The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

QUICK SPINS: Kathryn Calder, Brent Puls

By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 26, 2010 7:15PM

In which we take a quick look at a few recent musical releases.

2010_08_26QScalder.jpg Kathryn Calder
Are You My Mother?

Even if her name isn't immediately familiar, fans of indie rock have surely heard her voice. That's because Calder is more than likely recognizable to the masses - and unfairly so - as "the female vocalist in the New Pornographers who's not Neko Case." We say unfairly so because having seen the New Pornos in every possible combination: with just Neko, with just Kathryn, and with both - we can say Calder has developed into a vocal force to be reckoned with on her own. It's a thought that's only reinforced by the strengths of this new album. But don't go into the album expecting the type of power-pop that defines the New Pornos sound. Instead, Calder gives us something more subdued, gentler. If you're looking for the rollicking, good time rock of that band, you'll get something a little different as this album is much quieter, a soft folk-pop record perfect for a lazy Sunday morning. Not that their pep is totally left behind; the bouncy "If Only You Knew," driven by hand-claps, could easily pass as a New Pornos song performed unplugged and "Day Long Past Its Prime," which is as rowdy as the album gets, also feels like it was influenced by Calder's time with her uncle Carl's band (whose members the aforementioned Ms. Case, Todd Fancey, and Kurt Dahle all appear on this album).

But, those moments aside, the album is very much Calder stepping out on her own. The instrumentation on some songs, such as "Low" and "Down The River," are quieter, forcing Calder's voice to the front. Which is perfectly fine when you have a voice as strong as Calder's. At times strong and at times fragile, Calder uses her voice as an essential element to the arrangements, particularly on the elegant defiance of the album's stand-out track, "Arrow." It's easy to see why Calder's role in the New Pornos has become more prominent, getting equal time on record and on stage, no longer a back-up but more an integral part of the band as she continues to establish herself. This album is another solid step in that direction.

MP3: Kathryn Calder - "Arrow"

Kathryn has no solo shows scheduled as of now but she'll next be in Chicago playing with The New Pornographers, October 14, The Riv, 4746 N. Racine Ave, 8 p.m., $29 via eTix

2010_08_26_QSbrent.jpg Brent Puls
West of the Lake EP

Puls is no stranger to fans of the local scene. Whether it's with Bumpus, Terrible Spaceship, or Grammar, Puls has made a name for himself, a name that gets a nice bump as he steps out on his own with the release of a new solo EP. Literally short and sweet, the five-song EP kicks off with a folky cover of Pulp's "Disco 2000," transforming Jarvis Cocker's glam stomper into a funky, shuffling good time. The EP also includes "Won't Let Go" and "Low," songs that Puls previoulsy performed under the Grammar moniker which get a tune-up and proper release here. The songs were strong to begin with and sound even better with a little bit of polish. Puls also proves he can carry a song with or without embellishments. The layers of horn, strings, and banjo on the title track perfectly supplement the song, never overpowering the duet between himself and Rachael Exner's honey-dipped vocals. Yet the beautiful closer, "Sometimes," uses a single guitar and cello to back another Puls/Exner duet that carries the track. Like Calder, Puls' voice is the key instrument here; exuding a warm nostalgia on the title track or vulnerability on "Sometimes," his voice adds another element to the arrangement, the glue that brings each song's layers together into a harmonious - and sweet - whole. You'll have a chance to pick up the EP and hear Brent perform live at the EP release party tomorrow night at Schuba's.

Brent Puls EP release party: Brent Puls with Death Ships and The Glory Singers, Friday August 27, Schuba's, 3159 N. Southport Ave, 10 p.m, $8 via