Fall CD Review Roundup

Just another day at the office: Diving into the local-CD swimming pool
Nick Vlcek

Part of working as a music critic in the land of 10,000 bands means keeping up with the new releases that pour into my inbox and off the edge of my desk in a cascade of jewel cases and handwritten liner notes. The spectacle of all these promising packages is beautiful, really, and sorting through the piles of carefully wrapped, sometimes home-burned CDs makes the search for the best new local music all the more rewarding.

In an effort to clear off my desk and locate my telephone, I made it a goal to listen to every local album I've received in the last month and pick the best to showcase in my column. Here are my three favorites:

Military Special EP
self-released on September 2

If the songs on the Military Special EP sound familiar, it's because we've seen these guys before. Songwriter Joe Schweigert and guitarist Peter Blomgren were previously in Look Down, one of the first bands to be signed to the local Afternoon Records label. Schweigert is taking things in a new direction with Military Special, adding electronic nuances and more adventurous vocals to what was once a fairly straightforward style of indie rock.

The EP clocks in at just over 25 minutes, but in that time the band explores a surprising amount of sonic territory. Opening track "Warrant Error" showcases Schweigert's expressive, yelping voice and recalls other local bands like Hockey Night and Tapes 'n Tapes, while "Phantom Culture" is almost Devo-like in its synth hooks and catchy melody. The album has a few too many instrumental, electronic breakdowns for my taste, but I can see this band appealing to fans of both experimental electronica and danceable rock 'n' roll.

This Will Work for Now
Crush Kill Recordings, released September 19

Chris Keller, who raps under the pseudonym Kristoff Krane, is a young, ambitious force to be reckoned with. In person, he speaks animatedly with an infectious intensity that makes just about anything he says believable; relentlessly positive and grandiose in his demeanor, Keller plays the role of the guy who every person in the room wants to be friends with. Similarly, on his new solo album, This Will Work for Now, Keller raps quickly and expressively over beats that are simultaneously strange and wondrous, pulling the listener in with a unique style of hip hop that sounds more like a caffeinated intellectual philosophizing into his laptop than any typical interpretation of the form.

Keller's storytelling is the main focus of the album, but it's hard to ignore the lineup of familiar friends who fill in the gaps: Michael Larsen, a.k.a. Eyedea, is a frequent contributor on the disc, alongside Crescent Moon, Impulse, Carnage, and Keller's Abzorbr bandmates Casey and Graham O'Brien. Though their contributions are impressive, the guest performers occasionally hijack the spotlight (see "Is It Right?"). The most captivating moments on the album come when Keller is standing alone: "BeMeTooConfused" is a deeply personal letter to a love interest and/or friend who has let him down, while the title track is a purging of the narrator's insecurities.

Ultimately, This Will Work for Now is another installment in a collection of recordings from one of the area's most promising young MCs. Whether performing with Abzorbr, freestyling in Face Candy with Eyedea, or venturing out on his own, Kristoff Krane's prolific and indefatigable contributions to local hip hop should be treasured.

Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel
self-released, due out October 8

The second album by Sleeping in the Aviary is a balancing act: The band has perfected the art of teetering between the frenzy of an unpolished living-room performance and the coherence of an intricately composed folk-pop song played by a group of skilled musicians. The disc revolves around the quivering vocals of Elliott Kozel, whose voice and sense of melody recall Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes at some points and an old West Bank blues musician at others. In fact, the whole band sounds like they could be from another time, with instruments like the accordion, saw, and ukulele adding to the organic, porch-swinging feel.

Their sound isn't completely derivative of old-timey folk, though. Kozel shines as a folk songwriter on slower songs such as "Maybe You're the Same," but just when it seems as though the band could be pigeonholed as another folk revival project, they ramp up the intensity and add the reverberation of a heavy electric guitar chord and the feedback of a bass guitar. "Gas Mask Blues" is the most extreme example of this genre-bending, which builds from an acoustic guitar and a shaker to a full-band, driving, screaming freak-out. 

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