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AUGUST 30, 2006
CD Review: The Changes "Today is Tonight"

Changes_cover If there's one thing the Changes do better than most new bands it's that they fully embody the essence of "pop" and not in a bubblegum kind of way. This Chicago band, who is releasing its first full-length album, Today is Tonight, on Sept. 26 after putting out two fan-capturing and somewhat critically acclaimed EPs, writes catchy, crafty rock songs that can always put you in a good mood.

Last year, they were lauded as being the only band on the Lollapalooza bill that wasn't signed to a label -- and it gained them a lot of attention. But then as Lolla faded into the past, the Changes went through some internal restructuring, dug in and headed into the studio. Every so often they would emerge and play a one-off show, but for the most part, they hunkered down and focused on creating the music.

And their solitude paid off.

The result is Today is Tonight, a well-balanced collection of old songs carefully selected from their two EPs and a handful of hot-off-the-presses tracks that seamlessly blur the lines of old Changes to new Changes.

Cleverly, the band chose to bookend the tracklist with two old songs "When I Wake," one of their catchiest, radio-friendly songs, and "When I Sleep," a sultry, sleepy, dreamlike track that features a sexy pre-recorded drum machine sample. And in between: a batch of songs that, unless  your dead, will get you excited about experiencing new music. Singer Darren Spitzer leads the charge on most of the songs, but guitarist David Rothblatt, who has really come into his own during live performances, takes over the vocals on two tracks: "When I Sleep" and the new romantic piece "Sisters," in which the boys pay homage to their sisters (each member has one sibling -- a sister).

The album pulls from a variety of genres: rock ("The Machine," "Her, You and I"), '50s doo-wop ("Water of the Gods"), plucky, upbeat love ballads ("On a String," "Sisters"). But possibly the biggest surprise on the album is the Steely Dan-influenced disco ditty "Twilight." Hearing Rob Kallick's thumpy, funky bass lines pulls you right into an episode of "The Love Boat." It makes you want to pull up your knee-high rainbow tube socks and don a pair of roller skates and hit the streets with Jack, Janet and Chrissy to do the Hustle. It's a complete departure from the Changes familiar repertoire, but completely in line with their capabilities. A great addition to this track: drummer Jonny Basofin's turn on the congas. "Twilight," truly a great surprise.

While they include a number of formerly recorded songs, the most reworked is their oldest (and my personal favorite): "Such a Scene." On this song, the band storms out of the gate -- almost as if they're gearing up for a big fight scene in a movie. Darren's vocals are more gruff than normal, adding a desperate sexiness, while pleading to hang onto a relationship. The band is possibly tightest on this than any other track, which is nice to see that they can twist a modern spin on a classic tune.

Overall, this debut from The Changes is refreshing. In a time when so many acts are still churning out the post-punk vibe or tinkering with dance rock, this Chicago hopeful plays it straight up with their take on rocky-edged vocal pop.

Most of the band's older songs are already floating around the Internet. You can pre-order Today is Tonight from the band's re-designed site. In the meantime, enjoy my 2 fave tracks:

Twilight

Such a Scene

btw, some other bloggers talking about the new stuff: Nora, I Guess I'm Floating and My Old Kentucky Blog.

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AUGUST 28, 2006
Live: Ben Harper Chicago 08/27/06

Bendamian "Chicago, thanks for being the home of the blues and thanks for being home to us for so many years."

With this line, Ben Harper looked out into the crowd at the Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island and completed a roaring night of music. Ben, now a polished live performer, has been visiting Chicago since the mid-'90s while along the way bridging a strong connection between his music and fans in this city. Whenever Ben and his band come to town, they bring with them a desire to say thank you, musically, to crowds that continue to come out to see them. Chatting with bassist Juan Nelson after the show, he told me that Chicago has always been one of the best cities for them -- more than most other spots in the country.

Tonight, at a sold-out and quite full venue, the Innocent Criminals decided to throw down from the get go by kicking off the show with a searing "Faded." This song set the tone for the evening, with Ben inserting a lengthy groove on his custom Asher lap steel. The vibe created at that moment would continue to burn bright for the next 2.5 hours, with the band launching into "Both Sides of the Gun," "Steal My Kisses," which featured a great scat by Nelson, and "Diamonds on the Inside." 

Moments later, with some of the more popular tracks out of the way, Ben produced his signature piece, the hollow-necked Weissenborn that was first crafted in the 1920s. He's said that this is the only instrument that truly channels his music. It was about this guitar that Ben first spoke so passionately to me during our very first interview in 1997. There was a way in which he talked about it that made me realize that they're one in the same. Neither can function without the other. In a way, the guitar is Ben's muse while at the same time his mouthpiece. Tonight, the words spoken through that exceptional tool created a bit of magic; the sound it sent out enraptured the crowd to a point of near possession.

Continue reading "Live: Ben Harper Chicago 08/27/06" »

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AUGUST 26, 2006
bya denim

                      Bya_denim

This September, a new denim line for men and women will debut in stores throughout Chicago and its neighboring states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. bya Denim, launched by CEO Glen Schwartz and designer Stiles Anderson, is possibly the first-ever Chicago-based denim brand and it's freaking hot.

