Tag Archive | "Radio Free Chicago"

Tags: , , ,

Two Cents Presents: Borrowed Idols

Posted on 30 June 2011 by Mylynda Guthrie

Borrowed Idols: Why My Generation Hasn’t Replaced Kurt Cobain And Doesn’t Deserve To

-Clay Riedesel

A strange thing happened yesterday. I woke up and proceeded to blare Nirvana’s Nevermind as I went through my morning rituals. After Nevermind ended I listened to In Utero, then I learned “Polly” on guitar. When my hands were too sore to keep playing I got online and read Cobain and Nirvana’s Wikipedia entries while streaming Bleach, then I watched live performances of Nirvana on YouTube. Still not satisfied, I watched the documentary Kurt & Courtney.

Finally, my obsession with Nirvana was washed out of my system. I looked at the clock. It was midnight, and I was tired. I lay in bed, but I couldn’t drift off to sleep. A single thought kept nagging at my mind: Nevermind is the most critically acclaimed album of the past two decades, and at twenty years old it’s officially considered “Classic Rock”. How does it stack up compared to other critically acclaimed “Classic Rock” albums?

Think about it. Rolling Stone named Kurt Cobain the “12th Greatest Guitarist Of All Time”, but can he hold a candle to Hendrix or Jimmy Page? Is Nevermind even in the same league as Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Highway 61 Revisited? As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not trying to imply that today’s music is worse then the music of years past, but how do the greatest albums of my generation compare to the greatest albums of generations past?

I described yesterday’s events as “strange” because I’ve never been a huge fan of Nirvana. Sure, I like them, but I never worshiped them with the devoutness of my peers. I was never in awe of Kurt’s songwriting skills, nor did I find any of Nirvana’s members virtuosic instrumentalists. Nirvana was important to me only because they were important the people I made music with. Virtually every musician I knew growing up went through a “Nirvana phase”. I may not have been Kurt’s biggest fan, but like it or not his influence could be felt everywhere around me. Hell, when I was in high school I only listened to Nevermind and In Utero so I wouldn’t look like a fool for not being familiar with them. After all, I had a reputation as an elitist hipster to uphold.

My musical idols were the poets who just happened to be musicians: Bob Dylan, John Darnielle, and Will Sheff to name a few. Kurt was careless with his words. He make up lyrics minutes before recording a song. He constantly mumbled when he sang, and even when you could understand him rarely did his words make any sense. How could I respect someone who treated what I loved more than anything with such contempt?

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “But Clay, that’s the whole point! Kurt proved that the lyrics didn’t matter. It’s all about the emotion and melody, man”.

While I’ll admit that Nirvana did write some of the catchiest pop songs ever recorded, does “Lithium” manipulate and explore the power of a melody the same way as The Beatles “A Day In The Life”? Does the guitar solo on “Breed” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” captivate and impress you like the guitar solo on Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” or Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker”? Is the passion in Kurt’s voice on “Scentless Apprentice” and “Serve The Servants” more moving then Iggy Pop on “Search and Destroy” or Freddie Mercury during “Bohemian Rhapsody”?

I’m not trying to hate on Nirvana here. I’m just trying to understand what those classic albums like Dark Side of the Moon, Blonde On Blonde, and Revolver have that even the most critically acclaimed modern artists can’t seem to replicate. There isn’t a shadow of doubt in my mind that life in 2011 is better then life forty or fifty years ago. The draft isn’t in place, medicine is better, racism and homophobia don’t have a death grip on society, etc. But it’s hard to deny that something special happened in the world of music between 1965 and 1973. Maybe it’s because the LSD was more potent or the Internet and satellite TV hadn’t brainwashed the creativity out of everyone. Maybe it’s because Rock ‘n Roll was still in it’s adolescence and hadn’t yet matured into the bitter, conservative 30 something exactly like the parents it swore it would never become. Who knows?

What I do know is ever since that fateful day in April ‘94 when Cobain took his own life the world hasn’t had a rock star of his status rise up and replace him. Sure, those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but so were Hendrix’s and Lennon’s.

Where the hell is the rock star to speak the voice of my generation? For my peers that star was Cobain, but we were still learning to potty train and speak full sentences when he was writing music. I was three when Kurt killed himself. The kids who were actually old enough and really had the chance to be inspired by Nirvana, the ones who saw him in the flesh and got hyped for In Utero, those kids are in their mid-30s and 40s now. Those were the kids who were supposed to carry the torch he left behind and inspire us, but instead my generation has been abandoned.

Thanks to the Internet, instead of watching our inspirations in concert we watch them on computer screens, picking and choosing whomever fits us best. Love it or hate it, Grunge was the last music scene to have an impact on our culture. Ever since then we’ve been left with “Alt Rock” and “Indie”.

