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Like Pioneers Blaze Down Indie-Rock’s Oregon Trail

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 21, 2010 5:20PM

Chalk it up to Midwestern modesty; on its website, Like Pioneers explain the story of their debut album, Piecemeal, in humble terms. The band’s name is born out of a “self-deprecating joke,” the record is one that “with the help of many” and the group themselves are “a bit surprised” to present Piecemeal at all.

Perhaps Like Pioneers is an unlikely indie-rock phoenix as any in the Chicago music scene. Consisting of members from dearly departed local bands, including Bound Stems, The Narrator, and Chin Up Chin Up, Like Pioneers appear to be hedging their musical bets--or at least are making new music cautiously.

If Piecemeal is any indication of what this band can do, then Like Pioneers should definitely be cockier. Piecemeal’s pleasures build over time, little by little. It’s an album that shows what happens when experienced musicians work capably within their comfort zones, but in a way that shows how not to take music-making for granted.

Sonically, there’s nothing here -- the lackadaisical, jangly guitars, the whimsical group harmonies, the bouncy, bittersweet sing-along songs like ”Crop Circles Plus Legs” and “English Garden” -- that will redefine music as a whole. But the best songs on Piecemeal show a refined sense of arrangement pitting itself up against a loose, limber and care-free atmosphere. For instance, check out how the piano-and-percussion clatter of Tom Waits-evoking album closer “Crab Candy” neatly disintegrates into a whirlstorm of organ. That sonic stew is an awfully hard one to resist, even if the ingredients are familiar at times.

Tracks like “Gift From A Holiday” and “Polkadot” are in the anthemic indie-rock vein, somewhere between The New Pornographers’ wistful, effervescent power-pop (“Holiday”) and Titus Andronicus’ anywhere-but-here sonic desperation. All in all, after the break-ups of those other notable bands, listeners will be glad Like Pioneers re-introduced themselves to the idea of making music together. It’s a reestablishment that’s more than welcome.

+/- {Plus/Minus}, Soft Speaker, Like Pioneers, Wednesday, September 22, 9:30 p.m.
Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., $8, 21+