Monday, April 23, 2007

Illinois: Not From Illinois?!

Some albums are meant to be listened to like most novels are meant to be read, from front to back. They may tell a story, or convey an overall idea when aspects of each track are compiled chronologically. Who knows? There are even times when the music can't help but flow effortlessly like a cohesive work of art. But some albums just don't, and that's cool too. Right?

Take the sophomore EP by a band called Illinois, titled "What the Hell Do I Know?", released on Ace Fu records. It's seven tracks long, and each one takes from something else, grabs for some new sound and is distinctly different from the next. Have you ever tried to rip a mix CD your friend gave to you? And when you do, the CD ripping program (I use Windows Media Player) asks you to identify the genre. Identify the genre?! But it's not in just one genre! How absurd! That's how this feels.

This EP isn't just country, or pop, or spoken word, or your standard indie-rock fair, but at times it is all that. On the track that will most expectedly catch your ear, "Nosebleed", Illinois take an inventive approach to folk and blue grass using a rolling banjo line with electronic beats in the background and distorted vocals. Think Langhorn Slim getting his hands on a drum machine and keyboard. They appropriately fain a southern drawl for the song and it comes together quite nicely. I was disappointed to find the rest of the album not sounding like that, but that's not to say the rest isn't plenty enjoyable.

Further tracks like "One on One" exhibit a bigger band sound they are capable of, with the synths and guitars adding much depth and volume. Songs tend to be quite short which makes for quick flow through various sounds, keeping me, the listener on my toes. Vocally, Illinois are hard to pin down as well. Each song sounds like there's someone new singing. In the song "Headphones" a vocalist with a slightly shaky voice sounds like he's singing through a telephone giving an old school Conor Oberst feel. The closing track "Bad Day" delivers booming drums and bass with someone in the background monotonously complaining about random events in his day, cursing a bunch and eventually bringing about the chorus harmony of "Now I'm Free!". What the hell?

These Pennsylvanians (there are four guys in the band, three of which sing [they are NOT from Illinois!]) have a knack for compelling and appealing songs harmonies and lyrics, yet they keep their sound borderless. Illinois dodge the silver bullet of being confined to one genre, preventing them from being beaten down by it. And yes. they are werewolves. There's a lot of potential in a band like Illinois. After listening to their EP you'd have no idea where they are going to go with a full length and I doubt they do yet. Sometimes It is nice not to know what's coming next.

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