What the hell does “Indie” even mean now? It used to be shorthand slang for “Independent”. Bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat and Mudhoney started their own labels and starved while touring in shitty vans and slept on strangers floors so they could make their art “Independent” of outside support. Record stores didn’t carry their records. Venues didn’t book them to play, and when they did get gigs they were paid pennies and poorly attended. Extreme sacrifices were made so they could follow their dreams.

You know what my generation does? We record a few songs at home, upload them to bandcamp, YouTube, Facebook, and iTunes, play a few local gigs and call ourselves “artists”. It’s fucking embarrassing. No wonder nobody has stepped up to take Kurt’s place. Cobain was homeless for several years because he followed his heart. Before Dylan became a household name he used to busk on the street and hop trains. Just because you can play an instrument in time with your friends while singing your shitty Livejournal poetry doesn’t mean shit. If you don’t risk your health and sanity to have your voice heard, then you don’t deserve to be listened to.

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , , ,

The King Is Dead: Is Musical Immortality Possible?

Posted on 13 May 2011 by Mylynda Guthrie

-by Clay Riedesel

Elvis Presley, The King of rock ‘n’ roll, is dead. I’m not saying that Elvis fans are extinct. Spend a day in Vegas and you’re bound to run into more Elvis impersonators than hookers. But in this day and age, The King has been glossed over, and I can’t quite figure out why.

According to popular culture music didn’t begin until around 1963. Everybody from my Grandma to high school Freshman will endlessly gush about how The Beatles are the best band ever (usually spouting bullshit the whole time). When I was in high school the majority of the band t-shirts I saw were Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Grateful Dead (the worst were those kids who un-ironically wore Woodstock ‘69 shirts). I can’t tell you how many times I had to resist punching some smug fuck who just discovered his Dad’s old record collection ranting about how rock ‘n’ roll died after 1973, even though they couldn’t grow facial hair yet.

For the unaware, Elvis was sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll incarnate before anyone else. The ultimate rock star, the rebel without a cause, the guy who kick started the teenage angst that fuels the music industry to this day. There’s a deleted scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman asks John Travolta if he’s a Beatles man or an Elvis man because those are the only two kinds of people. If you traveled back in time to 1964 and told a passerby that those upstarts who recorded “I Want To Hold Your Hand” would go on to become bigger than The King they would have laughed in your face.

So why is it that Elvis hasn’t stood the test of time? I’m sure among those dusty, fatherly record collections there had to be an Elvis record or two. Why did Elvis Presley get glossed over in favor of Revolver, Dark Side Of The Moon, Led Zeppelin IV, Exile On Main Street, or Are You Experienced?

More importantly, when my generation grows old and has children and they grow up to thumb through our record collections, which ones will they pick? Will they find Funeral and Is This It as exciting as we did in 2004? Will Tim Kasher be their indie messiah like he was to us? Or will they go straight for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Who’s Next?

While Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Ke$ha may be dominating the Billboard Top 100 now, all us smug indie hipsters laugh and talk about how obscure they’ll be in ten years. How can we be so sure? The King of rock ‘n’ roll is dead. Who’s to say the graduating high school class of 2030 won’t endlessly spout bullshit about The Jonas Brothers musical legacy?

That begs the question, as an artist, should you appeal to the pop sensibilities of the current year so you can earn your place in the history books, or should you toil away in obscurity? Because even if you become the biggest band in the world, everyone will forget you in a decade or two.

If music is supposed to bring humanity closer why does it seem to be yet another thing that divides us? What separates a rapper, a classically trained pianist, and a punk rocker? Race? Social class? Intelligence? Technicality? They’re all just playing variations on the same theme that’s been around forever, right?

Maybe the difference is just something we invented. Maybe it’s because we can’t accept how insignificant we really are. Maybe we haven’t evolved out of our tribal instincts just yet. Maybe we never will. Maybe it’s a good thing that The King has been reduced to Vegas imitators and a featured night on American Idol.

We all want to be the king of the world, the richest, the strongest, the prettiest, the smartest. Doesn’t our fortune cookie remind us that it’s about the journey, not the destination? I think we’re all discovering what Elvis knew in 1973. After you become The King you only have two options: fight to stay on top, or get knocked off your throne.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Album Review: Ben Weaver – “Mirepoix and Smoke”

Posted on 21 December 2010 by Mylynda Guthrie

by Amber Valentine

It’s diffcult to review an album that has already been reviewed perfectly by a friend and colleague only a few weeks earlier. You see, if it weren’t for Abby Holmes, I wouldn’t be saying this. If it weren’t for Abby Holmes being such a talented wordsmith and solid reviewer, I would never have begged her to write for my site, Radio Free Chicago. I would have never come around to the multi-layered pop wonders of John Vanderslice or taken a shine to The Moondoggies. Sure, I introduced Abby to some local favorites of mine like Lightning Love and Chris Bathgate but it’s Abby that undoubtedly wins this round of recommending great music with Ben Weaver. If it weren’t for Abby, I’d be completely unaware of the subdued beauty Weaver has to offer, blissfully ignorant to the lilting melodies and softly sung romanticism Weaver brings forth on Mirepoix And Smoke and for that, I would be that much less content.