Glen and Stiles came by my place earlier today so I could try on the two men's styles: Emmet and Aiden. Both styles will come in two different washes, but each pair will have its own unique touches. The guys have been working toward this launch for close to two years and are, surprisingly, pretty relaxed. The jeans, as Stiles said, "are just a pair of jeans" that talk to the everyday person who wants a great pair of quality denim without all the bullshit enhancements and embellishments. The main difference: each pair of bya is handmade over the course of 6-8 hours and has a truly great wash.

Putting on both styles, I immediately was sold. They fit better than almost any pair of jeans I've tried on in the last couple of years (save a couple of G-Stars I have), and while one was a lower-rise boot cut (Emmet), it didn't encroach on my mid-section (read: package) like so many others do. They fit perfectly in the thigh and are long enough that I can take them to a local tailor and have them hemmed to my length. And while the Aiden had slight distressing in the upper thigh, it didn't bother me because, honestly, they made my ass look great -- and what better reason to buy a pair of jeans than ones that show off your assets?

bya, which stands for Billions of Years Ago, is one of a handful of denim lines being produced at Sights Denim Systems out of Kentucky (along with RRL and Levi's Vintage). Stiles, who is only 24 and used to work in the financial world, has added some great touches that make the denim characteristically bya, like the signature antique-looking button* (shown) and the green patchwork lining the inside of the pockets, a pattern Stiles modeled after one he saw on a chair at his grandparent's house.

bya will have a soft launch, producing only about 300 pairs of men's denim for September and will ramp up from there. The men's jeans, which will range from $185-$220, will be available starting Sept. 15.

* more on the button, which shows the dedication to the brand, straight from the designer:
"I spent a good 5 months and went through 2 fastener development companies trying to create this button.  Really wanted something authentically aged and unique; the oxidization is different on every piece, so no two buttons are exactly alike.  The best part of the button, and it's really only consciously noticeable by people who know buttons, is that it's the first button where four different elements have been used simultaneously:  (1) Asymmetrical edges used to show age and hammered-on effect, (2) concave surface, and both (3) raised lettering and (4) engraved lettering.  Although most people would not be able to recognize the one-of-a-kind contraction, I think the elements do balance the button and make it visually stimulating."

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db clay's puzzle line for holiday 2006

Puzzlesplash1_2

db clay, a Portland, Ore.-based wallet-design shop that makes edgy, fashion-forward, waterproof wallets out of highly durable gaffers tape canvas, is launching a unique line for holiday called Puzzle.

The 50 one-of-a-kind wallets, which debuted at the POOL tradeshow in New York, have the gaffers tape base, but what sets them apart is that each one has a totally unique exterior that features a custom piece of art. The company is able to essentially "burn" the graphics into the wallet because gaffers tape is fairly porous, allowing for the print to seep into the canvas. While the outside is truly yours, the interior will always be identifiable as a Puzzle by its black and gray thread, sewn white label and distinctive neon green lining.

The Puzzle wallets will be available this fall and if you're in NE Portland, drop by and visit their new showroom to view the Puzzle installation.

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AUGUST 24, 2006
Wine Cork Candles

Corkcandles Ok, so at first glance these might seem a little cheesy. But my friends showed me a gift they received from another friend who prefaced that she saw them, thought they were a little cheesy, but cool at the same time. And when I saw them, I thought they were pretty cool, too.

These are candles that look exactly like wine corks -- they even have the etching in them where a winery's name would go. And they sit atop of your empty wine bottle, giving you have an automatic candle holder.

Not a bad little knickknack, I say. They're made by a German company, PPD, but I found them through an easy search: 12 corks for $22.

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AUGUST 23, 2006
Interview: Say Hi to Your Mom's Eric Elbogen

Impeccablecover_small Say Hi to Your Mom recently released their fourth album, Impeccable Blahs, a concept album surrounding the idea of vampires. Why? Because lead singer and Say Hi founder Eric Elbogen is a massive Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Natch.

Say Hi is unequivocal indie rock. They are decidedly lo-fi. They tinker with synthesizer loops but play with grinding guitars, brooding vocals, dark lyrics and sometimes playful, upbeat clap-happy tempo. Elbogen is a prolific songwriter having released three other albums in as many years.

I spoke with Elbogen the day before the band's last tour stop, which brought them back home to play a show at New York's Knitting Factory. They were traveling between North Carolina and Virginia so part of our interview was spotty, but we made it work.

Read the Q&A below or stream the interview.

And check out some MP3s from Impeccable Blahs:

Blah Blah Blah

Sad, But Endearingly So

INTERVIEW with ERIC ELBOGEN:

SomethingGlorious: So did you finish your tour last night?
Eric Elbogen: Sort of – today we're off and tomorrow is the New York show. We're driving from North Carolina right now. The tour's been good but long. Exciting and exhausting. The shows have been good for the most part.

