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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
ZZZZ
Palm Reader
Polyvinyl Records

Rating: 7.5/10 ?


May 9, 2005
The beer hall is jumping tonight - the polka band's been bumped and ZZZZ have taken the stage. There's frenzied Eastern European folk dancing going on. The men are sweating through their shirts and laughing loudly. Oxygen is at a premium; the place is packed and there aren't any windows. After a while, you want to step outside for some fresh air and unbutton your soaked dress shirt to the waist. After five minutes, you want to go back inside and get swept up in the madness all over again.

Steve Sostak knows what that's like. If you remember, Sostak was the primary source of skronk for the furious Chicago math-rock outfit Sweep The Leg Johnny, one of the hardest working live bands of the last decade. A wildly inventive saxophone player who probably loses 10 pounds a show, Sostak found himself without a band three years ago when both Sweep and his other band, Check Engine, checked out. Now he's surfaced with ZZZZ, a crazed no-wave outfit bent on deconstructing the traditional folk music of gypsies and Roaring 20s jazz past the point of recognition.

Fiercely fending off attempts at categorization, Palm Reader is nomadic, like someone who's been living off a con their whole life. Tempos and melodies suddenly pack up camp in the middle of the night and hit the open road under the cover of darkness, always one step ahead of the law and the music critics grasping at straws to explain their sound. It's wild and unpredictable with just a hint of Old World charm - and it's an amazing transformation for Sostak and the rest of the band, mostly indie-rock refugees themselves. Drummer Greg Sharp was in Tekulvi and bassist John Brady used to play with Sostak in Sweep in addition to a tour of duty with Swing Kids. And somewhere along they way, they kidnapped Ellen Bunch, a classically trained musician who mostly plays electric keyboards in dizzying patterns; they probably brainwashed her.

In ZZZZ, she and Sostak face off in crazed vocal fire fights like the insane trills they trade in the bouncy, caffeinated opener "Assassination Polka" or the stuttering "Forget It." Barreling down the highway to the Squirrel Nut Zippers' version of "Hell" in "Snowball", ZZZZ suddenly fall asleep while driving and start counting the stars in vast expanses of dreamy keyboard sky before Sostak's staccato burst shatters the calm.

It's addicting music. You'd swear ZZZZ slipped an eight-ball of crack into "2nd Hand Smoke" when you hear the insanely catchy keyboard hook in the chorus that, strangely enough, reminds me of Pretty Girls Make Graves or Sleater-Kinney. The band's chops are so finely honed and the chemistry is so right, it staggers you and leaves you drunkenly searching for adequate words to describe it.

Sharp's drum fills go from restrained chaos to a kind of unsettling serenity in a heartbeat and Brady follows him every step of the way, hiding in dark corners, not wanting to be seen. It's sort of like he's stalking his bandmate. On the instrumental "Ultratumba" - which kind of sounds like The Doors jamming with John Coltrane and playing klezmer music at a Jewish wedding - ZZZZ spiral upwards on the effects-enhanced smoke of Sostak's sax. Not caring a lick if the transition is smooth or not, ZZZZ tear it all down and descent into dissonant madness. Bunch's piano pounds itself into rubble and Sostak's sax dances around the destruction.

It's good to see Sostak and the rest of ZZZZ having fun. The muted handclaps and coy flirting between Sostak and Bunch make "Bandit King & Queen" a fun bit of ribaldry. When Bunch coyly tells a lecherous Sostak to "Stop looking at my thigh line," their mouths stretch into leering smirks. And so does yours.

At times, Sweep probably took itself a little too seriously, always trying too hard to make things complicated and cerebral. Maybe that's why Sweep's records never matched the intensity of their live show. There are moments when ZZZZ falls into the same trap, when they get bogged down in arrangements that feel too structured, and the band lapses into a self-absorbed reverie - but it's not long before they snap out of it, and when the spirit moves ZZZZ, they're capable of amazingly beautiful musical frescos like "Railroaded" and "Buncerto." Any attempts to make sense of Palm Reader are futile, much in the same way a reasoned analysis of a Salvador Dali painting always seems to fall short of capturing its essence. That's what good art does.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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