From the opening notes of “Grass Doe”, it’s hard not be taken by Ben Weaver’s music. He sounds at times like a more darkly upbeat version of Iron & Wine, a more accessible Bonnie “Prince” Billy, maybe even a hushed, less obviously county take on Justin Townes Earle, with whom Weaver shares a label in Chicago’s Bloodshot Records. Weaver displays his artful ability to weave an unforgettable story immediately in “Grass Doe”, telling the tale of love gone by the wayside in such masterfully poetic lines as “Their legs were twisted up in each other as the rain came down like watermelon seeds” and, later on in the tune, “There’s never gonna be another one like her and now you see her everywhere you go, like a tag under an overpass”. Near everyone’s loved and the vast majority of those people have lost as well. I know I certainly have. And it’s that fact that Weaver capitalizes upon, taking his own heartache, stated so poetically again and again and set to the simple backdrop of a fingerpicked guitar, a slight riff plucked on a banjo. By the time Mirepoix And Smoke closes, on the gentle notes of “The Rooster’s Wife”, you feel as if, to quote Abby Holmes, you’ve just listened to a “button-up flannel set to music”. Despite the fact that I’d never heard Weaver before listening to Mirepoix And Smoke, something about him made me feel immediately at ease, as though I were listening to the recordings of an old friend who’s reappearance in my life filled a very obvious void.


I remember when Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago came out and I remember the subsequent nights I spent with that record. Never was I more at peace with my life than when I was driving alone, sometime around three or four a.m., with nothing but Justin Vernon’s impeccable falsetto harmonies at my side. Musically, Weaver’s Mirepoix And Smoke only has the rudimentary in common with Bon Iver’s release but to me, the records share a vast amount in common in reference to how they make me feel. Mirepoix And Smoke affects me in a way that only comes across a handful of times every few years. It’s the kind of record that lulls you into a false sense of security with it’s lack of obvious hooks but in the restraint that Weaver repeatedly exhibits, there is a seductive element, reminiscent of the first time you catch a glimpse of a beautiful boy from across a crowded room or a dingy bar, knowing with a foresight you probably don’t possess that this is the boy who will one day come to be your greatest triumph in love before he deftly destroys your heart with a grace that prevents you from harboring feelings of bitterness. There’s beauty in that moment, the discovery of great beauty and even greater potential, and even though you know it might break your heart (because doesn’t it always?), you know that it’s worth the risk, if only for the experience.

YouTube Preview Image

Weaver sings songs that makes girls want to be the kind of woman he writes about and makes men want to find the kind of lady Weaver tells you of in such deftly written tracks like “City Girl” and “Grass Doe”. Nearly every track on Mirepoix And Smoke is an ode to a long lost dream girl, be her fiction or reality, and half of the beauty of the album lies in that amorous fact. “East Jefferson” features lyrics so strong that you’ll be hard pressed to not envision Weaver’s heroine sitting on the stoop alone, smoking her last cigarette as Weaver narrates the situation: “Cold wind blew through the swings in the park; by dinner time, it was already dark; the rain had turned to snow, everything whiter than a hundred ghosts at the end of the night.” That cinematic quality is one that Weaver exhibits over and over again, and by the time album stand out “Split Ends” rolls around, chances are you’ll want Weaver’s record narrating your life’s most poignant moments of heartache.


Building on the folk of yesteryear, occasionally bordering on the subdued country of like-minded fellas like Jacob Jones (only more beautifully subdued) and Jonny Corndawg (only much less raunchy), Weaver takes cues from the gentler moments of Bob Dylan and the more callous moments of Simon & Garfunkle, piecing together a veritable quilt of lullabies and longing with nothing but Erica Froman, his female harmonizer, and an acoustic guitar at his side. Weaver makes music for people who have been put through the ringer by love and, despite the fact that they’re left emotionally raw and slightly bruised, they’re still willing to put themselves on the line for the potential of more and there’s beauty in that willfulness. It’s like Weaver sings on “Drag The Hills”, “I’d rather have scars from the life I lived than have none from the one I missed.”

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Album Review: Madjo – “Trapdoor”

Posted on 12 October 2010 by Mylynda Guthrie

While I am an indie kid through and through, spending many nights in the audible company of Okkervil River and The National, I’ve always had a weakness for the music of my people, the Fench. I like being French for innumerable reasons, including but not limited to my love of the country’s seductive yet relâché take on fashion and the French’s laissez faire attitude towards relationships, but the thing I love most about my heritage is chanson. From Jane Birkin and Francoise Hardy to modern day French multitaskers like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Keren Ann, I’ve always been taken with my proverbial motherland and I’ve always wondered why it is exactly that more French music isn’t widely available and beloved in the states.

