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Home-Styled Britpop by Chicago Hotdogs.
Just like you, just like me, just like Chicago, the M’s mate The Kinks, T. Rex, and a thousand things wonderful.
Let’s briefly dissect a couple songs. One is one of the top singles of all time, another a recent minor indie hit. Unmistakable key riffs alongside a Beatles reference repeated from the top down and whisper-to-a-scream lyrics that not only beg, but require chant-alongs, Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Just Like Me” has it down. The Lilys had a lot of fun with a Davies imitation (and merciless Count Five rip-off) a few years back with the wonderful “Dimes Make Dollars.” The M’s, also an American band with similar Brit-garage affectations, yet lacking the Northwestern menace of the Sonics and Wailers, offer a near-surfeit of delightful sophistication and fuzzy swagger for such a tidy, snappily enjoyable, and tight package.
Every band has a story even if each ends up the same way: one band, one name, one album. An astonishing mess of the garage, glam, and adventure implied by “we climb a tree because we can,” these homebodies prove capable of a lot more than fellow travelers like Franz, The Libertines, and their 1-D ilk. The M’s, released in April on Brilliante records, offers something of a fierce debut and career retrospective all at once. Our Ukrainian Village neighbors (for non-Chicagoans, a unique ‘hood in its consistently even mix of can-crushing pierogie-packin’ oldsters and severely-fashioned bug-sunglassed youngsters) have been making music in their own fashion for over four years now.
Flashback to 2000. A sweaty home-soundproofed basement in their new house soaks in like-minded enthusiasm as Joshua Chicoine (vox/organ/guitar), Robert Hicks (guitar/vox), Joey King (bass/vox), and Steve Versaw (drums) lay down tracks for the next big thing. The crew envisions using each other’s additions as appropriate for four separate bands. Fate steps in. Under an old band name, Sanoponic, the nascent M’s tentatively accept a gig at Martyrs in July, 2001. Shocked by the instant interest their collective charm creates, the musicians decide to make a go of it as a band.
Matt Rucins, the talent buyer and face of Schubas, was impressed enough with the lads to become their manager. That original basement EP and three other similarly-planned releases became their first album as much for the industry as for artistic reasons. A buzz-crafting slot at South by Southwest (where they turned away scores of paying customers after they sold out their EP) as well as opening gigs for The Walkmen, Broken Social Scene, Stephen Malkmus, and many to come seem to make the M’s slotted as the next Shins or Flaming Lips.
Or the Beta Band? Rather than follow in the indie-classic footsteps of The 3 EP’s, the band decided to make a full statement of it all. And what a statement! Addicted upon second listen, I throw on discman, hear the 4-track build of the hum, bass treads, kick drum heartbeat, fuzz thwack, and tom of “Dirty Old Dog” the starchiest opener since the aforementioned Lilys tune, wedging into “Banishment of Love” which manages to finally marry the grooving swagger of Aerosmith to the fey affectations that make Britpop so instantly accessible while nicely compensating for any lingering Perry-stink.
A cornucopia of sound—wicked fuzz, grunt, and delay alongside organs that need to be tuned—adorn and augment the album. Handclaps ala T Rex add glam flourish to the rolling processional “Big Baby Bottoms.” “2X2” finds a Stooges riff sandwiching the Stones acoustical Berry/Diddley swagger from which they borrow the title. “Maggie” whacks some Velvets riffery into the gristliest leadwork next to Thin Lizzy until a Yardbirds-cum-Bolan vamp ultimately brings the standout track to a joyously sloppy end.
Texture thrills. Just to prove this is a group that can do whatever the heck they want, they slow it down for a moment (and juxtapose fuzz guitar with chime keys to marvelous effect), as the bass crawls all over the hypnotic chorus of “Eyes.” Single of the year time: how can you argue with a band who’s “breaking up their bones for love?” Incredible promise oozes from every crack of tunes like “Break Our Bones,” where horns underscore the chorus flourish suggesting the pop scholasticism of an ELO.
Semi-epic closer “the end is still the a” throws out the line, “we all come back to where we’ve been.” Whether this means a nails-on crispness of the Raiders’ “Steppin’ Out” or a Sgt. Peppers’ wizardry, as we enjoy these local heroes slow climb to attain a New Pornographers or (gasp!) even a Strokes/Stripes super-indie-status, we can be glad the M’s decided to do just that. Or, perhaps a great quote for the future, “the nation gave a celebratory howl.”
9.3/10. The M's play the Empty Bottle on January 29th.
Kick Me Back to Kicks