another." it's how i feel most of the time...i can't express anything without rambling on and on. [hence, the extremely long entries here!] the song always gets me in a self-reflective mood.
  • "Blister" by Ditchwater (3:08)
    • this song makes me want to push people and throw things. there's screaming, growling, and heavy guitar riffs. it gets my adrenaline flying. the lyrics are just as straightforward as the song...someone's making fun of him behind his back, and he wants to beat the offender up. Ditchwater was never good at being subtle; that was always part of their charm. what they were good at was making me want to scream and mosh. and, sometimes...that's really all you need.
  • "Bottled" by Dysception (4:38)
    • the entire Three-Thirteen EP by Dysception was gold: it had this song on it, as well as "Inside My Cage" and "Pity." lyric writing was never their strong point; the lyrics are as trite as the song titles make you think they would be. but, no matter. if i'm having a bad day because i'm stressed out with or pissed off at someone, screaming along to Dysception's songs is such a tension reliever. as a side note...when i saw them in concert, Tim always had the best shirts. during the concerts, he would wear a shirt that said "will drum for food." after the show, when it was time to go out drinking, he would wear a different shirt: "will drum for beer." i loved those shirts, and would have bought one if they had sold clones at the merch booth.2
  • "Beautiful" by Escape From Earth (4:14)
    • i never understood why Escape from Earth never made it big outside Chicago. they're on hiatus now, but circa 2003 or 2004 they were one of the biggest bands on the local scene. they played a ton of shows...and regularly played The Metro, the holy grail of concert venues for local rock acts. their music was so radio-friendly that i sometimes feel a little bad for liking them as much as i do...i still have that lingering teenage discomfort with the idea of laying back and enjoying a well-crafted pop song for what it is. in short, Escape from Earth wrote a lot of well-crafted, fun, interesting pop songs. the best of them were their two ballads: "Beautiful" and "Without." i always liked "Beautiful" a little better; whereas "Without" is mourning the loss of a lover, "Beautiful" turns inward and considers the tensions brought about by the fickle monster, self-esteem.
  • "These Days" by Inept (3:31)
    • i have seen Inept more times than any other band...sixteen times, to be exact. and, they only played this song two or three times out of those sixteen. that always frustrated me...because not only does it have an interesting melody, but the lyrics eschew the traditional emo-rock themes of most of their songs in favour of being an extremely thoughtful protest song against the Iraq War. at least this one was recorded, though. my other favourite song of theirs, a tearjerking acoustic number called "Didn't Know You Well Enough", never was...and i only heard it once, at an acoustic show they played at The Fat Bean coffeehouse in Naperville.
  • "Nerve Gas" by Kill Hannah (3:44)
    • i know...Kill Hannah is a little out of place here. this is supposed to be the best Chicago music you've never heard, and you've probably heard Kill Hannah before. but, you've probably not heard this song or anything else off of American Jet Set...and i first heard Kill Hannah back in 2001, when someone in my dorm told me i needed to hear them, and brought me out to the Metro to see them play with Caviar and Ashtar Command. most of the album is very good, and i had trouble picking one song to put on this playlist. it was down to this one and "Get Famous"...and i've been more into this one these last few months. i still can't figure out what the lyrics mean [although i do see that they evoke an inscrutable post-apocalyptic fantasy world], but the song is Kill Hannah at their gloom-pop best.
  • "Schizome" by No Fate (4:49)
    • local Chicago bands wrote some very good songs about being insane in an evil way--this is the first of two on this list. this song is about being aware of the fact that you're the evil kind of crazy, and portrays that inner fight between honestly acting on it and tactfully hiding it. the band was all high school aged when they wrote the song, which makes it even more impressive because they don't sound nearly so young. the guitar solo at the end is a little overdone, but other than that, the song is very well put together.
  • "Cook County Sheriff" by Ratbag Hero (2:29)
    • it takes a special kind of band to write a tongue-in-cheek song about drunk driving. it takes a special kind of band to write a song from the perspective of the drunk driver who died as a result of his own folly...and then have the gall to blame the cop who didn't ticket him for drunk driving and therefore prevent the death. it takes a special kind of band...and Ratbag Hero was a special kind of band. all their songs were about things like booze, girls, partying, and the south side of Chicago...and the songs evinced the same mood as hanging out with them offstage. they weren't serious, but that was the beauty of it. they kept it real more than any other band i ever knew.
  • "Koo?" by Red River (4:47)
    • if "Schizome" was the contemplative song about being crazy, "Koo?" is the song about embracing the insanity. Red River was Chicago's horror-metal band in the late nineties and early oughts. they took the stage dressed in bizarre costumes, complete with fake blood, fake chainsaws, and mannequins that had seen better days. this song fits that picture perfectly...it's about blaming everyone else for your being crazy, resigning yourself to it, and going on a murder spree. there's nothing happy about this song except for the way the groove makes you feel. this is one of those songs that makes you feel a little bit bad for liking it so much, but it's so catchy and fun despite its macabre subject matter that you'll go back to it again and again and again.