SG: What's your favorite thing about the road? Do you enjoy it?
EE: Sometimes. For me, the best payoff in this business is cooping up at home and making records. I enjoy playing live to some extent, but it doesn't ever give me as much joy as getting the songs down onto tape. The nights where 200-300 people show up and everybody is enthusiastic, it reminds you of why you do this sort of work. Of course the nights you're playing Fargo, North Dakota and there's 20 people there and they're barely clapping and you're struggling to get through the set …

Continue reading "Interview: Say Hi to Your Mom's Eric Elbogen" »

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AUGUST 22, 2006
ThisNext

Logo_1 My pals over at ThisNext officially launched their beautiful new site this week. They had been in beta and what turned out is a fantastic community of people sharing things they love. It's kind of like a community of SomethingGloriouses coming together to discuss, recommend, blog and review items they have found out in the world and want to tell everyone about.

I initially was turned on to ThisNext by Aunt Beep who has a great blog of her own (she has a Hasselhoff festish -- how bad can she be?!). In this day of MySpace, YouTube and tagging, it was only time before a site like this popped up. It's really easy to get started on ThisNext and as my friend Josh points out, setting up a list of your own to talk about anything you want, is a snap.

So when you're looking for something interesting or new to buy or give as a gift, hit ThisNext. You'll be amazed at how much time you'll spend browsing. It's a great way to blow off an afternoon of work. I'm really just getting started with mine, but it could easily become addictive.

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My Nespresso C190

N_c190_748_4 My Nespresso has a first name it's n-e-s-p-r. My Nespresso has a second name is e-s-s-o.

Ok, so not quite the Oscar Meyer song, but you get my feeling -- anything I want to sing about, I must love. And anything I've had for more than two years that I still want to blog about, I must really love.

My Nespresso C190 is one of the greatest things to ever come into my life. Not only is it stylish with its Titanium shell and curvaceous body, but it also produces a perfect cup of espresso with just the right amount of crema every time.

I've become a big fan of the pods as well. There are about a dozen coffee varietals that Nespresso produces -- and I lean toward Decaffeinato Intenso when I want to lay off the buzz and choose either Arpeggio or Capriccio when I need a little kicker. Not sure what it is about these pods that I dig, maybe it's the purple and dark green casing they come in. Perhaps it's the blend of South and Central American beans or the Latin American Arabicas mixed with a touch of West African Robusta. But when I make my vanilla, nonfat latte in the morning (sometimes midday -- but not everyday, mind you), it is so easy and tastes so damn good every single time.

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AUGUST 17, 2006
Would you like to Tango?

08182006_tango_lrg

I just stumbled upon a new car that could likely change the way we look at the rising price of gas. The Tango, which is currently in slow production, is an 800-hp fully electric car, measures only 39-inches wide, can hit 60 mph in four seconds from a dead stop, is made for commuting and can fit in virtually any parking space that dares challenge it.

This zero-emissions vehicle comes in three styles -- the T100 ($18,700), T200 ($39,900) and T600 ($108,000) -- and charges up a lead-acid battery in three hours that can travel up to 80 miles. With its steel roll-top bar, the tandem two-seater blew away safety ratings. George Clooney rolled the very first one off the lot and has become somewhat of a poster child for the car.

You can head to the website to download a registration form, which requires a fully refundable deposit.

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May Street Market

Maystreet At dinner last night it dawned on me that, while I've claimed May Street Market as my favorite new restaurant in Chicago, I've never written about it. I've been there now four times -- for both lunch and dinner -- brought numerous people, including my parents last night for mom's birthday and have referred even more there. Time after time, I've not only had great meals, but also have heard from everyone I've sent there how much they loved it.

One of the biggest draws for me is Chantal Randolph, the restaurant's general manager and now partner, news she revealed to me last night. This woman is why going to dinner is wonderful. When you get greeted with a huge smile and are continuously delighted by her warm presence and her effusive discussions on the beauty of food, that's a dining experience.

But the other draw, obviously, is chef Alex Cheswick's innovative menu and gorgeous presentation. He graduated from CIA and has worked in the kitchens at Tru and Le Francais in Chicago as well as a couple of spots in Germany and Switzerland, influences that are definitely notable in the food.

By now, I've sampled nearly everything on the menu -- both spring and summer. Last night, I had pan sauteed scallops that were near perfection, served with purple rice, a dollop of pesto and so much flavor. The heirloom tomato salad was a nice light start, with the accompaniment of tomato ice a perfect touch.

An excellent menu staple is their signature lemon grass and carrot soup with black mussels and their mini burger trio of venison, seared tuna and beef with pomme frites is out of this world.

And their wine list -- carefully selected from vineyards around the world -- is so accessible, friendly and easy to navigate. While my dad wanted to venture to Italy for a barbera, I gently brought him back to Napa for, what else, the Joel Gott '04 Cab, which has a great blend of ripe cherry, sweet plum, a touch of chocolate with just a hint of dryness. It leans toward a Zin, which doesn't surprise me with Joel's love of that grape.

May Street is truly a wonderful experience. It's classy, comfortable and not over-the-top experimental like some other new spots in Chicago. It's a keeper.

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