Erik Oldman’s Top 10 of 2017

Erik Oldman is the founder of Rock in Chicago and guitarist for instrumental progressive fusion trio, Sons of Ra.

1) Without Waves – Lunar

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This release is was a long time in the making, by arguably one of my favorite bands from Chicago. I’ve been following Without Waves since I first heard them back in 2011 at the Bottom Lounge.

I don’t hear many bands that are able to cover the diverse sonic territories of doom, progressive metal, space/post-rock AND jazz fusion. Yes, all of that! That’s something that is a direct hit with me. I love diversity. I love bands that are comfortable in expressing themselves in multiple styles and have well-written songs with dynamics that turn on a dime. That’s the sort of stuff that gives me the chills.

Lunar is the first release by the band on Prosthetic Records. It’s quite a diverse set of material. Each song really stands on its own. The pacing of the material on the album is a little jarring at times, but overall its an enjoyable listen and like most well-constructed art, each listen reveals something new.

The persistent threads within the material, in how each song relates to each other, are craftsmanship of each tune, multi-layered with a balance of texture, dynamics, and hooks while being able to push arrangments into differing time signatures, blistering dynamics and weaving contrasting moments of controlled chaos and orchestral bliss.

The brutal songs, from the opener “Sewing Together the Limbs”, “Victorian Punishment”, and “Memento Mori” in particular roll out some amazing modern technical/progressive death metal with some nice mathy and noisy touches.

The more chilled out songs, particularly “Us Against”, “Never Know Quite Why”, and “Fractals”. Are steeped in 90’s alternative and space rock, yet still feel fresh, and modern instead of derivative. The last song of three could pass as a single on a modern rock station.

Recommended Track: “Us Against

2) Voice of Addiction – The Lost Art of Empathy

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Fantastic full-length from politically charged and socially conscious Chicago based punk-rockers. The album kicks off, immediately hitting the listener with the anthem, “Rust Belt” and taking them on a roller-coaster ride through different variations of their sound and take of the current world we live in. I absolutely love the production and pacing of the album here. It really works, keeps the listener going with a number of solid hook anthem style choruses.

Other highlights on the album include “Unity”, “Petty Schemes”, “I Can’t Breathe” and “Eviction Notice”

Recommended Track: “Petty Schemes

3) Black Sites – In Monochrome

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This is another local release I was really looking forward to for 2017.
Black Sites comes out of the tradition of late 70’s/early 80’s hard rock and heavy metal. With this new project, Mark Sugar’s writing is as intense as what he wrote with his previous project in Trials, however the material on In Monochrome has a more mature aspect in the writing and lyrical content. Its refreshing to hear hard rock and heavy metal with these references, not dated or derivative but more of a sonic lineage in the arrangments and emphasis on hooks.

Recommended Track: “Dead Languages

4) Bent Knee – Land Animal

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With this release its like watching the rose that is Bent Knee blossom into something special. The arrangements seem a bit more polished and sophisticated. The album focuses on more accessible pieces, and still heavy, but not overbearing. I really love the production values, its a good balance of polish and immediacy/rawness. There’s still the quirky pop sensibilities that come through with Courtney Swain’s vocals and keys that counterbalance the crunchy guitars and rhythms.

This is a band where you put on an album and listen to the entire album, instead of a particular track. Each one is a journey, mesmerizing, hypnotic. Land Animal is no different and is another journey in the band’s saga.

Recommended Track: “These Hands

5) Nonzoo – Wazoo

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I saw the band name in passing on Facebook with a video link.
My mind was immediately blown. I can’t really explain what they do. You just have to take it in. Here’s a band that exists in a space that I’ve been looking for over the last 25 years. It’s a space where Bjork, Oingo Boingo, Bungle, and Sonic Youth, a little Slint and some prepared instrumentation ala John Cage all work.

Recommended Track: “Great American Trough

6) In the Presence of Wolves – Of Two Minds, Stages 1 – 2: The Ape And The Cage

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Solid modern, melodic, progressive, post-hardcore with some strong jazz and math flavors. Parts Coheed and Cambria, Between the Buried and Me, The Mars Volta, and Porcupine Tree with a bit of Dillinger Escape Plan’s sensibilities.

The EP is part of a conceptual album based on the story of twin brothers, one a paranoid schizophrenic and the other normal. The schizoprhenic twin takes his life while the other tries to piece together the cause of the suicide during his grieving process.

The flow of the EP really draws the listener into the story line. An album that plays from start to finish, I don’t ever feel the need to skip around.

Looking forward to the next part.

Recommended Track: “As We Speak

7) Only the Bones – Death and His Brother Sleep

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They bill themselves as a post-Fugazi band. I fuckin’ love Fugazi.
They do some really interesting odd-meter post-punk.

Recommended Track: “Trophy Room

8) Tigran Hamasayan – An Ancient Observer

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Some really gorgeous modern jazz piano. This offering isn’t as adventurous as 2015’s “Mockroot” in terms of composition and ensemble approach. It’s a solo piano record. Compositionally its incredibly polished. The execution is airtight, and really showcases Hamasayan’s classical chops and modal sensibilities in his arrangements.

Recommended Track: “The Cave of Rebirth

9) Akku Quintet – Aeon

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Hypnotic polymetric modern minimalist jazz with progressive and noisy flourishes.

Another album I listen to from start to finish and has been on my daily playlist over the last few months.

Recommended Track: Flying Low

10) Coyote Man

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I’ve played shows with these guys a good number of times over the last year, and they are really tight and intense live.

The album is another animal altogether, the groove and tightness are there, but the progressive side of the band comes out along with the skill and arrangement of guitarist Augie Portugal’s piano and keyboard playing. Another album that’s in my daily rotation.

Recommended Track: Majestic Vixens