INDIEcent Exposure #29: Birds of Chicago, Iron Age Mystics & more

February 4, 2017

Iron Age MysticsBirds of ChicagoBitter’s KissJoe Mansman and The Midnight Revival Band

Birds of Chicago—Winter Migration

In this episode, we speak with JT Nero, who, along with Allison Russell, makes up the creative core of intracontinental Roots treasure: Birds of Chicago. We hear “Barley,” “Dim Star of the Palisades,” and “Kinderspel” (Child’s Game) from their 2016 release, Real Midnight.

JT Nero and Allison Russell, creative core of Birds of Chicago; submitted photo.
JT Nero and Allison Russell, creative core of Birds of Chicago; submitted photo.

When we first made contact, JT and the band were making their way East in the bus, just passing through Gary, Indiana. Headed for the Word Cafe Live in Philly, the first stop on their 2017 tour, JT talked about where the creative fire all comes from, the band’s origin story, their latest release, “Real Midnight,” and what’s in store for fans later this year (hint: summer release).

With limited East Coast dates on this tour, you’re probably going to want to grab tickets now. if you want to see Birds of Chicago live (and you DO want to see Birds of Chicago live—I have it on good authority that the full band is on that bus). If you’re a citizen of Greylock Nation, either the few openings left at The Parlor Room in Northampton, Mass., or at Hudson, New York’s landmark venue Club Helsinki Hudson are probably your best bet. Of course, The West Coast dates are none too shabby, so if Spring in SoCal or Santa Cruz seems like a sweet dream to you, Birds of Chicago would make for one fine soundtrack.

And check out the Birds of Chicago YouTube page for a great video of Kinderspel.

Birds of Chicago
Saturday, February 11; 7:00 p.m.
Parlor Room @ Signature Sounds
Northampton, Mass.

Sunday, February 12; 7:00 p.m.
Club Helsinki Hudson
Hudson, New York
Check for ticket availability

Iron Age Mystics—insurrection between your ears

Iron Age Mystics in action; submitted photo.
Iron Age Mystics in action; submitted photo.

We have played tunes off Iron Age Mystic’s latest release, “Pride Before the Fall,” on our live streaming station, Greylock Nation. If ever there was a good time to jam to my angst, it’s got to be right now, you know what I’m saying? And THIS WEEK is the episode I knew I HAD to treat you all to some top shelf tunage that will absolutely pump you full of the rebel fury you’re going to need to get you through the next four years. I give you…

Iron Age Mystics.

And I know, I know. I said I don’t do reviews. Didn’t someone say the exception makes the rule? And these guys are definitely worth making an exception. Enjoy the title track off their recent release, “Pride Before the Fall.”

In the realm of myth and fable, at the moment when all seems lost and Dark Forces are poised to blot out the last ray of hope, a band of heroes nearly always appears to rally the people, restore courage, and save the day. Well, here in the neo-realist nightmare of 21st Century Earth, we’ve been waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more. And now that the Iron Age Mystics have FINALLY freaking showed up, we want to say first and foremost, “where the hell have you guys been the last couple decades? We’ve been getting killed here!”

Wielding “Pride Before the Fall,” IAM charges right up to the front lines of the struggle to reclaim Meaning and Purpose in Rock ‘n’ Roll. With precision, laser-sighted lyrics, these songs take aim at the corruption and abuses of power running rampant in the corporate oligarchy that the Western world has degenerated into.

Diametrically opposed to simpering, hand-wringing collections of whiny “woe is us” victimhood dirges I could name, this release is defiant, daring, and demanding. The title track itself is an anthem to the rebellious spirit in us all that makes tyrants know fear. Put on your headphones, close your eyes, and smell the burning tires. Feel the crunch of glass under your boots as Greg Mount’s driving, zero-tolerance percussion propels you along dark and chaotic streets with the growing throng of resistance all around you.

