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Get Personal With Hemmingbirds

By Sarah Cobarrubias in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 28, 2011 5:40PM

Chances are you're not familiar with Hemmingbirds. After all, it's all too easy to overlook newcomers in Chicago’s already overpopulated, ever-growing indie rock community. The act started in 2009 as the solo project of lead man Yoo Soo Kim (previously of Post Historic) and has since grown into a 5-piece band. Back in spring of last year, Hemmingbirds self-released their debut album, Death Wave, and in the past few months it’s begun to garner some much deserved attention.

The most appealing thing about Death Wave is its straightforward approach; except for its misleadingly ominous title, it doesn’t rely on trickery or frills, but instead well-played instrumentation and expressive songwriting. This simplicity is no surprise considering that, besides backup from drummer Zach Benkowski, Kim wrote and performed the album entirely by himself, recording it in the basement of his Lincolnwood home before the act became a 5-piece.

The album opens with “The New Age,” a short, pleasant track that's not about the spiritual movement, but instead about renewal, a theme that reappears throughout the album. The following tracks are sort of an emotional rollercoaster, at times upbeat and buoyant and at other times somber. “Treetops,” for example, is a breezy melody full of handclaps and jangly guitar. “Slippery Slope,” on the other hand, is much darker, moving between gloomy, bluesy riffs and anxious, distorted guitar backed by wildly crashing drums. Distressed vocals sing lines like “If jealousy is a gun then I’ll shoot it straight out at you.”

No matter the mood, the album manages to maintain a potent energy throughout, due in part to the passion and vigor of the instrumentation and in part to Kim’s vocals - tender and moving, though not overly sentimental. And the lyrics, though at times melodramatic, seem refreshingly honest and personal. We’ll be interested to see if their sophomore album maintains this sincerity and simplicity with four more members to take part in the creative process.

Death Wave is available for a price of your choosing over the Hemmingbirds’ Bandcamp page. You can catch the band perform live when they play Lincoln Hall March 16, before heading off to tour the Midwest in April. Also playing will be headliners The Ragtones and another act to be announced. In the meantime, check out this video of “Mellow Gold Haze” performed live at Catalyst Ranch:

Hemmingbirds play Wednesday, March 16 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N Lincoln, 8 p.m., $8, 18+