 Part of that, of course, is the fact that some of the loveliest French releases never even make it to America. One of these such releases is the debut full length album by chanteuse Madjo, a classically trained French-Senegalese violinist. If Trapdoor, her September released album, were brought to the U.S., I feel like Madjo could be the next big quirky indie female… if only people could hear her!

 Madjo is a spritely scamp who’s adorable nature brings to mind, vocally, a mix of Fiona Apple and Imogen Heap and, personality wise, a more three dimensional version of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s enigmatic pal Zoe in The Science of Sleep.

 Trapdooris split almost evenly between perfectly enunciated English indie pop and edgy, quirky tracks in Madjo’s native toungue. Album opener “Leaving My Heart” spins a jazz tinged web that’s not completely out of step with Fiona Apple, back when she was ripe with Jon Brion’s lovely oddities. As with the rest of the album, “Leaving My Heart” is heavy on layered vocals, making Madjo’s husky and melodic voice even more alluring.


 The dance beat of “Another Day” is ripe for play at hipster bars while “Le Coeur Hibou” is audible sex appeal, with enticing vocals that only a French woman could provide and a backdrop of multi-layered, echoing instruments. The album’s title track is a clap-along number that spares no expense when it comes to charm and it just begs to be in a Focus Features off-beat romance, during the inevitable “Why don’t we just fall in love?” moment between the two quirky and neurotic main characters.

 While I am French by birth, I cannot hold my own in a French conversation to save my life. Nevertheless, one of Trapdoor’s most captivating tracks is  “Le Nid Des 100 Soucis.” What’s Madjo saying? I haven’t a clue! But the fact that “Le Nid Des 100 Soucis” a straight up, infectious jam is a testament to Madjo’s talent. Nothing to do with the appeal of the song, or Madjo herself, is lost in translation.

 Amber Valentine is the editor in chief of Radio Free Chicago and you can read her review of Madjo’s first release, a self titled EP, here.

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , ,

Album Review: Ferraby Lionheart – Jack of Hearts

Posted on 27 September 2010 by Mylynda Guthrie

If a film were made of Ferraby Lionheart’s life, I feel as if he’d be played by Gene Kelly. Of course, this would involve Lionheart having been born generations ago, which he wasn’t, but Lionheart has a certain type of old Hollywood charm about him that makes you feel like, were you to encounter the troubadour, he’d probably hold the door open for you and offer you a jacket if you looked cold.

Jack of Hearts, Lionheart’s second full length album, cements his position as a thinking girl’s heartthrob, as it’s rife with lyrics that are heavy on romantic ideals and songs that would perfectly orchestrate a slow dance under the stars.

Vocally, Lionheart bears a strong similarity to producer-composer extraordinaire Jon Brion (who just so happened to help give Lionheart is big break a few years back) but musically, he couldn’t be further from Brion’s multi-layered, modern oddities. Jack of Hearts, despite it’s impeccable production, is a very organic album with a timeless quality. Lionheart shows his roots with pride, bringing forth an album of folk tinged alt-country that hits it’s stride early on and continues to be memorable through out. With Jack of Hearts, Lionheart has produced his most polished and cohesive album to date.

The album is perfectly bookended with “Holding Me Back” and “Minuteman,” both of which perfectly encapsulate what Lionheart is all about. However, it’s third track “Harry and the Bees” that really forces you to pay attention. With it’s twangy guitar and Lionheart’s signature romantic croon, “Harry and the Bees” is the type of song to have your last first kiss to. What can I say? Lionheart makes music for lovers and for people who want to fall in love. Never is that so evident as it is with Jack of Heart’s second to last song, “Drag Me ‘Round”. The song describes imperfect love to a tee with lyrics like “You kick me when I’m down; Who knew that you packed such a punch?” When Lionheart sings “I never want to get over it”, you never want him to get over it either because, quite simply, it sounds too beautiful to let go.

Drag Me ‘Round – Ferraby Lionheart

Of course, as with the rest of the album, Lionheart’s smooth and seductive voice is the true stand out here. Lionheart doesn’t sing. He croons. When was the last time you heard a good crooner? Lionheart’s ability to sing a well-crafted, melodically solid song with perfect pitch is the shining attribute of Jack of Hearts and after the closing notes of album ender “Minuteman,” you can’t help but feel Lionheart is at the only just start of a long and glorious career.

-Amber Valentine

Ed note: check out other worthy writings by the kick-ars Amber Valentine on our fellow site in musical appreciation and spread-ation (it’s a word only here, only now) Radio Free Chicago, where Amber serves and directs as Editor in Chief.

Comments Off

Follow Us On Twitter, Like These Fine Folks!