Sure, Kevin Connelly’s searing vocals project unrelenting accusation at our would-be corporate masters, but a little unapologetic derision is reserved for the masses who have been shown the truth but would rather remain blind. The Mystics challenge fans with the only question that matters: “What Ya’ Gonna Do About it?”

Hesitant about answering? Not to worry. The masterful, contrasting call-and-response between Allan Wohng on guitar and Clayton Rudy on bass in songs like “You’ve Got the Power” creates a sense of safety in numbers in a sketchy world.

The thing about “Pride Before the Fall” that’s maybe most unsettling is that these guys are so damn polished. Iron Age Mystics could be cranking out pop-rock like some Pla-Do Fun Factory of musical crap. After all, the quartet has decades of experience between them—they know how to build a song. And yet they spend their seemingly inexhaustible supply of creativity on music designed to wake audiences up and make them think. Only a couple tracks into the CD, and I found myself peering through the blinds to make sure there wasn’t some unmarked van on the street outside. A van with a satellite dish on top. And lots of antennae…

Can these guys really be saying this stuff? Is free thought still legal? Do I even want the NSA to know I’m listening to music that suggests human beings should cling to our dignity? Can I pay for that CD in cash?

And that’s what’s heroic about Iron Age Mystics. They could have used the same music to prop up some artificially sweetened, commercial fauxetry. But they didn’t. They want us to understand that even though it may seem like we’re looking at democracy’s last stand, we can snatch it back from the brink by showing real solidarity: “When we join altogether, on our backs we carry forward the dream,” they remind us. With these eleven tracks, they make a convincing case for the defense of that dream of liberty, however hard-won it may eventually be.

They don’t say it will be easy. They don’t say the bad guys are going to give up without a fight. But like a drum and bugle corps from battles for freedom past, these guys are going to be there to provide the marching tunes. And if we stay fierce and positive, “Justice will prevail, because we’re just too big to fail.”

I can’t tell you if they have any tour dates lined up, but you can definitely check them out on Facebook and on their website where you can hear more tracks and sign up for their newsletter.

Bitter’s Kiss

Singer/songwriter Chloe Baker is the heart of Bitter's Kiss; photo courtesy Bitter's Kiss via Facebook.
Singer/songwriter Chloe Baker is the heart of Bitter’s Kiss; photo courtesy Bitter’s Kiss via Facebook.

We have yet to make contact with Chloe Baker since her team sent us some tunes, photos, and the like. And we’ve been stalling for a good reason—we don’t want to short change this young genius by rushing an episode. After doing further research, we have two words for the brilliant poetics of Bitter’s Kiss: elegant anguish.

At times brilliantly searing, at others hollowly melancholy, her music is almost too intense to absorb in great quantity—that is, it would be if the lyrics didn’t so perfectly conjure the gossamer wisps of humanity that balance out the sorrow with the serenity. We play “Love Won’t Make You Cry,” in this episode, but hope to have Chloe on as a guest in the near future. In the meantime, you show also definitely check our her YouTube channel, where some of her best songs are treated to extremely creative and well-produced video incarnations. No word on tour dates at this time, but we’ll definitely keep checking back.

Joe Mansman and The Midnight Revival Band

Joe Mansman and The Midnight Revival Band; photo courtesy the band via Facebook.
Joe Mansman and The Midnight Revival Band; photo courtesy the band via Facebook.

We finish out this episode with a tune from a Glens Falls, New York group who came to my attention through Chris Hantman, owner of Sounds and Tones Records, as we enjoyed some locally brewed IPA over at Bright Ideas Brewing in the MASS MoCA complex in North Adams, Mass. S&T is the MRB’s label, and Chris and I have been talking about getting them on the show for a while now. Of course, like with Bitter’s Kiss and so many other bands, once I hear a couple of the tunes, I’m dying to ask all kinds of questions about their art and performance and views on life, the universe, and everything. One day. For now, have a listen to “Reap and Sow,” which happens to be a free download at their website. Check them out there and keep up with them through Facebook.

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