  • "The World Is Ours" by Reforma (3:37)
    • you may recognize the name Reforma from the reference i made during my discussion of the Madina Lake concert; Dan and Mateo from Madina Lake used to be in Reforma. it seems as though all references to this band have disappeared from the internet save the occasional Madina Lake fan desperately begging message boards for any of their music. it's too bad, because they were so good--better than Madina Lake, even. rock, dance-pop, hardcore...they mixed it up with panache, and made the crowds go wile. this song came in two versions: the recorded version titled "The World Is Ours", and the live version which they called "Sorry." i wish they had recorded "Sorry"; the lyrics are almost the same, but the singing features a lot less melody and a lot more yelling. i could never decide which version i liked better; it depended on my mood. but, either way, it was my favourite Reforma song.
  • "The Nurse With Amnesia" by Shades of Fiction (3:12)
    • Shades of Fiction just broke up about two weeks ago...and that makes me sad. they didn't say why; they just put up a one-sentence MySpace bulletin saying they were done, and left it at that. they put on such passionate shows. the lead singer, Picasso, was always stellar...and it always made me so sad that i missed his band before Shades of Fiction, Crash Poet. they played Chicago a lot, but i just never got the chance to see them. at least i saw Shades of Fiction two or three times during their lifespan. and...this song was the best of their work. Picasso's voice just soars throughout; no other word suffices to describe it.
  • "Simple Song" by Shooting Blanks! (3:38)
    • Shooting Blanks is so much fun. they call their music "drunkPunk," and this song is exactly that. it's a fun little ditty about being drunk at a party, seeing a cute girl...and being too shy to do anything about it, and resigned to being happily oblivious in a few minutes after passing out. they broke up back in early 2007, but reunited for a fantastic show at The Mutiny back in november of last year. hopefully they'll at least sporadically reunite for shows, because the Chicago scene just isn't as goofy without them.
  • "Sorry Illinois" by Shot Baker (2:40)
    • this song is a cover; Francesco Ostello performed the original. the original is a slow, lilting piece of acoustic folk. Ostello presented the idea...but Shot Baker made it awesome. they took the song and morphed the melody into a loud, fast punk rock song. the songs evoke two different moods about leaving...the original makes you feel like the speaker is just rambling on, but Shot Baker's cover makes it feel like the speaker is frustrated, restless, and needs to leave to maintain his sanity. as someone who finds it almost too easy to feel trapped or frustrated, i find Shot Baker's mood far more relatable. even if you are a little more easygoing, Shot Baker is worth listening to if you appreciate raw punk rock.
  • "Fallen" by Synikal (4:01)
    • it is strange that this band has dropped off the face of the earth...four years ago, they were everywhere. they were never one of my favourite bands in Chicago, but they played with everyone i liked, so i ended up having to watch them perform a lot. they were also one of the few bands on the scene who had a promoter...this guy Dmitri who was always talking them up, passing out flyers, posting about them on internet fora, and otherwise getting the word out about them. sometimes i wonder if that guy had any other job than promoting Synikal. as boring as most of their music was, they had two songs that were fantastic: this one, and "Someday." "Fallen" is remarkable because of its total disconnect between music and lyrics: the music is upbeat and exciting, whereas the lyrics discuss growing apart from someone. it works, though...the excitement feels like a desperate attempt to push past the frustration.
  • "Stars Don't Shine" by Three Words To Live By (3:20)
    • i know nothing about this band. i never did know anything. i never saw them, although according to Metro History they played the Metro once, almost exactly four years ago. that's all i can dig up about them now. i picked up their demo CD from somebody on my way out of another show at the Metro one day, and then lost the CD in the shuffle. i listened to it a few times later in 2004 or early in 2005, and then forgot about it again. i just rediscovered this song last week when it came up in shuffle play on iTunes, and i wonder how i let it slip under the radar for so long. it's a lot more low-key than most songs i listen to; it's not loud, fast, or hard. but, it's a great song for a sad day, or even just a pensive day. it broods about a missed opportunity, a mistimed attraction...and does it honestly, without being overblown.
total time: 70:53.

that was 74 Minutes or Less #4: The Best Chicago Music You've Never Heard. if you've got a thematic idea for a future playlist, comment or email me at superherogirl@gmail.com.

1 and...if you have heard any of these tracks before you read this, please tell me. i apologize in advance for disappointing you by promising music you've never heard. however, i also congratulate you for having discovered one of these hidden gems.
2 ...despite the fact that i can't drum for food, beer, or anything else. when i was singing in a band in college, the drummer in my band tried to teach me a very simple drumbeat. i failed miserably at it when i started trying with both hands--and let's not even talk about when i tried to use my feet as well.

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